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The Birds of California 

Copy No. / // t 

Patrons' Edition, De Luxe 

Subscribed by 


This edition comprises the first choice of selected 
sheets from the first impressions ot the format de 
luxe of "The Birds of California;" and its circula- 
tion is limited to an approved clientele of 250 




The Birds of California 

William Leon Dawson 

R. Di 

Scott's Oriole 

Male and female, about 5^ life size 
From a water-color painting by Allan Brooks 

Ulan Br 

ilton Company 


s.^lrt't »\MiS!«if 

The Birds of California 

A Complete, Scientific and 
Popular Account of the 580 Species and Subspecies of Birds 
Found in the State 

William Leon Dawson 

of Santa Barbara 

Director of the International Museum of Comparative Oology, Author of "The Birds of Ohio' 
and (with Mr. Bowles) of "The Birds of Washington" 

Illustrated by 30 Photogravures, 120 Full-page Duotone Plates and More Than 

1 100 Half-tone Cuts of Birds in Life, Nests, Eggs, and 

Favorite Haunts, from Photographs 

Chiefly by 

Donald R. Dickey, Wright M. Pierce, Wm. L. Finley 

and the Author 

Together with 44 Drawings in the Text and a Series ot 

no Full-page Color Plates 

Chiefly by 

Major Allan Brooks 

Format De Luxe 
Patrons' Edition 

Complete in Four Volumes 
Volume One 

South Moulton Company 

San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco 

Sold Only by Subscription. All Rights Reserved 

Text, duotone-plates and photogravures, 
but not the color-plates, copyright 1921 and 1923 


William Leon Dawson 
all rtghts reserved. including that of translation 

Composition by Typographic Service Co., Los Angeles. 

Press-work by Wolfer Printing Co., Los Angeles. 

Four-color half-tone plates chiefly by Star Engraving Co., Los Angeles. 

Photogravures by Suffolk Engraving & Electrotyping Co., Cambridge. 

Duotones entirely and half-tones chiefly by Star Engraving Co. 

Binding by Leather Products and Finishing Co., Los Angeles. 


Ellen drowning Scripps 

Lover of the human kind and of birds and of flowers and of books 

Patron of science and of art and of education 

Whose steadfast faith has made its publication possible 

This work is gratefully 



SINCE the dawn of the scientific era the study of birds, ornithology, has occupied 
an honorable place. Men like Linnaeus, Brisson and Cuvier, Temminck, Vieillot, Forbes 
and Gray, and more recently, Gadow, Evans and Hartert, Sharpe, Ridgway, Oberholser 
and Grinnell, have expounded its technique; while apostles like Audubon and Gould, 
Baird, Newton and Coues, Hudson. Chapman and Beebe, have published its gospel and 
immortalized its claims. Without claiming either the technical equipment of a Ridg- 
way or the apostolic fervor of an Audubon, the author has tried nevertheless to do a 
rough justice to the dual claims of descriptive science and of artistic interpretation in 
a field which he realizes to be singularly favored, not alone for the variety and wealth 
of its bird life, but for the number and quality of its human inhabitants. As a citizen 
by choice of the Golden State, the writer can truly say that California seems to offer 
unparalleled advantages for bird study. Indeed, its range of avian interest is fairly- 
typified by the fact that within its borders a bird of modest powers, as a Clark Nut- 
cracker, might breakfast (somewhat sparingly) at the lowest point upon the American 
continent, viz., in the Death Valley, and lunch (even more austerely) upon the highest 
point of land in the United States, viz., the summit of Mt. Whitney, 14,501 feet above 
the level of the sea. California is the land of contrasts, and the description of its 
vividly contrasting and kaleidoscopic bird-life is, perhaps, the most privileged task 
which might fall to the lot of an ornithologist. 

It is the province of this work to appreciate and, so far as possible, to express, not 
alone the conceptual entities of science called species, but the very persons and lives 
of those hundreds of millions of our fellow travelers and sojourners, called birds, the 
birds of California. To this end the birds have been viewed not alone through the 
rigid eye of science, but through the more roving, or tolerant, or even penetrating eye 
of the poet, the interpreter, the apologist — the mystic even — the at-all-times bird-lover. 

With such a broad claim of latitude, it goes without saying that "The Birds of 
California" is anything but "complete," in the sense of having said all that might be 
said about any given species. Our effort has been rather to present a conspectus of 
bird-life in California in its true proportions of interest. The commoner or more impor- 
tant species have been allowed a much greater space, precisely on this account, that they 
are common and important. Nor is it possible to claim completeness on the ground 
that all the conclusions of other workers are herein recorded. While it is true that all 
the major sources of information have been catalogued and consulted, it remains true 
also that this work is essentially an original and personal contribution. The author 
is a poor compiler. There are many who are gifted in this direction, and they have 
performed valuable service. Yet we have had so many digests and rehashes and 
meticulous accumulations of disconnected notes, that it has seemed worth while, for 


once, to break away and start afresh. It is for this reason that the author has relig- 
iously abstained from reading Audubon or Wilson, or indeed any of the "old masters" — 
to the end that he might see his birds with fresh eyes and use, if possible, an unworn 
language. This has entailed real sacrifice, but it may also prove to have been a real gain. 

Yet having said so much by way of apology for alleged originality, I have done 
scant justice to the magnificent accumulations of the Cooper Ornithological Club in 
"The Condor" (now in its twenty-fifth year), or, indeed, to my own dependence upon 
it. Through the courtesy of the Club itself and of one of its business managers, Mr. 
W. Lee Chambers, I have been supplied with a double file of "The Condor" for clipping, 
and have made large use of it. "The Birds of California" is, therefore, essentially a 
free digest of the cooperative work accomplished in California during the past quarter 
of a century. My thanks are due, both individually and collectively, to all contribu- 
tors of "The Condor," and to a lesser degree of "The Auk"; and my only regret is that 
the more impatient movement of my own particular genre has precluded the possibility 
of doing exact justice to all available sources. 

Consistency in the interpretation of bird-life is as impossible today as it was twenty 
years ago. Most of us who follow the birds are partly scientist, partly sportsman, and 
partly poet. Each interest in turn combats the others, or is at least seen to be incon- 
sistent with them. Nevertheless, even here some ground has been gained. The field 
of "sport," i. e., of bird-killing as sport, has been more and more sharply restricted, 
until its fundamental inconsistencies are beginning to appear. An outlet for honest 
energies has, however, been provided by bird photography and, indeed, by note-taking. 
In science, likewise, the ample accumulations of the larger museums have made it un- 
necessary that the serious student of ornithology should always lug about a shot-gun. 
Modern binoculars increase the field efficiency of the student eight or ten times, and the 
liabilities of error are correspondingly reduced. Here also the new scientific sport 
of bird-banding (accomplished by a painless method of trapping) is likely to displace 
the cruder method of bird-killing, and this bids fair to accomplish tenfold greater results 
for science. 

A tremendous gain has been made during the last three decades in the sentimental 
attitude toward birds. The pursuit of birds with sticks and stones and guns and the 
indiscriminate robbing of birds' nests have given way to intelligent interest and a 
solicitous care for the welfare of the birds on the part of old and young. Too much 
credit for this salutary result cannot be given to the National Association of Audubon 
Societies, and to its affiliated societies which exist throughout the land. That the inter- 
est thus aroused has not always exhibited the characteristics of maturity, and that, in 
turn, some incidental injustice has been done to science, goes without saying. Never- 
theless, there now exists a splendid and alert interest in birds on the part of the American 
people, and to such a body of interest science presents its case with confidence and 

In the preparation of this work the author has enjoyed unusual opportunities of 
study and travel afield. Work has been conducted in all but four of California's fifty- 
eight counties, and the ones omitted are homogeneous in character with the regions 
visited. In a realm so vast and so varied as California, however, one must be privi- 
leged indeed who could claim complete understanding of its diverse topographical and 
faunistic elements. For myself, I confess to a sense of utter inadequacy. There are 


still uncharted depths and unsealed heights in California, and a wilderness so wide- 
spread and so near at hand that one might deliberately lose himself in its mazes within 
two hours of almost any given point. Field work has been conducted chiefly in the 
breeding season, say April to July, and one season was spent in Arizona with a view to 
getting a quicker, surer knowledge of the desert species which invade our own borders. 
If a disproportionate interest seems to attach to the treatments of the mountain- 
dwelling species, it is with deliberate intention to promote a quicker enthusiasm for 
these unfrequented fastnesses. 

The author is also under deep obligation to many years of bird questing spent in 
the State of Washington. The result of these experiences was embodied in a two- 
volume work, "The Birds of Washington," published in 1909; and in the preparation 
of this work the author enjoyed the cooperation of Mr. John Hooper Bowles, of Tacoma. 
"The Birds of Washington" was obscurely published and of necessarily limited circu- 
lation; and inasmuch as a good deal of its matter was exactly descriptive of conditions 
obtaining in California, or at least concerned species found in California, it has been 
unhesitatingly used as a supplementary source-book for "The Birds of California." 
The adaptation of passages has been most conscientiously done (I have a horror of 
stale stuff), so that the northern flavor thus imparted to "The Birds of California" may 
be deemed to offset in a measure the stigma of residence south of the Tehachipe. 

The plumage descriptions appearing in this work are based chiefly upon original 
studies of material in the very adequate collections of the Museum of Vertebrate 
Zoology in Berkeley. To the management of this institution and to its founder and 
patroness, Miss Alexander, I tender my sincerest thanks for every courtesy. The 
California Academy of Sciences, of San Francisco, and the Museum of History, Science 
and Art, in Los Angeles, likewise placed every facility at my disposal, and I only regret 
the limitations of time which precluded a more extended use of their excellent collections. 

The order of treatment observed in the following pages is substantially the reverse 
of that long followed by the American Ornithologists' Union, and is justifiable princi- 
pally on the ground that it follows a certain order of interest and convenience. Begin- 
ning, as it does, with the supposedly highest forms of bird-life, it brings to the fore the 
most familiar birds, and avoids that rude juxtaposition of the lowest form of one group 
with the highest of the one above it which has been the confessed weakness of the 
A. O. U. arrangement. 

The outlines of classification have been rehearsed in the Table of Contents to each 
volume, and a brief synopsis of generic, family, and ordinal characters will be found in 
the Analytical Keys at the end of the work. It has not been thought best to give large 
place to these matters, nor to intrude them upon the text, both because of the enormous 
labor involved in a really original digest, and because the more technical character of 
these investigations would probably interest only a small proportion of our clientele. 
Several excellent manuals already exist in this field, and to these the more intrepid 
student is referred. 

The nomenclature is chiefly that of the A. O. U. Check-List, Third Edition, 
revised to include more recent supplements. In a few instances attention has been 
paid to outside suggestions, especially such as would tend to link up some of our Amer- 
ican species of wide distribution with closely related European or Asiatic forms. I must 
confess to having followed with a very special bias the opinions of our veteran taxono- 

mist, Dr. Joseph Grinnell, and his no less gifted brother-in-law, Mr. Harry Swarth. 
In some few cases I have differed from these authorities and have disallowed their 
claims, not as being mistaken in fact, but as being, on occasion, too fine-spun or ethereal 
for mortal allegiance. Other distinctions, no less finely shaded, I have allowed, for no 
better reason, perhaps, than inertia or to show esprit de corps, or else to provide a dainty 
target for a good-natured shaft. Taxonomy is not an exact science, and we are under 
no bonds to an artificial consistency. Furthermore, it may be as well at the outset to 
let the student into the secret of our perplexities. We have no wish either to mystify 
him or to impress him with a show of infallibility. The realm of ornithology, and espe- 
cially the field of taxonomy, has been much trampled and much shot over, yet there 
may be rich ore just below the surface, or even veritable oil domes of truth awaiting 

For subject headings I have selected names applicable to the species as a whole, 
wherever found, provided two or more races of the species appear on the California list. 
This will introduce certain names unfamiliar to western eyes, as, for example, "Solitary 
Vireo," instead of "Cassin Vireo" ; but it will have a salutary effect in stressing the value 
of the species, and in restraining our tendency to regard geographical races as quasi- 
species, through the operation of the naming fallacy. Calling the bird a Cassin Vireo 
should not blind our eyes to the fact that it is a Solitary Vireo, only a shade different 
from the eastern representative of this species. For those cases where only one sub- 
species is found in California, there seems to be no recourse save to yield a quasi-specific 
value to the local name. In the case of Zonotrichia gambeli gambeli and Z. g. nuttalli, 
I have deliberately disregarded the rules, in order to stress the differences between the 
two races, as well as to exemplify the fact that consistency is impossible where a hard 
and fast mechanical device, like nomenclature, obscures phylogenetic differences 
infinitely varied. 

Considerable care, too, has been taken in the readjustment or reappraising of 
common names; for experience shows that these may be more enduring than so-called 
"scientific" names. In some instances I have used one designation in the subject title 
and another for the same bird in the "running title." By placing both before the public 
it may be possible to establish through usage some ground of preference not now ap- 
parent. Some names previously in use were misleading and have been frankly discarded ; 
but no departure from custom has been registered save for good reason. 

In compiling General Ranges, I have been chiefly indebted to the A. O. U. Check- 
List (3rd Edition), but have supplemented its findings by reference to Ridgway or 
Bent, or to more explicitly western authorities. In determining the Ranges in Califor- 
nia, I am under the deepest obligation, by permission, to Dr. Grinnell's "Distributional 
List" (1915), as well as to other pamphlets published by the Cooper Ornithological 
Club, notably those by Willett, Tyler and Howell. I have also kept accurate notes of 
all occurrences throughout my own ornithological wanderings, and have thus been able 
to confirm or to supplement Grinnell's well-balanced conclusions. 

In presenting the "Authorities," I have been fortunate in enlisting the services of 
Dr. Tracy I. Storer (about 60 paragraphs) and Mr. Harry Swarth, and these gentlemen 
are responsible for the citations themselves. It was intended at first to offer only "first 
publication," the citation upon which inclusion as a bird of California rested, although 
it was not always possible to secure even such. But it would have seemed a pity not to 


point the student at the same time to at least the major sources of information, near or 
remote. Accordingly, leading references, to the limiting number of five or six, have 
been provided, solely for the benefit of those who wish to carry their studies further. 
Selections in many instances have had to be quite arbitrary; and in general the more 
obvious source books, monographs, and special treatises, as well as the more compre- 
hensive works of reference have been dismissed after a few citations. Continued refer- 
ence to these approved sources would suggest itself to the student in any event, so our 
effort has been directed rather to list the more fugitive and likely-to-be-overlooked 
articles and reports, or else those of more striking regional significance. 

Readers will remark an insistent oological note in these pages. The author has 
long cherished a notion of the importance of the study of birds' eggs in seeking to 
resolve the problems of phylogenetic relationships," and indeed in arriving at some 
measure of understanding of the nature and methods of life itself. Privileged years 
have strengthened this conviction and have made clear to him the necessity of further 
devotion to this task. In January, 1916, with the help of indulgent (but non-pro- 
fessional) friends, the author established the Museum of Comparative Oology in Santa 
Barbara. This institution cultivated its special field, with distinction, for a number 
of years, and was, incidentally, of immense service to "The Birds of California:" but, 
later, when the distinctive character of the institution began to alter, the author with- 
drew and has since organized a new and purely scientific institution, the International 
Museum of Comparative Oology. The new movement, which proposes to correlate 
the interests of scientific oology throughout the world, boasts a membership in thirty- 
four of the American States and in more than thirty foreign states and countries, and 
gives promise, thus, of a considerable usefulness to science. My sincerest thanks are, 
however, due to the old institution both for its practical support and for its consistent 
appreciation of the prior claims of the bird-book. 

But with this hasty review of technical matters we gladly return to a consideration 
of the bird itself. Poet, legislator, scientist, sportsman, economist, sentimentalist — 
how shall we get on together? How shall we agree whether to attack, or to cherish, 
the traditions of bird lore? Who owns the birds? and what are they good for, anyhow? 
A real principle of unity can be found only when we come to regard the birds' value to 
society, that is, to all of us taken together. The question then becomes, not, Is this 
bird worth more to me in my collection or upon my plate than as a living actor in the 
drama of life? but, In what capacity can this bird best serve the interests of mankind? 
There can be no doubt that the answer to the latter question is usually and increasingly, 
As a living bird. Stuffed specimens we need, but only a representative number of them; 
only a limited few of us are fitted to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, and the objects 
of our passion are rapidly passing from view anyway, but never while the hearts of 
men are set on peace, and the minds of men are alert to receive the impressions of the 
Infinite, will there be too many birds to speak to eye and ear, and to minister to the 
hidden things of the spirit. The birds belong to the people, not to a clique or a coterie, 
but to all the people as heirs and stewards of the good things of God. 

It is of the esthetic value of the bird that we have tried to speak, not alone in our 
descriptions but in our pictures. The author has a pleasant conviction, born of desire, 
perhaps, that the bird in art is destined to figure much more largely in future years 
than heretofore. We have learned something from the Japanese in this regard, but 


more, perhaps, from the camera, whose revelations have marvelously justified the 
conventional conclusions of Japanese decorative art. Nature is ever the nursing 
mother of Art. While our function in the text has necessarily been interpretative, we 
have preferred in the pictures to let Nature speak for herself, and we have held ourselves 
and our artists to the strictest accounting for any retouching or modification of photo- 
graphs. Except, therefore, as explicitly noted, the half-tones from photographs are 
faithful presentations of life. If they inspire any with a sense of the beauty of things 
as they are, or suggest to any the theme for some composition, whether on canvas, 
fresco, vase, or tile, in things as they might be, then our labor will not have been in vain. 

It affords us deep satisfaction to present 106 color plates from paintings by Major 
Allan Brooks, for in our opinion this artist is without a peer in the delineation of birds. 
Major Brooks, although a resident of British Columbia, has pursued extensive studies 
in California, and was a welcome guest at "Los Colibris" for two winters. We regret 
not having been able to avail ourselves further of the masterly work of Mr. Louis 
Agassiz Fuertes, nor of that of Mr. George Miksch Sutton, a younger artist of brilliant 
promise, although we are glad to. present one plate each from these gentlemen. 

The photographic work of Mr. Donald R. Dickey, of Pasadena, speaks for itself. 
The author is under the deepest personal obligation to Mr. Dickey for his able and 
enthusiastic cooperation, a service which of itself would have assured the worthy 
illustration of "The Birds of California." In like manner, Mr. Wright M. Pierce, of 
Claremont, has given without stint of the products of his photographic skill, and has 
set us wishing that he might be persuaded to undertake bird photography as a pro- 
fession. Mr. William L. Finley, of Oregon, is a well-known star in his own realm, 
and he has generously spared us a few scintillations. Specific acknowledgement of 
welcome contributions from other artists, both amateur and professional, is made in 
connection with the half-tones themselves, and to all these gentlemen we extend our 
hearty thanks. 

To the Patrons and Subscribers of this work, as such, the author wishes to express 
his sincerest thanks. The patience displayed by early subscribers to "The Birds of 
California" is probably without parallel in publishing history, for the present publishers 
hold, and honor, orders which were signed in November, 1910. While it is a satis- 
faction to note that the promises of the early days have been more than redeemed 
through the enlarged scope and enhanced illustrative equipment of the work itself, it 
remains true that save for the timely support accorded by people of good will in the 
old days (when the whole scheme was merely a vision on paper), the work could never 
have been accomplished. Well said the prophet, Cast your bread upon the waters 
and after many days it shall return unto you. 

It is quite impossible for me to express the depth of my gratitude to Miss Ellen 
B. Scripps, of La Jolla, who has proved herself not only an astute benefactor but a 
courageous friend. From the time I first showed her some of Brooks's pictures, back 
in 1912, the thing I have been living for has appealed to her imagination, and the years 
of our acquaintance have been marked by spacious courtesies. It is faith like hers 
which sweetens life and answers our questions as to the compassion of the Infinite. 

"The Birds of California" was from its inception a cooperative undertaking. Few 
editorial ventures have ever owed so much to the spirit of good will and to generous 
"boosting" by disinterested friends. Brother scientists, fellow members of the Cooper 


Ornithological Club, prominent subscribers, leaders of social activity and of opinion, 
financiers, government officials, Audubonists, bird-lovers., artists, editors, photog- 
raphers, collectors, and business associates — all have cooperated with most commend- 
able efficiency to make the production of the work an accomplished fact. It is 
impossible even to enumerate the scores upon scores of well-wishers who deserve 
honorable mention. In making, therefore, partial acknowledgement of courtesies 
and debts of honor to those preeminent in service, I ask the indulgence of others not 
less generous, if unnamed. To the following ladies and gentlemen and institutions 
my most grateful acknowledgements are due: To Dr. Joseph Grinnell for sponsorship 
and every courtesy; to Mr. William E. Colby for faithful and otherwise unrewarded 
service as President of "The Birds of California Publishing Company;" to Messrs. 
Harry Swarth, H. W. Carriger, F. E. Newbury, A. B. Howell, W. Lee Chambers, H. C. 
Bryant, and D. H. Schauer for services as trustees in that Company; to Messrs. 
W. Lee Chambers, A. B. Howell, H. W. Carriger, and H. S. Swarth for personal and pro- 
fessional cooperation of the most unfaltering type; to Messrs. Leverett M. Loomis, 
Frank S. Daggett, Barton W. Evermann, Donald R. Dickey, John Rowley, Harold C. 
Bryant, Tracy I. Storer, Joseph Dixon, L. E. Wyman, Wright M. Pierce, and Adriaan 
van Rossem for personal and professional courtesies of every sort; to Messrs. A. G. 
Vrooman, C. I. Clay, Fred Truesdale, Robert Canterbury, and William O. Dawson 
for valued assistance afield; and to the following for cooperation of every sort, financial, 
social and personal: Mr. John W. Mailliard, Mr. Joseph Mailliard, Mr. William 
H. Crocker, Mr. Henry E. Huntington, Miss Annie M. Alexander, Mr. Robert Oxnard, 
Mr. Rowland G. Hazard, Mr. E. P. Ripley, Dr. David Starr Jordan, Dr. Ray Lyman 
Wilbur, Mrs. Elizabeth Grinnell, Mrs. Robert J. Burdette, Miss Mary Foy, Mr. 
O. W. Howard, Mrs. Harriet Williams Myers, Judge H. W. O'Melveny, Dr. Chas. W. 
Browning, Mr. A. P. Redington, Mr. H. G. Chase, Mr. George S. Edwards, Mr. Joel 
Remington Fithian, Mrs. Lora J. Moore Knight, Miss Caroline Hazard, Mr. Reginald 
Fernald, Mr. Frank M. Selover, Miss Donna I. Youmans, Mr. George 0. Knapp, Mr. 
John B. Henck, Mr. Bernhard Hoffmann, Mr. J. R. Pemberton, Mr. Frank C. Willard, 
Mr. 0. P. Silliman, Mr. W. A. Strong, Mr. George W. Marston, Mr. John G. Howell, 
Dr. William Frederick Bade, Prof. Charles E. Kofoid, Dr. Ralph Arnold, Mrs. Agnes 
Allerton, Miss Aurelia S. Harwood, Miss Kate Ellen Walker, Mr. Frank H. Holmes, 
Mr. John Lewis Childs, Mr. A. C. Bent, Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, Dr. Henry Fairfield 
Osborn, Mr. P. B. Philipp, Mr. J. C. Harper, Mr. Curtis Hillyer, and Mr. Joseph 
M. Burnett. 

Mr. Frank Stephens, whose name is deeply imbedded in the annals of ornithology 
in California, has done me the incomparable courtesy of placing his MS copy of a pro- 
jected "Birds of California" at my disposal. I am indebted to it for many citations 
and for additional light upon desert species which this veteran authority knows better, 
perhaps, than anyone else. 

My special thanks are due to Dr. Harold C. Bryant, of Berkeley, who because of his 
more extended acquaintance with them has prepared several of the articles upon the 
geese, and to Mr. Griffing Bancroft, of San Diego, who has kindly supplied the account 
of the Xantus Murrelet. 

To my wife, Frances, I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for unsparing devotion 
through the years to the task of manuscript preparation and revision, and, latterly. 


for assistance in press supervision. Only Mrs. Dawson's defiant modesty precludes 
the appearance of her name with mine upon the title-page, for though she disclaims 
an exact knowledge of birds (the dear lady still asks "Now was that the Bewick Wren?"- 
when the Titmouse yodels), she really knows about all there is to know of the making 
of bird-books, and as for grammatical distinctions I am putty in her hands. The 
reader perceives our common good fortune. 

To Miss Fedora E. D. Brown the author is indebted for artistic cooperation in the 
handling of prints, and to Mrs. Cornelia N. Shup for unusually able assistance in proof- 
reading. Mr. Ray Bradfish is chiefly responsible for the art work upon the half-tones 
and for the designing of the bindings. His capable cooperation is deeply appreciated. 

No publication, I believe, has ever enlisted a more competent and devoted alle- 
giance of the printing trades and of their trained workers. The very office boys have 
wrought on this work for the glory of accomplishment. My thanks are due to the 
several firms which executed the project and to their always courteous managers. 
In especial, whatever credit of workmanly finish is accruing for the physical volumes 
is due to A. R. Warren, foreman of composition, Carl Seybold, "lock-up man," James 
Butters, foreman of color engraving, Mickey Ferguson, press foreman, John Griesinger. 
binding supervisor, and John Cairncross, to whom was entrusted the delicate task of 
"chopping up" half a million dollars' worth of printed forms into the single sheets 
required by our revolutionary system of binding. These have been the real "captains 
of industry," and their troops have been, without exception, both skilled and loyal. 

It is the valued privilege of one who promotes the circulation of a subscription 
work to establish a more or less personal relation with his subscribers. In view of 
this may I be permitted to speak a direct and concluding word regarding the work 
itself and regarding the future of the science in California? "The Birds of California" 
is more elaborately conceived than any previous work upon birds in America. It 
will no doubt disclose the lapses and omissions incident to so complex an undertaking. 
Will the reader feel free to point these out, with any other suggestions which may occur 
to him, with a view to future improvement? Such improvement could only be possible 
upon the basis of continued and thoroughgoing cooperation. It is hoped, therefore, 
that the publication of "The Birds of California" may quicken and focalize interest 
in the birds of our most favored State, to the end that our knowledge of them may be- 
come more accurate and more extended, that our materials for bird portraiture 
may be more complete and more satisfying, and that the emphasis of our 
interest may be shifted once and for all from slaughter to appreciation. The author, 
therefore, invites all those who are seriously minded to realize these ends, to cooperate 
with him in the development and in the defense of all the interests which are dear to the 
science and to the art and to the understanding of BIRDS. 


Santa Barbara, November loth, 1923. 

Contents of Volume I 


Dedication i 

Register of Subscribers Insert 

Preface iii 

Table of Contents xi 

List of Full-page Plates xv 

Explanatory xvii 

Description of Species Nos. 1-102 
Order Passeres — Perching Birds. 

Family Corvidcz — Crows and Jays. 

1 The Raven, Corvus corax sinuatus 1 

2 The Western Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos hesperis 16 

3 The Clark Nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana 23 

4 The Pinyon Jay, Cyanocephalus cyanocephalus 28 

5 The Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica hudsonia 31 

6 The Yellow-billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli 38 

7 The California Jays, Aphelocoma calif ornica 44 

8 The Santa Cruz Jay, Aphelocoma insularis 58 

9 The Woodhouse Jay, Aphelocoma woodhousei 63 

10 The Steller Jays, Cyanocitta stelleri 65 

1 1 The Gray Jays, Perisoreus obscurus 70 

Family Icteridce — Troupials, American Starlings. 

12 The Cowbirds, Molothrus ater 75 

13 The Rusty Blackbird, Euphagus carolinus 81 

14 The Brewer Blackbirds, Euphagus cyanocephalus 83 

15 The Arizona Hooded Oriole, Icterus cucullatus nelsoni 89 

16 The Scott Oriole, Icterus parisorum 93 

17 The Bullock Oriole, Icterus bullocki 97 

18 The Tricolored Redwing, Agelaius tricolor 104 

19 The Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phceniceus 114 

20 The Yellow-headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus . 124 

21 The Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta 129 

22 The Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus 136 



Family FringillidcE — Sparrows. 

23 The California Evening Grosbeak, Hesperiphona vespertina 

calif omica 139 

24 The Red Crossbills, Loxia curvirostra 146 

25 The California Pine Grosbeak, Pinicola enucleator calif omica . . 152 

26 The Sierra Nevada Rosy Finch, Leucosticte tephrocotis dawsoni 156 

27 The Common Redpoll, Acanthis linaria linaria 178 

28 The Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus 181 

29 The Willow Goldfinch, Astragalinus tristis salicamans 187 

30 The Green-backed Goldfinch, Astragalinus psaltria hesperophi- 

lus 191 

31 The Lawrence Goldfinch, Astragalinus lawrencei 197 

32 The Cassin Purple Finch, Carpodacus cassini 201 

33 The California Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus californi- 

cus 208 

34 The California Linnet, Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis 212 

35 The English Sparrow, Passer domesticus 223 

36 The Alaska Longspur, Calcarius lapponicus alascensis 228 

37 The Chestnut-collared Longspur, Calcarius ornatus 230 

38 The Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys 232 

39 The Western Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus strigatus. . . 234 

40 The Vesper Sparrows, Pocecetes gramineus 241 

41 The Savanna Sparrows, Passer cuius sandwichensis 246 

42 The Belding Marsh Sparrow, Passerculus beldingi 256 

43 The Large-billed Sparrows, Passerculus rostratus 259 

44 The Western Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum 

bimaculatus 263 

45 The Nelson Sparrow, Ammospiza caudacutq nelsoni 266 

46 The Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Aimophila ruficeps ruficeps 268 

47 The Desert Sparrow, Amphispiza bilineata deserticola 273 

48 The Bell Sparrow, Amphispiza belli 277 

49 The Sage Sparrows, Amphispiza nevadensis 281 

50 The Slate-colored Junco, Junco hyemalis 286 

51 The Oregon Juncoes, Junco oreganus 288 

52 The Gray-headed Junco, Junco caniceps 299 

53 The Western Tree Sparrow, Spizella arbor ea ochracea 300 

54 The Western Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina arizonce. . . . 302 

55 The Black-chinned Sparrow, Spizella atrogularis 309 

56 The Brewer Sparrow, Spizella breweri 312 

57 The Harris Sparrow, Zonotrichia querula 315 

58 The Golden-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia coronata 317 



59 The White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys 319 

60 The Gambel Sparrow, Zonotrichia gambeli gambeli 326 

The Nuttall Sparrow, Zonotrichia gambeli nuttalli 331 

61 The White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis 335 

62 The Song Sparrows, Melospiza melodia 337 

63 The Lincoln Sparrows, Melospiza lincolni 359 

64 The Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana 365 

65 The Fox Sparrows, Passerella iliaca 365 

66 The Green-tailed Towhee, Oberholseria chlorura 386 

67 The Spotted Towhees, Pipilo maculatus 390 

68 The Abert Towhee, Pipilo aberti. 397 

69 The Brown Towhees, Pipilo crissalis 401 

70 The Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amcena 409 

71 The Beautiful Bunting, Passerina versicolor pulchra 412 

72 The Blue Grosbeaks, Guiraca ccerulea 413 

73 The Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hedymeles ludovicianus 417 

74 The Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hedymeles melanocephalus 419 

Family Tanagridcz — Tanagers. 

75 The Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra 428 

76 The Western Tanager, Piranga Indoviciana . 431 

Family Mniotiltidce — Wood Warblers. 

77 The Black-and-white Warbler, Mniotilta varia 437 

78 The Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina 440 

79 The Orange-crowned Warblers, Vermivora celata 442 

80 The Calaveras Warbler, Vermivora ruficapilla gutturalis 451 

81 The Lucy Warbler, Vermivora lucice 455 

82 The Virginia Warbler, Vermivora Virginia 459 

83 The Yellow Warblers, Dendroica cestiva 460 

84 The Magnolia Warbler, Dendroica magnolia 466 

85 The Black-throated Blue Warbler, Dendroica ccendescens coeru- 

lescens 468 

86 The Alaska Myrtle Warbler, Dendoica coronata hooveri 469 

87 The Audubon Warbler, Dendroica auduboni auduboni 472 

88 The Black-throated Gray Warbler, Dendroica nigrescens 479 

89 The Townsend Warbler, Dendroica townsendi 484 

90 The Black-throated Green Warbler, Dendroica virens 488 

91 The Hermit Warbler, Dendroica occidentalis 490 

92 The Chestnut-sided Warbler, Dendroica pensylvanica 495 

93 The Palm Warbler, Dendroica palmarum palmarum 496 



94 The Tolmie Warbler, Oporomis tolmiei 497 

95 The Oven-bird, Seiurus aurocapillus 501 

96 The Louisiana Water-thrush, Seiurus molacilla 502 

97 The Alaska Water-thrush, Seiurus noveboracensis notabilis . . . . 503 

98 The Yellow- throats, Geothlypis trichas 504 

99 The Western Chat, Icteria virens longicauda 510 

100 The Wilson Warblers, Wilsonia pusilla 513 

101 The American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla 518 

Family Hirundinidce — Swallows. 

102 The Western Martin, Progne subis hesperia * . . . 520 


List of Full-page Plates 


Scott's Oriole (Color-plate) Frontispiece 

Pinyon Jay (Color-plate) 28 

A Jaunty Pose (Duotone) 34 

Yellow-billed Magpie (Color-plate) 38 

California Jay (Color-plate) 44 

California Jay Robbing a Black-headed Grosbeak's Nest 

(Photogravure) 50 

A Silhouette (Duotone) 58 

California Birds' Eggs (Color-plate) 62 

Blue-fronted Jay (Color-plate) 68 

A Flight of Brewer Blackbirds (Duotone) 84 

Arizona Hooded Oriole (Color-plate) go 

Bullock's Oriole (Color-plate) 98 

A Tricolored Redwing, Female (Photogravure) 104 

Bicolored Redwing (Color-plate) 114 

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Color-plate) 124 

Western Meadowlark (Color-plate) 128 

Nest and Eggs of Western Meadowlark (Photogravure) 132 

Western Evening Grosbeak (Color-plate) 140 

Sierra Nevada Rosy Finch (Color-plate) 156 

Kearsarge Lakes and Pinnacles (Photogravure) 160 

The Leuco Cliffs (Duotone) 166 

Green-backed Goldfinch (Color-plate) 190 

Lawrence's Goldfinches (Color-plate) 198 

Cassin's Purple Finch, Female on Nest (Duotone) 204 

Cassin and California Purple Finches (Color-plate) 208 

California Linnet (Color-plate) 212 

Western Lark Sparrow (Color-plate) 234 

Stuffing the Chick (Duotone) 238 

Marsh Sparrow Group (Color-plate) 248 

Portrait of Large-billed Sparrow (Duotone) 260 

Western Grasshopper Sparrow at Nest (Duotone) 264 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Color-plate) 268 

Desert Black-throated Sparrow on Nest (Duotone) 274 

The Alabama Hills and the High Sierras (Duotone) 276 

Sage Sparrow Group (Color-plate) 280 



Sierra Junco (Color-plate) ■ 290 

A Warm Day in the Yosemite (Duotone) 302 

Gambel's Sparrow on Log (Duotone) 330 

Song Sparrow Group (Color-plate) 344 

Lincoln's Sparrow (Color-plate) 358 

Lincoln's Cathedral (Photogravure) 364 

A Selection of Fox Sparrows (Color-plate) 366 

Slate-colored Sparrow at Nest (Photogravure) 374 

Green-tailed Towhee (Color-plate) 386 

N/4 San Diego Towhee (Duotone) 394 

Abert's Towhee (Color-plate) 398 

Lazuli Bunting (Color-plate) 410 

Western Blue Grosbeak (Color-plate) 414 

Black-headed Grosbeak Feeding Young (Duotone) 418 

Cooper and Western Tanagers (Color-plate) 430 

Group of California Warblers (Color-plate) 442 

Dusky Warbler (Color-plate) 446 

Nest and Eggs of Dusky Warbler (Photogravure) 450 

A Rugged Asylum (Photogravure) 468 

Audubon's Warbler (Color-plate) 472 

Olancha Peak and the Cottonwood Lakes (Duotone) 474 

Townsend's Warbler (Color-plate) 484 

Hermit Warbler (Color-plate) 490 

Tolmie's Warbler (Color-plate) 496 

Alaska Water-thrush (Color-plate) 502 

Tule Yellow-throat (Color-plate) 506 

Golden Warbler (Color-plate) 514 



Table of Comparisons 

Millimeters Inches 

Pygmy size Length up to 127 5 . 00 

Warbler size 127 - 152 .4 5 .00- 6.00 

Sparrow size 152.4- 190 

Towhee size 190.5- 228 

Robin size 228 . 6- 304 

Little Hawk size, Teal size, Tern size 304.8- 406 

Crow size 406 . 4- 558 

Gull size, Brant size 558.5- 762 22.00-30.00 

Eagle size, Goose size 762 -1066 8 30.00-42.00 

Giant size 1066 . 8 and upward 

Measurements are given in millimeters and in inches, the latter 
enclosed in parentheses. 

5 6.00-7.50 

6 7 .50- 9.00 
8 9.00-12.00 

4 12.00-16.00 

5 16.00-22.00 


The Birds of California 

No. 1 


A. 0. U. No. 486. Corvus corax sinuatus Wagler. 

Synonyms. — Western Raven. Mexican Raven. American Raven. 

Description. — Color, uniform lustrous black; plumage, especially on breast, 
scapulars, and back, showing steel-blue and violet, or purplish, iridescence; feathers 
of the throat long, narrow, pointed, light gray basally; primaries whitening at base. 
Bill and feet black; iris brown. Length, two feet or over; female a little smaller; 
wing 406-457 (16.00-18.00); tail 233 (9.17); bill 65-80 (2.56-3.15); depth of bill at nostril 
25.4 (1. 00); tarsus 68 (2.68). 

Recognition Marks. — Large size, — more than twice the bulk of a Crow; long, 
rounded tail; harsh croaking notes; uniform black coloration. 

Nesting. — Nest: a mass of sticks deeply hollowed and lined with wool or hair 
plucked from carcasses; placed in cranny of cliff or ledge, or, rarely, in trees. Eggs: 
4-7, light bluish green (lichen-green), spotted and marked or blotched (rarely streaked 
longitudinally) with olive or dark olive (or with deep olive and citrine drab dilutions) 
and, rarely or sparingly, with vinaceous gray. Specimens vary from those nearly 
immaculate to those nearly buried under pigment; but they average lighter than 
Crow r s' in respect to quantity of pigment. Av. of 56 eggs in the collections of the 
Museum of Comparative Oology, taken in San Luis Obispo County, 47.5 x 32.3 (1.87 x 
1.27); index 67.9. Range 41.7-55.8 (1.64-2. 18) x 28.5-34.5 (1.12-1.36); indices 59-76. 
Av. of 42 eggs in M. C. O. colls, taken on Santa Cruz Island, 48.5x32 (1.91 x 1.26); 
index 66. Range 45.5-56.6 (1.79-2.23) x 29.7-34 ( T - T 7- T -34); indices 57-71. Season: 
April, one brood. 

Range of Corvus corax. — North America, Europe, northern and central Asia. 

Range of C. c. sinuatus. — The western United States except the Northwest 
Coast district, south to Central America. 

Range in California. — Resident but wide ranging, hence, of casual occurrence 
nearly throughout the State; common or abundant locally. The chief centers of 
distribution are the semi-arid interior coast ranges of south-central California, the 
larger islands, and the northwestern humid coastal strip. Rare or wanting in the 
high Sierras and almost disappearing from the more thickly settled regions. 

The Raven 

Authorities. — Gambel {Corvus cacalotl), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. iii. 
1847, p. 203; Heermann, Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. x., pt. vi., 1859, p. 54 (habits) 
Linton, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, pp. 68-69 (nest and eggs); Willett, Pac 
Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 68 (status in s. Calif.; crit.) ; Dawson, Condor, vol 
xviii., 1916, p. 28 (status in Calif.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 191 7, pp 
69-71 (crit.; meas. ; nesting habits on coastal islands). 

IN THE Raven we behold not alone the ranking member of the 
order Passeres, but the most highly developed of birds. Quick-witted, 
cunning, and audacious, this fowl of sinister aspect has been invested by 
peoples in all ages with a mysterious and semi-sacred character. His 
ominous croakings were thought to have prophetic import, while his 
preternatural shrewdness has made him, with many, a symbol of divine 
knowledge. Primitive man, especially, felt the spell of his somber pres- 
ence, and the Raven was as deeply imbedded in the folklore of the mari- 
time Grecian tribes and of the hardy Norsemen, as he is today in that of 
the Haida Indians of Alaska or the Zuni of New Mexico. 

That our own Indians held the Raven in the highest reverence is 
evidenced by the following curious fragment, attributed to Father Tor- 
quemada. 1 The place is "the island of St. Catherine" [now Santa Cruz 
Island?], and the time about the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The 
Spaniards are visiting a heathen temple on the then populous island, 
where birds are sacrificed in great numbers to ' 'some devil. 

"It happened that when the foldiers came to fee this temple, they 
found within the faid circle, two crows, confiderably larger than ordinary, 
which at the approach of the Spaniards flew away, but alighted among the 
rocks in the neighborhood. The foldiers feeing them of fuch uncommon fize, 
fired their guns and killed them. At this, an Indian, who had attended 
the Spaniards as a guide, fell into an agony. I was informed that they 
believed the devil fpoke to them in thefe crows, and thence held them in 
great veneration. Sometime after, one of the foldiers going that way, 
faw fome Indian women wafhing fifh on the shore, but fome crows came 
up to them, and with their beaks, took the fifh from their hands, whilst 
they observed a profound filence, not daring fo much as to look at them 
much lefs frighten them away. Nothing therefore could feem more 
horrible to the Californians, than that the Spaniards fhould fhoot at 
thefe refpectable birds. ' ' 

Although confined now to the wilderness and the waste places, 
where his persistent misconduct has exiled him, the Raven is still in a 
sense the dominant bird of the Northern Hemisphere. No other bird, 
unless it be the regal falcon, successfully disputes his sway; and wherever 

'By John Truster in- "The Habitable World Described," pub. 1788-1795. Sei Daggett in "The Condor," vol. X 
p. 135-137, July, 1918. 

The Raven 

he deigns to dwell he becomes the bete noir, the sable satanic ruler, of the 
bird-world. In man alone has the Raven met his match; and the story 
of the eternal conflict between man, the supreme of the mammalian line, 
and Carava, the dusky apex of the avian succession, if it could be told, 
would afford some of the most thrilling chapters in the history of animal 

Taken in Kern County 

Photo by the A uthor 


The ancient occupation of the earth by this sable master is evidenced 
in part by the geographical races, some twenty in number, into which 
the virtually uniform and really implastic species, Corvus corax, has 
been divided. The differences recognized are chiefly those of size and 
of the relative proportions of beak and claw, according as the environ- 
ment of the bird has made greater or less demands upon its hardihood 
and prowess. A host of the Raven's lesser brethren, crows and choughs 
and rooks, and what not, occupy pretty much the same territory, and 
they extend the corvine domain well over the southern hemisphere, 
save that no member of the genus is to be found in South America. In 
California, as elsewhere, southern examples of the Raven evince a ten- 


The Raven 

dency to diminution of size, especially in case of the languid birds of 
the Santa Barbara Islands. 1 

In appearance the Raven presents several points of difference from 
the Western Crow, with which it is popularly confused. The Raven is 
not only larger, but its tail is relatively much longer, and the end of it is 
fully rounded. The head, too, is fuller, and the bill proportionately 
stouter, with a more rounded culmen. The feathers of the neck are 
more loosely arranged, resulting in an impressive shagginess; and there 
is a sort of primitive uncouthness about the entire appearance of these 
ancient birds, quite in contrast with the unctuous sleekness of the dapper 

Not even the Crow is fastidious in diet, but the Raven indulges 
propensities of appetite which have justly marked him an outlaw. Fre- 
quenting, as he does, the waste places of the earth, there are two situa- 
tions, or ranges, which the Raven especially affects, the rugged portions 
of the seacoast and the cattle ranges of the interior (now, alas! largely 
transformed into sheep ranges). In the former situation the Raven 
subsists upon insects, shell-fish, and cast-up offal, together with those 
main staples of spring and summer, the eggs and young of birds. On 
the cattle ranges carrion becomes the staple of diet, or, in default of this, 
the birds eat insects, frogs, lizards, and to some extent, no doubt, the 
smaller mammals. The eggs and young of all ground-nesting and cliff- 
haunting birds are diligently sought for. The lake borders and interior 
marshes throughout the State suffer from the daily depredation of these 
patient marauders. In the pursuit of their nefarious trade the Ravens 
will endure almost any punishment of beak or claw, and the only limit 
to the mischief wrought would appear to be the corvine capacity. 

Much stress has been laid elsewhere upon the destruction by Ravens 
of young and sickly stock — calves, lambs and pigs. There is little 
complaint of this in California. Whether the birds are better fed or 
better bred, I am unable to say. But at that, I have no doubt that in 
time of famine the exit of dying animals is often hastened by greedy 
Ravens. Whether dead or only dying, the victim may expect the first 
determined attack upon the eyes, for these the ghouls regard as their 
choicest perquisites. Poultry is sometimes laid under tribute, and iso- 
lated chicken ranches may suffer severely through the loss of young 
chickens. On the other hand, some Ravens appear to realize that they 
are being put upon their good behavior. Bendire records instances where 
they have shared commons with the chickens without offering them any 

'But to call these island birds darionensis , as some have done on the strength of their likeness to a single specimen 
taken off the coast of Mexico, some thousand miles away, seems the height of absurdity. As a matter of fact, looking 
out of the window of Caire's slaughter house on Santa Cruz Island. I have seen some "sockdollagers," which I would 
match against principalis himself. {Vide Ridgway, Birds of N. & M. Am. vol. II. p. 265. Also cf. Bishop, "Condor," 
XVII., No. 5, Oct. 10, 1915, p. 186.) 

yt JfaaV s 


The Raven 

That Ravens display great sagacity in their quest of food is well 
known. Once in the Cholame country I lugged my photographic appar- 
atus for a mile under a grilling sun to photograph a Killdeer's nest with 
four eggs, which I had located on the previous day. Only a little spilled 
yolk and empty shells remained. Then I recalled having seen, on the 
occasion of my former visit, a pair of Ravens circling high overhead, at 
least a quarter of a mile away. The birds could not possibly have seen 
the Killdeer's eggs at that range; but they heard the distress cries of 
the Killdeer, and they knew that there was something doing in their line. 
And at that, the crafty Ravens had retired until the coast should be 
entirely clear. "We never forget," is the motto of Pinkerton Raven. 
Many observers testify that Ravens will take unopened clams to a con- 
siderable height and let them fall upon the rocks in order to smash them 
open. Beebe 1 tells of a Raven in South Africa which, upon discovering 
an exposed ostrich nest, will hurry off for a stone, and returning, will 
drop it accurately from such a height that a feast of ostrich egg souffle is 
immediately assured. 

As Bendire testifies, 2 "Ravens are stately and rather sedate-looking 
birds. On the ground their movements are de- 

liberate and dignified ; their walk is graceful and seldom varied by hurried 
hops or jumps. They appear to still better advantage on the wing, 
especially in winter and early spring, when pairs may frequently be seen 
playing with each other, performing extraordinary feats in the air, such 
as somersaults, trying to fly on their backs, etc. At this season they 
seem to enjoy life most and to give vent to their usually not very ex- 
uberant spirits by a series of low chuckling and gurgling notes, evidently 
indifferent efforts at singing." In my experience these springtime 
excesses are oftenest displayed in company. As is well known, the 
Raven remains mated for life. The companionship of his mate is quite 
sufficient for him, and the Raven usually shuns the society of his fellows. 
But in early springtime it is different. The social instinct overcomes both 
sexes alike. Besides that, vows must be redeclared, even though accep- 
tance be assured. And how could the dutiful wife know that her hubby 
was keeping up with the procession unless he proved himself out in the 
lists annually, doing stunts with the other fellows? Anyhow, the court 
of Venus is set up every year in the neighborhood of some beetling sea- 
cliff, or before some huge monument of sandstone in the cattle country. 
One who has been privileged to see a Raven circus in session feels as 
though he had caught the Olympians at a backyard frolic. Dignity is 
thrown to the winds, and sable seigneurs don cap and bells, while prim 

'"The Bird" by William Beebe; p. 158. 
! "Life Histories of N. A. Birds," ad. loc. 

The Raven 

ladies do aerial skirt dances amid the debris of metaphorical champagne 

One such Mardi Gras I witnessed on the 18th of February, 1913. 
The rendezvous was the picturesque sandstone knob near Chatsworth. 
Ravens to the number of thirty-three joined the merry rout, and I watched 
their performances, a breathless Tarn o' Shanter, for as much as two 

Taken in Los Arts 

les County 


Photo by the Author 

hours. What to the naked eye would have passed as rather meaningless 
evolutions, stood revealed under the eight-power binoculars as most 
superb aerial tactics. Stalls and nose-dives and Immelmann turns were 
interspersed with friendly bouts, mock chases, and figure flights by tw r os 
and threes. Outlandishness was part of the game; and a favorite stunt 
consisted of falling slowly with uplifted wings and legs down-stretched to 
their ridiculous utmost. Others tumbled as though they had been set 
spinning by some heavenly catapult; while others still engaged in spirited 
fisticuffs — all in a friendly spirit, apparently — whose intricacies of evolu- 
tion are still beyond our returned heroes of the Western Front. A pair 
of Red-tailed Hawks, who claimed rightful ownership of this same ledge, 
were set upon playfully, or with great show of bravado. Usually two 
Ravens would join in the pursuit of a single Redtail. But the hawk took 
their attentions indulgently, much as a college president might a bevy 

The Raven 

of hilarious freshmen. And ever and anon came the deep hunger oope 
cry, interspersed with many sharp, crow-like caws. One mellow note, 
which might have been purely individual, reminded me strikingly of the 
callnote of the Sandhill Crane. 

Best of all was the game of tag [No, this is not nature-faking ; I had 

Taken in Los Angeles County 

Photo by the A uthor 


8-power binoculars]. One bird appeared with a yellow something in 
his talons; it might have been cheese, but probably it wasn't. The 
owner did not seem to want to eat it, for he courted pursuit by coming 
back ever and again close to the appointed tag-post. Finally, another 
bird did succeed in getting "it" away from him, though whether it 
was snatched from below or peacefully surrendered, I could not tell. 
At any rate, the new possessor was much more skilled than the old one, 
and he ventured a succession of acrobatic feats with his bauble. First 
he would drop it from his beak, and seize it with his claws the next instant. 
After carrying the object about in his claws for a while, he would reach 
under and seize it in his beak again — and all this time some other bird 


The Raven 

was making frantic efforts to get it away 
from him. Finally, in a scrimmage the ball 
was dropped and, though several birds dived 
after it, when it became evident that it would 
reach the ground first, no further effort was 
made to regain it. 

After this I witnessed an aerial minuet 
by two gifted performers, — a tumbling con- 
test, wherein touching hands (wing-tips), 
with one bird upside down, was varied with 
simultaneous somersaults and graceful up- 
right, or stalling, presentations. Altogether 
it was a sight for the gods, and it gave one 
a new opinion of these erstwhile sullen and 
funereal bird-people. 

Concerning the notes of the Raven, it is 
quite certain that a volume might be written; 
for this most intelligent bird succeeds in com- 
municating his emotions very fully, at least 
to his mate. Yet for all the centuries of 
association, no discriminating ear has se- 
riously analyzed the Raven's notes; or if so, 
no record has been left. Nor does the author 
feel competent to carry the attempt beyond 
^JfaJMfe the most casual sketch. Croak is the imi- 
'?&'' - • <p^ tative word used oftenest to characterize 

. __ * the note of the Raven; but perhaps krawk 

-ySfe^ ,. i,**^ would hit it more nearly. The note is, 
however, of great individual variety, whether 
photo by the Author uttered singly or in twos or threes, in ac- 
hurrying off to join the fun cordance with the degree of emotion pres- 
ent in the bird; thus: krawk, or quawk 
quawk, or hawk hawk hawk. On any reckoning, it is a sonorous and 
gruesome sound — almost majestic. Any of these notes, by the way, 
may be easily recalled to memory (though not, of course reproduced in 
volume) by a snoring sound accomplished on an intaken breath. The 
notes themselves may, therefore, be properly described as stertorous. 
For song, the Raven offers a curious, mellow, hunger - o' ope, accompanied 
by an earnest bobbing of the foreparts. This utterance is closely imi- 
tated, or exactly parallelled, by the Crow (C. brachyrhynchos) ; and to my 
mind is, in turn, associated with the delar'y cry of the Eastern Bluejay 
{Cyanocitta cristata). In other words, it is of familiar rather than merely 

The Raven 

individual significance. Look' looit, look' looit 
is another phrase I have often heard from birds 
under surveillance, but its precise meaning I 
never could make out. An alarm note used by a 
leader on the rare occasions of assembly is co co 
cawk' , and this is promptly caught up and re- 
peated by certain others, as though it were an 
order given by a colonel. Lastly, there is the 
low kut'tykut'ty, or chut' to chut' to, a sound of deep 
disgust, possibly profane, with which a sitting 
bird quits her nest, upon discovery. 

Of the nesting of the Raven a separate 
volume might be written, a romance of the 
wilderness. For, as the Raven's croak is the 
authentic voice of the wilderness, so is his nest 
its rightful citadel. To be sure, the pressure of 
civilization has brought the proud bird to some 
sorry passes. An observer in Utah 1 tells of a 
pair of Ravens which nested on a railroad 
bridge; and I once found a nest in a deserted 
barn. This last, by the way, was of special in- 
terest because of a generous |use of beef-ribs 
in the substructure. But cliffs are the Raven's 
proper home, and the further removed these are 
from the madding crowd, the better she likes it. 
In seeking out the wild canyons and the "breaks" of semi-arid 
foothill ranges, the Raven finds himself, willy nilly, in close association 
with the Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus). This association must be 
the result of more than accident, for in a wide country I have found 
nests of more than a dozen paired couples, Falcons and Ravens, each 
placed within a few rods, or within a quarter of a mile at most, of the 
nest of the complementary species, and that although intervening canyons 
galore went unoccupied. On the whole, I am inclined to think the 
Prairie Falcon the offender. Coveting the more watchful guardianship 
of the Raven, the Falcon waits until the Ravens have indicated their 
choice of a nesting site for the season, and then heaves to in a neighboring 
cranny. Guarded by the trusty black sentinel, who never allows a 
stranger to approach his own nest unwarned, the Falcon despatches 
her chuckling mate to distant pastures, and puts her mind at ease as she 
settles to her eggs. 

The Raven is true to his trust, but he cannot, of course, repel the 

'H. C. Johnson. "Condor." Vol. 1, p. 72. 

Photo by the Author 


The Raven 

invading oologist. Perhaps this is why the unreasoning Falcon some- 
times falls upon her neighbor Ravens so unmercifully when her own 
nest is threatened. Nowhere else in the bird-world have I seen such 
spirited encounters, or any where character shone out so clearly as in 
those between Hawk and Raven. One such I recall in particular. Hav- 
ing found a Raven's nest commanded by a facing bank, I planted myself 
opposite for photographic purposes. Warned by her mate, the sitting 
bird had stolen from her nest unseen, and the pair of them had been 
playing hide-and-seek with me ever since. Now and again one of them 
would sail over the hilltop, glance downward, and circle back. Or, 
again, I would descry them both down the valley, wheeling majestically, 
as is their wont, in paired flight, with stiff parallel wings, their bodies 
being mantained at a distance of about two feet. Their hearts were in 
the nest, no doubt, but their visible anxieties were greatly restrained 
by the petulant dashes of a Prairie Falcon who, some six numbers up 
the narrow canyon street, was dreading the hour of her own visitation. 
As often as the Ravens did venture 
near, the Falcon fell upon one or the 
other of them with raucous voice 
and eyes ablaze. In the rout which 
followed, the terror of the sable 
birds was evidenced not alone by the 
celerity of the pursued one, but by 
the distress cries of its anxious mate. 
As for the chasee, he (or she) never 
had time to "holler." I tried 
desperately to get a snapshot of one 
of these encounters, but the scene 
of battle shifted so rapidly, or was 
so often carried below the horizon 
line, that it proved quite baffling. 
Once I did press the button at close 
range, but that time the onslaught 
was so terrible that the birds passed 
off the plate in about one ten- 
thousandth of a second, and they 
swept by within twenty feet of me 

. i .... . . Taken in San Luis Obispo County 

with a noise like ripping canvas. Pholo hy the Aulhor 

But at that I never saw a Raven A SHO rt scramble 

hurt ! For the Raven is not only FRED TRUESDALE ON duty 


The Raven 



Taken in San Luis Obispo County 



Photo by the A ulhor 

passed master of the art of flying, but he is an ace of aces for coolness. 
At the critical moment, by a dexterous side flip, too subtle for explanation, 
he always manages to avoid the fatal stroke. It is the supreme test of 
skill, and it is doubtful if any other bird could meet it. Lacking weapons 
of defense, such as, for example, the Redtail possesses in his big talons, 
it is no joke to meet an angry Falcon in midair. Our hero is playing with 
death, and he knows it. 

A typical nest of the Raven is placed midway of some rock ledge, 
unapproachable save by rope either from above or below. If the recess 
in the wall is not shaped just to convenience, it must be filled level with 
crisscrossed sticks lodged at haphazard against the cranny's sides. In 
the top a relatively deep hollow is fashioned, and this bowl is lined with 
every soft substance available, basally with roots and shredded bark, 
interiorly and very bulkily with animal coverings, chiefly those reft from 
carcasses — horsehair and cowhair with hide adhering, or wool in great 
masses. Strips of cloth gleaned from deserted camps, tattered canvas, 


The Raven 

frayed rope-ends, anything, no matter how filthy, which promises elas- 
ticity, is pressed into service. The result is unsanitary and highly offen- 
sive to the nostrils; and as if this were not enough, the sitting bird drenches 
the whole recklessly with its own excrement, making of it a veritable 
abode of harpies. 

Eggs to the number of five or six, rarely seven, are deposited, and 
these are singularly frail as to shell structure. Many eggs are dented, 
either by rough contact with their mates, or else by the impact of gravel 
showered down the face of the nesting cliff. In most full-sized sets there 
are one or two eggs notably lighter in color than their mates, and these 
are definitely known to be either the first or the last laid, sometimes one 
and sometimes the other, showing that the period of maximum pigment 
supply is not strictly coincident with the period of egg deposition. 

The youngsters when hatched, and for a week or two thereafter, 
are exceptionally ugly, being sinfully naked, and of a nondescript greenish 
yellow and brownish color, with red mouth-linings. This latter point 
is always worth mentioning, for a touch on the nest of a food-laden 
parent is always taken as an order, Present mouths! And the display 

Taken in San Luis Obispo County 


Photo by the Author 



The Raven 

of red flannel thereupon ensuing is faultless from a technical standpoint. 
April is the nesting month for Ravens in coastal California, but 
interior breeding ranges come on earlier, in February even. In ranges 
subject to considerable persecution, or, let us confess, oological attention, 
the Ravens learn to avoid the habitual season. On one famous trip, 
April 10-20, 1916, through country much "shot over," we located 
nineteen pairs of Ravens. Of these, five pairs loitered over unfinished 
nests, six boasted young in various stages up to the flying point, and from 
the lot we gleaned only two perfect sets of fresh eggs. We felt, clearly, 
that we were being outwitted by the birds, and especially when one of 
them fled scornfully from a tree-top, a white oak, in which she had hidden 

Taken in Kern County Photo by the Author 



a nestful of babies. In an experience covering some scores of nests, 
this was the only example of a tree-nesting Raven. I am told, however, 
that they do nest in trees in Mendocino and Del Norte Counties, where 
they are also exceptionally common. 


The Raven 

The Raven's reputed wit failed him, however, in another instance 
recorded during the same season of 1916. We were working in the 
juniper country west of the Carriso plains, and we noticed a pair of birds 
engaged about a low cliff at the head of a small spur canyon. I watched 
them through binoculars as they brought several sticks to a certain 
point on the ledge. Investigation disclosed an astonishing condition of 
affairs. The daffy birds had been trying to lodge the foundations of a 
nest in a small sloping crevice where any sort of lodgment was practically 
impossible. As a result, every stick had fallen, in its turn, until a pile six 
feet in diameter and not less than two feet high lay at the bottom of the 
cliff — two hundred pounds weight of wood, and not a mud-sill to the good 
yet! And about forty feet along under the same cliff was another stick 
pile, evidently the accumulation of the preceding season. These birds 
were obsessed with the determination to occupy this cliff whether or no, 
and had gone childless for two seasons! Manifestly a case for the alienist. 

Of the Raven as a captive a separate volume might be written. 
When we shall have recovered somewhat from our present excessive 
devotion to protectionism, we may avail ourselves again of the unending 
interest which attaches to the study of the psychology of birds at close 
range. No fitter subject could be found than the Raven. Cunning, 
agile, adroit, and intensely mischievous, a Raven brought up by hand is, 
nevertheless, capable of a considerable affection. He is reputed a good 
talker, albeit with speech of a certain muffled quality, due no doubt to 
the "depth" of his voice. Having, like the Crow and the Magpie, an 
incurable fondness for bright articles, as well as a destructive disposition, 
he cannot be allowed to run at large; nor, indeed, to be caged with smaller 
birds. No one, therefore, ought to undertake the task of rearing a Raven 
who is not prepared to give it abundant cage room, and to profit fully by 
the opportunity for psychological study thereby afforded. For the rest, 
the Raven is likely to outlive its captor; for it is the very symbol of 
longevity, having attained in several instances, according to credible 
testimony, a full century. Think of it! A centenarian Mephistopheles 
with feathers still unsinged! 


The Western Crow 

No. 2 

Western Crow 

A. O. U. No. 488b. Corvus brachyrhynchos hesperis Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — California Crow. Common Crow. American Crow. 

Description. — Entire plumage glossy black, for the most part with greenish 
blue, steel-blue, and violaceous reflections; feathers of the neck normal, rounded. Bill 
and feet black, iris brown. Length 406.4-508 (16.00-20.00); wing 302 (12.00); tail 
170 (6.70); bill 46.5 (1.83); depth at nostril 16.5 (.65). Female averages smaller than 

Recognition Marks. — "Crow-size" — much smaller than Raven; tail shorter, 
and only slightly rounded. 

Nesting. — Nest: a neat hemisphere of sticks and twigs, carefully lined with 
soft bark strips, or, rarely, roots and grasses; placed at any height in trees, often well 
concealed. Eggs, 4 or 5, rarely 6; ovate or elongate ovate; pale bluish green (lichen 
green, glaucous green, or even dark greenish glaucous), spotted and marked with olive 
and related shades, sometimes so heavily as to appear almost uniform olive. Av. 
size (without distinction from typicus) 41.4 x 29.1 (1.63 x 1. 15); index 70.5. Season: 
April 20-May 20; one brood. 

Range of Corvus brachyrhynchos. — Temperate North America. 

Range of C. b. hesperis. — Chiefly western United States from Rocky Mountains 
to Pacific Coast, save shores of northwestern Washington; north into the interior of 
British Columbia, south to southern California, Arizona, and western Texas. 

Range in California. — Resident; of very local distribution at the lower levels 
nearly throughout the State. Not found in the deserts nor in the higher ranges; of 
rare occurrence east of the Sierran divide (Davis Creek, Modoc Co., June 10, 1912; 
Eagleville, June 30, 1912; Mono Lake, June 3, 1919). Favors riparian association, 
cultivated valleys, and the live oak association of the coastal districts. 

Authorities. — Gambel (Corvus ossifragus and C. americanus), Journ. Acad. 
Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, p. 47; Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, 
p. 251; 1879, pp. 302-306 (crit. ; habits); Ridgway, Manual N. Amer. Birds, 1887, p. 362 
(description of hesperis); Kalmback, Bull. U. S. Dept. Agric, no. 621, 1918, 92 pp., 
3 pis. (life history and food). 

SINCE coming to California I cannot rid myself of the impression 
that there is something childish about the Crow — scarcely ' 'child-like 
and bland" either, for he is astute enough, and wary to a degree. It 
cannot be merely because he is noisy, or that he loves crowds, that he 
gives the impression of frivolity, or irresponsibility. Doubtless it is 
rather because of constant comparison with his somber kinsman, the 
Raven, self-contained black angel and villain of nature's plot. We have 
oftener heard in our wanderings the doomful croak of the larger Corvus, 
so when we come plump upon a roistering company of Crows, the lighter 
quality of their voices strikes us oddly, and we imagine ourselves with a 
company of school-children at recess time. 


The Western Crow 

The Crow in California is no such constant factor of bird life as he 
is in the East. He is, instead, very local and sharply restricted in his 
distribution, so that to a traveller the appearance of Crows is rather 
a novelty, something to be jotted down in the field-book; and Crow 
country can scarcely comprise more than a twentieth part of the total 
area of the State. Confined for the most part to river bottoms or to rich 

Taken in Santa Barbara County 

Photo by the Author 


alluvial valleys, separated by wide stretches of crowless country, the 
behavior of these birds is so strongly influenced by local conditions, that 
generalizations as to nesting habits, absence of fear, etc., are futile. 
In some sections the birds mock at you from the wayside fence-posts. 
Elsewhere it may be difficult to obtain specimens. In one valley the 
Crows will nest in sycamores, in another in live oak trees, in another in 
the depths of the fir forest. 


The Western Crow 

These dusky birds are notorious mischief-makers, no doubt of that. 
But they are not so black, perhaps, as they have been painted. More 
than any other bird, save the Raven, the Crow has successfully matched 
his wits against those of man, and his frequent easy victories and conse- 
quent boastings are responsible in large measure for the unsavory repu- 
tation in which he is held. It is a familiar adage in ebony circles that the 
proper study of Crow-kind is man ; and so well has he pursued this study 
that he may fairly be said to hold his own in spite of fierce and ingenious 
persecution. He rejoices in the name of outlaw, and ages of ill-treatment 
have only served to sharpen his wits and intensify his cunning. 

That the warfare waged against him is largely unnecessary, and 
partly unjust, has been pretty clearly proven of late by scientists who have 
investigated the Crow's food habits. It is true that he destroys large 
numbers of eggs and nestlings, and, if allowed to, that he will occasionally 
invade the poultry yard — and for such conduct there can be no apology. 
It is true, also, that some damage is inflicted upon corn in the roasting-ear 
stage, and that corn left out through the winter constitutes a staple article 
of Crow diet. But it is estimated that birds and eggs form only about 
one-half of one per cent of their total diet; and in the case of grain, certain- 
ly they perform conspicuous services in raising the crop. Besides the 
articles of food mentioned, great quantities of crickets, beetles, grass- 
hoppers, caterpillars, cut-worms, and spiders, are consumed. Frogs, 
lizards, mice, and snakes also appear occasionally upon the bill of fare. 
On the whole, therefore, the Crow is not an economic Gorgon, and his 
destruction need not largely concern the farmer, although it is always 
well to teach the bird a proper reverence. 

The psychology of the Crow is worthy of a separate treatise. All 
birds have a certain faculty of direct perception, which we are pleased to 
call instinct; but the Crow, at least, comes delightfully near to reasoning. 
It is on account of his phenomenal brightness that a Crow is among the 
most interesting of pets. If taken from the nest and well treated, a 
young Crow can be given such a large measure of freedom as fully to 
justify the experiment from a humanitarian standpoint. Of course the 
sure end of such a pet is death by an ignorant neighbor's gun, but the 
dear departed is embalmed in memory to such a degree that all Crows 
are thereafter regarded as upon a higher plane. 

Everyone knows that Crows talk. Their cry is usually represented 
by a single syllable, caw, but it is capable of many and important modifi- 
cations. For instance, keraw, her aw, comes from some irritated and 
apprehensive female, who is trying to smuggle a stick into the grove; 
kawk-kawk-kawk proclaims sudden danger, and puts the flock into instant 
commotion; while caw-aw, caw-aw, caw-aw, reassures them. Once, in win- 

The Western Crow 

ter when the bird-man, for sport, was mystifying the local bird population 

by reproducing the notes of the Screech Owl, a company of Crows settled 

in the tops of neigh- 

boring trees, and 

earnestly discussed 

the probable nature 

of the object half 

concealed under a 

camera cloth. 

Finally, they gave 

it up and withdrew 

— as I supposed. 

Taken in Oregon Photo by Bohlman and Finley 


It seems that one old fellow was not satisfied, for as I ventured to shift 
ever so little from my strained position, he set up a derisive Ca-a-a-aw 
from a branch over my head, as who should say, "Aw, ye can't fool me. 
Y're just a m-a-an," and flapped away in disgust. 

Space fails in which to describe the elaborate structure of Crow 
society; to tell of the military and pedagogical systems which they en- 
force; of the courts of justice and penal institutions which they maintain; 
of the vigilantes who visit vengeance upon evil-minded owls and other 
offenders; or even of the games which they play, — tag, hide-and-seek, 
blind-man's-buff and pull-away. These things are sufficiently attested 
by competent observers; we may only spare a word for that most serious 
business of life, nesting. 


The Western Crow 

A typical Crow's nest is a very substantial affair, as our illustration 
shows. Upon a basis of coarse sticks, a mat of dried leaves, grasses, bark- 
strips, and dirt, or mud, is impressed. The deep rounded bowl thus 
formed is carefully lined with the inner bark of the willow, or with twine, 
horse-hair, cow-hair, rabbit-fur, wool, or any other soft substance avail- 
able. When completed, the nesting hollow is seven or eight inches across 
and three or four deep. The expression "Crow's nest," as used to 
indicate disarray, really arises from the consideration of old nests. Since 
the birds resort to the same locality year after year, but never use an 
old nest, the neighboring structures of successive years come to represent 
every stage of dilapidation. 

North or South, April is the nesting month for all proper Crows. 
March eggs are of record, and, of course, a few laggards show up in May. 
Such matters as time and place appear to be pretty rigidly ordained by 
the clan or community council, for Crows are loosely gregarious, even in 
their nesting. While one rarely sees occupied nests in adjoining trees, 

Taken in Riverside County 

Photo by Wright M. Pierce 



The Western Crow 

to find a dozen or a score in a certain section of woodland, is the rule 
rather than the exception. Caution reigns here as at other times, and 
nest-building operations are suspended for the nonce if the Crows suspect 
the presence of a hated human. There is a way, however, by which an 
adroit observer may learn the Corvine secret, no matter how carefully 
hidden the domicile may be. In the honeymoon days attendant upon 
deposition, the amorous crow will call her mate to the nest-side from 
time to time by giving the hunger cry, anh annh, — identical in quality, 
apparently, with the sounds which will issue clamorously from the nest 
five or six weeks later. It is the coaxing, irresistible call of the eternal 
feminine, and the black swain will yield to its solicitations, even though 
it be against his better judgment. Alas, how many a poor wight has 
been trapped through his affections! The secret is out, Mr. Crow! 

Fresh eggs may, therefore, be found by the second or third week in 
April. Incubation lasts from fourteen to eighteen days; and the young, 
commonly four or five in number, are born naked and blind. It is when 
the Crow children are hatched that Nature begins to groan. It is then 
that birds' eggs are quoted by the crate, and beetles by the hecatomb 
are sacrificed daily in a vain effort to satisfy 
the Gargantuan appetites of these young 
ebons. I once had the misfortune to pitch 
camp in a grove of willows which contained a 
nestful of Crows. The old birds never forgave 
me, but upbraided me in bitter language from v 

early morn till dewy eve. The young- 
sters also suffered somewhat, I fear, for as 
often as a parent bird approached, cawing 
in a curiously muffled voice, choked with 
food, and detected me outside the tent, it 


V * V~ 

Photo by the Author 


The Western Crow 

swallowed its burden without compunction, in order that it might the 
more forcibly berate me. 

If the male happened to discover my out-of-doorsness in the absence 
of his mate, he would rush at her when she hove in sight, in an officious, 
blustering way, and shout, "Look out there! Keep away! The Rhino 
is on the rampage again!" 

I learned, also, to recognize the appearance of hawks in the offing. 
At the first sign the Crow, presumably the male, begins to roll out ob- 
jurgatory gutturals as he hurries forward to meet the intruder. His 
utterances, freely translated, run somewhat as follows: "That blank, 
blank, Swainson Hawk! I thought I told him to keep away from here. 
Arrah, there, you slab-sided son of an owl! What are ye doing here? 
Git out o' this! (Biff! Biff!) Git, I tell ye! (Biff!) If ever I set eyes 
on ye again, I'll feed ye to the coyotes. Git, now!" And all this without 
the slightest probability that the poor hawk would molest the hideous 
young pickaninnies if he did discover them. For when was a self-respect- 
ing hawk so lost to decency as to be willing to "eat crow?" 

Crows, always sociable, become strictly gregarious after the young 
families are fully grown and ready to merge themselves into the clan. 
Again, under the rigors of winter, vast companies assemble into what are 
known as roosts, — nightly, communal associations, which sometimes 
number thousands. This institution, however, is very much more 
loosely observed in the West, and has not, apparently, been made the 
subject of special study. I well remember a trick which two mischievous 
bird-men played on a Crow roost in Ohio. The birds were using a certain 
stretch of ' 'second growth ' ' that season, and so were sleeping at a height 
of only fifteen or twenty feet. We stole out before a hint of dawn, and 
succeeded in getting to the very centre of the roost unsuspected. So 
when Brother Jones turned loose a good imitation of a Hoot Owl 's cry, 
there was something doing. In a silence which could be felt every bird 
made a desperate leap into midair. And then ensued such a pandemonium 
of rage as I never was privileged to witness before. The air crashed with 
sound. Corvine expletives mingled with direst threats; and I suppose 
if there had been a veritable Horned Owl aloft, he would have been minced 
in a trice. As it was, our laughter bore witness to the Crows' discomfiture, 
though their disillusionment was slow, and they moved off grumbling 
and wondering. 


The Clark Nutcracker 

No. 3 
Clark's Nutcracker 

A. O. U. No. 491. Nucifraga Columbiana (Wilson). 

Synonyms. — Clark's Crow. Pine Crow. Gray Crow. "Camp Robber" 
(Through confusion with the Gray Jay, Perisoreus sp.). "Clarke's" Crow, etc., (name 
misspelled, as conclusively demonstrated by Coues). 

Description. — Adult in fresh plumage (fall and winter): General body color 
light neutral gray, changing to white on face all around, including circumocular area: 
wings glossy black, the secondaries broadly tipped with white; under tail-coverts and 
four outermost pairs of rectrices white, the fifth pair with outer web chiefly white and 
the inner web chiefly black, the remaining (central) pair of rectrices and the upper 
tail-coverts black; axillars and wing linings deep mouse gray to sooty black, often 
varied by white (in younger specimens?). Bill and feet black; iris brown. Adults in 
worn plumage [spring and summer) : The gray element changing to brownish, light 
drab, or even drab (the breast often stained irregularly with olive-brown through 

The Clark Nutcracker 

contact with pitch); the white of face soiled or brown-stained. Young birds are like 
adults in worn plumage. Length 279.4-330.2 (11. 00-13. 00); wing 192 (7.00-8.00); tail 
115 (4.50); bill 40.7 (1.60); tarsus 36.8 (1.45). Female smaller than male. 

Recognition Marks. — Kingfisher size; gray plumage with abruptly contrasting 
black-and-white of wings and tail; harsh "char-r" note. 

Nesting. — Nest: a thick-walled cup composed chiefly of fine barkstrips, externally 
of interlaced sticks; lining of finest shredded bark; placed at moderate heights in 
pinyon, juniper, or pine. Eggs: 2 or 3, or, rarely, 4. "Ground color light lichen-green. 
Light mottlings or streakings of pale drab-gray and minute spottings of Saccardo's 
olive distributed over the entire surface, with a slight confluence at the larger end 
whence a faintly defined banded effect is noticeable" (Bradbury). Av. of 15 eggs: 
33.3 x 23.1 (1. 31 x .91); index 70. Season: March at the lower breeding levels; prob- 
ably later with increase of elevation; one brood. 

General Range. — Western North America in coniferous timber, from Arizona 
and New Mexico to Alaska; casual east of the Rockies. 

Range in California. — Common resident in the higher timbered mountain 
ranges practically throughout the State, occurring from high Transition up to the 
summits. Also of sporadic occurrence at the lower levels in fall and winter — Point 
Reyes, Nov. 19, 1900, (J. Mailliard) ; Point Pinos (W. K. Fisher); Carmel (J. L. Schles- 
inger) ; Santa Barbara (various occurrences, specimen taken Oct. 15, 1919); Colorado 
Desert near Indio (C. O. Esterly) ; at sea near Los Angeles (G. F. Ferris). 

Authorities. — Newberry (Picicorvus columbianus) , Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., 
vol. vi., pt. iv., 1857, p. 83; Feilner, Ann. Rept. Smithsonian Inst, for 1864 (1865), p. 
427 (range; habits); Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, p. 252 (habits); Merriam, 
C. H., North Amer. Fauna, no. 16, 1899, pp. 1 19-12 1, 2 figs, (habits; food); Mailliard, 
J., Condor, vol. xxii., 1920, pp. 160-161 (at Carmel; habits). 

NO BIRD-LOVER can forget his first encounter with this singular 
Old-Bird-of-the-Mountains. Ten to one the bird brought the man up 
standing by a stentorian char'r'r, char'r'r, char'r'r, which led him to search 
wildly in his memory whether Rocs are credited with voices. If the bird was 
particularly concerned at the man's intrusion, he presently revealed 
himself sitting rather stolidly on a high pine branch, repeating that harsh 
and deafening cry. The grating voice is decidedly unpleasant at close 
quarters, and it is quite out of keeping with the unquestioned sobriety 
of its grizzled owner. A company of Nutcrackers in the distance finds 
frequent occasion for outcry, and the din is only bearable as it is softened 
and modified by the re-echoing walls of some pine-clad gulch, or else 
dissipated by the winds which sweep over the listening glaciers. 

But the Nutcracker's repertory is not exhausted by a single cry. 
For years I was puzzled by sporadic eruptions of a strange, feline cry, 
meack, or mearrk, a piercing and rather frightful sound. The Clark 
Nutcracker proved at last to be responsible, and he was only at play! 
The very next morning after the mountain lion scare, we had the versatile 

The Clark Nutcracker 

birds as musicians. Two of them got out their little toy trumpets, 
pitched about a fifth apart, and proceeded to give us the Sierran reveille: 

hee hee hee, hee hee, hee, hee, hee, hee, hee. 

hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo 

The notes were really quite musical, and the comparison established of 
children's tin trumpets was irresistible. The effect produced by the 

Taken in the Tehipile Valley 

Photo by the A ullior 


two birds sounding in different keys was both pleasant and amusing — 
Merry Christmas in July! The concert lasted two or three minutes, and 
its conclusion was announced when one of the youngsters shouted Charr 
(as who should say, Rats!), and burst out of the tree. 

Clark's Nutcracker is the presiding genius of all our higher mountain 
bodies, including in his regular haunts the pinyon-forested desert ranges, 
as well as the rugged fastnesses of the central Cordilleras. At the close 
of the breeding season, and especially in the late summer, the birds have 
a wider vertical range, pressing the limits of evergreen timber at the 
lower levels, as well as paying occasional visits to the topmost peaks. 
There is no migration in the proper sense, but occasional individuals 
turn up now and then in most unexpected places. For example, a stray 
bird appeared at Miramar, a fashionable seaside resort near Santa Bar- 
bara, on the 28th of January, 191 7. And again in the fall of 1919 there 

The Clark Nutcracker 

was a visitation of Nutcrackers which involved most of the coastal 
counties from Monterey to the Colorado desert. A specimen now in 
the M. C. O. collection was taken in Montecito; and another bird spent 
fully three weeks in Alameda Park, in the heart of Santa Barbara. 

This black-and-white-and-gray "Crow" curiously combines the char- 
acteristics of Woodpecker and Jay as well. Like the Lewis Woodpecker, 
he sometimes hawks at passing insects, eats berries from bushes, or 
alights on the ground to glean grubs, grasshoppers, and black crickets. 
In the mountains it shares with the Jays of the Perisoreus group the 
names "meat-bird" and "camp-robber," for nothing that is edible comes 
amiss to this bird, and instances are on record of its having invaded not 
only the open-air kitchen, but the tent, as well, in search of "supplies". 
Like all other members of the Corvidae, Clark's Crow bears a bad reputa- 
tion among the lesser songsters. One that had been caught sneaking 
about in the pine-trees just below our Cottonwood Lakes camp, was 
fiercely set upon by a pair of Western Wood Pewees. The pursuers 
gave the rascal no rest, but drove the unhappy crow mercilessly from 
tree to tree, and with a persistence which left no room for doubt that 
they had real wrongs to avenge. At Mammoth we found them perse- 
cuting the Leucostictes, and knew of at least one nest being robbed by 

Of its more staple food a more northern observer says: "Clark's 
Crows have, like the Crossbills, to get out the seeds from underneath the 
scaly coverings constituting the outward side of the fir cone. Nature 
has not given them crossed mandibles to lever open the scales, but in- 
stead, feet and claws, that serve the purpose of hands, and a powerful 
bill like a small crowbar. To use the crowbar to advantage the cone 
needs steadying, or it would snap at the stem and fall; to accomplish 
this one foot clasps it, and the powerful claws hold it firmly, whilst the 
other foot encircling the branch, supports the bird, either back downward, 
head downward, on its side, or upright like a woodpecker, the long clasping 
claws being equal to any emergency; the cone thus fixed and a firm hold 
maintained on the branch, the seeds are gouged out from under the scales. " 

These Nutcrackers are among the earliest and most hardy of nesters. 
They are practically independent of climate, but are found during the 
nesting months — March, or even late in February, and early April — only 
where there is a local abundance of pine (or fir) seeds. They are artfully 
silent at this season, and the impression prevails that they have "gone 
to the mountains"; or, if in the mountains already, the presence of a 
dozen feet of snow serves to allay the oologist's suspicions. 

The nest is a very substantial affair of twigs and bark-strips, heavily 
lined, as befits a cold season, and placed at any height in a pine or fir 


The Clark Nutcracker 

tree, without noticeable attempt at concealment. The birds take turns 
incubating and — again because of the cold season — are very close sitters. 
Three eggs are usually laid, of about the size and shape of Magpies' eggs 
but much more lightly colored. Incubation, Bendire thinks, lasts sixteen 
or seventeen days, and the young are fed chiefly on hulled pine seeds, 
at the first, presumably regurgitated. 

If the Corvine affinities of this bird were nowhere else betrayed, they 
might be known from the hunger cries of the young. The importunate 
anh, anh, anh of the expectant bantling, and the subsequent gullu, gullu, 
gidlu of median deglutition (and boundless satisfaction) will always 
serve to bind the Crow, Magpie, and Nutcracker together in one compact 
group. When the youngsters are "ready for college," the reserve of 
early spring is set aside and the hillsides are made to resound with much 
practice of that uncanny yell before mentioned. Family groups are 
gradually obliterated and, along in June, the birds of the foothills begin 
to deploy, or else to retire irregularly to the higher ranges, there to rest 
up after the exhausting labors of the season, or else to revel in midsummer 
gaiety with sundry scores of their fellows. 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo bv the A llthor 




The Pinyon Jay 

Early on a July morning, having set ourselves the task of climbing 
Mt. Langley, we noted on the aneroid the attainment of the thirteen 
thousand foot level, and were gazing wistfully up at the rugged peak 
looming a thousand feet higher, when, suddenly, like a wisp of snow- 
flakes caught up by the wind, or like a sudden bursting rocket, a flock of 
birds appeared right over the summit. Their breasts shone resplendent 
in the morning sun, and under this bright disguise it took some moments 
with the binoculars to make them out as Clark Crows. How jolly! 
these gifted creatures have held a sunrise prayer (?) meeting "already 
yet so soon, " while we poor mortals must plod on and on under a blister- 
ing sun! 

"The heights by great men won and kept 

Were not attained by sudden flight: 

But they while their companions slept 

Were toiling upward in the night" 

evidently does not apply to the birds. 

No. 4 

Pinyon Jay 

A. 0. U. No. 492. Cyanocephalus cyanocephalus (Wied). 

Synonyms. — Blue Crow. Maximilian's Jay. Pine Jay. 

Description. — Adults: Plumage dull grayish blue (tyrian blue where pure) 
mingled with bluish gray and brownish gray, deepening on crown and nape (dusky 
slate-blue), brightening on cheeks (olympic blue), paling below posteriorly to neutral 
gray, streaked with dull white on chin, throat, and chest, centrally. Bill and feet 
black; iris brown. Adult female : Like male, but somewhat duller, with increase of gray. 
Young birds are still duller, gray rather than blue, except on wings and tail. Length 
of adult male: 279.4-304.8 (11. 00-12. 00) ; wing 154 (6.00); tail 114 (4.50); bill 36 (1.42) ; 
tarsus 38 (1.50). Adult female: wing 144.5 (5-68); tail 104 (39.5); bill 31.5 (1.24), 
tarsus 35.5 (1.40). 

Recognition Marks. — Robin size; blue color; crow-like aspect. 

Nesting. — Nest: composed of twigs, heavily lined with finely shredded bark 
strips; placed at moderate height in pinyon or juniper. Eggs: 4 or 5; pale greenish 
white, speckled quite uniformly with olive-brown. Av. of 25 eggs in the U. S. National 
Museum 30.2 x 22.1 (1.19 x .87); index 73. Av. of 20 eggs from Santa Fe in the 
M. C. O: 27.3 x 21.9 (1.075 x .846); index 78. Season: April-May 10; one brood. 

General Range. — Pinyon and juniper woods of western United States; north 
to southern British Columbia (interior), Idaho, etc.; south to northern Lower California, 
Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas; casually along the eastern slopes of the 
Rocky Mountains. 


The Pin yon Jay 

a 1 


1 1 : 
t heir lions 

d in the 

Pinyon Jay 

About Y2 life size 
From a water-color painting by Major Allan Brooks 

Bill and feet 

The Piny on Jay 

Range in California. — "Common resident locally of arid Upper Sonoran and 
Transition, chiefly along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada and ranges of southern 
California, and on the desert ranges of the Inyo district. Its permanent habitat is 
closely coincident with the presence of the pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and juniper 
{Juniperus occidental is)" (Grinnell). Also indulges in extraordinary wanderings in 
fall and winter. Has occurred thus at Pasadena (Gaylord), Santa Barbara (Dawson). 
Pacific Grove (J. Mailliard), Berkeley (J. Grinnell), and even Eureka (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Feilner (Gymnokitta cyanocephala), Ann. Rep. Smithsonian 
Inst, for 1864 (1865), p. 427 (habits); Fisher, A. K., N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, 
pp. 72-73 (range; food) ;Bendire, Life Hist. N. Am. Birds, vol. ii.. 1895, pp. 424-426, 
pi. iii., (figs. 24, 25) (habits, nest and eggs); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 
69 (status in s. Calif.); van Rossem and Pierce, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, p. 164. 

THE RANGE of the Pinyon Jay is normally coextensive with that 
of the pinyon {Pinus monophylla) plus that of the juniper {Juniperus 
occidentalis) ; hence, it is chiefly confined in California to the eastern 
slopes of the Sierras and the desert ranges of Riverside, San Bernardino 
and Inyo counties. The bird is, however, a great wanderer, and sporadic 
occurrences have been recorded from several of the coastal counties, 
stretching from San Diego clear to Humboldt. The Santa Barbara 
record was made on October 9th, 1914, when a flock of about two hundred 
birds flew westward over town at a height of about half a mile. They 
suggested Crows both in voice and appearance; but the "caws" were 
shorter, sharper, and thinner, and the wing-action more rapid. 

Grinnell encountered this species commonly at several points in the 
San Bernardino Mountains, 1 and noted its relative indifference to the 
human presence. The birds fed a good deal upon the ground, as well 
as in the pine trees; and on their foraging expeditions ventured far out 
into the sage flats. "A large scattering flock may be absolutely silent 
for minutes at a time, and then again indulge in a concert of nasal, mew- 
ing calls, which can be heard a long ways. In their method of spreading 
out over a sage flat, and working zigzag over the ground for insects, they 
closely resemble Brewer Blackbirds, both in flight and general behavior." 
Grinnell and Swarth also noted their ground-feeding habit in the San 
Jacinto Mountains; 2 and Fisher found in a bird's crop sprouted pine 
seeds, which he judged must have been gleaned from the ground. Cap- 
tain Bendire had perhaps the widest acquaintance with this erratic, 
desert-haunting species, and I record his testimony, even though it 
both duplicates and contradicts portions of the foregoing: 

"Their call notes are quite variable; some of them are almost as 
harsh as the 'chaar' of the Clarke's Nutcracker, others partake much of 
the gabble of the Magpie, and still others resemble more those of the 
Jays. A shrill, querulous 'peek, peek,' or 'whee, whee,' is their common 

i "The Biota of the San Bernardino Mountains," 1908, pp. 85. 86. p~ 

-"Birds and Mammals of San Jacinto," 1913, p. 263. ^y 

The Pinyon Jay 

call note. While feeding on the ground they keep up a constant chat- 
tering, which can be heard for quite a distance, and in this way often 
betray their whereabouts. 

"It is an eminently sociable species at all times, even during the breed- 
ing season, and is usually seen in large compact flocks, moving about 
from place to place in search of feeding grounds, being on the whole 
rather restless and erratic in its movements; you may meet with thou- 
sands in a place to-day and perhaps to-morrow you will fail to see a single 
one. It is rarely met with at altitudes of over 9,000 feet in summer, 
and scarcely ever in the higher coniferous forests; its favorite haunts are 
the pinyon-covered foothills of the minor mountain regions, the sweet 
and very palatable seeds of these trees furnishing its favorite food during 
a considerable portion of the year. In summer they feed largely on 
insects of all kinds, especially grasshoppers, and are quite expert in 
catching these on the wing; cedar and juniper berries, small seeds of 
various kinds, and different species of wild berries also enter largely into 
their bill of fare. A great deal of time is spent on the ground where they 
move along in compact bodies while feeding, much in the manner of 
Blackbirds, the rearmost birds rising from time to time, flying over the 
flock and alighting again in front of the main body; they are rather shy 
and alert while engaged in feeding. I followed a flock numbering several 
thousands which was feeding in the open pine forest bordering the Kla- 
math Valley, Oregon, for more than half a mile, trying to get a shot at 
some of them, but in this I was unsuccessful. They would not allow me 
to get within range, and finally they became alarmed, took wing, and 
flew out of sight down the valley." 

Although breeding within our borders to the number of thousands, 
perhaps tens of thousands, it is a matter of amused record (Oct. 1918) 
that no occupied nest of the Pinyon Jay has ever been reported for 
California. Why sigh for Africa or Alaska with such unexploited fields 
at home! An observer in Utah, Mr. H. C. Johnson 1 , testifies that in 
its nesting habits this jay is decidedly erratic. Sometimes it nests 
singly, but oftener en colonic While they nest preferably in some 
variety of conifer, pinyon, scrub cedar, juniper, and the like, they occur 
also in the mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt.), or even 
in brushy thickets. One mountain mahogany he knows of that is "fairly 
full of nests, some nearly touching each other." Evidently the "Native 
Sons" have been caught napping. 

'The Condor, vol. IV., p. 14. 

The Black-billed Magpie 

Taken in Washington 

Photo by the Author 


No. 5 

American Magpie 

A. O. U. No. 475. Pica pica hudsonia (Sabine). 

Synonym. — Black-billed Magpie 

Description. — Adults: Black and white; head and neck, breast, back, crissum, 
thighs and upper tail coverts, axillars and lining of wings, glossy black with steely 
purplish and bronzy green reflections; the throat with whitish shaft streaks; an elongated 
scapular patch pure white; lower breast, upper abdomen, flanks and sides broadly 
pure white; primaries extensively white on inner web; a broad band on rump with 
large admixture of white; remainder of wings and tail black, their exposed upper sur- 
faces with shiny metallic reflections, those of the wing chiefly greenish blue, those of 
the tail bronzy green changing sub-terminally through purple and violet; tail narrowly 
graduated through terminal three-fifths. Bill, bare orbital space, legs, and feet, black; 
iris brown, surrounded by gray. Young birds lack iridescence on head and are else- 
where duller, the throat marked with whitish shaft lines and outcropping of basal white; 
relative length of tail sure index of age in juvenile specimens. Length of adults, 406.4- 

The Black-billed Magpie 

508 (16.00-20.00), of which tail, av. 265 (8.00-12.00); wing 200 (7.85); bill (exposed 
culmen) 35 (1.35); tarsus 47 (1.85). 

Recognition Marks. — Black and white plumage with long tail unmistakable, 
bill black as distinguished from P. nuttalli. 

Nesting. — Nest: Normally a large sphere of interlaced sticks, "as big as a bushel 
basket," placed 5 to 40 feet high in willow, aspen, grease-wood or pine. The nest 
proper is a contained hemisphere of mud 8 to 10 inches across inside, and with walls 
1 to 2 inches in thickness, carefully lined for half its depth with twigs surmounted by a 
mat of fine rootlets. Eggs: 7 or 8, rarely 10, pale grayish green, quite uniformly freckled 
and spotted with olive-green or olive-brown. Occasionally spots nearly confluent in 
heavy ring about larger end, in which case remainder of egg likely to be less heavily 
marked than usual. Shape variable, rounded ovate to elongate ovate. Av. size, 
32.5 x 22.9 (1.28 x .90); index 70.3. Seaso?i: March 20-May 1; one brood. 

Range of Pica pica. — Europe, the most of Asia, and North America south to 
Arizona and New Mexico. 

Range of P. p. hudsonia. — Resident in the western United States (except the 
Pacific Coast district), and interiorly in the British Provinces; from central New 
Mexico and western Texas north to central Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, 
and northwestward to the middle Yukon and the eastern Aleutian Islands: casually, 
eastward in the North Central States to Ontario and the Hudson Bay region. 

Range in California. — Common resident in Upper Sonoran and Transition 
zones, northeast of the Sierran divide; less commonly east of the Sierras as far south 
as Independence in Inyo County, and (formerly at least) west along the northern 
border of the State to Shasta Valley. 

Authorities. — Newberry, Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. vi., pt. iv., 1857, p. 84; 
Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Survey, 1879, pp. 306-307 (nesting habits); Bendire, 
Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 349-353, (habits, nests and eggs); Fisher, 
W. K., Condor, vol. iv., 1902, pp. 6, 11 (habits); Ray, Auk, vol. xx., 1903, p. 185 (nest- 

HERE IS another of those rascals in feathers who keep one alter- 
nately grumbling and admiring. As an abstract proposition one would 
not stake a sou marquee on the virtue of a Magpie; but taken in the 
concrete, with a sly wink and a saucy tilt of the tail, one will rise to his 
feet, excitedly shouting, "Go it, Jackity, " and place all his earnings 
on this pie-bald steed in the race for avian honors. It is impossible to 
exaggerate this curious contradiction in Magpie nature, and in our 
resulting attitude towards it. It is much the same with the mischievous 
small boy. He has surpassed the bounds of legitimate naughtiness, 
and we take him on the parental knee for well-deserved correction. 
But the saucy culprit manages to steal a roguish glance at us, — a glance 
which challenges the remembrance of our own boyish pranks, and bids 
us ask what difference it will make twenty years after; and it is all off with 
discipline for that occasion. 

The Magpie is indisputably a wretch, a miscreant, a cunning thief, 
a heartless marauder, a brigand bold — Oh, call him what you will! But, 
withal, he is such a picturesque villain, that as often as you are stirred 




The Black-billed Magpie 

with righteous indignation and impelled to punitive slaughter, you fall 
to wondering if your commission as avenger is properly countersigned, 
and — shirk the task outright. 

The cattle-men have it in for him, because the persecutions of the 
Magpie sometimes prevent scars made by the branding iron from healing; 
and cases are known in which young stock has died because of malignant 
sores resulting. This is, of course, a grave misdemeanor; anything 

which affects our pocketbook is sure 
to be rated such. But when the in- 
humane custom of branding 
shall have been discontinued, 
as it will be when the fence- 
loving farmer triumphs over 
the freedom-loving cattleman 
(a sad day, however), we shall 
hear no more complaints of 
the Magpie on the score of 
cruelty to animals. 

Beyond this it is indis- 
putably true that Magpies 
are professional nest robbers. 
At times they will organize sys- 
tematic searching parties, and 
advance through the sage-brush, 
poking, prying, spying, and de- 
vouring, with the ruthlessness 
and precision of a pestilence. 
Not only eggs but young birds 
are appropriated. I once saw a 
Magpie seize a half-grown 
Meadowlark from its nest, carry 
it to its own domicile, and parcel 
it out among its clamoring brood. 
Then, in spite of the best de- 
fense the agonized parents could 
institute, it calmly returned and 

selected another. Sticks and stones shied by the birdman merely deferred 

the doom of the remaining larks. The Magpie was not likely to forget 

the whereabouts of such easy meat. 

Nor is such a connoisseur of eggs likely to overlook the opportunities 

afforded by a poultry yard. He becomes an adept at purloining eggs, 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo by the Author 



C3 -. 








The Black-billed Magpie 

and can make off with his booty 
with astonishing ease. One 
early morning, seeing a Magpie 
fly over the corral with some- 
thing large and white in his 
bill, and believing that he had 
alighted not far beyond, I fol- 
lowed quickly and frightened 
him from a large hen's egg, 
which bore externally the marks 
of the bird's bill, but which was 
unpierced. Of course the only 
remedy for such a habit is the 

To say that Magpies are 
garrulous would be as trite as 
to say hens cackle, and the ad- 
jective could not be better 
defined than "talking like a 
Magpie." The Magpie is the 
symbol of loquacity. The very 
type in which this is printed is 
small pica; that is, small Mag- 
pie. Much of this bird's con- 
versation is undoubtedly unfit 
for print, but it has always the 
merit of vivacity. A party of 
Magpies will keep up a running 
commentary on current events, 
now facetious, now vehement, 
as they move about; while a 
comparative cessation of the 
racket means, as likely as not, 
that some favorite raconteur is 
holding forth, and that there 
will be an explosion of riotous 

laughter when his tale is done. The pie, like Nero, aspires to song; but 
no sycophant will be found to praise him, for he intersperses his more tune- 
ful musings with chacks and barks and harsh interjections which betray 
a disordered taste. In modulation and quality, however, the notes some- 
times verge upon the human; and it is well known that Magpies can be 
instructed until they acquire a handsome repertoire of speech. 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo by the Author 




The Black-billed Magpie 

In order that their double quartet of youngsters may be lined up for 
the egg harvest, the Magpies take an early start at home building. April is 

the normal nesting 
month, and there are 
late March records 
as far north as the 
northern border of 
the U.S. In the high 
plateau region of 
northwestern Cali- 
fornia, however, 
early May eggs are 
the rule rather than 
the exception. The 
birds resort at nest- 
ing time to the most 
places, where they 
breed in straggling 
colony fashion. The 
near vicinity of 
water is deemed a 
prime requisite, so 
spring '/draws" 
covered with wil- 
lows or quaking 
asps are favorite 
stations. Nests are, 
normally, at mod- 
erate heights, in 
willows, elders, or 
Crataegus bushes, 
but in regions where 
they have been sub- 
jected to persecu- 
tion, the birds will 
resort to pine trees, 
if available, or in 
more desert situa- 
tion to junipers, 
mountain mahog- 
any, sage bushes, or 

Taken in InydJZounty HERSELF Photo by the Author 



The Black-billed Magpie 

even the ground. The nest is a neat ball of interlacing sticks set 
about a hollow half-sphere of dried mud. The amount of labor expen- 
ded upon one of these structures is prodigious. The greasewood 
nest shown at the head of this article is three feet deep and two feet 
through, and the component sticks are so firmly interwoven that no ordi- 
nary agency, short of the human hand, can effect an entrance. The 
bird enters through an obscure passage in one side, and, if surprised 
upon the nest, has always a way of escape planned through the opposite 
wall. The mud cup is carefully shaped with walls an inch or two in 
thickness, a total breadth of eight or ten inches, and a like depth. In 
the best construction this cavity is filled to a depth of three or four inches 
with a loose mat of fine twigs of a uniform size. Upon this, in turn, is 
placed a coiled mattress of fine, clean rootlets, the whole affording a very 
sanitary arrangement. 

Magpies, like Blue Jays, are discreetly quiet in nesting time, and 
especially so if they have attempted to nest in the vicinity of a farm- 
house. Else, and save for the presence of man, the Magpie has little 
to fear. His home is his castle in a very literal sense. 

Young Magpies are unsightly when hatched, — "worse than naked," 
and repulsive to a degree equaled only by young Cormorants. Hideous 
as they unquestionably are, the devoted parents declare them angels, 
and are ready to back their opinions with most raucous vociferations. 
With the possible exception of Herons, who are plebes anyhow, Magpies 
are the most abusive and profane of birds. When a nest of young birds 
is threatened, they not only express such reasonable anxiety as any parent 
might feel, but they denounce, upbraid, anathematize, and vilify the 
intruder, and decry his lineage from Adam down. They show the in- 
genuity of Orientals in inventing opprobrious epithets, and when these 
run dry, they fall to tearing at the leaves, the twigs, the branches, or 
even light on the ground and rip up the soil with their beaks, in the mad 
extremity of their rage. 

A pair with whom I experimented in Washington rather fell into 
the humor of the thing. The Magpie is ever a wag, and these must 
have known that repeated visits could mean no harm. Nevertheless, as 
often as I rattled the nest from my favorite perch on the willow tree, the old 
pies opened fresh vials of wrath and emptied their contents upon my 
devoted head. When mere utterance became inadequate, the male 
bird fell to hewing at the end of a broken branch in most eloquent 
indignation. He wore this down four inches in the course of my 
three visits. Once, when my attention was diverted, he took a sly 
crack at my outstretched fingers, which were hastily withdrawn; and, 
believe me, we both laughed. 


The Yellow-billed Magpie 

The Black-billed Magpie winters practically throughout its breeding 
range. In the fall, however, it gathers into flocks, sometimes of quite 
considerable size. Such flocks, dependent upon the food supply, range 
widely, and as a result may be said to indulge in irregular migratory 
movements. Flock movements are sometimes performed with a un- 
animity of impulse akin to that of Sandpipers, and the sight of say fifty 
Magpies, black-and-white wings a-flutter and long tails streaming, 
slewing and tacking with the wind, is indeed a memorable one. 

Wherever permitted, the Magpie becomes a faithful pensioner of 
the slaughter house. Stock men take advantage of the birds' weakness 
for meat, and assail them with shot-gun or poison. The birds learn to be 
wary of both, but between these attacks and the annual raiding of the 
nesting grounds, it is perfectly possible to clear the Magpies out of a 
given range. The first discovery of a "fallen hero " by one of his comrades 
is the invariable signal for a noisy wake. The clan is summoned by 
sharp cries, and the members assemble from far and near in quick re- 
sponse. Now one and now another hops up cautiously to view the 
remains, while all make strident cries which voice their undying indig- 
nation at man's cruelty. And, indeed, now that we think of it, what 
is the use in trying to reduce the varied offspring of nature to one dead 
level of mediocrity! If all birds were good little dickey birds, and said 
tweet tweet with pious uniformity, some men, now saintly, would un- 
doubtedly be moved to profane utterance. Here, then, is a toast to the 
Magpie, cheerful, lovable devil of a bird that he is! 

No. 6 

Yellow-billed Magpie 

A. O. U. No. 476. Pica nuttalli (Audubon). 

Synonym. — California Magpie. 

Description. — Exactly similar in body coloration to Pica pica hudsonia, but bill 
and bare orbital space yellow and smaller. Length 406.4-457.2 (16.00-18.00); wing 
l8 7-5 (7-38); tail 238 (9.37); bill 31 (1.22); length at nostril 12.5 (.49); tarsus 48 (1.89). 

Recognition Marks. — Black-and-white coloration; long tail; yellow bill. 

Remarks. — The bright yellow bare skin below and behind eye and on the sides 
of the throat is a conspicuous feature of nestling birds, showing that the distinguishing 
characters of this bird are long established. 

Nesting. — Nest: Much as in preceding; a sturdy sphere of interlaced twigs, 
penetrated obscurely by hole giving access to contained hemisphere of mud or dried 
cowdung; deeply cupped and cushioned with rootlets, or, rarely, horsehair; placed 
in trees at any height, chiefly in white oaks and cottonwoods. Eggs: 5-7, rarely 8, or 
even 9; yellowish glaucous or pale olive-buff, finely and rather uniformly speckled and 


ash sVil ^? 

Tfie Yellow-billed 


- performed 

.he sighl fifty 

mg tails streaming, 


The cla; 

md near in q 
up cai. 

hin] what 

low-billed Magpie 

About % life size 
From a ieater-color painting by Major Allan Brooks 


Yellow-billed Magpie 


8, or 

The Yellow-billed Magpie 

spotted with buffy brown or citrine drab or grayish olive or deep grayish olive. Av. 
of 195 eggs in the M. C. O. collections: 30.8 x 22.4 (1.22 x .88); index 72.1. Largest 
egg, 37 x 23.4 (1.46 x .92); smallest, 26.7 x 20.3 (1.05 x .80). Season: first week in 
April; one brood. 

Range (Wholly included in California). — California west of the Sierras, chiefly 
in the Sacramento -San Joaquin Valley, and in the south central coastal counties; 
from Tehama County (Anderson, Shasta County, July 4, 1916 — may possibly have 
been semi-domesticated birds at liberty), south to northern Ventura County and Santa 
Barbara County north of the Santa Ynez range (formerly to Santa Barbara, Santa 
Paula, Simi, etc.), east to central Butte County, Clipper Gap, Placer County, and 
Visalia in Tulare County, west to Mount St. Helena and the coast of Monterey County. 
Range thus included within about 35 contiguous counties, undoubtedly more restricted 
than formerly. 

Authorities. — Audubon (Corvits nuttallii), Birds of America (folio ed.), vol. 
iv., 1836, pi. 362, fig. 1 (orig. descr. from Santa Barbara, Calif.) ; Gambel, Journ. Acad. 
Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, pp. 46-47 (habits) ; Evermann, Amer. Nat., vol. xx., 
1886, pp. 607-611 (habits; nesting) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, 
pp. 355-356, pi. in., fig. 14 (habits, nests and eggs); Noack, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, 
pp. 78-79 (voice); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 67 (status in s. Calif.); 
Stone, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, pp. 8-9 (history of discovery). 

IN ALL the world there are but two distinct types of Magpie, the 
Black-billed and the Yellow-billed. The former is pretty well distributed 
over the Northern Hemisphere, while the latter is confined to California. 
We find California matching the world, therefore, in a situation which 
invites special attention. Where did the Magpies come from? and how 
did they get here? For both species have arrived in California. A 
study of the distribution of the black-billed species, the Pica pica type, 
quickly shows that its center of dispersal is north central Asia. Not 
impossibly, the genus Pica had its origin in the north Himalayan region, 
now emptied of its progeny, but which scientists assert to have been the 
ancient cradle of the human race. For the occurrence of seven or eight 
closely related subspecies at such extremes as Spain (melanonota) , nor- 
thern Africa (mauritanica) , northern Europe {pica), northern Asia 
(bactriana), China (sericea), and northwestern America (hudsonia), 
clearly indicate a radial distribution. The American representative, 
therefore, of the black-billed species, arrived by the way of the well- 
known land-bridge which once connected Siberia and Alaska. But 
when at last hudsonia reached California, it found Pica nuttalli anciently 
entrenched, and it recoiled. How did nuttalli get here? Probably not 
by the Bering land-bridge, at least not at the time of the latest estab- 
lishment of that bridge; else its progress could still be traced by a series 
of related forms. Two hypotheses only remain, both daring, and destitute 
alike of actual foundation. Either nuttalli is an ur-ancient emigrant from 
Asia, whose congeners were blotted out by the oncoming of the ice age, 


The Yellow-billed Magpie 

or else the nuttalli stock was planted here by direct, and of course, arti- 
ficial, though prehistoric, importation from eastern Asia. It is quite 

conceivable that Pica pica stock, 
jfjg 1 ' especially if represented by a single 

pair, suddenly released under ab- 
solutely different conditions, 
should develop a sharp variant 
which would soon achieve validity 
as an independent species. Against 
the former hypothesis should be 
urged the failure of the species to 
react from its narrow confines (in 
theoretical southern California), 
when it was released by the ice. 
And in favor of the latter hypo- 
thesis may be urged the very 
limited distribution which the bird 
has attained, even in California. 
It is authoritatively reported from 
only thirty counties (or, by in- 
clusion, thirty-seven), all contigu- 
ous, out of a possible fifty-nine. 
We cannot tell; but at any rate 
there is a profoundly interesting 
problem here. 

One who is familiar with both 
species, pica and nuttalli, finds it a 
little difficult to draw distinctions 
of any other sort save color and 
size between them. There are no 
recognizable peculiarities of voice, 
or motion, or nesting habit, which will serve to distinguish them. Yet 
I have a feeling that the Yellow-billed Magpie is a weaker stock, less 
aggressive and resourceful, than its northern kinsman. On the whole, 
too, I think it is a quieter bird. Occupying, as it does, a more favored 
area, with open winters, there is perhaps a less highly developed social 
instinct in the southern bird, with probably a less frequent resort to 
mob tactics. But none of these points can be pressed. 

Whatever the cause, whether a less virile stock, or the more intimate 
pressure of civilization, it is certain that Yellow-billed Magpies are 
suffering a gradual reduction of distributional area, with steadily de- 
creasing numbers. At the present rate of destruction (from injuries real 

Taken in San Luis Obispo County Photo by the Author 



The Yellow-billed Magpie 

or fancied), it is not at all improbable that the species may be extirpated, 
a truly deplorable event. 

The Yellow-billed Magpie usually breeds in scattered colonies, 
either in the cottonwoods of river-bottoms, in the oak trees, whether 
"live" or deciduous, which dot the lower levels of the foothills, or else 
in the mixed cover, oak, ceanothus, and digger pine, which clothes the 
middle levels of the hills. The birds are very much attached to the 
locality of their choice, 
returning year after year 
to occupy the same trees, 
and in some instances en- 
during persecution on 
this account to the point 
of extinction. At other 
times, and especially in 
level country dotted with 
white oaks, the colony will 
shift from year to year. 

A Magpie's nest, big 
as a bushel basket, would 
seem to be about the 
most conspicuous arti- 
ficial object in a tree-top : 
but it so happens that the distributional area of Pica nuttalli nearly 
coincides with that of the mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens Nutt. and 
P. villosum Nutt.). As a result we have trees full of Magpies' nests — 
to appearance — with never a bird about. Or, if the birds are about, 
they are cunning enough to avail themselves of the mistletoe bunches, 
either building in the clump itself, or building in trees generously pro- 
vided with these puzzling decoys. One Magpie's nest I found in San 
Luis Obispo County was only one of twenty-five likely-looking chances 
in a single tree. 

If undisturbed, a pair of birds will usually return to the same tree 
each season, rarely, indeed, to occupy last year's nest, but often to use it 
as a foundation for the new structure. Double nests, on this account, are 
common, and I once found a composite structure, a huge pile, representing 
the work of four successive seasons. When approached, the sitting bird 
usually sits tight until the climber is within a few feet of the nest. Then 
she makes good her escape from the opposite side, and takes care for the 
nonce to keep the nest, or the tree, or both, between herself and the 

Taken in 
San Luis 
Obispo County 

Photo by 
the Author 



The Yellow-billed Magpie 

A bulky sphere, or inverted pear-shaped mass of sticks, greets the 
investigator, for the upper dome, or cover, is likely to be a little larger 
than the lower, which contains the nesting bowl proper. Three feet in 
depth by two and a half in width, over all, are the regulation dimensions 
for these castles; but I have seen splendid nests, all new construction, 
which measured 4^ by 3^2 feet, roughly thirty-three and a half cubic 
feet of material, including house room. The bowl, or matrix, is some- 
times formed of mud, but oftener of cow-dung, for this substance is both 
more convenient and more durable for birds in the cattle country. The 
wall of an experienced builder dips gracefully to the depth of an inch or 
two at the entrance; while the entire bowl is from seven to ten inches in 
diameter inside, by from four to seven in depth to the floor-lining. Of 
course, this large space is not completely occupied by the body of the 
sitting bird. It is only a provision for that roomful of youngsters which 
is on the way. In at least one instance I have noted a second or inner 
hollow, in the mud cup, exactly fitted to the dimensions of the sitting 

Eggs to the number of seven, rarely more, are deposited upon a 
generous mattress lining of roots or coiled grasses. Incubation lasts 
twenty-one days, during which time the bared breast of the brooding bird 
is grievously tormented with fleas. There is no time for recuperation, 
though, after the youngsters come. Life, instead, becomes one long 
nightmare of effort to fill seven insatiable maws. What wonder, then, 
if milady, and milord as well, help themselves freely to certain store- 
houses of albuminous nourishment duly made and provided by their 
less fortunate feathered neighbors? Or what wonder if Lady Mourning 
Dove and Sir Meadowlark are requisitioned for squabs and broilers? 
Let him that is without sin among us cast the first stone. 

Another brief, also, can be made out in defense of the Magpie. His 
deserted tenements are exceedingly useful both as retreats and as domiciles 
for certain other birds. Come to think of it, though, the "other birds," 
Sparrow Hawk, Long-eared Owl, and Pacific Horned Owl, belong them- 
selves to the brigand list. Perhaps we would better not press that plea. 

One hesitates to recommend these vanishing fowls as cage-birds, 
not because they are not commendable, but because they are vanishing. 
Our legislature has placed wise restraints upon the use of native birds 
as captives. But those who will undertake the task of foster-parenthood 
seriously, and provide adequate quarters and abundant food for their 
pets — such will find the Magpie among their most interesting pensioners. 
An aviculturist of wide experience, Mr. H. R. Noack, of Oakland, secured 
two Yellow-billed Magpies which furnished him and his friends no end 
of sport. One of the birds, a male, "John Henry, " developed a gratifying 


The Yellow-billed Magpie 

gift of speech, and that without the silly tongue-cutting operation, which 
some people advocate. He called his master and his mate by name, 
and made a delightful nuisance of himself by calling in the neighbors on 
various and sundry, but quite unnecessary, occasions. Mr. Noack 

Taken in San Luis Obispo County 

Photo by the A uthor 



continues: "Our stable is within fifty feet of the Magpie's cage, and my 
brother, who was acting as hostler, was often about ready to swear 
when hitching up or currying the horse, when John Henry would cluck 
to the horse, 'ck ck ck', and then say 'Get up, Peter, get up, get up,' 


The California Jays 

following immediately with 'Whoa boy, whoa,' and following with such 
a variation of 'whoas' and 'get-ups' and clucks, that the poor horse would 
not know what to do. 

"One of the most amusing uses to which the Magpie puts his powers 
is to call the chickens — 'chick, chick, chick, chick,' and when they have 
run, eager and expectant, in the direction from which the sound comes, 
which is, naturally, the cage, to seize one by the comb or the back of the 
neck and pull out a few feathers or spill a little blood. An old game hen 
used to respond to his calls, and as soon as she received a tweak on the 
head would ruffle up and begin a regular fight through the wire netting. 
At this time John Henry exhibited himself at his best. While flying at 
the hen he would keep saying 'Chick-chick-chick, come on, come on, 
Harry, Harry — get up, hello'. In fact he would go through almost his 
entire vocabulary while fighting and pulling out feathers." 

No. 7 

California Jay 

A. 0. U. No. 481. Aphelocoma californica californica (Vigors). 

Description. — Adult in fresh {fall and winter) plumage: Pileum, hind-neck 
sides of neck, and breast (with interrupted borders of jugular white patch), wings,, 
upper tail-coverts, and tail, bright grayish blue (cadet blue to Venetian blue); darker 
(deep cadet blue) on crown and nape; lighter (king's blue) on wings and upper tail- 
coverts; tertials and rectrices finely and obscurely barred with darker; concealed 
webs of flight-feathers, and inner edges of rectrices, dusky; the shafts of wings and tail 
black; cheeks dark blue (hortense blue) changing to slaty black on auriculars; a super- 
ciliary line of white streaks; chin, throat, and chest, white, the plumage loose and 
streaked with bluish dusky; back and scapulars warm brownish gray (benzo brown), 
sometimes glossed with blue, paling with eruptive white and mingled bluish on wing; 
breast, immediately below jugular area, warm grayish brown, fading quickly to pale 
brownish gray on belly and sides; crissum pale bluish white; axillars and lining of 
wings mouse-gray, sometimes tinged with bluish. Bill and feet, black; iris, brown. 
Adult in worn {spring and summer) plumage: Blue wearing off on head, sides of breast, 
and tertials, with increasing exposure of dusky drab bases; brown of back fading 
irregularly to drab and light drab; underparts, duller, soiled and brownish. Young 
birds are much like adult in worn plumage, but duller, — blue scarcely discernible over 
the drabs of head, neck, and sides of breast. Length of adult male 292-318 (11.50- 
12.50); average of 31 (after Swarth): wing 119. 5 (4.70); tail 133.3 (5- 2 4); culmen 25.6 
(1. 01); depth at nostril 8.5 (.33); tarsus 39.6 (1.56). Females average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Robin size; blue and gray coloration, without crest; 
underparts lighter than in A. woodhousei, and crissum white, or white tinged with 
bluish, instead of definitely blue. 


[si siniolHeD 

ssia sirl $ «io<iA 

The Ca 

California Jay 

About % life size 

I ad o 

CtUfi-n Sz?roaJf&. 

The California Jays 

Nesting. — Nest: Basally a crude criss-cross of long twigs; middle structure 
very scanty or wanting; lining, typically, of coiled rootlets, always of uniform der- 
ivation; innermost lining, or not, of coiled horsehair or matted cowhair; placed at any 
height in bush or tree. Eggs: 4-6, of two types: The green type, ground-color pale 
sulphate green to lichen green, spotted or blotched, chiefly at larger end, with deep 
olive or lincoln green; the 'red" type, ground-color clear grayish white to lichen-green, 
spotted with warm sepia or bister to Rood's brown. Av. of 140 eggs in the M. C. O. 
collection 27.4 x 20.3 (1.08 x .80); index 74. Extremes measure, 34.3 x 19 (1.35 x .75); 
index 57; and 24.4 x 20 (.96 x .79); index 82. Season: April, one brood. 




Taken al Los Colibris 


Range of Aphelocoma califomica. — California, except the southeastern desert 
regions. Lower California, and western Oregon, north to and barely across the 
Columbia River in the neighborhood of Vancouver, Washington. 

Range of A. c. califomica. — "A relatively narrow strip along the coast of Cali- 
fornia and northern Lower California; from the San Pedro Martir Mountains, Lower 
California, north on the coastal slope of California, west of the southern Sierras and 
the Coast ranges, through the San Diegan and Santa Cruz districts to the south side 
of San Francisco Bay" (Swarth). 

Authorities. — Vigors (Garrulus calif amicus) , Zoology of Beechey's Voyage, 
1839, p. 21, pi. v. (original description; type from Monterey, Calif.); Gambel, Proc. 
Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. iii., 1847, pp. 201-202 (crit.) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. 
Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 374-377 (part), pi. v., fig. 17 (habits, nest and eggs); Merriam, 
F. A., Auk, vol. xiii., 1896, p. 120 (burying acorns) ; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 
1910, pp. 50-56, pi. iii. (part) (food); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. xiv., 1912, p. 42 (record 
of nests) ; Grinnell and Swarth, L^niv. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. 10, 1913, pp. 261-262 (crit. 
re obscura); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. 17, 1918, pp. 410-413, I fig. (crit.: 


The California Jays 

No. 7a Grinnell's California Jay 

A. O. U. No. 481 part. Aphelocoma californica immanis Grinnell. 

Description. — Similar to A. c. californica, but slightly larger and paler both 
above and below, the blue areas "Chapman's blue" instead of cadet blue; the under 
tail-coverts usually pure white. Av. of 31: wing 125.9 (4-96); tail 138.5 (5.45); culmen 
25.4 (1.00); depth at nostril 9.3 (.366); tarsus 40.8 (1.60). 

Range. — "Extreme southern Washington; in Oregon those valleys lying between 
the Cascades and the Coast Ranges, and south in California through the Sacramento 
and San Joaquin valleys and the Sierra Nevada. East to the Warner Mountains and 
the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada." (Swarth). 

Authorities. — Newberry (Cyanocitta californica), Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. 
vi., pt. iv., 1857, p. 8^;Bendire, Life Hist. N. Am. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 374-377 (part) 
(habits, nest and eggs) ; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull. no. 34, 1910, pp. 50-56, pi. iii., (part) 
(food) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. xiii., 1911, p. 109 (relation to small birds); Oberholser, 
Condor, vol. xix., 1917, pp. 94, 95 (taxonomy); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. 
17, 1918, pp. 415-417, 1 fig. (desc; range; crit.). 

No. 7b Swarth 's California Jay 

A. O. U. No. 481 part. Aphelocoma californica oocleptica Swarth. 

Description. — Like A. c. californica, but averaging slightly larger. Av. of 7: 
wing 125.4 (4-94); tail !36-7 (5-37); culmen 25.8 (1.02); depth at nostril 9.1 (.36); tarsus 
41-5 (1-63)- 

Range. — "The Coast region of northern California, west from Mount Diablo 
and the Coast ranges. North to Humboldt Bay, south to the Golden Gate and the 
east side of San Francisco Bay." (Swarth). 

Authorities. — Baird {Cyanocitta californica), Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 
1858, p. 5&s;Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, PP- 374"377 (part) pi. v., 
fig. 15 (habits, nest and eggs); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. ii., 1900, pp. 58-59, 94-95, 
126 (habits); Cohen, Osprey, vol. vi., 1902, pp. 1-6, 1 fig. (habits); Mailliard, J. W., 
Condor, vol. xiv., 1912, p. 42 (nesting); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. 17, 1918, 
pp. 413-415, 1 fig. (description of oocleptica; range). 

CALIFORNIA is the land of unfailing contrasts. Hot or cold, 
wet or dry, green or brown, low or high, you may order what you will 
(so you order your own movements to correspond), and lo, it is yours 
within the hour. But most striking of all Californian contrasts, is that 
ever recurring one between civilization and the wilderness. Does your 
soul abhor crowds, then escape to the wilderness forthwith and find 
solace. On a New Year's Day, when Pasadena was threatening to 
celebrate its annual Festival of Roses, the writer with a nature-loving 
companion fled to the hills, and at the very moment when the customary 
queen was being crowned amid the huzzas of a perspiring and dishevelled 
populace some seven miles away, we were ogling a band of deer as they 
picked their way daintily over the steep slopes of chaparral. 

Finer yet was a contrast which met my immigrant eyes at Berkeley 


The California Jays 

some thirteen years ago. Having dutifully done the honors of our imposing 
State educational plant, civilization's finest fruitage, I took leave of my 
punctilious host at the Greek Theater, sacred to the memory of our 
immortal Hearst, and within ten minutes had regained Eden, an Adamless 
and Eveless spot, hidden in a curve of the hills, choked with greenery, 
and where only the birds murmured. And, sure enough, there came 
the guardian angel (?) (I had entered by an unused trail, it seemed) — or 
was it a blue-coated gendarme noisily brandishing a flaming sword? 
" Jayick! jayick! " It is he! It is he! The sweet, authentic devil, the 
California Jay! He, the malaprop, the impertinent, the sly wag, thief, 
scoundrel, outcast, jackal of the bush, bon homme libre, as innocent as 
morning, as industrious as noon, as wicked as night. C'est le dernier des 

But there is California for you! Within the academic shades the 
grave tread of the masters, masters of philosophies and of arts and of men. 
A shade removed, this master of obliquities, ruling his kingdom of the 

The California Jay occupies a commanding position in the life of the 
chaparral and of oak-covered hillsides, throughout California. By 
"commanding" we do not mean exactly that everything is ordered accord- 
ing to the Blue Jay's will; but it is certain that little takes place without 
his knowledge; and, as we shall see, presently, he is undoubtedly the 
chief biological control factor in the distribution of bird-life throughout 
the area specified. The abundance of the jays and the thoroughness or 
uniformity of their distribution within any given area will astonish one 
who has not given close attention to the matter. Try this test: Kiss 
the moistened hand in such diligent fashion as to produce what Coues has 
so well called a screeping sound. This under a little practice sounds like 
the distress call of a wounded bird, and a distress note is the rally call of 
all jays. If you are in jay country at all, first one and then another of 
the blue-coated rascals will come slipping up through the shrubbery, 
until you may have a dozen of them poking and peering to discover the 
source of the commotion. To perfect the play rigid immobility is nec- 
essary on the part of the student. Birds detect motion before they do 
color or form, and at the first discovery of man's presence there is a 
vigorous outcry and a gradual edging away on the part of the crestfallen 
birds. But whatever the fashion of your luck at that particular siren 
station, you will have found at least that California Jays exist almost 
everywhere within earshot in suitable country. 

The "screeping" test is also a good school for the study of Jay 
manners. Furtiveness, curiosity, impudence, drollery, — all these qualities 
come out. And Oh! the noise of it! The Jay's ordinary alarm note is 


The California Jays 

an astonishing vocal outbreak, dzweep or dzneep, with which the groves 
are brought up standing. No masquerader at Mardi Gras ever sprung 
such a cacophonic device upon a quiveringly expectant public. Dzweep 
dzweep — it curdles the blood, as it is meant to do. It costs the bird an 
effort, no doubt, for the whole body moves in sympathy. Could any- 
thing be more saucy than the mocking bow of the California Jay, as he 
dips his head and jerks his tail and asks, "Who the devil are you?" And 
there he shifts and scrapes and challenges until nervousness gets the 
better of valor, and he is off to a neighboring cover with exaggerated 
flirt and fluff of wing and pumping tail. He is Puck-of-the- Woods, but 
not, alas! Robin Goodfellow. 

Without doubt this Jay takes a conscious delight in mischief-making. 
If he sees a company of sparrows feeding in a little open space, he will 
slip up quietly, under cover, then plump down suddenly with a screech 
which sends the little fellows flying like bursting shrapnel. And the 
delighted Jay stands there like a drum-major before a cinematograph. 
"Oh, if Mary could see me now!" Mr. Mailliard has told us 1 , most 
entertainingly, of some jays which took to teasing the family cats at San 
Geronimo. It was not enough for a jay to steal up behind one of the 
cats while it was at supper, strike the hapless pussy a smart blow on the 
tail, and then, when tabby turned to defense, make off shrieking with 
the meat, cleverly snatched up. The cats got onto this, and not only 
kept their tails decorously between their legs, but continued to mind 
their muttons while the chewing was good. But if ever a jay caught a 
cat napping, with its tail partially extended, it approached with eyes 
snapping in delight. The situation had to be studied carefully and noise- 
lessly, with head cocked first on one side and then upon the other. Fin- 
ally, when the most vulnerable spot had been decided upon, the jay 
would give the poor tail a vicious peck, and then fly "screeching with 
joy" to the nearest bush. 

But if the "Blue Jay" is active in the pursuit of mischief, he knows 
also how to become passive and to let Nature disclose her secrets to him. 
Especially in nesting time "watchful waiting" becomes the winning 
policy for the Blue Jay. Accordingly, he posts himself in some conspic- 
uous place, a tree-top or a telephone wire, and looks and looks and looks. 
At such times he may be the very picture of innocence, or patience on a 
monument, until one is moved to ask him as the traveller did of the 
Tennesseean, "What do you do with yourself all day?" And the answer 
might be, "Wa-al, sometimes I sets and thinks, and sometimes I just 
sets." But the Blue Jay knows exactly what he is about, and every 
little bird of the forest knows that he knows — and shudders. 

'"The Condor," Vol. VI., p. 94, July, 1904. 
4 8 

The California Jays 

Although such an 
industrious creature 
when he, or she, isn't 
"settin' ", the jay's 
flight is slow and 
labored. Extensive 
flights are never 
undertaken, and it 
would probably be im- 
possible for a Cali- 
fornia Jay to fly from 
the mainland to the 
Farallones, for ex- 

The time of year 
or the nature of the 
season has a good deal 
to do with the jay's 
activities, and 
especially with the 
publicity thereof. As 
the time of its own 
nesting approaches, 
the jay falls silent, 
and the adroitness 
with which this bird 
will let himself be for- 
gotten, is truly amaz- 
ing. The birds may 
be nesting in your own 
front yard; and now that you think of it, you do recall having seen the 
male bird pottering about on two or three occasions. But as for the 
California Jay of fame, he is dead. But when the birds have got by 
with it, when the youngsters, fullfledged, have joined the piratical push, 
and especially after the mid-summer molting season, then look out for 
noise! Caution is thrown to the winds, and the world becomes a vast 
screeching-ground, made only for jays to practice in. 

The "Blue Jay," too, is a faithful chronicler of wet and dry. When 

the face of nature has become parched, when great heat fissures appear 

in the dobe soil, and when the cattle are quarreling feebly for a little 

wisp of last year's straw, the jay, too, falls silent. Dust is a poor lubricant 

for even raucous throats, and what villain could exult in such universal 



Taken in San Luis Obispo County Photo by the Author 



The California Jays 

But oh, how sweet is the smell of returning moisture! and how 
grateful the flick of tiny raindrops on the face! All nature is "swelling 
wisibly" with sap and satisfaction, and life begins over again in joyous 
earnest. The Meadowlarks exult, of course, and the lordly males chuckle, 
"I told you so," to their doubting mates. Bush-Tits lisp with treble 
emphasis, and, if it be early spring, the Robins go dashing about excitedly, 
packing their Alaska trunks, and bidding their friends good-bye. But it 
is the California Jay, the "Blue Jay," whose ear-splitting voice has most 
notably revived. We can almost forgive him all his mischief for the 
hearty, saucy stridor of his rain-wet tones. 

But — but — mischief, thy name is Blue Jay. It falls, now, to the 
writer's unhappy lot to rehearse the sins of the California Jay, and surely, 
the recording angel himself has no more laborious task — unless, as we 
strongly suspect, the office keeps an extra clerk on this job. To see our 
jay munching an acorn, which is, by most accounts, his proper food, one 
would extol his exemplary virtue. [One correspondent, indeed, grumbles 
because the jay is robbing the hogs thereby ; but we'll let that pass. We're 
not as hoggish as that yet.] Whack, whack, whack, goes the jay's intrepid 
beak, until Sir Acorn with a groan yields up his substance. Mast, accord- 
ing to Beal, forms 38 per cent of this Jay's food. Acorns are gathered and 
hoarded for future use also, not methodically, as in the case of the Cali- 
fornia Woodpecker, but still laboriously. Casual hidey holes in bark or 
broken limbs or rotting stumps are utilized, with now and then a more 
ambitious attempt to fill space, as in the case of Mark Twain's immortal 
bird. If the cache gets wormy, so much the better. So much better, in 
fact, that some observers have feigned to believe the birds, with conscious 
art, are preparing worm cultures. 

Akin to this is their habit, well attested, of burying nuts, especially 
almonds, in the earth. Doubtless the bird intends to make inquiry later 
of his buried talent; but doubtless, also, this miserly trick has served 
Nature's purpose now and then in producing new trees. 

Speaking of almonds, the depredations of the California Jay are such 
as to make the orchardist weep. Outlying trees are fairly stripped, and 
what the birds cannot eat they carry away. The case does not seem to be 
so bad with English walnuts, for although some are eaten at immature 
stages, the shell soon becomes too hard to interest the jays. As a pilferer 
of fruit, again, the jay has few rivals and no superiors. He is at it early 
and late. Nothing daunts him. Shot guns? Who would not run such 
risk for a juicy ripe cherry! "Bing" or bang, it is all one to a brave heart. 
Mr. Beal, the economic expert, tells of observations made on a small 
prune orchard, placed where a small ravine debouched from the wooded 
hills. "The fruit was just ripening and a continuous line of jays was 


Calif or 

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2 5 

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The California Jays 

seen passing from the hills down through the ravine to the orchard, while 
a return line, each jay bearing a prune, was flying up the ravine to the 
woods, where, probably, the fruit was secreted and left to rot. * * * 
Several hours later the jays were still at work. " 

Grain is gleaned in a desultory fashion wherever it is exposed: but 
it is only in early spring that real damage is done. Mr. Joseph Mailliard 1 
observed their depredations closely at San Geronimo in Marin County, 
and he concluded that it was the softness of peas or corn in the sprouted 
state which appealed so strongly to the jay's taste. "I have had acres of 
peas that were sown in the end of March, to be cut green for feed when 
large enough, practically destroyed by these birds. * * I remem- 
ber one spring when a patch of about an acre and a half was sown 
with a mixture of peas and oats, and the peas were pulled up as fast as 
sprouted, by the jay, so that the crop consisted of oats alone. In this 
instance the land was bordered by a growth of trees that made a fine 
shelter, to which the birds could retreat when disturbed. I shot over 
forty in one afternoon on this occasion, and a good many on succeeding 
days, but they soon became so wary that it was impossible to get another 
shot after one was killed — and yet the crop was destroyed." 

On another occasion it was some late grown oats they took to. 
"They would dig away with their bills a little earth from the stalk where 
it just showed through, get a good grip and pull. If the stalk broke they 
would try the next one. When the whole plant came up by the roots 
they would jump to the nearest lump of earth and pick the kernel out of 
the husk, leaving husk, root and stalk lying on the lump. * * 
Shooting one occasionally would cause them all to fly to the nearest 
trees, but they would be at it again in a few minutes, with some on watch. " 

But your jay is no vegetarian. He annexes bugs and slugs as matter 
of course, indulges a frog or a lizard now and then, and even aspires to 
mice and shrews. His long suit, however, is the destruction of eggs and 
young birds. This is his real function and raison d'etre. Beginning with 
the modest fruit of the hen, or the equally humble quail, he works up 
through successive deglutitive stages until he can boast a discriminating 
preference for Phainopeplas' eggs, or Hutton Vireo babies. Black-headed 
Grosbeaks' eggs are a staple in season, while Rufous-crowned Sparrows, 
Bell Sparrows, California Purple Finches, and Lutescent Warblers pay 
due toll to the epicurean fancy. 

But I am getting ahead of my story. Let us consider the case of the 
poultry raiser first. Mr. Beal again 2 is expert witness for the prosecution: 
"He is a persistent spy upon domestic fowls, and well knows the meaning 

'"The Condor," Vol. II., May. 1900, p. 5S. 

2 "Birds of California in Relation to the Fruit Industry," Part. II., p. 50, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture Biol. 
Surv. Bull. No. 34, 1910. 


The California Jays 

of the cackle of a hen. A woman whose home was at the mouth of a small 
ravine told the writer that one of her hens had a nest under a bush a short 
distance up the ravine from the cottage. A jay found this out, and 
every day when the hen went on her nest the jay would perch on a nearby 
tree. As soon as the cackle of the hen was heard, both woman and bird 
rushed to get the egg, but many times the jay reached the nest first and 
secured the prize. A man living in the thickly settled outskirts of a 
town said that jays came every morning and perched on some large 
trees that overhung his barnyard, where the hens had their nests, and 
that it was necessary for 
some member of the 
family to be on the look- 
out and start at the first 
sound of the hen's voice 
or a jay would get the 


"A still worse trait 
of the jay was described 
by a young man en- 
gaged in raising poultry 
on a ranch far up a 
canyon near wooded 
hills. When his white 
leghorn chicks were 
small the jays would 
attack and kill them by 
a few blows of the beak, 
and then peck open the 
skull and eat the brains. 
In spite of all endeavors 
to protect the chicks and 
shoot the jays his losses 
were serious." 

If this sort of thing 
befalls a closely protect- 
ed fowl, and one in which 
man has a vital eco- 
nomic stake, what hap- 
pens, think you, to the 
children of the wild 
which have no protector? 
My own belief, based on young California jay 

Photo by 

Finley and Bohlman 


The California Jays 

sound experience, is that within the normal range of the California Jay, 
fully one-half of the eggs laid by Passerine birds are destined, either as eggs 
or chicks, to find their way into the blue jay's maw. I know that there 
are those, and some of them high in authority, who will sharply challenge 
this statement. It is a familiar, and perhaps not altogether discreditable 
human fallacy, to refuse to believe ill of any creature. We recall (with 
mingled pity and contempt in this case) those who to the last refused to 
credit the reports of German atrocities committed during the Great War. 
Testimony, concrete evidence, had for them no value. The will to 
disbelieve was unconquerable. So it is with some of the friends of the 
Blue Jay. Some, indeed, will claim that our photogravure is "faked." 
But the fact is that the California Jay is the most gifted, persistent, and 
methodical destroyer of bird-life that Nature has ever evolved. Nest- 
robbing is not the exception, the occasional crime of jaydom. The jay, 
rather, is a professional thug, and thugee is the rule of the clan. In 
this role the jay is feared and hated by every other bird, and he is the 
well-deserving butt of excoriations, vituperations, and personal assaults 
without number. It is worthy of note in this connection that the jay 
is not much of a fighter. He "takes punishment," or else flees before 
the avenging fury of a Vireo, a Titmouse, or a Pewee. All is, he never 
gives up; so that by hook or by crook he almost always manages to 
secure the contents of a bird's nest, if accessible, and if its whereabouts 
is known to him. 

In this pursuit the jay not only displays a rare ingenuity, but a 
satanic fastidiousness as well. He marks the building of a Phainopepla's 
nest and notes its progress from time to time with an approving eye, 
but he defers the sacking until the young are of just the right age, say, 
two days old. Again, he displays a devilish recklessness, for he, too, is 
an apostle of Schrecklichkeit. If the nest is empty, he pulls it to pieces 
in disgust; or if it is full, he gobbles the contents and then flings out the 
lining in boisterous contempt. One bird in sardonic mood returned to a 
Phainopepla's nest, which he had just robbed (within fifty feet of our 
porch roof), and deposited a half-eaten acorn in lieu of babies. 

In view of this destructiveness it becomes of interest to estimate the 
total burden of taxation which the bird world is called upon to bear 
each season. The subject is a difficult one, and the results obtained by 
estimate can only represent the order of magnitude of the actual figures. 
We will do our "figuring" in the open, so that if the reader differs in any 
of our assumptions, the degree of modification deemed necessary may be 
apparent in the result. California has an area of 155,980 square miles. 
Although nearly one-fourth of this area is "Upper Sonoran,"and as 
such suitable for occupation, I allow only one-tenth, or 15,598 square 


The California Jays 

.. SBKj - 



miles, as the effective range of Aphelocoma 
calijornica. 15,598 square miles is 9,982, 
720 acres ; and if we allow a range of twenty 
acres for each pair of jays, we have a total 
population of 499,136 pairs. If we allow 
only one set of eggs or nest of birds to each 
pair of jays per diem for a period of two 
months, we shall be well within the mark 
of actuality. Yet that will give us in a 
season a total destruction of 29,948,160 
nests, or, say, 100,000,000 eggs — in Cali- 
fornia alone! 

Yet in the face of this destruction, 
which, somehow Nature does manage to 
cope with, there are those, over-zealous 
souls misusing the name of Audubon, who 
are disposed to grumble at the infinitesi- 
mal toll levied annually in the name of 
Science. Why, if every holder of a scien- 
tific permit in California — there are 
about two hundred of us — were to kill a 
single pair of blue jays each season, the 
total account with nature would be more 
than squared. If two pairs apiece were 
killed, we should be benefactors. 

But how, you ask, does Nature stand 
this terrific strain? Well, there is no 
denying that it is terrific. Yet Nature 
is wonderfully fertile. We who idolize 
the birds are apt to forget that the "breed- 
ing cycle" is, after all, no such sacred or 
significant thing as is the rearing of a 
human family. The breasts of Nature 
are ample, and the sorrows of her children 
are short-lived. To offset this annual loss 
caused by the jays, other birds have to 
nest twice, or three times in a season, 
that's all. Doubtless if the jays and all 
other destructive agencies were gradually 
removed, a single nesting per season might 
it is doubtful whether the sum of avian 
happiness would be thereby increased. Viewed dispassionately, there- 

Taken at Los Colibris Photo by the A ullior 



come to suffice. But at that 


The California Jays 

fore, the situation is not one for alarm. The jays have been here for a long 
time, longer than we have even — say for a million years longer. Per- 
haps the average adjustment of Nature's forces has been pretty well 
attended to. Certainly we shall not set about the destruction of all 
jays. That would assure a violent reaction of some sort, and might 
entail infinite hardship. But I agree with Beal 1 that a reduction of, 
say, one-half in the number of the now ubiquitous California Jay might 
be a good thing. 

If ever an oologist had a clear commission for "intensive study" of 
birds' eggs, it exists in the case of the California Jay. He at least cannot 
complain when his nest is robbed. Accordingly, we rejoice at the presence 
in our State of some fine series of California Jays' eggs. Moreover, no 
fitter subject for intensive study could be chosen, for the eggs of the 
California Jay are abundant, highly variable, and of undeniable beauty. 
It is the variability of these eggs which interests us most; for in the 
consideration of almost any series two types present themselves, the 
"red" and the green. This dichromatism of the egg is a prominent 
factor in tropical bird life, notably that of India, where it occasionally 
becomes trichromatism; but Aphelocoma calif ornica furnishes about the 
only instance, certainly the clearest instance (save for the circumpolar 
Murre), in America. 

The red type is much the rarer. In this the ground color varies from 
clear grayish white to the normal green of the prevailing type; while the 
markings — fine dots or spots or, rarely, confluent blotches — are of a warm 
sepia, bister, verona brown, or Rood"s brown. The ground color of the 
green type varies from pale sulphate green to lichen green, and the 
markings from deep olive to Lincoln green. In the Museum of Compara- 
tive Oology we have a set kindly furnished by Mr. H. W. Carriger, whose 
markings are reduced to the palest subdued freckling of pea-green. In 
another set, of the red type, fine Mars brown markings of absolute uni- 
formity cover the egg; while the eggs of another set are covered as to their 
larger ends with an olive-green cloud cap, which leaves the remainder of 
the specimen almost free of markings. 

The precise significance of this high degree of variability is not 
clear to our imperfect knowledge. It is one of those obscure Mendelian 
characters whose genesis we cannot trace, but whose continuance along 
definite lines of heredity we can confidently predict. We know now, for 
example, that these jays breed true to their own type year after year; 
that the owners of the coveted red type will present the enterprising 
oologist with another set precisely similar, if their nest is found on a 

•Op. cit. p. 56. 


The California Jays 

succeeding year. We hazard that this high variability in the egg attests 
a certain virility, or adaptability, in the parent stock. Various incipient 
strains are held in leash by cross breeding, so that the stock as a whole 
has been "Americanized." 

The significance of these interweaving strands of heredity is, however, 
strongly hinted at in the glaring exception which occurs on Santa Cruz 
Island. The eggs of the Santa Cruz Island Jay, Aphelocoma insularis 
(as elsewhere recited), are almost absolutely uniform in coloration. 
Presumably a single pair of birds was accidentally stranded on that 
island, and their progeny exhibit a single type of egg. Whether the 
other characters which the Island Jay displays were ontologically con- 
comitant with, or implicit in a certain type of egg, or whether they are, 
rather, the product of recent development, we are unable to say; but the 
former is at least a tenable hypothesis. 

The nests of the California Jay are also highly variable. Not only 
do they vary with locality and available material, but their differences 
express the individuality of the builders. Some are very compact, rigid 
structures. Others are flimsy and ill-kempt summer houses. In general, 
one may say, however, that upon a careless mass of crisscrossed sticks, a 
deep substantial cup of rootlets, or horsehair, or mingled roots and hair, is 
imposed. Aphelocoma never uses a mud cup for mid structure, as Cyanocitta 
invariably does. The lining varies delightfully, but is largely dependent, 
it is only fair to say, upon the breed of horses or cattle affected on the 
nearest ranch. So we have nests with white, black, bay, and sorrel 
linings, not to mention dapple gray and pinto. One fastidious bird of 
my acquaintance, after she had constructed a dubious lining of mottled 
material, discovered a coal black steed overtaken by mortality. New 
furnishings were ordered forthwith. The old lining was pitched out 
bodily, and the coal black substitute installed immediately, to the bird's 
vast satisfaction — and mine. 

Taking the country over, nests built in oak trees probably outnumber 
all others combined, yet the component members of the chaparral, ceano- 
thus, chamissal, and the rest, must do duty in turn, and all species of the 
riparian sylva as well. The thick-set clumps of mistletoe are very 
hospitable to this bird, and since this occurs on oaks, cottonwoods, and, 
occasionally, digger pines, it follows that jayheim is found there also. 
As to height, that depends upon persecution. The birds will nest prefer- 
ably at moderate heights, — three to ten feet up, in gooseberry, elder, 
or willow; but I have taken them at forty feet in oak trees, where the 
birds had found it necessary to secure the maximum of local cover. 

The sitting bird usually flushes in silence, and with the least possible 
demonstration. If the visitor has not satisfied his curiosity or his cupid- 


The California Jays 

ity, however, within five or ten minutes, the bird summons her mate, 
and together they proceed to denounce the order of the day. Beside the 
ordinary clamor, dzweep or jooreet jooreet, and the alternating klewk klewk 
klwek klwek (akin to the shook shook shook notes of C. stelleri), the attendant 
parents give vent to a soft clucking note, evidently a note of anxiety, 
although its quality is such as to belie the implication. These notes are 
often uttered with scarcely appreciable intervals, a mere droning pulsation, 
made with a closed 
beak — indeed, with 
scarcely a visible 
motion of the 
throat. If we men- 
tion here also a 
peculiar waggish 
creaking note, a 
subdued, toneless 
arrrrrrk, we shall 
have completed an 
inventory of 
Aphelocoma 's 
major vocal ac- 
complishments. If 
speech fails, how- 
ever, the birds give 
further vent to their 
indignation in the 
peculiar fashion of 
assaulting the 
neighboring trees. 
The bark is picked and shattered furiously, or the leaves are plucked off 
in whirlwind fashion. As a subsitute for bad language this has much to 
recommend it. 

It goes without saying that Mr. and Mrs. Aphelocoma are models ot 
conjugal fidelity, as well as exemplary parents. It always does stump 
the righteous to see the wicked observing the rules of the game in these 
essential matters, but they do. Mr. A. will proffer his spouse a mangled 
Chipping Sparrow chick, dripping with warm blood, with the same 
gentle courtesy which you would show in serving a portion of chicken to 
your lady love. Blue-jay children, I take it, are unusually well behaved, 
even if their tender nurture has left a woodside mourning. And for these 
children the jay has caressive and crooning notes which take hold of the 
very heart of comfort, notes of fond endearment which have come down 

Taken in Los Angeles County 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Santa Cruz Jay 

the ages unmodified, whether by mouth of saint or mug of sinner. A 
truce to thee, then, old boy blue! Sweet villain! No doubt we'll fight 
again as we've fought before. And, beyond all peradventure, we'll 
confiscate those little eggles of yours as fast as found, be they on topmost 
branch or midmost tangle. But meanwhile, and between whiles, here's 
to thee, cunning, agile, inconsistent bird ! Wag-in-feathers, Jack-o'- 
dreams, rake-hell — Oh, I've a whole thesaurus to hurl at thee yet. Here, 
take the book! Bang! 

No. 8 

Santa Cruz Jay 

A. 0. U. No. 481. i. Aphelocoma insularis Henshaw. 

Synonyms. — Island Jay. Santa Cruz Island Jay. 

Description. — Similar to A. calif omica (of which it is undoubtedly a localized 
race), but averaging larger, and with bill much larger (about 45 per cent bulkier, al- 
though relatively narrower); coloration richer and deeper; the blue element brighter 
(i. e. with less of neutral gray) and deeper (between Rood's blue and prussian blue); 
back and scapulars dusky drab; under tail-coverts pale blue (light cadet-blue); thighs 
tinged with blue. Plumage changes as in California Jay. Length 336 (13.25) or 
over; wing 135 (5.70); tail 148 (5.83); bill 33 (1.30); depth at nostril 11. 4 (.49); tarsus 
46.5 d-83). 

Nesting. — Nest: a bulky mass of interlaced twigs of live oak tree, into which is 
set neatly and deeply a cup of coiled rootlets with some admixture of grasses and. 
rarely, horsehair; placed at moderate heights in live oak or lesser tree. Eggs: 3 or 4. 
rarely 5, according to character of the season; in appearance remarkably uniform; 
ground color light bluish green (microcline green fading to pale niagara green), lightly 
spotted with olive (lincoln green to deep grape-green). Av. size of 140 specimens in 
the Museum of Comparative Oology: 29 x 21.3 (1. 14 x .84); index 73.7. Range 25.4- 
31.7 (1. 00-1.25) by 19.6-22.6 (.77-. 89). Extreme examples 30.5 x 19.6 (1.20 x .77), 
index 64. 1; 25.6x21.8 (1.01 x .86); index 85.1. Season: March 10-April 10; one brood. 

Range. — Santa Cruz Island. 

Authorities. — Henshaw (Cyanocitta floridana var. californica), Rept. Orn. 
Wheeler Surv., 1876, p. 253 (part); Henshaw, Auk, vol. iii., 1886, pp. 452-453 (de- 
scription of insularis); Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 379-380 
(habits, nests and eggs); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 42 (measurements); 
Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 68 (general); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, 
no. 12, 1917, pp. 68-69 (general account; synonymy); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., 
vol. 17, 1918, pp. 418-419, 1 fig. (critical). 

"BLLTE JAYS" of whatever type have a faculty of making them- 
selves very much at home wherever found, whether in the firry depths of 
a Siskiyou forest, or in the fervent chaparral of Temecula; but of all 


A Silhouette 

Santa Cruz Island Jay 

Print by Fedora E. D. Brown 

Negative and cutout by the Author 

The Santa Cruz Jay 

recorded spots where the jaybird doth dwell Santa Cruz Island is un- 
doubtedly the choicest. Here is Blue Jay paradise. And the Jay of 
Santa Cruz is almost an angel? Well, no; but he is somewhat less an 
imp. Early isolated from his mainland fellows, by what happy chance 
we know not, in an equable climate, with abundant and varied food, and 
measurably secure from human persecution, the Santa Cruz Island Jay 
has become a more beautiful, a more robust, and a much more demure 
bird than its co-type, A. calif ornica. This gem of the islands belongs to 
him by unquestioned title, and he has no need to defend his claim by 
frantic protest or scurrilous abuse. 

This demure quality shows itself to best advantage when his nest 
is threatened, for it is then, if ever, that a bird's soul is tried. Yet I 
have spent an hour beside a nestful of jay babies with never a word of 
protest from the closely attendant parents, beyond a mellow, and almost 
inaudible choop choop. This, and the sound of pecking on tree limbs, 
for even this gentle bird employs this familiar corvine device for relieving 

Taken on Santa Cruz Island 

Photo by the A uthor 



The Santa Cruz Jay 

surcharged feelings. But this 
jay is capable of vigorous ex- 
pression, and the variety and 
suggestive affinity of its notes 
are worth consideration. There 
is, first, the Aphelocomine scold- 
ing cry of common use, but this 
is fuller, rounder, and much less 
harsh. Then there is a djay djay 
note which distinctly recalls that 
of Cyanocitta stelleri. Lastly, 
this note is so modified and 
accelerated as to strikingly 
simulate the rickety rack rack 
rack or shack shack shack shack 
shack of the Magpies. I know 
the Magpie's voice better than 
the baying of a hound, but I 
have leaped to my feet and 
reached for the glasses at this 
jack jack call before realizing 
that there are no Magpies on 
Santa Cruz Island. And lastly, 
again (a preacher's "lastly" may 
be repeated indefinitely, so why 
not an ornithologist's?), some 
sotto voce musings lead me to 
believe that the bird is capable 
of real song. Exquisite warb- 
lings have I heard at a rod's 
remove, so delicate that a Wren's 
outburst would have drowned 
them utterly, but so musical 
that I had hoped the bird was 
only tuning his strings in prepa- 
ration for a rhapsody. 

All these comparisons lead 
one to ask where this most for- 
tunate of Blue Jays got his gifts. 
He has seen neither magpies nor 
crested jays for ages. Are not 
these startling variants of song really primal? Is not this the authentic 
heir of the original cyano-corvine traits, narrowed and singled elsewhere 

Taken on Santa Cruz Island 


Photo by the Author 

The Santa Cruz Jay 

by reason of excessive competition? Quien sabe? But he is a very 
gifted bird; and I warrant he makes a merry hullabaloo after the ban 
of silence, which affects all Blue Jays in the nesting season, is lifted. 

The Santa Cruz Jay nests early. The last week in March is the 
height of the season, counting always by fresh eggs. We have found them 
as early as March ioth. For nesting sites the California live oaks are 
leading favorites, but the birds nest indifferently throughout the scrub 
(It is hardly considered proper to speak of "chaparral" on this island, 
because the sheep keep the lesser undergrowths cleaned out) to the tops 
of the ranges. Manzanita, Christmas berry, holly-leaf cherry, ironwood, 
mountain mahogany, scrub and Wislizenus oaks, and Monterey pines, 
all serve as hosts, therefore, with little preference save for shade. Nests, 
although bulky, sometimes being as large as a crow's, are placed at 
moderate heights, usually from eight to twelve feet; and are, habitually, 
so well made that they may be lifted clean of their setting without injury. 
The jays evidently 
have assigned beats, 
or ranges, of mutual 
adjustment, and 
they are very loyal 
to a chosen locality 
at nesting time. 
Thus, the nests of 
succeeding years 
are grouped in a 
single tree, or 
scattered narrowly 
in a small section 
of the scrub. 

It is in the uni- 
form coloring of the 
egg that the Santa 
Cruz Island Jay 
most surely reveals 
its isolation, and its 
consequent inbreed- 
ing. The ground 
color of fresh eggs 
is a beautiful light 
(microcline green), 
and this is lightly 


Taken on Santa Cruz Island 

Photo by the Author 



The Santa Cruz Jay 

Taken on Santa Cruz Island Photo by the Author 



spotted with olive (Lincoln 
green to deep grape green). 
The green element fades 
quickly, however, so that eggs 
advanced in incubation are 
of a pale Niagara green ground 
color. Among a dozen sets 
there are no color variants 
worth mentioning; nor have I 
seen a single example of the 
" red " type, which is so pleas- 
ing a feature of the mainland 
form. In size the eggs of the 
Santa Cruz form average 
slightly larger than those of 
A. calif ornica. 

Second sets are prepared 
with amazing alacrity if the 
first are destroyed. In two 
cases we noted complete sets 
of five thirteen days after the 
first had been taken. This 
quick recovery was the more 
remarkable in one instance, 
because the first set had been 
near hatching, and the re- 
productive organs of the birds 
were, therefore, in a state of 

One speaks without apo- 
logy of "collecting" jays' eggs, 
for the jay is a master oologist 
himself. Doubtless he owes 
much of his sleek corpulence 
to a diet of Dusky Warblers' 
eggs; and as for those pleas- 
ing, but not humanly seduc- 
tive ovals known as Mourn- 
ing Doves' eggs, they are a 
thing almost unknown in jay 
territory. The poultry keep- 
er, too, at the "big ranch" 


3g'g3. 'abirH. Biiiio'iiIfi3 

■. ,■•-■ mm. , ■ .y;:J. BirnoitlsO "io aggSl — ewoi stjq r»T 

>iU'.nt »ms>: olel xm'_) eiob — ibiM 

■ ■ - |3 — BWOT lawol ■ 

California Birds' Eggs 

Two upper rows — Eggs of California Jay, Aplielocoma californica 

Middle row — Eggs of Santa Cruz Island Jay, Aplielocoma insularis 
Two lower rows — Eggs of Northern Cactus Wren, Heleodyies hrunneicapillus cpuesi 
Direct process reproduction of specimens in the collection of the Museum of Comparative Oblni/y 

Pf .'irds 

',.' : * 




l ~$$w 

The Woodhouse Jay 

has had to wage unceasing warfare on the Blue Jays — or rather, the 
"Corbales, " for he speaks Italian — in order that El Superintendents 
may have hens' eggs for breakfast. 

No. 9 

Woodhouse's Jay 

A. O. U. No. 480. Aphelocoma woodhousei (Baird). 

Description. — Somewhat similar to A. califomica, but pattern of color less 
accentuated; gray of back bluer, the underparts darker, the crissum blue; bill longer 
and narrower. Adult in fresh plumage: Pileum, hind neck, sides of neck, border of 
jugular white patch, wings, upper tail-coverts, and tail, jay-blue; crissum a little 
lighter blue (about king's blue); malar region dark blue; lores and post-ocular area 
blackish; a superciliary line of white streaks; throat and chest white with diffused gray 
streaks, as in A. califomica; upper back and scapulars mouse-gray; rump mingled blue 
and bluish gray; remaining underparts light mouse-gray. Bill and feet black; iris 
brown. Adult in worn plumage shows reduction of blue, especially on head and cervix, 
with attendant revelation of mouse-gray; gray of back browner, with showing of 
drab; pattern of underparts nearly effaced, mingled whitish, pale drab, and bluish 
dusky. Young birds are like adults in worn plumage with further effacement of blue, 
the blue element almost confined to wings and tail. Length of adult male 279.4-304.8 
(11.00-12.OO); wing 133 (5.24); tail 143 (5.63); bill 28.5 (1.12); depth at nostril 9.4 (.37); 
tarsus 41 (1.61). Females smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — "Jay size;" jay-blue and mouse-gray coloration, without 
crest. Dintinguished with A. califomica as above. 

Nesting. — Much as in A. califomica. Eggs not so highly differentiated. A 
set in the M. C. O. coll. has a water-green (greenish yellow) ground color with sharp 
spots of warm sepia. Av. size 27.7 x 20 (1.09 x .79) (Bendire). 

General Range. — "Great Basin and adjacent arid region, breeding in Upper 
Sonoran and Transition zones from southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho,, and southern 
Wyoming south to southeastern California (east of Sierra Nevada), Arizona, New 
Mexico, southeastern Colorado, and western Texas." (A. O. U. Com.). 

Range in California. — "Upper Sonoran zone in the desert mountains of the 
eastern part of the State, in the Inyo and Mohave regions. At the eastern base of 
the Sierra Nevada, probably as a transient only." (Swarth). 

Authorities. — Kennerly (Cyanocitta califomica), Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. iv. , 
pt. vi., 1856, p. l6;Baird, Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, pp. 585-586 (description 
of woodhousei); Fisher, A. K., North Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 69 (distr.); Bendire, 
Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 372-374, pi. v., fig. 14 (habits, nest and 
eggs); Oberholser, Condor, vol. xix., 1917, pp. 94, 95 (taxonomy); Swarth, LTniv. Calif. 
Pub. Zool., vol. 17, 1918, pp. 417-418 (descr. ; range). 


The Woodhouse Jay 

THE question, much agitated of late, as to whether the Wood- 
house Jay may be only a subspecies of the californica type, is one which 
cannot be thrashed out in the closet. Differences sufficient to entitle 
a bird-type to specific recognition invariably record themselves in voice 
and action, as well as in plumage changes. The history of the race must 
have been different, and if so, something more than the mere fact of 
isolation, or incipient change, must be noted in order to establish that 
historical difference, and to gain for its subject credence as a species. 
This raises the very question that I am not qualified to answer, viz., 
Does the Woodhouse Jay differ sufficiently from the California Jay in 
voice and action to establish the presumption that there has been a 
markedly divergent history for the two species, and that their recently 
established occurrence together, upon the east slopes of the Sierras, is 
only the accidental meeting of two conquering types moving out from 
independent distributional centers long since established? I do not 
know, but my very brief acquaintance with woodhousei, in southern 
Arizona, namely, leads me to think that it does. It seemed to me, fresh 
from association with californica, that the voice of woodhousei was, in 
general, notably weaker. And when first heard, the shook shook shook 
shook note of the W'oodhouse deceived me, momentarily, into entering 
Long-crested Jay {Cyanocitta stelleri diademata) in my field book. This 
note occupies a middle position between the characteristic outcry of our 
stelleri type and a cry of the californica whose resemblance to that of 
stelleri I had, for lack of that mediating suggestion, never previously 
noted. This does not mean, of course, that Aphelocoma woodhousei 
resembles Cyanocitta stelleri in form and plumage in any such fashion as 
it resembles A. californica; but it does mean, if its significance be allowed, 
that A . woodhousei, along with C. stelleri, has preserved a certain ancestral 
tradition, or vocal habit, which californica has well nigh forgotten. 
These leadings, I take it, are of considerable importance. 

The testimony of the egg is less clear, but in comparing a series of 
eggs of woodhousei with a like series of californica, I should say that the 
preponderance of the evidence favors specific recognition. 

For the rest, in his native haunts of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and 
upper southeastern California, Woodhouse's Jay is the animating spirit 
of the chaparral, as the California Jay is elsewhere in the State. Only an 
expert would sense differences between them in the hand or out of it. 


The Steller Jays 
No. 10 

Steller's Jay 

No. 10a Blue-fronted Jay 

A. O. U. No. 478a. Cyanocitta stelleri frontalis (Ridgway). 

Synonyms. — Mountain Jay. "Blue Jay." "Jaybird." 

Description. — Adults: Conspicuously crested. In general, foreparts sooty 
black, remaining plumage rich blue. Head including crest and jugulum sooty brown 
or sooty black, the longer feathers of crest bluish-tinged; chin and throat heavily 
streaked with grayish or bluish white (streaks nearly confluent in fresh plumage); 
forehead and forecrown sharply and heavily streaked with light blue and whitish 
(olympic blue to light sky-blue); cervix (broadly), upper back, and scapulars, dark 
grayish brown (dusky drab to natal brown); rump, upper tail-coverts, outer webs of 
primaries, and posterior underparts light blue (pale cerulean blue to light squill-blue); 
breast (shading each way) and wing-coverts darker blue (gendarme-blue to dark cadet- 
blue); exposed portions of inner primaries, secondaries, and rectrices dark blue (ranging 
from dusk}' greenish blue to grayish violaceous blue) ; the concealed portions blackish; 
the greater wing-coverts faintly, the inner secondaries, tertials, and rectrices sharply 
and rather finely barred with black. Bill and feet black; iris brown. Plumage wear 
shows chiefly in darkening of throat and in reduction of frontal streaking. Young 
birds have the wing colors of adult, with barring merely indicated, but lack the blue 
body plumage; foreparts and back sooty brown to dusky drab, changing posteriorly 
to plumbeous. Length of adult male 304.8 (12.00) or under; wing 146.5 (5.75); tail 
I 3° (5-35); bill 2 9-5 (1.16); tarsus 42 (1.65). Females decidedly smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Robin size; black crest; blue and sooty black coloration 
unmistakable; harsh notes. 

Nesting. — Nest: Usually in top of evergreen sapling of thicket, or variously in 
evergreen trees; composed exteriorly of small sticks and trash, interiorly of coarse 
rootlets, or needles of some long-leafed pine; the whole strengthened by a nearly in- 
visible bowl of mud. Eggs: 4, rarely 5; pale bluish green (pale glaucous green, pale 
niagara green), spotted sparingly with deep olive or olive-brown (also Saccardo's 
umber or sepia). Av. size 30.2 x 22.6 (1.19 x .89); index 74.8. Season: April 20-June 
10, according to altitude; one brood. 

Range of Cyanocitta stelleri. — Western North America from Alaska south to the 
highlands of Central America. 

Range of C. s. frontalis (chiefly contained within California). — Common resident 
of Transition and Canadian zones throughout the Sierra Nevada and the neighboring 
non-arid ranges of northern and southern California, south to the San Pedro Martir 
Mountains of Lower California. According to Grinnell, this form occurs in the northern 
coast ranges south to Mount Saint Helena and Mount George, and pushes through 
to the coast; thus interrupting the range of carbonacea in Sonoma County. In all 
probability the birds which occur throughout the inner ranges of Santa Barbara County 
are also related to the Sierran type more closely than to that of the humid coastal 
belt. Ventures out somewhat upon the lower levels in fall and winter. 

Authorities. — Gambel (Cyanocorax stelleri), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. 
iii., 1847, p. 201; Feilner, Ann. Rept. Smithsonian Inst, for 1864 (1865), p. 427 (habits); 
Ridgway, Amer. Journ. Sci., ser. 3, vol. v., 1873, p. 41 (description of frontalis); Goss, 


The Steller Jays 

Auk, vol. ii., 1885, 217 (nesting in holes) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 
1895, pp. 365-367 (habits, nest and eggs); Sampson, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 37 (at 
Stockton); Fisher, W. K., Condor, vol. iv., 1902, pp. 41-44 (critical; range); Mailliard, 
Condor, vol. x., 1908, p. 134 (range in Sonoma Co.). 

No. 10b Coast Jay 

A. O. U. No. 478c Cyanocitta stelleri carbonacea Grinnell. 

Synonyms. — Grinnell's Jay. "Blue Jay," etc. 

Description. — Similar to C. s. frontalis, but darker throughout, and with re- 
duction of frontal streaking; back and scapulars blackish brown, scarcely different 
from chest; belly jay-blue; rump king's blue; size not appreciably different. 

Nesting. — Nest: Much as in preceding form, save that coarse rootlets are in- 
wardly employed as lining; often placed in deciduous saplings, especially tanbark 
oak. Eggs: 2-4, colored as in preceding race. Season: April 20-May 20; one brood 

Range of C. s. carbonacea. — Resident in the humid coastal strip from southern 
Oregon south to the Santa Lucia Mountains of California. Intergrades with A. fronta- 
lis at western bases of inner coastal ranges, but distinctive characters apparently fail 
along the coast of northern Sonoma County. Relationships in southern portion of 
range not exactly defined. 

Authorities. — Newberry, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. vi., pt. 4, 1857, p. 85; 
Bendire, Life Hist. N. Am. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 365-367, pi. v. (fig. 10) (habits, 
nest and eggs); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 58 and p. 126 (habits); Grinnell, 
Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 127 (desc. of carbonacea); Fisher, W. K., Condor, vol. iv., 
1902, pp. 41-44. map (crit.; range); Ray, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, pp. 18-19 (habits); 
Beat, Biol. Surv. Bull. no. 34, 1910, pp. 47-49 (part) (food). 

"OFFICER! arrest that bird!" It is Mountain Chickadee who 
enters complaint against a culprit Screech Owl blinking in the inadequate 
shade of a fir sapling. And it is Sergeant Steller Jay, one of the finest, 
who makes instant response, leading the attack upon the offender, buffet- 
ting, upbraiding, driving him from cover to cover, until his proper hidey- 
hole is reached. And Arragh! What excited talk will follow! Corporal 
Flicker, who has lumbered up, full of curiosity, must hear all about it; 
and so must the Cassin Vireos, who, as everybody knows, are the world's 
great busy-bodies. Officer Jay is in his element, but he moves off import- 
antly, before the little fellows are half satisfied, announcing, as he does 
so, that he must look after the movements of the Mountain Lion, who is 
due on his beat that day; but saying in an aside, "It doesn't do to let 
the small fry get too familiar." 

And it is a true word which says, "It takes a thief to catch a thief. " 
For, to do him justice, it is usually the Steller Jay who is first to make 
discovery and outcry if there is any mischief afoot in the woods. Time 
and again we have had our attention called to the presence of deer or 
foxes or Horned Owls, which would entirely have escaped our notice 


The Steller Jays 

had it not been for the zealous 
proclamations of these birds. 
One April morning, in the hinter- 
land of Santa Barbara, where 
Steller (Blue-fronted) Jays were 
not supposed to exist, I stopped 
the "Jolly Ellen" and turned 
aside into a dense thicket, where 
a crested jay was vociferating. 
Arrived at the published spot, 
I saw nothing whatever, and sat 
down, grumbling, to await possi- 
ble developments. Presently, 
through a dim, sequestered aisle 
in the lower growth I saw a 
"bob-cat" crouching and re- 
garding me through narrowed 
slits. The jay was right, after 
all, and I apologized. 

Be sure, also, that the jay 
is keeping tab on your own 
movements. If he is feeling 
hilarious that morning, and he 
usually is, he will greet the ex- 
plorer boisterously; but if he 
"has his doots," he will trail 
after silently in the tree-tops, 
"takin' notes" instead. Upon 
discovery the Steller Jay sets up 
a great outcry and makes off 
through the thickets shrieking 
lustily. A favorite method of 
retreat is to flit up into the lower 
branches of a fir tree, and, keep- 
ing close to the trunk, to ascend 
the succeeding limbs as by a 
spiral staircase. The bird, in- 
deed, takes a childish delight in 
this mad exercise, and no sooner does he quit one tree-top than he dashes 
down to a neighboring tree to run another frenzied gamut. Upon a 
less strenuous occasion it is worth while to note the manner of that 
descending flight. A considerable space is to be crossed. The jay 

Taken in Rive 

ide County 


Photo by the Author 


The Steller Jays 

launches himself from the high point of one tree and aims for the lower- 
most limb across the interval, so he opens and closes his wings in the most 
leisurely manner, giving rise to a series of hitches, or parachute dives. 
At the climax of each spread, every feather of the wings and tail is clearly 
defined, and the whole makes a very pleasing picture. The purpose of 
this halting descent is evidently to afford the bird leisurely glimpses of 
the open country below, to give him time to focus accurately upon details 
of possible interest. 

The notes of the Steller Jay are harsh and expletive to a degree. 
Shaack, shaack, shaack is a common (and most exasperating) form; or, 
by a little stretch of the imagination one may hear jay, jay, jay. A mellow 
klook, klook, klook sometimes varies the rasping imprecations and serves 
to remind one that the jay is cousin to the crow. Other and minor notes 
there are for the lesser and rarer emotions, and some of these not un- 
musical. At his task of counting the rungs of some heavenly ladder of 
fir or pine, he will indulge a sort of musical chatter entirely for his own 
benefit, singing snatches, as it were, of the latest opera, and then winding 
up suddenly with a horse-laugh. Very rarely the bird attempts song, 
and does succeed in producing a medley that quite satisfies her that he could 
if he would. I have fancied that the Steller Jays of California, frontalis 
and carb&nacea, have somewhat lighter, clearer voices than those of 
stelleri typicus in the Northwest. And I am quite sure that carbonacea 
has a more extended repertory of cries than the other forms — a subject 
which would repay careful investigation. 

C. stelleri, like C. cristata of the East, is something of a mimic. The 
notes of the Western Redtail (Buteo borealis calurus) and other hawks 
are reproduced with especial fidelity. For such an effort the jay conceals 
himself in the depths of a large-leafed maple or in a fir thicket, and his 
sole object appears to be that of terrorizing the neighboring song-birds. 
One such I heard holding forth from a shade tree on the grounds of a 
lunatic asylum. Uncanny sounds were, of course, not unknown in that 
section, but an exploratory pebble served to unmaslc the cheat, and 
drove forth a very much chastened "Blue Jay" before a company of 
applauding Juncoes. On another occasion when I was investigating the 
domestic affairs of a pair of "Long-crested" Jays, this self-same cry of 
the Redtail was hurled at me, not once but repeatedly, evidently with 
the expectation of exciting terror in the oological breast. 

The diet of these jays is highly varied. They will "try anything 
once," and so, tiring of bugs and slugs, they are not averse to sampling 
corn, cabbage leaves, or, best of all, potatoes. While their depredations 
do not figure much in the larger scheme of things, their attentions to 
pioneer enterprises and modest "clearings" are a little exasperating. The 


The Steller Jays 














■ S 











in a fir tl I and his 
3 hboring song-birds. 

1 ounds of a 



The Steller Jays 

birds have observed the tedious operations of the gardener in planting, 
and know precisely where the coveted tubers lie. Bright and early the 
following morning they slip to the edge of the clearing, post one of their 
number as lookout, then silently deploy upon their ghoulish task. If 
they weary of potatoes, sprouting peas or corn will do. Or perhaps there 
may be something interesting at the base of this young tomato plant. 
And when the irate farmer appears upon the scene, the marauders retire 
to the forest shrieking with laughter at the discomfitted swain. Ay ! there's 
the rub! We may endure injury but not insult. Bang! Bang! 

As a connois- 
seur of birds' eggs, 
too, the Steller Jay 
enjoys a bad emi- 
nence. The suffer- 
ers in this case are 
chiefly the lesser 
song birds; but no 
eggs whatever are 
exempt from his 
covetous glance, if 
left unguarded . 
The jay has be- 
come especially 
proficient in the 
discovery and sack- 
ing of Bush-tits' 
nests. Mr. D. E. 
Brown assures me 
that he has found 
as high as fifteen 
nests of this bird in 
a single swamp, all 
gutted by jays. 
When it is remem- 
bered that these 
busy little workers 
make one of the 
handsomest nests in 
the world, the 
shame of this piracy 
gets upon the 
nerves. The in- 

Taken in Fresno County Photo by the Author 


6 9 

The Gray Jays 

vestigation of Tits' nests has something of the fascination of the gaming 
table for the jay, since he never knows what the wonder-pouches may 
contain until he has ripped a hole in the side and inserted a piratical beak. 

It is well known that the gentleman burglar takes a conscientious 
pride in the safety and welfare of his own home. Nothing shall molest 
his dear ones. The jay becomes secretive and silent as the time for 
nest-building approaches. The nest is well concealed in a dense thicket 
of fir saplings, or else set at various heights in the larger fir trees. If 
one but looks at it before the complement of eggs is laid, the locality is 
deserted forthwith. If, however, the enterprise is irretrievably launched, 
the birds take care not to be seen in the vicinity of their nest, unless they 
are certain of its discovery, in which case they call heaven and earth 
to witness that the man is a monster of iniquity, and that he is plotting 
against the innocent. The youngsters, too, quickly learn to assume the 
attitude of affronted innocence. At an age when most bird-babies would 
make a silent get-away under cover of the parental defense, young Steller 
Jays will turn to and berate the stranger in common with their parents, 
with all the virtuous zeal of ordained elders. 

Mischief and the "Blue Jay" are synonymous. Alert, restless, saucy, 
inquisitive, and provoking, yet always interesting, this handsome brigand 
keeps his human critics in a perpetual see-saw between wrath and admir- 
ation. As a sprightly piece of Nature, the Steller Jay is an unqualified 
success. As the hero-subject of a guessing contest he is without a peer, 
for one never knows what he is doing until he has done it, and none may 
predict what he will do next. 

No. 11 

Oregon Jay 

A. O. U. No. 485. Perisoreus obscurus obscurus Ridgvvay. 

Synonyms. — (Properly) Oregon Gray Jay or Coastal Gray Jay. "Camp 
Robber." "Meat Bird." "Deer Hunter." 

Description. — Adults: In general, upperparts deep brownish gray (nearest 
chaetura drab); underparts white tinged with brownish gray; forehead and nasal 
plumules most nearly clear white; cheeks, auriculars, and obscure band around neck, 
white, more or less tinged with brownish; crown and nape sooty brown, nearly black; 
feathers of back with white shafts more or less exposed; wings and tail drab gray (scarce- 
ly different from back), the former with narrow whitish tips on middle and greater 
coverts; tail tipped with paler gray. Bill and feet black; iris brown. Young birds 
are nearly uniform sooty brown, lightening below. Length about 254 (10.00); wing 
!35 (5-3°); ta il I2 7 (5-oo); bill 18 (.71); tarsus 33 (1.30). 


The Gray Jays 


Recognition Marks. — Robin size; brownish gray coloration; familiar, fearless 
ways. Not certainly distinguishable afield from the next form. 

Nesting. — Nest: a bulk}-, compacted structure of twigs, plant-fibers, and tree- 
moss, with warm lining of fine mosses and feathers, placed well up in fir tree. Eggs: 
4 or 5; light gray or pale greenish gray, spotted with grayish brown and vinaceous gray. 
Av. size 26.4 x 20 (J.04 x .79). Season: February-April- one brood. 

Range of Perisoreus obscnrus. — British Columbia and the Pacific Coast States 
south to northern California. 

Range in California. — Resident in the northwest humid coastal strip south to 
Mendocino, Mendocino County. 

Authorities. — Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. x., 1887, p. 212 (part); 
Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 394-396 (part); Heller, Condor, vol. 
iv., 1902, p. 46 (in southern Mendocino Co.); Oberholser, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. 
xxx., 1917, pp. 185-187 (critical; range); Swarth, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, pp. 83-84 (sys- 
tematic; range). 


The Gray Jays 
No. lla Gray Jay 

A. O. U. No. 485a. Perisoreus obscurus griseus Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — As in preceding form. 

Description. — "Similar to P. o. obscurus, but decidedly larger (except feet), 
and coloration much grayer; back, etc., deep mouse-gray, instead of brown, remiges 
and tail between neutral gray and smoke-gray, instead of drab-gray, and under parts 
grayish white instead of brownish white.'" (Ridgway). Length (av. of three northern 
specimens): 283.5 (11.16); wing 147.6 (5.82); tail 139. 1 (5.48)- bill 19 (.75); tarsus 31.7 

Range of P. 0. griseus. — Interior of southern British Columbia and the central 
and eastern mountain systems of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. 

Range in California. — Sparingly resident in the Boreal zone of northern Cali- 
fornia east of the humid coastal strip, south to Mt. Lassen. 

Authorities. — Newberry (Perisoreus canadensis), Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. 
vi., pt. iv., 1857, pp. 85-86; Feilner, Ann. Rep. Smithsonian Inst., for 1864 (1865), pp. 
427-428 (habits); Henshaw, Rep. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1879, p. 308: (crit.; habits); 
Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. x., 1887, pp. 211-212 (part) (habits); Oberholser, 
Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxx., 1917, pp. 185-187 (crit.; range); Swarth, Condor, 
vol. xx., 1918, pp. 83-84 (systematic; range). 




Photo by the Author 

The Gray Jays 

THE "Camp-Robber" appears promptly as interested neighbor and 
smell-feast before all who invade the precincts of the mountains. The 
hunter, the trapper, the prospector, the timber cruiser, the mere camper- 
out, all know him, 
and they speak well 
or ill of him accord- 
ing to their kind. 
The Gray Jay ap- 
pears to have for- 
sworn the craftiness 
of his race, and he 
wins by an exhibi- 
tion of artless sim- 
plicity, rather than 
by wiles. The bird 
is mildly curious and 
hungry — oh, very 
hungry — but this 
is Arcadia, and the 
shepherd draws 
nigh with never a 
doubt of his wel- 
come. There is a 
childlike insouci- 
ance about the 
way in which the 
bird annexes a piece 
of frizzled bacon, 
humbly intended 
for the man. 
" 'Shoo,' did you 
say ? Why, what 
do you mean? 
Can't I have it?" 
And the bird re- 
tires before a fly- 
ing chip, baffled and 
injured by such a 

Taken in Humboldt County 

Photo by the A uthor 



manifest token of 

ill-breeding. He complains mildly to his fellows. They discuss the 
question in gentle whews; generously conclude you didn't mean it, and 
return unabashed to the quest. 


The Gray Jays 

Hunger is the chief characteristic of these docile birds, and no poten- 
tial food is refused, nuts, acorns, insects, berries, or even, as a last resort, 
the buds of trees. Meat of any sort has an especial attraction to them ; 
and they are the despair of the trapper because of their propensity for 
stealing bait. The hunter knows them for arch sycophants, and he 
is occasionally able to trace a wounded deer, or to locate a carcass by the 
movements of these expectant heirs. Says Mr. A. W. Anthony: "While 
dressing deer in the thick timber I have been almost covered with Jays 
flying down from the neighboring trees. They would settle on my back, 
head, or shoulders, tugging and pulling at each loose shred of my coat 
until one would think that their only object was to help me in all ways 

In the higher miaBiKi»«ummvmaiinmimtMamaammmim.\ia\iii m^^B^^^m 

latitudes "Whisky 
Jack," in spite of 
carefully secreted 
stores, often be- 
comes very emaci- 
ated in winter, a 
mere bunch of bones 
and feathers, no 
heavier than a Red- 
poll. While the Jays 
of our kindlier 
clime do not feel 
so keenly the belly 
pinch of winter, 
they have the same 
thrifty habits as 
their northern kin- 
folk. Food is never refused, and a well-stuffed specimen will still carry 
grub from camp and secrete it in bark-crevice or hollow, against the 
unknown hour of need. 

Though not a noisy bird after the fashion of Aphelocoma or Cyano- 
citta, the Gray Jay, nevertheless, gives rise to a considerable variety of 
sounds. Besides the soft cooing whee ew, with which the birds follow 
each other's movements, there is a drawling petulant squeal, curiously 
hawk-like in quality. By a great stretch of the imagination this could 
be rendered Jaaay, jaaay. On other occasions the resemblance to the 
quee e e er of the Western Redtail is inescapable. Then there is a "winding- 
up note," not unlike the squeak of the Golden Eagle; a krowk krowk 
krowk of alarm ; and the kooree kooree kroo kroo kroo kroo of more extended 


J. II. Bowles 



The Cowbirds 

flight. And to these a low, rambling song, delivered sotto voce, — your 
jay of whatever species is always modestly "practicing" — and you have 
quite an extended repertory. 

Although common enough on Mt. Shasta, and of regular occurrence 
through the heavy forests of the northwestern counties, the eggs of 
Perisoreus jays have only once been reported from this State. The bird 
builds a very substantial nest of twigs, grasses, plant-fiber, and mosses, 
without mud, and it provides a heavy lining of soft, gray mosses for the 
gray-green eggs. The nest is placed, usually, in a fir sapling, at a 
height ranging from ten to eighty feet, and so well concealed that its 
discovery is well nigh impossible, save for the visits of the bird. Only 
one brood is reared in a season, and family groups hunt independently 
of their more distant kinsmen until late midsummer. 

No. 12 


No. 12a Nevada Cowbird 

A. O. U. No. 495 part. Molothrus ater artemisiae Grinnell. 

Description. — Adult male: Head, neck, and throat broadly light seal-brown, or 
bone-brown; remaining plumage black with metallic greenish or bluish reflections. 
Bill, feet, and legs black; iris brown. Adult female: General color fuscous above and 
drab below, the feathers chiefly with obscurely darker centers, or shaft-streaks, and 
occasionally show'ng faint greenish reflections; head paler; throat drabby white, un- 
marked. Very old birds are darker, with more iridescence and less streaking. 
Immature birds resemble adult female, but are lighter and more varied; above brownish 
gray (nearly hair brown), everywhere edged with grayish white; below grayish, heavily 
streaked everywhere (save on throat), and especially on breast, with fuscous, and 
varied by brownish buffy edgings. The young males present a striking appearance 
when they are assuming the adult black, on the instalment plan, by chunks and blotches. 
Length 190.5-203.2 (7.50-8.00). Average of 1 1 males from Humboldt County, Nevada, 
(after Grinnell): wing 1 13.5 (4.55); tail 79.4 (3.13); bill 18.3 (.72); depth of bill at base 
10.3 (.40); tarsus 27.7 (1.09). Females average decidedly less. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; brown head and black body of male; blended 
brown of female. Requires distinction from the resident Brewer Blackbird (Euphagus 
cyanocephalus) , from which it differs in its much smaller size, brown instead of vio- 
laceous head of male; shorter, more turgid beak; female with much lighter throat; and 
posterior parts not glossy. Young Cowbirds bear a superficial resemblance to female 
Redwings (Agelaius sp.), but are smaller and less sharply streaked. Close attendance 
upon cattle distinctive. 

Nesting. — Parasitic: the Cowbird invariably deposits her eggs in the nests of 
other birds. Eggs: I or 2, rarely 3 or 4, with a single hostess; white or grayish white, 
sprinkled or spotted with grayish brown (Natal brown to fuscous, or buffy brown to 
drab), if finely, then almost uniformly, if more coarsely, then sharply, and with tend- 


The Cowbirds 

ency to cloud capping. Av. size (of ater ater): 21.5 x 16.4 (.84 x .65). Season: In- 
determinable, April to July. 

Range of Molothrus ater. — North America from about Latitude 6o° in west 
central Canada south over the Mexican plateau. 

Range of M. a. artemisicc. — Presumably the Great Basin region north into 
British Columbia. Breeds chiefly in the Upper Sonoran zone and winters south into 

Distribution in California. — Summer resident, not common, in the plateau 
region east of the Sierras, south perhaps to Death Valley (A. K. Fisher [Grinnell]) 
and Yermo on the Mohave desert (Lamb), although region of intergradation with 
obscurus undefined. Casual (?) west of the Sierras (Farallon Ids., June 2, 191 1). 

Authorities. — Gambel (Molothrus pecoris), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. iii., 
1847, p. 204; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. 5, 1909, pp. 276-281, 2 figs, (descrip- 
tion of artemisiae; critical); Dawson, Condor, vol. xiii., 1911, p. 186 (occurrence on 
Farallons); Obcrholser, Auk, vol. xxxiv., 191 7, pp. 327-328 (critical; range). 

No. 12b Dwarf Cowbird 

A. O. U. No. 495a. Molothrus ater obscurus (Gmelin). 

Description. — Similar to M. a. artemisim, but much smaller; the female slightly 
paler. Av. erf 11 males (after Grinnell): wing 100. 1 (3.94); tail 68.4 (2.69); bill 16.5 
(.65); depth at base 9.2 (.36); tarsus 24.1 (.95) 

Nesting. — As in preceding form. Eggs: decidedly smaller, Av. of 40 eggs from 
Arizona in the M. C. O. coll. 20 x 14.5 (.76 x .57). Extremes: 17.5-20.8 by 13. 5-15. 5 
(.69-. 82 by -53--6i). 

Range of At. a. obscurus. — The southwestern United States from southern Texas 
west to southern California, and south in Mexico to Colima and Jalisco. 

Distribution in California. — Summer resident in southern California and in 
the Tulare basin; commonly along the Colorado River and on the Colorado desert, 
north to Independence (Grinnell), Bakersfield (Grinnell), Buena Vista Lake (Mailliard), 
Weldon (Grinnell), and Fresno (Tyler, although possibly not breeding), and more 
sparingly in the San Diego district, west at least to Santa Barbara (Dawson, several 
occurrences). Winters in the Colorado River valley and on the Colorado desert, west 
at least to Mecca (January 30 and February 4, 1913; also van Rossem). 

Authorities. — Cooper (Molothrus pecoris), Orn. Calif., 1870, pp. 257-260 (egg 
in Chat nest in Colorado Valley) ; Bendire, Rept. U. S. National Mus. for 1893 (1895), 
PP- 597-599 (general account) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. 5, 1909, pp. 278- 
281; ibid., vol. 12, 1914, pp. 157-160 (critical; range); Law, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, p. 174 
(in Los Angeles Co.; habits); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 67-68 (in 
Fresno district); Dawson, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 27 (at Santa Barbara); Ober- 
holser, Auk, vol. xxxiv., I9l7,pp. 327, 328 (crit.; range); Hanna, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, 
pp. 211-212 (nests parasitized). 

IT MAY be urged with some show of justice that every bird-person 
deserves a sympathetic biographer. Even criminals on trial for their 
lives are entitled to legal defense. Well, then, let who will be defender. 
I will be prosecuting attorney. " J' accuse." The prisoner at the bar 

7 6 

The Cowbirds 

is a demirep, a ne'er-do-weel, a slattern, a shirk, a harpy, a traitor, an 
anarchist. Destitute of all natural affection, she cares neither for the 
wrongs of others nor for the undermined pillars of her own virtue. She 
is the unchaste mother of a race gone wrong, an enemy of bird-society, a 
blight upon the flower of Progress. Despised and hated by her fellow 
birds, harried and anathematized by her victims, this avian marplot 
lives only by stealth and by the secret practice of violence. All that 
may possibly be urged on behalf of this culprit is that she is the victim 
of an unfortunate heredity. Such a defense is in itself an accusation. 
The Cowbird stock is indeed polluted : of haphazard and unknown pater- 
nity, conceived in an infamy of indifference, she was dumped at birth 
into a strange cradle, and left to make shift as best she might, an un- 
blessed and pitiless bastard. Nourished by uncomprehending or reluctant 
strangers, and winning a place in their affections solely at the cost of the 
lives of their own innocent babes, this foundling first accepts their un- 
tiring ministrations, and then escapes, an alien ingrate, to join herself to 
the beasts of the field. What wonder, then, that at maturity she wel- 
comes the pirate band, joins them in their obscene revels, and perpetuates, 
in turn, her dissolute race. Out upon her! 

Of course we are "anthropomorphizing"; but the case is really 
as bad as that. Taken on any plane of life and stated in its lowest 
terms, parasitism is mutiny, a breaking down of life's wholesome and 
necessary disciplines, a surrender of life's ends. A parasite is a failure. 
Evolution is at a standstill. Wherever parasitism succeeds, nature has 
to begin over again. 

But even degeneracy may be picturesque, — of interest, that is, when 
viewed dispassionately as a phenomenon instead of a moral issue. Hear, 
then, with what tolerance you may, the story of a changeling: 

Beginning, say, in mid-August, before the bird has ever seen another 
of its own kind, we find it closely attached to some group of horses or 
cows, following them about slavishly, now being nosed out of the way 
as the animals feed, or evading as by instinct the misplaced hoof. Perhaps 
it is oftenest the foregathering of the animals which leads the birds them- 
selves together. At any rate, the corral soon boasts a little company of 
these dun-colored youngsters with light undervests, and, though they 
early learn to come and go freely, the association with horses and cattle 
is lifelong. In all probability the "Cowbird" once followed the buffalo 
in the same fashion, and was, prior to the introduction of cattle by Euro- 
peans in the 16th Century, the Buffalobird. 

In September the males exchange the inconspicuous livery of youth 
for the rich iridescent black of adult plumage; and they do this on the 
instalment plan, by chunks and blotches, looking meanwhile like rag- 


The Cowbirds 

pickers tricked out in cast-off finery. The flocks increase in size as the 
season advances, and may reach into the thousands in regions where 
the species is abundant. The birds mingle more or less freely with 
Redwings, and occasionally with Brewer Blackbirds. 

In feeding upon the ground about corrals the Cowbirds are quickly 
actuated by the flock impulse, rising as one bird at a fancied alarm. 
After alighting upon a fence or upon the unprotesting backs of cattle, 
they hop down again one by one as confidence becomes established. 
They greet each other always with quivering bodies and uptilted tails, 
and that upon the most trivial occasions. Inasmuch as this is the accept- 
ted "sex call," reserved for rare occasions by all proper birds, one cannot 
escape the conviction that these Cowbirds are lewd fellows, habituated 
to the very attitudes of vice. 

In winter there is a general retirement into Mexico, although a few 
of the dwarf variety linger through the season upon the Colorado Desert 
and along the Colorado River. In February or March, according to 
altitude, there is a return movement of Cowbirds, oftenest in company 
with other blackbirds. But if the main flock halts for refreshments and 
discussion en route, a group of these rowdies will hunt up some disreputable 
female of their own kind, and make tipsy and insulting advances to her 
along some horizontal limb or fence rail. Taking a position about a 
foot away from the coy drab, the male will make two or three accelerating 
hops toward her, then stop suddenly, allowing the impulse of motion to 
tilt him violently forward and throw his tail up perpendicularly, while 
at the same moment he spews out the disgusting notes which voice his 
passion. As the mating season advances the male birds become very 
active, whether in the untiring pursuit of frailty or in a sympathetic 
search for prospective foundling homes which they may recommend to 
their paramours. At such times they move about singly, or by twos or 
threes, and post prominently in treetops. Any unusual noise, especially a 
slight one, attracts their attention ; and if a human has business in the 
woodland his movements are sure to be spied upon from time to time 
by alert Cowbirds. Often the detective announces his discovery by a 
gurgling squeaky song, and he is quite sure to utter this once or twice just 
before quitting his observation post. 

Of the mating, Chapman says: "They build no nest, and the 
females, lacking every moral instinct, leave their companions only long 
enough to deposit their eggs in the nests of other and smaller birds. I 
can imagine no sight more strongly suggestive of a thoroughly despicable 
nature than a female Cowbird sneaking through the trees and bushes in 
search of a victim upon whom to shift the duties of motherhood." 

The egg, thus surreptitiously placed in another bird's nest, hatches 


The Cowbirds 

in ten or eleven days, usually, therefore, two or three days before those 
of the foster mother, and the infant Cowbird thus gains an advantage 
which he is not slow to improve. His loud clamoring for food often drives 
the old birds to abandon the task of incubation; or if the other eggs are 
allowed to remain until hatched, the uncouth stranger manages to usurp 
attention and food supplies, and not infrequently to override or stifle the 
other occupants of the nest, so that their dead bodies are by-and-by 
removed to make room for his hog- 
ship. It is asserted by some that in 
the absence of the foster parents the 
young thug forcibly ejects the right- 
ful heirs from the nest, after the 
fashion of the Old World Cuckoos. 
I once found a nest which contained 
only a lusty Cowbird, while three 
proper fledglings clung to the shrub- 
bery below, and one lay dead upon 
the ground. 

When the misplaced tenderness 
of foster parents has done its utmost 
for the young upstart, he joins him- 
self to some precious crew of his own 
blood, and the cycle of a changeling 
is complete. 

There are endless details and 
variations to be noted in this exhibi- 
tion of parasitism, here so hastily 
reviewed. Much remains yet to be 
learned by methodical observation, 
particularly of the western varieties. 
Especially interesting is the psycho- 
logical reaction of the various victims 
to the infamous imposition practiced 
or intended. Major Bendire has listed 1 ninety species of involuntary 
hosts of the better known M. ater, and twenty-five for M. a. obscurus. 
Of these the most conspicuous victims upon our borders are the Arizona 
Least Vireo {Vireo belli arizonae), Lucy's Warbler {Vermivora luciae), 
and the Western Chat {Icteria virens longicauda) It is rare to find 
Least Vireos' nests which have not been victimized, and the destruction 
caused to this one species is enormous. Sometimes the birds cease 
laying upon the advent of the foreign egg, and sometimes they desert 

'"The Cowbird" by Charles Bendire, Rep. of National Museum, 1893 (pub. 1895), p. 594-5. 

Taken in Arizona Photo by the Author 







The Cowbirds 

outright. Often their eggs are claw-marked by the careless intruder, 
and occasionally, if time allows, the rightful eggs are pitched out of the 
nest by the miscreant Cowbird. One pair of Least Vireos which built 
a nest near our camp on the Santa Cruz River (in Arizona) seemed 
especially apprehensive of the visits of the Dwarf Cowbird, and showed 
notable valor in driving off from time to time a snooping female who 
spied upon their progress. Rousing one morning to a sudden outcry, 
I arrived upon the scene in time to see an irate Vireo drag a Cowbird 
from the nest and hold her for a dramatic moment suspended in mid- 
air — until the Vireo's strength gave out and both fell struggling to 
the ground. But in spite of this instant and summary punishment, 
the Cowbird had accomplished her mission. [She had and I did.] 

In a Cowbird country most efforts of the smaller birds are foredoomed 
to failure, for the miscreant exhibits a diabolical cunning not alone in 
finding nests, but in judging the proper time for deposition. Several 
"prospects" are kept under review at once, and inasmuch as the Cowbird 
matures her egg only every second or third day, she has little difficulty in 
finding fresh victims. Occasionally, however, two or three eggs are 
laid in the same nest by one individual, as may readily be determined 
by the close resemblance of eggs which in the species are wont to differ 

Eggs of the Dwarf Cowbird are notably smaller, and average lighter 
in coloration than those of the eastern form. They display also a higher 
degree of variation. 

And while we are speaking of contrasts, it is well to note that the 
song of the western races is distinctly different from that of M. ater. 
The notes of the latter are described as a "shrill hissing squeak in two 
tones, with an interval of a descending third, uttered with great effort 
and apparent nausea." The notes of obscurus, on the other hand, I 
find to be rather sweet and not unattractive, glug, glug, zzt — a rich, deep 
gurgle, followed by an absurd squeak. In fact, care must be taken to 
distinguish them from utterances of the Brewer Blackbird; and there is 
no question that the birds themselves often escape attention because of 
a superficial resemblance to the more familiar Brewer. 

In food habits the Cowbird is beneficial rather than otherwise. 
While it consumes some grain, it does no damage to fruit, and its con- 
sumption of weed-seed and injurious insects would entitle it to grateful 
protection were it not for the fact that its very existence involves the 
loss of three or four individuals of some other species quite as likely to be 
beneficial. Or if we could forget the blood-stained infancy, we should 
have to recall that an adult female Cowbird, functioning twice in a 
season with an average of six eggs to a "set," and reproducing for six 


The Rusty Blackbird 

or eight years, will account for the loss of from sixty to one hundred 
broods of song-birds in a lifetime. It is with just alarm, therefore, that 
we note the steady increase of this parasitic species in California. The 
older authorities did not even mention the presence of M. a. obscurus in 
California, although it was perfectly well known from Arizona. It is 
not listed in Grinnell's first Check-List, because occurrences in the south- 
eastern part of the State were attributed to M. a. ater. Dr. Grinnell 1 , 
however, found the Dwarf Cowbird abundant in the Colorado River 
Valley in the spring of 191 o. Records are now coming in from San Diego, 
from Los Angeles County, and from the San Joaquin Valley. I have seen 
it three times at Santa Barbara, and confidently expect to find it both in 
San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties at no distant date. 

No. 13 

Rusty Blackbird 

A. O. U. No. 509. Euphagus carolinus (Muller). 

Synonym. — Rusty Grackle. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: Uniform glossy black with steel- 
blue reflections. Bill and feet black; iris pale straw. At other seasons the plumage 
bears rich brown, or "rusty" (mars brown to chestnut) tips above, especially anteriorly, 
and rufescent or buffy (cinnamon buff to pinkish buff) tips below in varying propor- 
tions; also a vague light line over eye. Adult female in breeding season: Above blackish 
slate, shading to deep neutral gray on underparts; faintly glossed above, and with 
some edging of rusty; vaguely lighter-edged below. At other seasons the general cast 
of plumage is lighter, and the overlap of rusty or buffy is similar to that of the male. 
Adult male length 228.6-243.8 (9.00-9.60); wing 115 (4.53); tail 90 (3.54); bill 18.8 
(.74); tarsus 30 (1.18). Female smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee to robin size. Male entirely black, not so 
glossy as in E. c. cyanocephalus ; female more slaty. Rusty markings usually distinctive 
during migrations; high-pitched whistling notes. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: of sticks and coarse grasses, 
held together with mud, lined with rootlets or fine green grasses, placed in bushes or 
high in coniferous trees. Eggs: 4 to 7; grayish or pale green, speckled and mottled 
with chocolate and other reddish or grayish browns, very rarely marked with hairlines 
or scrolls. Av. size, 24.9 x 18.3 (.98 x .72). Season: May, June; one or two broods. 

General Range. — Eastern and northern North America. Breeds from the 
Kowak River in Alaska south to southern Alaska, and so in a broad belt in an east- 
southeasterly direction which eventually involves northern New York and the northern 
New England States. Winters chiefly east of the Mississippi River, from about the 

'Pacific Coast Avifauna, No. 3, June 25, 1902. 


The Rusty Blackbird 

Fortieth Parallel south to the Gulf coast; west over the Great Plains in migrations; 
casually to Colorado, Montana, etc.; accidental in California, Lower California, and in 

Occurrence in California. — A casual winter visitor. Two records: Amador 
County by H. B. Kaeding, Dec. 15, 1895; and San Clemente Island by C. B. Linton, 
Nov. 20, 1908. 

Authorities. — Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. vi., 1904, p. 16 (in Amador Co.); 
Linton, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 194 (on San Clemente Island); Grinnell, Pac. Coast 
Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 105. 

ANY migrant northern species which nests as far west as Alaska 
may be expected to miss now and then the arbitrary east-and-west route 
followed by the returning hosts of his compeers, and to straggle down 
into California instead. Only two such instances have been recorded in 
the case of this species; but there is always a delightful possibility before 
us. We have no details regarding the specimen taken by Mr. H. B. 
Kaeding 1 in Amador County (Dec. 15, 1895); but the one taken by C. B. 
Linton 2 on San Clemente Island (Nov. 20, 1908) was busily engaged in 
catching insects in the kelp along the beach. One would sooner expect 
a considerable company of these very sociable birds to go astray ; and when 
they do, they will be found flocking by themselves, as they do in the 

In their more familiar haunts, it is in some tiny glade in the heart of 
the budding forest that one comes upon a company of these sojourners, 
feeding, perhaps, upon the ground. They walk about with easy grace, 
or shift by little flights, males and females flocking together, and all 
engaged in a subdued but voluble chatter. An instant hush follows the 
signal of alarm, and the flock rises silently to the neighboring tree tops, 
or passes to a distant spot, where their conversation is gradually resumed. 
As the alarm decreases the birds come dropping down, one by one, until 
confidence is completely restored. 

"The notes of the Rusty Blackbird consist of a bubbling medley 
of l's and r's, through which clear, high-pitched whistles or squeaks are 
interspersed at will. Gorwhillier conveys some idea of the liquid quality 
of the former, and expresses also in part the effort which is required to 
produce them. The effect of a full chorus is really quite pleasing. If 
not 'music', it is at least among the less disagreeable noises." 5 

'Reported by Joseph Mailliard, The Condor, Vol. VI., Jan. 1914, p. 16. 
2 The Condor, Vol. XI., Nov. 1909, p. 194. 
3 "The Birds of Ohio." 


The Brewer Blackbird 
No. 14 

Brewer's Blackbird 

A. O. U. No. 510 part. Euphagus cyanocephalus cyanocephalus (Wagler). 

Description. — Adult male: Glossy black with steel-blue and violet reflections on 
head; with fainter, greenish, steel blue, and bronzy reflections elsewhere. Bill and feet 
black; iris pale lemon-yellow or light cream. Immature male: Like adult male, but 
feathers of foreparts margined with grayish brown, lightly on throat and chest, broadly 
on cervix and back. Adult female: Foreparts (head and neck all around, upper back 
and chest) grayish brown (hair-brown to drab), the throat lighter, light drab; shading 
posteriorly into mingled drab and black of remaining plumage; the blacks with some 
metallic reflections, chiefly green and violet. Bill and feet as in male; but iris brown. 
Immature females and young birds of both sexes resemble adult female. Length about 
254 (10.00). Av. of 8 males from Rocky Mountain section (Grinnell): wing 131 (5.16); 
tail (from base of uropygium) 1 14.5 (4.50); tarsus 19.6 (.77); exposed culmen 19.6 (.77); 
depth of bill at nostril 8.1 (.32). Females slightly smaller. 

v.. *ij£ 

Taken in Santa Barbara County 

Photo by the Author 


Recognition Marks. — Robin size; pure black coloration with metallic reflections; 
and whitish eye of male. Larger than Cowbird (Molothrus ater), with which alone it is 
likely to be confused. 

Nesting. — Nest: placed at moderate height in bush or tree; often in close colonies 
in trees (live oak, white oak, or cotton wood) infested by mistletoe; less frequently on 
ground at base of bush; more rarely in a cranny of cliff or cavity of decayed tree trunk; 
a sturdy, tidy structure of interlaced twigs and grasses, strengthened by a matrix of 
mud or of dried cowdung, and carefully lined with coiled rootlets or horsehair. Nests 
in colonies, usually straggling, of from six or eight to twenty or thirty pairs. Eggs: 


The Brewer Blackbird 

4 to 7, usually 5 or 6, presenting two divergent types of coloration, with endless varia- 
tions and intermediate phases. Light type: ground color light gray or greenish gray, 
spotted and blotched with grayish brown or, more sharply, with sepia. Eggs of this 
type rehearse relationships, now with the Quiscaline Grackles, and now with the 
Yellowheads {Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), or the Cowbirds (Molothrus ater). An 
egg in the M. C. O. collection has a background of pale niagara green sharply spotted 
with a blackish pigment which tones out to dusky drab, and is thus indistinguishable 
from the egg of an Agelaiine Blackbird. Dark type: Ground color completely ob- 
scured by overlay of fine brown dots, or else by confluent blotches of Rood's brown, 
walnut brown, or cameo brown. Av. of 245 specimens (Bendire) : 25.5 x 18.6 (1.00 x .73). 
Extremes: 20.8-27.9 by 15-5-20.1 (.82-1.10 by .61-. 79). Season: March 15-June 15; 
one or two broods. 

Range of Euphagus cyanocephalus. — Western North America. Breeds from 
northwestern Minnesota and western Kansas west to the Pacific; and from central 
British Columbia and the Saskatchewan region south to northern Lower California 
and western Texas. Winters from Kansas and southern British Columbia south to 
Guatemala. Casually east to and beyond the Mississippi River during migrations. 

Range of E. c. cyanocephalus. — As that of species, minus range of E. c. minuscnlns, 
defined below. Breeds east of the Sierras, south to Owens Valley; in winter, south 
over the Mohave and Colorado deserts. 

Authorities. — Gambel (Scolecophagus Mexicanus), Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. 
Phila., ser. 2. vol. i, 1847, p. 47 (part); Fisher, A. K., N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, pp. 
78-79 (range); Ray, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, pp. 194-196 (odd nest sites); vol. xii., 1910, 
pp. 20, 21 (variation in eggs); Grinn ell, Condor, vol. xxii.. 1920, pp. 152-154 (critical; 
range in Calif.). 

No. 14a California Brewer Blackbird 

A. O. U. No. 510 part. Euphagus cyanocephalus minusculus Grinnell. 

Description. — "Similar to Euphagus cyanocephalus cyanocephalus but averaging 
smaller throughout; metallic sheen of back, rump, and posterior lower surface in male 
steely blue rather than brassy in tone." (Grinnell). Av. of 10 males: wing 124.9 
(4.92); tail (from base of uropygium) 105.9 (4.17); bill 18.8 (.74); tarsus 32.2 (1.27). 
Av. of 8 females: wing 115 (4.53); tail 97.8 (3.85); bill 17. 1 (.67); tarsus 30.1 (1.18). 

Range of E. c. minusculus (chiefly contained within California). — Resident in 
California west of the Sierran divide, or else retiring from upper levels of Sierran range 
in winter; north to Siskiyou County; south to the line of Lower California, or a little 

Authorities. — Gambel (Scolecophagus Mexicanus), Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. 
Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, p. 47 (part); Heermann, Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. x., pt. 
iv., 1859, pp. 53-54 (habits) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 493- 
496 (habits, nests and eggs); McGregor, Osprey, vol. i., 1897, pp. 103-105 (roost); Beat, 
Bull. Div. Biol. Survey, no. 13, 1900, pp. 50-52; no. 34, 1910, pp. 59-65, pi. iv. (food); 
Grinnell, Condor, vol. xxii., 1920, pp. 152-154 (description of minusculus; range in 

WE SHALL never be able to escape the alliterative finality of Brewer's 
Blackbird. So where is the use of pointing out that this bird is really a 
grackle? or that the name "Blackbird" was pre-empted centuries 



4) ■* 2 




The Brewer Blackbird 

Taken in Santa Barbara County 
Photo by the A uthor 



ago by an Old World thrush (Turdus merula)? The name "blackbird," 
moreover, in America, carries with it a strong suggestion of thievishness, 
an odium scarcely deserved by the subject of this sketch. He is a hand- 
some fellow, our western grackle, sleek, vivacious, interesting, and 
serviceable withal. We know him best, perhaps, as an industrious 
gleaner of pastures, corrals, streets, and "made" lands. He is not only 
the farmer's "hired man," waging increasing warfare against insect life, 
especially in its noxious larval forms, but he has an accepted place in the 
economy of city and village as well. 

As one approaches a feeding flock, he notes the eagerness with which 
the birds run forward, or rise and flit past their fellows, now diving at a 
nimble weevil, now leaping to catch a passing bug, but always pushing on 
until the onlooker perceives a curious rolling effect in the total movement. 

As we draw near, some timid individual takes alarm, and instantly 
all are up, to alight again upon the fence or shrubbery, where they clack 
and whistle, not so much by way of apprehension as through sheer ex- 
uberance of nervous force. As we pass (we must not stop short, for they 
resent express attention) we note the droll white eyes of the males, as they 
twist and perk and chirp in friendly impudence, and the snuffy brown 
heads of the females with their soft hazel irides, as they give a motherly 
fluff of the feathers, or yawn with impatience over the interrupted meal. 
When we are fairly by, the most venturesome dives from his perch, and 
the rest follow by twos and tens, till the ground is again covered by a 
shifting, chattering band. 

Like all blackbirds (grackles included), the Brewers are gregarious, 


The Brewer Blackbird 

but they are somewhat more independent than most, flocks of one or two 
score being more frequent than those of a hundred. During migration 
and in winter flocking they associate more or less with Redwings; but, 
although they are devoted to the vicinity of water, they care nothing for 
the fastnesses of reed and rush, which are the delight of Redwing and 
Yellowhead. Their preference is for more open situations. The water 
may be that of river, lake, or horse-pond. A watering-trough, if its 
supply be constant, will have its devoted circle of black admirers, and 
especially if it also assures the presence of cattle. In some places their 
attendance upon horses or cattle is so close that they almost fulfil the 
function of Cowbirds. Being omnivorous as well as adaptable, the 
grain wasted by feeding animals is consumed by these birds as greedily 
as are the insects which annoy them. Familiarity with domestic animals 
may reach the point where the birds are suffered on the back; and Mrs. 
Bailey tells us that in the Escondido country the birds take toll of the 
sheep's backs at nesting time. 

Although isolated nests may now and then be found, colonies are 
the rule; and we sometimes find as high as twenty nests in a single tree, 
or forty in a given patch of greenery. There is, of course, room even here 
for individual choice of nesting sites; but the community choice is far 
more striking. Thus, one recalls the grease-wood nesting, the mistletoe 
nesting, the rose-briar nesting, the Monterey cypress nesting, where all 
the members of the colony conform to the locally established rule in nest 
position. J. H. Bowles records a most remarkable instance of this in 
Washington. One season the nests in the South Tacoma colony were 
all placed in small bushes, the highest not over four feet from the ground ; 
but in the season following, the birds were all found nesting in cavities 
near the top of some giant fir stub, none of them less than 150 feet from 
the ground. 1 Mr. Tyler 2 found them breeding at Shaver Lake (elevation 
5300 ft.) in the old dead pine stubs standing out in the water. And Mr. 
Ray 3 reports their nesting at Lake Tahoe in the crannies of rotting piles. 
Numerous instances are on record where nests have been placed on the 
ground, and sometimes entire colonies will adopt this indolent and un- 
questionably hazardous method. 

In construction, the nest of the Brewer Blackbird varies considerably, 
but at its best it is quite a handsome affair. Composed externally of 
twigs, weed-stalks, and grasses, its characteristic feature is an interior 
mould, or matrix, of dried cow-dung or mud, which gives form and stability 
to the whole. The lining almost invariably includes fine brown rootlets, 
but horsehair is also welcomed wherever available. 

'"The Birds of Washington." Vol. 1, p. 47. 1909. 

'John G. Tyler in "The Condor." Vol. XL. May 1909. p. 83. 

3 Milton S. Ray. "The Condor." Vol. XI.. Nov. 1909. p. 193-196. 


The Brewer Blackbird 

The eggs of Brewer's Blackbird are the admiration of oologists. 
Ranging in color from clear greenish gray with scattered markings through 
denser patterns to nearly uniform umber and chocolate, they are the 
natural favorites of "series" hunters. The range of variation is, indeed, 
curious, but it proves to be entirely individual and casual, without trace 
of local or constant differences. Eggs from the same nest are usually 
uniform in coloration, but even here there may be a notable diversity. 
In some instances, after three or four eggs are laid, the pigment gives out, 
and the remainder of the set is lighter colored. Again, single eggs are 
heavily pigmented half way, and finished with a clear green ground-color. 

Taken in Santa 
Barbara County 

Photo by the A uthor 


Fresh eggs have been taken as early as March 16th, 1 but April is the 
proper nesting month at the lower levels. It is impossible, though, 
to lay down rules or strike averages for a bird which breeds from the 
level of the sea to the top of high Transition, and possibly into Boreal. I 
am not able to find a specific record of the Brewer Blackbird's nesting 
above 7000 feet, although Dr. Fisher 2 mentions it as "breeding at Big 
Cottonwood Meadows [alt. 10,000] during the summer;" and I presume 
that the birds which appeared at the Cottonwood Lakes (alt. 11,350) 
June 23rd, 191 1, fell to nesting forthwith, as did the Spotted Sandpipers, 
which did not arrive until the 14th of July. 

This is but a characteristic example of the complexity of distribu- 
tional problems in California. A precise account of the seasonal ranges 
in this State of the Brewer Blackbird alone would require a separate 

'By Evan Davis near Orange: Grinnell, Pub. 2, Pasadena Acad. Sci., 189S, p. 34. 
2 Birds of the Death Valley Expedition, p. 78. 


The Brewer Blackbird 

volume. In general, we may say with Grinnell 1 that "it breeds the 
whole length of the State — at the north chiefly east of the Sierran divide, 
south, east of the Sierras, to Owens Valley, west of the Sierras through 
the Sacramento Valley and marginal foothills of the San Joaquin Valley, 
and coastally from the San Francisco Bay region south through the San 
Diegan district." It summers, therefore, through Upper Sonoran and 
Lower Transition and into Boreal of characteristically Sonoran complexion 
or approaches. In winter it probably retains its middle holdings, but its 
upper level population recedes to Lower Sonoran levels and to unoccu- 
pied Upper Sonoran areas, such as the southern central valleys. 

We have called the Brewer Blackbird "Grackle," and are influenced, 
not alone by structure, but as much, perhaps, by consideration of its 
economy, which is largely that of the "Crow Blackbird" {Quiscalus 
quiscalus and its allies). It is in his notes, however, that the Brewer 
Blackbird betrays his affinities best of all. The melodiously squeaking 
chatter of mating time is, of course, most like that of the Rusty Blackbird 
(E. carolinus), but it lacks the bubbling character. He has then the 
swelling note of the Grackles proper, fff-weet, the latter part rendered with 
something of a trill, the former merely as an aspirate; and the whole 
accompanied by expansion of body, slight lifting of wings, and partial 
spreading of tail. This note is uttered not only during the courting 
season, but on the occasion of excitement of any kind. Kooree has a 
fine metallic quality which promptly links it to the Keyring note of the 
Redwing. Chup is the ordinary note of distrust and alarm, or of stern 
inquiry, as when the bird-man is caught fingering the forbidden ovals. 
A harsh, low rattle, or rolling note, is also used when the birds are squab- 
bling among themselves, or fighting for position. 

The menu of Euphagus cyanocephalus is highly varied, as becomes a 
bird which dwells from sea-level to timber-line. It consists in part of 
grain, but this is chiefly gleaned waste (remember that the bird is absent 
from much of the grain-growing area at harvest season). After this, 
come weed-seeds and insects of a thousand hues, chiefly injurious or 
superabundant. Dr. Bryant 2 , in investigating the butterfly scourge, 
which for several years past has been destroying the chaparral in the Mt. 
Shasta region, found that Brewer's Blackbird was the only species which 
was addressing itself resolutely to the task of keeping the butterflies 
(Eugonia californica) within bounds. Whole flocks of these blackbirds 
subsisted almost entirely upon the adult butterflies for the week during 
which they were under observation. 

Garden fruits, especially cherries, are sometimes levied upon; but 

'Pac. Coast Avifauna, No. II, p. 106. 

2 "The Condor," Vol. XIII. , Nov. 1911, pp. 195-208. 


The Arizona Hooded Oriole 

the blackbirds will forsake the choicest "Bings" if a neighbor starts 
plowing. It is as gleaners of cut-worms and grubs that these birds earn 
our warmest approbation; and from their close attendance upon the 
plow it is pretty safe to say that the Brewer Blackbird earns his keep 
ten times over. 



Taken in Santa Barbara County Photo by the Author 


No. 15 

Arizona Hooded Oriole 

A. O. U. No. 505a. Icterus cucullatus nelsoni Ridgway. 

Synonym. — Palm Oriole. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: Black, white, and cadmium- 
yellow; a glossy black mask, involving lower anterior portion of face, chin, throat, and 
chest (with convex posterior outline), sharply set off against rich cadmium-yellow of 
head, neck, and underparts; the yellow continuous with that of lower back, rump, and 
upper tail-coverts; axillars and under wing-coverts paler yellow (lemon-chrome); upper 
back, broadly continuous with scapulars and lesser wing coverts, glossy black; wings 
and tail chiefly black; middle coverts and tips of greater coverts white, the flight feathers 
and tertials margined with white upon exposed webs; the rectrices tipped, or not, with 
white. Bill and feet black. Adult male in fall and winter: As in spring, but orange- 
yellow duller, washed above with olivaceous; the scapulars, etc., tipped with grayish 
olive. Adult female: Quite different. Back dull brownish gray, washed with oliva- 
ceous, everywhere shading — into fuscous of wings, into livelier olivaceous on head and 
neck, on sides into olive-yellow of underparts; rectrices shaded with olive-yellow on 
exposed portion (save on middle pair, which is faintly dusky-barred); middle and 
greater wing-coverts tipped with whitish, forming two inconspicuous bands; flight 
feathers margined with light brownish gray; olive-yellow of underparts clearing to 
wax-yellow on breast and under tail-coverts. Juvenals and immature birds resemble 
the female parent, but are duller. First year male in spring: Much like adult female, 
but showing increase of yellow, especially below, with a resulting greenish or olivaceous 


The Arizona Hooded Oriole 

cast; chin and throat black. The approaching maturity of male birds is characterized 
by steady intensification of the yellows, and extension of the black "bib;" but the 
characters of the adult female are stubbornly retained above, and it is probable that 
the adult characters are not acquired until the third spring. In all males, advancing 
age is betokened by increase of the orange element in the yellows, so that the color of 
the oldest birds is a little richer than "cadmium-yellow." Length of adult male about 
203.2 (8.00). Av. of 10 (Ridgway): wing 88.4 (3.48); tail 89.9 (3.54); bill 21.6 (.85); 
tarsus 22.4 (.88). Females slightly smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size. As compared with Icterus bullocki, with 
which alone it is likely to be confused, note yellow head, or "hood," of male; much more 
extensive black of throat; tail black, not yellow, on under side; yellows less orange. 
Underparts entirely yellow in female and young. 

Nesting. — Nest: a closely woven basket, or hanging pouch, of fine vegetable 
fiber, usually composed externally of a single, uniform, selected material, and in Cali- 
fornia almost invariably the shredded fibers of the Washington Palm ( Neowashingtonia 
filifera), with some inner felting of vegetable down or feathers; lashed to the under side 
of a palm leaf or of other large protecting leaves. Eggs: 3 or 4, white or bluish white, 
sharply, sparingly and irregularly spotted, chiefly about the larger end, with purplish 
black and purp'ish gray. Av. size 21.6 x 15.4 (.85 x .61). Season: late April-July; 
two broods. 

Range of Icterus cucullatus. — Southern California, southern Arizona, and the 
lower valley of the Rio Grande, south to Honduras. 

Range of /. c. nelsoni. — Southern Ca ifornia, southern Arizona, and south- 
western New Mexico, south to Lower California and Tepic, Mexico; winters south of 
the United States. 

Distribution in California. — Common summer resident, of local distribution in 
the Lower Sonoran zone of the lower Colorado River valley, the Colorado Desert and the 
San Diegan district, west to Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez (Aug. 19, 1917). There 
is a record for Auburn, Placer County (Bendire, Life Histories, vol. ii., 1895, p. 476); 
and the species is of probable occurrence in the Tulare basin. 

Authorities. — Cooper, Proc. Calif. Acad. Nat. Sci., vol. ii., 1861, p. 122; Stephens, 
Auk, vol. i., 1884, p. 355 (nests); Ridgway, Proc. U. S. National Mus., vol. viii., 1885, 
p. 19 (description of nelsoni); Illingworth, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, pp. 98-100 (nests); 
Bailey, F. M., Auk, vol. xxvii., 1910, pp. 33-35, pis. iv., v. (nests in s. Calif.); Wear, 
Condor, vol. xvii., 191 5, p. 234 (at Fresno). 

EXACT information regarding the Arizona Hooded Oriole is curi- 
ously lacking. The bird is rated common in Southern California; and 
most of us have seen its nest, a sturdy fistful of twisted palm fibers lashed 
midway of some protecting cluster of large leaves (sycamore or fig), or 
hung from the under side of a palm-leaf. Its brilliant colors, golden- 
yellow and black, with touches of white, mark the male bird for distinction, 
yet the bird is so modest, so retiring, or else so crafty, and so reticent 
withal, that our impressions of his personality seem to be very hazy. 

Much of our confusion is caused, no doubt, by the presence of its 
several-times more numerous, ten times noisier, and hundred times less 


zona Ho 


Arizona Hooded Oriole 

Male, female, and nest; male about J4 life size 
From a <water-color painting by Allan Brooks 


mes less 

The Arizona Hooded Oriole 

bashful cousin, the Bullock Oriole. Indeed, our modest hero fairly 
skulks in the shadow cast by his more brilliant but not more beautiful 
kinsman. The writer once camped for a month under a tree which 
eventually cradled nests of both these species. Yet in that time I never 
heard a note which did not upon investigation trace to bullocki, nor see 
a distinctive movement of nelsoni, save of the female at her nest. In view 
of this experience, I mistrust some of the observations already in print, 
and offer meager notes of my own with the utmost diffidence. The 
biographer of Icterus cucullatus nelsoni is still in training. 

The Arizona Hooded Oriole begins to arrive in California late in 
March. I say "begins to arrive" because I think it altogether probable 
that there are two streams or stocks of migrants, one arriving early and 
nesting in April and July, the other nesting only once, in late May or 
early June. Santa Barbara seems to be the usual limit of northern 
migration; but I once saw a pair east of Paso Robles (April 22, 1912); 
and Bendire gives it 1 , upon what authority I do not know, from Auburn, 
in Placer County. Late September, or earliest October, witnesses the 
departure of this species from the State. 

Although coming of a family famous for tuneful good cheer, the 
Arizona Hooded Oriole gives a poor account of himself as a songster. 
This does not seem to be so much for lack of ability as for lack of impulse. 
He is not of the noisy kind. When he does condescend to sing, it will be 
briefly, at daybreak or thereabouts. His vocal efforts are exceedingly 
variable both as to length and quality, now a weak rasping phrase, now a 
succession of sputtering squeaks, half musical and half wooden, and now 
a wild medley wherein are imbedded notes of a liquid purity. At its 
best it reminds one, just distantly, of Bobolink's. Tsweetsee burr ho 
wick divoer, rendered in sprightly fashion, will give one a notion of its 
dashing inconsistency. But these singing phrases are exceedingly rare. 
And lest I be thought to exaggerate through lack of opportunity to observe, 
I may say that a pair of these birds has nested regularly in the yard of my 
next door neighbor since we came to California. The nest can be found 
at the appropriate season whenever we set out to look for it ; yet so silent, 
so secretive, so utterly extra-mundane are the birds, we could forget their 
existence, were it not for an occasional chirp (or, more exactly, chweet) 
which is at least unmistakably Icterine. 

This very day (July 16, 1917), being reminded, I step over into 
Neighbor Hoover's yard and search the nearest sycamore carefully. The 
tree is in high leaf, and the foliage fairly dense. Ah, there it is, nearly 
concealed in the drooping tip of one of the outermost branches, some 
twenty feet above the ground. By the help of some ladies (over-solicitous 

'Life Histories, Vol. I., p. 475. 1895. 

9 1 

The Arizona Hooded Oriole 

of the birdman's safety) I ascend a ladder balanced in an upright position, 
for the branch is a mere whip-end. There are three eggs, white, lightly 
spotted and briefly scrawled with dark reddish brown, utterly unlike the 
Bullock Oriole type. The nest is a rounded hammock, or deep cup, 
composed solely of fine, even strands of palm fiber, and made fast on its 
sides through numberless holes pierced in the substance of enveloping 
leaves. The cup is three inches wide and of a like depth, and boasts a 
scanty lining of white chicken-feathers. But all we hear of the owners 
is a faint chirp from the female, concealed in a distant thicket. It is not 
a time, evidently, for the risking of black-and-gold liveries. 

One season this local pair of birds behaved very strangely. Instead 
of getting down to business, the birds idled away the month of July 
making trial, or decoy, nests. These were invariably of palm fiber, 
carefully moulded but not always lined; and we found two in our tree 
yucca, two in Neighbor Hoover's banana tree, and one in a small sycamore, 
all, apparently, the product of a single pair of birds. To what end was 
all the labor? Was milady so hard to please? Or were there possibly 
several miladies? 

A possible key to this strange conduct is afforded by the experience 
of another observer, Mrs. Bagg, of Santa Barbara. According to this 
lady, a male Hooded Oriole was observed day after day as he constructed 
a nest on the under side of a palm leaf on the Bagg demesne. No sign 
of the female was at any time seen during construction. When the 
edifice was completed, however, the young swain appeared one morning 
with two females. The ladies inspected the quarters minutely, and each 
arriving at the decision that the situation was one to be desired, fell into a 
dispute as to whose it should be. Finally, they set to and fought bitterly. 
The quarrel could not be decided in a single day, for each lady was de- 
termined to win home and fortune. Each day, therefore, they fought, 
until both were exhausted. Again and again they carried their battle 
to the ground, and might have been caught, so bitter was their hatred. 
The male, it seems, took no part in the conflict, but either looked on 
disgustedly, or took himself off to moralize on the depravity of woman- 
kind. Finally, one suitress gave in and left her rival in possession. 
Peace being established, the winner laid two eggs and sat happily for a 
few days, sat until her old enemy, having recruited her strength, returned 
to give battle. A fight ensued. The eggs were broken in the scrimmage, 
the nest dishevelled, and the conflict was transferred to parts unknown — 
certainly a sad case of misguided judgment on the part of one member of 
the sterner sex. 


The Scott Oriole 
No. 16 

Scott's Oriole 

A. O. U. No. 504. Icterus parisorum Bonaparte. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: Head and neck all around, 
breast, and back, jet black; remaining underparts (including axillars and under wing- 
coverts), rump, tail-coverts, and basal three-fifths of tail (one-third only on central 
pair), pure yellow (lemon-chrome) - , bend of wing and lesser and middle wing-coverts 
yellow, the last-named tipped with lighter yellow; the greater coverts and tertials 
tipped with white; rest of wing and tail black. Adult male in winter: "Similar to 
summer male, but white markings on wing much broader, feathers of back more or less 
margined with light gray, rump and upper tail coverts more strongly washed with 
olive or gray, and flanks more or less tinged with olive' (Ridgway). Adult female in 
breeding plumage: Somewhat similar to adult male in spring, but black pure only on 
throat and chest, and there reduced in area; feathers on the borders of this area tipped 
with yellow; remainder of head and neck mingled olive-yellow and black the former 
in fine skirting; the back olive-gray with lighter skirtings and darker centers; rump and 
upper tail-coverts yellowish (citrine or oil-yellow) ; the tail brownish olive centrally 
and terminally, shading into oil-yellow basally and marginally; underparts yellow, pure 
only centrally on wing-linings, elsewhere washed with olivaceous; lesser and middle 
wing-coverts mingled with olive-yellow and black; the middle and greater coverts 
broadly white-tipped ; remainder of wing grayish brown with lighter edgings. Im- 
mature male (through the second year?): Like adult female, but progressively blacker, 
anteriorly, especially below. Immature female: Like adult female but much duller; 
more sordid or olive-gray below and without black — olive-gray instead (through second 
year?) ; progressively brighter after first year (?), with gradual access of black anteriorly. 
The unmarked phase of the female Scott Oriole has been described as adult (i. e., Ridg- 
way, Bull. 50, U. S. N. M., pt. ii., p. 309), but the logic of development would seem to 
favor the explanation given, and black-throated examples abound. Juvenals (first 
plumage) differ from immature females, if at all, only in being more purely yellow on 
the posterior underparts. Length of males about 211 (8.30). Av. of 16 specimens (after 
Ridgway) . wing 104.4 (4- 10); tail 88.4 (3.48); bill 22.9 (.90); tarsus 23.9 (.94). Females 
average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; foreparts entirely black, sharply contrasting 
with yellow rump and underparts of male. In all plumages greenish yellow as con- 
trasted with the reddish yellow of Icterus bullocki. 

Nesting. — Nest: a sturdy basket of twisted, interlaced, and broken grasses, 
plucked green; lined with finer grasses, seed pappus, or other soft substances; lashed to, 
or impaled upon, the narrow sword-like leaves of the yucca, and especially (in California) 
of the tree yuccas ( Yucca arborescens and Y. mohavensis) Eggs: 3 or 4, rarely 5, white 
or pale bluish white, marked sparingly with reddish brown or blackish. The markings 
are rounded, zigzag, or various, but show no tendency to scrolling, although there are 
occasional hints of coronal wreathing. The colors too are oftenest partially self-toned 
by virtue of superimposed lime, and there are sometimes minute frecklings which 
impart a dirty appearance to the egg. Av. size 23.8 x 17 (.94 x .67). Season: About 
May 1st (on the Mohave desert); one (?) brood. 


The Scott Oriole 

General Range. — Lower Sonoran zone from southern California, southwestern 
Utah, and western Texas, south to Lower California and through Mexico to Michoacan 
and Vera Cruz; winters south of the American border. 

Distribution in California. — Resident in summer in the arid Upper Sonoran 
fringes of the southeastern deserts, breeding from the tree yucca to the pinyon associa- 
tions, chiefly upon the flanks of the desert-facing mountains, north to the Inyo Moun- 
tains; also near San Diego (Browne), and on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada in 
Walker Pass, Kern County (Grinnell). Of casual occurrence during migrations in the 
San Diegan district, west to Santa Barbara (May 7, 1913). 

Authorities. — Cooper, Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 276; Browne, Auk, vol. viii., 1891, 
p. 238; Fisher, A. K., N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, pp. 67-68 (range and nest); Anthony, 
Auk, vol. x., 1894, pp. 327-328 (in San Diego Co.) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, 
vol. ii., 1895, pp. 471-474, pi. vi., figs. 28, 29 (habits, nest and eggs); Grinnell, Condor, 
vol. xii., 1910, p. 46 (range); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 71 (status in 
s. Calif.) 

Taken in San Bernardino County Photo by Wright M. Pierce 


"AWAKENING SONGS" are all very well for poets and milk 
peddlers, who require little sleep, but they are much resented by the 
average Californian, and especially by those of us who affect sleeping 
porches. It is for this reason that the author, blessed (or plagued) with 
a keen sense of hearing, confesses to sleeping with a huge pillow plastered 
over his ear. But the angel of bird-men, relentless as a Pullman porter, 


The Scott Oriole 

earned my special 
gratitude when on 
a certain May 
morning he roused 
me, regardless, to 
listen to a golden 
song which poured 
down from a syca- 
more tree hard by. 
Ly ti ti tee to, ti ly 
ti ti te to, came the 
compelling out- 
burst. I took it 
for a freak Mead- 
owlark song at 
first, but once 
aroused, knew it 
for an Icterine 
carol — ly ti ti tee to, 
ti ly ti ti tee to — 
molten notes with 

a fond thrill to them, more restrained than the clarion of the Meadow- 
lark, smoother and sweeter than the tumult of a Bullock Oriole, and, 
of course, with the double repetition, a much longer song than either. 
This episode signalized the westernmost appearance of this gifted musi- 
cian, and necessitated, I regret to say, mortuary rites. Maturer im- 
pressions, obtained in Arizona in a more characteristic setting of pinyons, 
scattering live oaks, and the inevitable yuccas, confirmed the judg- 
ment of a rare quality in this Oriole's song. Again and again we started 
up with the thought of Meadowlark (at an unlikely altitude of 5000 
feet) , and were as often disarmed by the subtle restraint, the unexampled 
purity and the faint melancholy of the concluding notes. All around 
was tense silence, dryness, and appalling heat, the desolation of mid- 
day in the desert foothills. Ly ty ti ti tee to, ly ty ti ti tee to, cut across 
the dry silences like the voice of a spirit treading the plains of asphodel. 
How important an element this song becomes in the life of the high 
deserts, Scott testifies in his classical first description of the bird's habits: 1 
"Few birds sing more incessantly, and in fact I do not recall a species in 
the Eastern or Middle States that is to be heard as frequently. The 
males are, of course, the chief performers, but now and again, near a nest, 

'W. E. D. Scott, The Auk, Vol. II., Jan. 1885. 

Taken in San Bernardino County 

Photo by Wright M. Pierce 



The Scott Oriole 

while watching the birds, I would detect a female singing the same 
glad song, only more softly. At the earliest daybreak and all day long, 
even when the sun is at its highest, and during the great heat of the 
afternoon, its very musical whistle is one of the few bird songs that are 
ever present." 

Unfortunately, the singers are very shy, and the pursuit of their 
ravishing notes all too rarely yields a view of the handsome singer, with 
his blackest of heads and his most intensely yellow under-plumage. Even 
the females, who are much duller in appearance, will slyly forsake their 
nests upon the distant approach of the stranger, and will oftenest remain 
concealed, or absent themselves, while the nest is being examined. 

Typically, the birds nest in the tree yuccas, whether in the Joshua 
tree {Yucca arborescens) of the eastern desert ranges and the Walker's 
Pass region, or in the Mohave Yucca ( Y .mohavensis Sargent) of the Antelope 
Valley and the northern slopes of the San Bernardino range. Further 
south yuccas of the sword-bayonet type ( Y. baccata and related forms) 
furnish shelter, and the palms {Washingtonia filifera) of Palm Canyon and 
other valleys, are accepted as substitutes. In default of these, Scott's 
Oriole has been known to nest in pinyons or live oaks or even sycamores. 
When in the yuccas, nests are, of necessity, placed at moderate heights, 
four to ten feet. The edges of descending leaves of the plant are frayed or 
notched, to serve for the attachment of the threads which support the 
nest. A deep cup is woven out of yucca fibers or grasses, occasionally 
supplemented by horsehair, and the linings boast either cotton waste 
or finely shredded hemp. 

From its semi-desert association, the food of Scott's Oriole must 
consist chiefly of insects, supplemented, possibly, by nectar. Mrs. Kate 
Stephens once saw an Oriole drink deeply from the tubular orange flowers 
of the aloe, and thinks that they find nourishment also in the blossoms 
of tree tobacco. 1 Bendire notes 2 their eating the ripe fruit of the giant 
cactus; and Dr. Grinnell 3 took specimens at Fairmont which were gorged 
with apricots. 

We have, evidently, much to learn yet of the comings and goings 
of Scott's Oriole. Most recorded appearances fall within the dates 
April 1st and September 15th; but Stephens has seen them at San 
Diego as early as Feb. 26 (1916) 4 ; and W. B. Judson took a specimen in 
the San Fernando Valley, Nov. 2, 1903. 5 The vicinity of San Diego has 
been favored with many recent appearances, and it is quite possible that 

'Condor, Vol. VIII., p. 130. 

2 "Life Histories," Vol. I., p. 473. 

3 Condor, Vol. XII.. p. 46. 

'Condor, Vol. XVIII. May, 1916. p. 130. 
5 Condor, Vol. VI., p. 25. 

9 6 

The Bullock Oriole 

the species is slowly extending its range. Its normal choice of altitude, 
however, from 4000 to 6000, is rather narrowly represented in the Upper 
Sonoran zone of California, and its total population does not begin to 
compare with either /. bullocki or /. cucullatas nelsoni. 

No. 17 

Bullock's Oriole 

A. O. U. No. 508. Icterus bullocki (Swainson). 

Description. — Adult male: Black, white, and orange; bill, lore, a line through 
eye, and throat (narrowly) jet black; pileum, back, scapulars, lesser wing-coverts, 
primary coverts, and tertials, chiefly black, or with a little yellowish skirting; remiges 
black edged with white; middle and greater coverts, continuous with edging of tertials 
and secondaries, white, forming a large patch; tail chiefly cadmium-yellow, but central 
pair of rectrices black on exposed area, and remaining pairs tipped with blackish; 
remaining plumage, including supraloral areas continuous with superciliaries, orange 
(cadmium-orange in oldest examples), most intense on sides of throat and chest, shading 
on lower breast to cadmium-yellow posteriorly; rump washed with olivaceous. In 
younger adults the orange is less intense, and the tail is more extensively black. Bill 
black above, bluish below; feet and legs (drying) dusky horn color. Adult female: 
Above drab-gray, clearest on rump and upper tail-coverts; washed with yellow on head; 
wings fuscous with whitish edging; pattern of white in coverts of male retained, but 
much reduced in area; tail nearly uniform dusky orange (aniline yellow to old gold); 
sides of throat and chest wax-yellow (with irruptions of orange in older birds); chin 
and throat (narrowly) and remaining underparts sordid white or pale creamy buff; 
the under tail-coverts usually (but not always) tinged with yellow. Immature male: 
Like adult female; yellows of head and throat stronger. Young male in first spring: 
Like adult female, but sides of head, throat, and breast aniline yellow; lores, chin, and 
throat narrowly black. Birds breed in this plumage, and it is uncertain whether or not 
it may be carried into the second year. Length of adult male about 210 (8.25); wing 
100 (3-94); tail 79 (3.1 1); bill 18.5 (.73) tarsus 25 (.98). Female somewhat smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; black, white, and orange coloration; top of 
head black, and under side of tail yellow, as contrasted with the Arizona Hooded Oriole. 
Females and young extensively whitish below. Note slender, blackish bill of female, 
as contrasted with heavy, light-colored bill of Western Tanager {Piranga ludoviciana) ; 
wing-bars white; underparts with contrasting yellow and whitish, where the Tanager 
is uniform greenish yellow. 

Nesting. — Nest: A pendent pouch of elaborately interwoven grasses, vegetable 
fibers, string, or horsehair, either uniform or variously composed; 5 to 9 inches in depth, 
and lashed by brim, or suspended by lengthened filaments, to branches of deciduous 
trees, usually at moderate heights. Eggs: Usually 5; elongate ovate; grayish white or 
bluish white as to ground, or, rarely, tinged with claret, boldly and intricately scrawled 
with pen lines, fine or broad, of purplish black. The pattern tends to confluence in a 
coronal wreath, or cloud cap, and appears as though traced continuously through many 


The Bullock Oriole 

revolutions. Av. size 23.9 x 16 (.94 x .63). Season: May-June; one brood. Extreme 
nesting dates are: Claremont, April 25, 1901, by W. M. Pierce; and Pasadena, July 18, 
1894, by H. A. Gaylord. 

General Range. — Western North America, breeding from southern British 
Columbia and southern Saskatchewan south to northern Mexico, and from South 
Dakota and western Kansas to the Pacific; wintering in Mexico south to Colima, 
Guerrero, and Puebla. 

Distribution in California. — "Abundant summer resident in many parts of 
the State — from the Nevada line to the seacoast, and from the Oregon line to the Mexi- 
can boundary. Of very general zonal and faunal preferences; breeds from Lower 
Sonoran up through Transition, and from the riparian association on the deserts (as 
along the Colorado River) to the San Francisco Bay region. Of least abundance in the 
northwest coast belt and on the Santa Barbara Islands, though there are records from 
both. Occurs in migrations even on the arid portions of the southeastern deserts, and 
up into the high mountains. Centers of abundance are the interior valleys north of 
Tehachapi." (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Audubon, Orn. Biog., vol. v., 1839, pp. 9-11 ;Gambel, Proc. Acad. 
Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. iii., 1847, p. 204 (migration; song; nest); Heermann, Rept. Pac. 
R. R. Surv., vol. x., pt. vi., 1859, p. 52 (habits, etc.); Illingworth, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, 
pp. 98-100 (nests); Sharp, Condor, vol. v., 1903, pp. 38-42, 3 figs, (unusual nests); 
Beal, Biol. Survey Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 68-71, pi. x. (food). 

THANK God for Wonder! What is it but a pleased interest in the 
unfolding panorama of life? We consider it the special attribute of 
childhood, because life is new to the child; but woe to us when we cease to 
wonder! It is a sign that we have ceased to live. For in the last analysis, 
Wonder is Worship — a recognition of the presence of God and ecstatic 
joy thereat. 

I bring a chance acquaintance to view my collection of eggs. He 
glances patronizingly at the painted ovals, murmurs, "I see," when I 
point out an example of protective harmony, and stifles a yawn when I 
discourse upon the niceties of hummingbird architecture. He isn't 
interested. What I have proposed for common ground he cannot accept 
as such. His thoughts are elsewhere. He does not wonder! Another 
gazes with delight upon the unfolded treasures, gives little shrieks of 
appreciation at each successive burst of color, and marvels ecstaticallv 
over the exquisite traceries of the Oriole. He is manifestly interested in 
that which interests me. I have given him pleasure. He wonders, and 
is by so much more my friend. 

It is not otherwise with the soul and God. Our Heavenly Father 
has devised the myriad show of Nature, and has brought us to view it. 
If we gaze with unseeing eyes, if we turn quickly away, we offend him. 
He has labored in vain, and the Creator's heart is in so far saddened. But 
if, on the other hand, we enter with deep appreciation into the storehouse 


ash aiil Wimm ^Itmsl baa 


The Bullock Oriole 


Bullock's Oriole 

Male and female, about % life size 



. .en 1 
n when I 

annot accept 


ith cieei 

:w it. 

iffend hirii. 



&?**. /&-* n /fS _ 

The Bullock Oriole 

of Nature, if we pass with reverent ecstacy from one marvel to another, 
or if we gaze with kindling enthusiasm upon a single example of his perfect 
work, we declare ourselves to be of his sort. We are manifestly pleased, 
and his pleasure is in the sight of ours. We hold communion with him in 
wonder no less than in praise. Rightly considered, wonder is worship, 
and God hath not wrought in vain. 

And what marvel in all nature shall exceed that offered in the delicate, 
fantastic traceries of a Bullock Oriole's egg! On a background of palest 
bluish gray, the calligraphist, having dipped his pen in a well of purplish 
black, proceeds to scrawl and shade, to zigzag and flourish and vibrate — 
all this while the obedient oval turns round and round. Now as the egg 
revolves for a dozen turns, the artist bears on with laborious care. . Now 
he lifts the pen ; and now, return- 
ing, he loiters while the ink 
runs out upon the page in little 
pools of indelible blackness. 
Quaint and fanciful, indeed, are 
the divagations of the Icterine 
genius. With all the world before 
him, why should he not choose to 
be fantastic? On a specimen be- 
fore me there are traceries which 
vary in width from one twen- 
tieth of an inch to one ten- 
thousandth. Some of them stand 
forth like the lines of an engraved 
visiting card, while others require 
a magnifyingglass to recall 
their nebulous course to visi- 
bility. On another egg twelve in- 
dependent lines pass unheeding within a total space of one tenth of an inch, 
while the smaller end of the same egg is perfectly bare. Here the weird 
image of a goblin piper braces itself on legs set rakishly awry, and strains 
away at a splintered flute — all within the space of a barley-corn. There 
a cable of twisted purple ropes frays suddenly and goes off into gossamer 
hysterics. Another egg, tottering under its burden of pigment, shows 
lines curiously shadowed, or "side-wiped." It is all so fascinating, so 
bewildering, and so mysterious! What is it all for?. 

An easy answer would be that it is a phase of protective coloration. 
I can testify that in the special circumstances of a nest wherein scanty 

Photo by Win. H. Wonfor 



The Bullock Oriole 

coils of black horsehair show up in high relief against the remaining 
background of normal white vegetable felt, these eggs are almost indis- 
tinguishable from their surroundings. They 
are obliteratively colored. But what of 
that? The nest of the Oriole is so deep, and 
its eggs so much in shadow that, were they 
purest white, they would scarcely show. 
And if they were green or blue, it would not 
matter. No; I prefer to think 
that the artist wishes to be fan- 
tastic. And he gets his way. 
While each set of eggs shows a 
prevailing or unifying motif, each 
component egg is individually dis- 
tinct. No two objects in nature 
are exactly alike ; and never by any 
chance does the master decorator 
of birds' eggs repeat himself. 

But, after all, eggs are as may 
be. However curiously we may 
admire the Creator's versatility, 
it is in the conscious artistry of the 
bird herself that we most openly 
rejoice. The Oriole does not de- 
sign her eggs, but she does design their receptacle; and perhaps nowhere 
else in nature are art and utility more happily blended. Certainly the 
selective process of art is nowhere else more clearly exemplified than in the 
nests of Bullock's Oriole. Guided, of necessity, by materials at hand, the 
bird, nevertheless, in each instance achieves something individual, dis- 
tinctive. Even with a wealth of varied materials available, the artist 
either makes rigid selection of one, as, black horse-hair, white string, or 
gray bark fiber; or else works out some happy combination of two or 
three, as, black horse-hair decorated with tufts of cotton, white string 
relieved by strands of red, gray bark uniformly interspersed with bluish 
threads. Exceptions to this, the olla podrida sort, are very rare. 

The artistry of the Bullock Oriole is strikingly comparable to that 
of the Baltimore Oriole, or "Hangnest, " of the East, and its fabrications 
are similarly purse-shaped, of elaborate and highly finished weave. The 
Bullock's nests are not, however, so frequently secured by the brim alone, 
nor so conspicuously depended from the tips of drooping branches. They 
are apt to be, also, of a more open weave, as befits a warmer climate, and 

Photo by F. S. Merrill 


The Bullock Oriole 

one wherein summer rains play little or no part. Nesting, as it does, 
from the highlands of Mexico north to British Columbia, the Bullock 
Oriole shelters in a great variety of host trees, mesquite, willow, sycamore, 
cottonwood, oak, pine even, not to mention every conceivable variety of 
the larger shrubs. 

Because the variation in construction is so infinite, five examples 
from the M. C. O. collections, taken in California, must suffice: 

Nest Ki6o*\ 6 , lashed throughout to descending twigs of cottonwood; 
is composed of horse-hair of three shades, with slight admixture of string, 
and is decorated sparingly with small white feathers. Lining, confined 
to bottom third, of white feathers. Measures 7 inches deep by 4 wide 
over all. Inside depth, from lowest portion of brim, 2> l A inches. Opening, 
2}4 by 3. Weight with included twigs exactly half an ounce. 

Taken in Washington Photo by the Author 


Nest KijgHe, likewise lashed to descending twigs of cottonwood; 
light open pattern of horsehair, chiefly black. Copious lining of white 
cotton batting is anchored by being pulled through the meshes from the 
outside, presenting a handsomely tufted appearance. Depth over all. 
6 inches; breadth 4^. Inside depth from brim t,}4 inches. Width of 
opening 2}4 inches. 


The Bullock Oriole 

Nest Kii2%, made fast by brim and side supports to branch of 
white oak; composed wholly of coarse dried grasses, chiefly fox-tail, the 
heads of which are turned outside and left as bristling decorations; a 
mere pinch of feathers in lining. Depth over all 7 inches; width 6; inside 
depth from brim 4; width of opening 2 by 3. 

Nest 44 ] / 14 , composed of fine dry grasses well weathered. Completely 
invested by drooping cluster of white oak twigs; built up with gradual 
convergence until the opening, one inch by one and a half across, too 
small to be functional, and so abandoned. 

Nest i?p5 4 /, 7 (from Arizona). Rigidly supported by forking limbs 
of a horizontal branch of osage orange, and built up above supports; less 
pensile than a vireo's nest. A thick-walled structure of mingled horse- 
hair, string, and cotton waste, so copious as not to require special lining. 
Measures, outside, 4 inches in depth by /[}4 in width. Inside 3J/2 inches 
in depth. Opening 2 by 3. 

Some very interesting nests of this species have been described by 
Mr. C. S. Sharp 1 from Escondido, in which the stems and heads of wild 
oats were almost the sole material employed. The straggly projecting 
heads of this grain made a striking and unusual effect for a bird whose 
habits are a synonym for neatness. 

Most of the actual work of nest construction is carried out by the 
female, while her mate trails about helplessly, or else applauds her efforts 
in song. But one observer, Mr. J. F. Illingworth, 2 declares that both 
birds labor in the construction of the walls, that one posts itself inside 
the nest and the other outside, and that the thread is passed back and 
forth from one to the other, until the nest is thoroughly "darned." Be 
this as it may, it is the female who makes the selection of material, and 
does all the "rustling." Watching a bird at this perennial quest is 
no end of fun. Once, in camp near Dos Palos, a Bullock Oriole paid us 
a visit just as the cook was announcing breakfast. All eyes were turned 
upon her. She spied the dish-towel drying on the fence, sidled up to it, 
sampled a thread, tested it carefully throughout its length, found it 
satisfactory, and flew off with it. While she was absent I put up two 
lengths of red string for her approval. On returning, she decided that 
the dishcloth was on the whole too weak for her purpose and passed it 
up. Then she nibbled at the red strings meditatively, as who should 
say, "Too bad these ar'n't white, now isn't it?" let them fall unheeded, 
and passed on. Next she lighted on the automobile, seized a tarpaulin 
tape, wrestled with it, and in the scrimmage fell over the corner and 
down with the unwinding tape, like a spider descending on its own belly- 

1 Condor, Vol. V., March, 1903, pp. 38-42. 
'Condor, Vol. Ill, July, 1901. p. 99. 


The Bullock Oriole 

string. But, nothing daunted, the Oriole returned and climbed up and 
down the fluttering sheet until she found it quite hopeless. Then she 
fell upon the thread which held the two halves of the tarpaulin together. 
This she pried and twisted and unthreaded until she had quite a respect- 
able length loose. I thought she would have made off with it, but a 
fracas among her own kind hard by dissuaded her for the moment, and 
our appetites reasserted themselves. 

Little space remains to recount the wonder of the birds themselves. 
They, or at least the males, are among the half dozen brightest of Cali- 
fornia's birds; and they are, perhaps, more widely distributed than any 
other of our "birds 
of plumage." Act- 
ive, industrious, and 
not unconfiding 
bodies they are too, 
and a very im- 
portant element in 
the good cheer of 
springtide. The 
males arrive a week 
or two in advance 
of their mates, and 
appear quite ill at 
ease until joined by 
their shy com- 
panions. "Arrange- 
ments" are, of 
course, not com- 
plete, and the 
ardent courtships 
which ensue are of interest to spectators as well as participants. Only a 
moment ago I saw two males pursuing a female who evidently wished 
very much to be excused from an immediate decision. One of the males 
was a dull-colored young bird, and the other was a gorgeous old major in 
full regimentals. The young fellow kept the lead and pursued his object 
with dogged persistence; but the old fellow, wiser in the ways of women, 
paused now and then to pour out his heart in song. My sympathies — a — 
well — ahem — they used always to be with the young chap, but now — 
Id aetatis jam sumus. 

The Bullock Oriole is either musical or noisy, but oftener both 
together. Both sexes indulge a stirring rattle which seems to express 
nearly every variety of emotion. Upon this the male grafts a musical 

Photo by Win. H. Wonfor 



The Tricolored Redwing 

outcry, so that the whole approaches song. A purer song phrase more 
rarely indulged in may be syllabized as follows: Cut cut cudut whee up 
chooup. The last note comes sharp and clear, or, as often, trails off into 
an indistinguishable jumble. The questing note, or single call, of the 
male is one of the sweetest sounds of springtime, but an even more 
domestic sound, chirp trap, uttered while he is trailing about after his 
swinking spouse, appears ridiculously prosaic. 

Once, in a mesquite grove, under the influence, I doubt not, of the 
rowdy Chat, an infatuated Oriole did a clog dance across an open space. 
With exaggerated laboriousness he smote his wings together over his 
back half a dozen times, then dashed into a thicket, whither his Juliet 
had, no doubt, preceded him. Perridiculus! 

No. 18 

Tricolored Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 500. Agelaius tricolor (Audubon). 

Synonyms. — Tricolored Blackbird. Tricolored Red-winged Blackbird 
Red-and-white-shouldered Blackbird. 

Description. — Adult male in spring: Glossy black with greenish or bluish 
reflections (slightly more pronounced than in A. phoenicens) ; the lesser wing-coverts 
rich red (carmine — darker than in A. phoeniceus); middle coverts pure white, appearing 
as a broad transverse band below the red. Bill and feet black. Adult male in fall and 
winter: As in spring, but feathers lightly skirted, especially on back, pileum, sides 
of neck, and breast, with rusty gray; the white of the middle wing-coverts more or less 
tinged with brownish buff. Immature males: (Not seen) probably exaggerate the 
characters of the adult male in autumn, and closely parallel the course of A. phoeniceus. 
Yearling male in first spring: Like adult, but lesser wing-coverts tawny or brownish 
red, variously admixed with black; the middle coverts wholly black, or variously mixed 
black and white. Adult female in spring: Similar to that of Agelaius phoeniceus, but 
more uniform in coloration and much darker; above sooty black, nearly uniform, from 
back posteriorly, but with some obscure skirtings of brownish gray on head and nape; 
below sooty black, nearly uniform, from breast posteriorly, although with faint skirtings 
of lighter, or whitish — these skirtings sharply defined on lower tail-coverts; breast min- 
gled black and whitish in about equal proportions, clearing anteriorly to white, sparingly 
flecked with black on throat; an obscure whitish line over eye; lateral coloration through- 
out blending the characters of upper and lower plumage; a dull ruddy element often 
present in the whites, and (in older examples?) the lesser wing-coverts more or less 
skirted with dark red. Adult female in autumn: As in spring, but plumage softer and 
much more extensively margined above with brownish gray, below with whitish (in this 
stage closely resembling the female of A. phoeniceus in spring). Immature female: Like 
adult female in autumn, but still more heavily margined; a rusty element appearing 


»sis Ml s£ JuodA 

37k? Trie 


t the 


out after his 

loubt not, oi 
an op;. 


A Tricolored Redwing-, Female 

About % life size 
From a Photograph, copyright 1921, by the Author 

ill and 

■ k | m sides 





The Tricolored Redwing 

above. Length about 228.6 (9.00). Av. of males: wing 121 (4.76); tail 88 (3.46); 
bill 23.4 (.92); tarsus 29.7 (1.17). Av. of females: wing 106.7 (4-20); tail 75.4 (2.97); 
bill 20.1 (.79); tarsus 26.4 (1.04). 

Remarks. — The occurrence of this closely related but perfectly distinct type of 
Agelaius in a field closely occupied by the more plastic and wide-spread phoeniceus, 
offers a pretty problem to the student of geographical distribution. On the whole, 
I think the presence of the buff element on the wing-coverts of the adult male in autumn 
affords us the best clue to the bird's phylogenetic history. As is commonly believed, 
autumnal plumages, when distinct from the breeding plumage, mark a partial reversion, 
a return to the more primitive or generalized form of the species. That the male 
tricolor, therefore, should exhibit in the fall a character which marks the utmost, or 
vernal, achievement of phoeniceus, indicates that the spring white of tricolor is an ad- 
vance upon the primitive Agelaius type. Tricolor, that is, has evolved further in this 

If this conclusion is a correct one, we may assume that tricolor was the pioneer 
upon the Californian field. Coming at a much earlier day from the Mexican home of 
the race, it became thoroughly established, and geneodynamically static, within its 
chosen area. A succeeding wave of Agelaii, viz., phoeniceus, has since swept the 
continent, nearly to the Arctic zone; but it found tricolor stubbornly intrenched. As a 
consequence, it has partly swept around the domain of tricolor, and partly invaded it, 
so that we now have the phenomenon of two closely related members of the same 
genus breeding in the same swamp. And with this explanation the notably primitive 
behavior characters of tricolor agree. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee to robin size; red-and- white epaulets of male 
distinctive. Females notably darker than those of A. phoeniceus. Closely gregarious 
at all seasons. Notes quite different from those of A. phoeniceus. 

Nesting. — In dense and often extended colonies. Nest: a stout basket of coarse 
grasses and pliant weeds, strengthened by a thin matrix of leaves laid in wet, and lined 
with coarse round grasses; lashed to stalks of narrow-leafed cattail (Typha angustifolia). 
Eggs: 4; pale niagara green (called pale "blue"), or pale olive-buff, sharply and sparingly 
spotted or short-scrawled, chiefly at larger end, by brownish black (See text below). 
Av. size (one each of forty sets) 24.1 x 17 (.95 x .67). Extreme examples: 30.8 x 18 
(1. 21 x .71), and 18.5 x 12.9 (.73 x .51). Season: May or early June; one brood. 

General Range. — "Pacific Coast from valleys of northwestern Oregon (west of 
Cascade Range) south through California (west of Sierra Nevada) to northern Lower 
California" (A. O. U.). 

Distribution in California. — Resident in central and southern California 
west of the Sierras; locally abundant in the Great Interior Valley, and in the San 
Diegan district, north, interiorly, to Shasta County, east to Lake Tahoe (where it has 
bred — Barlow), west to coast, southerly. 

Authorities. — Audubon (Icterus tricolor). Ornithological Biog., vol. v., 1839, 
pp. 1-5 (original description from Santa Barbara, Calif.); Heermann, Journ. Acad. Nat. 
Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 268 (nesting habits); Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler 
Surv., 1876, pp. 249-250 (nesting habits) ; Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii.. 
456-458, pi. vi., figs. 18, 19 (habits, nests and eggs); Mailliard, J. W., Condor, vol. 
xii., 1910, pp. 31-41 (critical); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. xvi., 1914, pp. 204-207 (nest- 
ing colony). 



'A \ ^ <*ol 

The Tricolored Redwing 

TO ONE in search of something utterly different I can heartily 
recommend an hour, or a day, in a Tricolor swamp. The birds are 
themselves, to be sure, not so different in generic appearance from their 
more familiar and widely distributed cousins, the Redwings (Agelaius 
phoeniceus). Indeed, one would suppose at first sight that a plumage 
difference which is practically limited to the lesser wing-coverts, white 
instead of buff (or buff overlaid with black, as in A. p. calif omicus) , would 
indicate merely one of those troublesome subspecific distinctions which 
practical field men wisely ignore. But such is far from being the case. 
For after we have conceded the all but identity of plumage in the male 
and the almost indistinguishable similarity of the eggs, we note with 
real surprise that we have to do here with a bird whose song, whose 
psychology and behavior, whose social arrangements, and presumed 
developmental history are entirely different from those of its phoenicean 
double, although the latter occupies closely the same general territory, 
and oftener than not the very edges of the swamps where tricolors are 
wont to assemble. 

Agelaius tricolor is intensely gregarious, more so perhaps than any 
other xAmerican bird. Every major act of its life is performed in close 
association with its fellows. Not only does it roost, or ravage grain 
fields, or foregather for nesting, in hundreds and thousands, but the very 
day of its nesting is agreed upon in concert. In continuous procession 
the individuals of a colony repair to a field agreed upon in quest of building 
material; and when the babies are clamoring the loudest for food, the 
deploying foragers join their nearest fellows and return to the swamps 
by platoons and volleys, rather than as individuals. The normal flock 
movement is in itself distinctive. The birds fly silently, with not so much 
as a rustle of wings; and they pass close to the ground, or at most at an 
elevation of fifteen or twenty feet. Each member of the flock rises and 
falls with each recurrent effort of the wings, quite independently of his 
fellows; but there is no vacillation or disposition to break away. Each 
bird is solely and ominously intent upon "getting there." 

A prosperous nesting colony of Tricolored Redwings is an enormous 
affair. At the height of building activities it seems a perfect bedlam, 
and the composite roar can be heard a mile away. At the same time, 
one rather wonders at the mildness and restraint of the individual utter- 
ance. The flock noise at its worst suggests a colony of a thousand birds, 
whereas there are in reality tens of thousands — say thirty thousand birds 
in a typical citadel. As one approaches the great green cover of cattails, 
he is reminded of circus day in the olden time. Everybody else is going 
too. Excited platoons and hurrying companies of birds sweep over the 
ground with rapid undulating flight, and lose themselves immediately in 


The Tricolored Redwing 

the all-devouring green. The space immediately over the cattails is 
sometimes filled suddenly as by a volcanic irruption; but for the most 
part there is a wholesale coming and going as methodical as that of ants. 

Our entrance into the swamp will not occasion any general alarm. 
A platoon, of say one hundred of the nearest birds, will rise as by a single 
impulse, and withdraw quietly to some distant rendezvous. After a 
decorous lapse of time they will return en masse prepared to resume 
duties; but if they find us still busy, they will flutter a moment overhead 
and then make off again. Only as incubation advances will some of the 
bolder females tarry to reprove. But ever in the offing there is the gentle 
roar of traffic, of life as it is lived in this wonderland of close-ranked 
greenery. Heard vaguely, as a sort of composite phonograph, the 
chorus of Tricolors impresses one by its quaintness, its restraint, and its 
mild good nature. More attentatively examined, it seems to consist of 
croaks, gurgles, squeaks, and whistles, the usual Agelaiine repertory played 
with the "mute" on. But critical attention to the notes of tricolor 
reveals a world of interest and suggestion. This mild and amiable social- 
ist has preserved in speech the traditions of earlier associations and 
relationships. First, there is ajup note of frequent use, which is decidedly 
Quiscaline in character. Certain other call-notes are like those of their 
nearest congeners, the Redwings (A. phoeniceus and varieties). But their 
most characteristic song is a mild edition of the famous "stomach-ache 
song" of the Yellow-headed Blackbird, and as impossible of description. 
While this is of commonest occurrence in the swamp, I believe the true 
mating song is reserved for the official parties, which are invariably held 
in.treetops at some remove from the swamps. These trysts, or courting 
fests, indulged in by parties of from ten to forty birds, are an established 
feature of early springtime; and I believe that those which occur as late 
as May or June are mere makeshifts, cramming classes for belated lovers. 
Anyhow, at such time I have heard such intimate phrases as Look awaaay 
choke, away awaay choke, varied by awaak or chuwaaack choke. 

Then there is the queque note, entirely distinctive, and a rattle 
remotely like that of a Kingfisher, only smaller and more musical. Still 
another sound, impossible to characterize accurately, reminds one of a 
Raven's croak. Add to this the scolding chup of the female, which is 
exactly like that of a female phoeniceus, and you have the dictionary 
of tricolor compiled to date. 

But what of the reeds themselves? And what of the baskets they 
contain? It is a different world we have entered, a simple, separate, 
mysterious realm where only the blackbirds dwell — and they have fled. 
The water stands knee-deep, or mid-thigh-deep, or perchance waist-deep, 
threatening ever to invade another dry inch, which the adventurer is 


The Tricolored Redwing 

loth to yield. The bottom is deliciously oozy (if you like it so, but I 
prefer to keep my shoes on). The serried ranks of cattails stand close, so 
close that one must use a large knife to get about ; and they stand so high 
above that one sees no horizon, 
and only guesses what may be 
in the sky. And everywhere 
there are nests, baskets of coiled 
grasses, lashed stoutly to the 
reeds. The nests, I say, are 
everywhere, now at middle levels, 
two or three feet above the 
water, where one may peep into 
them, now overhead where we 
must thrust in exploratory fin- 
gers, now hung perilously close 
to the water where a change in 
level may overwhelm them. 
Now and again they crowd each 
other, when two or three birds 
select the same stems. Here 
are two nests side by side, and 
here one above another. Here 
a bird has lashed her founda- 
tions too high, and the top will 
not go on because of a neighbor's 
foundation. No matter — try 
again. Never in the American 
swamps will another species of 
bird furnish such generous mat- 
ter for the inquisitive bird- 
nester. Here, by planting one 
foot for base and turning about 
freely, I am able to see into six- 
teen nests, all with eggs. Here, 
again, I touch twenty-six nests 
from one station, but I cannot 
see whether they are all occupied . 
In the interests of compara- 
tive oology, the writer has ex- 
amined some 3500 nests of this Blackbird in the course of several seasons, 
but chiefly in that of 1916. The study resulted not only in a handsome and 

Photo by the A ulhor 



The Tricolor ed Redwing 

instructive series of 
eggs, but in the re- 
cognition of some facts 
which must have 
escaped attention in 
a more restricted 
search. Thus, ab- 
normal or "freak" 
eggs, whether re- 
markable for size or 
shape or color, were 
found to be, almost 
without exception, the 
first laid of a given 
clutch. It is known, 
by now, that the 
secretion of pigment 
is not always exactly 
correlated in time with 
the deposition of the 
limy coat of the egg. 
If the activities of the 
pigment cells outrun 
those of shell secre- 
tion, an accumulated 
and excess amount of 
color will be deposited 
upon the first egg 
which presents itself 
for decoration. On 
the other hand, the 
first egg may find the 
pigment cells belated, 
and may escape without a touch of color. This, I say, was well known. 
But it was more surprising to find that runts and giants, fusiforms, and 
other eccentrics, are usually first attempts. The exception was the case 
of last-laid eggs in sets abnormally large. Four eggs being the stern 
rule of A. tricolor, sets of five or six were pretty sure to contain an egg 
structurally weak. The lime had played out. Of the only set of seven 
found, one egg collapsed in the nest, and another in being transferred to 
the collecting box. 

Abnormality, I take it, may be a result of the exertions attendant 

Taken in Merced County 

Photo by the Author 




The Tricolored Redwing 

upon nest-building. In 1916, especially, nesting (in the San Joaquin 
Valley) had been delayed by an unusual cold spell accompanied by 
west winds. When at last, about May 20th, nest-building was undertaken 
in spite of adverse weather conditions, many of the birds were overtaken 
with the duties of motherhood before the nests were finished. Eggs 
were deposited upon the undried muck, which affords the stiffening, or 
body, for the tricolor's basket. In most cases the nest was neatly lined 
with coiled grasses after the first egg was deposited, but a few birds 
immediately abandoned work upon the nest and left all their eggs upon 
a bare mud bottom. Others carefully worked the lining material under 
the egg or eggs. Many more, however, in their zeal for completing the 
nest in proper style, overlooked or failed to meet the claims of the eggs, 
and neglected to raise them with the new flooring. As a result, buried 
and half-buried eggs were very common. Some nests would contain one 
egg quite buried, another half buried, and two quite clear. 

The nesting material is invariably laid on wet. This assures not 
only pliability in working, but rigidity in the finished product. Although 
I had always a wholesome respect for the ingenuity of these weavers, I 
received a most impressive lesson upon a late occasion. In the course of a 
laborious piece of census work, I had selected four choice sets of eggs for 
color variation, placing them, duly marked, for convenient carriage, in an 
empty nest, and covering them with another. Upon emerging from 
the swamp and crossing a bit of dry ground in the open, the basket bowl 
with its precious contents was suddenly snatched from my hand and 
precipitated to the ground. A long strand of grass had gradually un- 
wound itself from the under nest until it trailed upon the ground, and 
I had stepped on it. So stout was the strand and so deeply was it 
imbedded into the structure of the nest that it tore the whole lot from 
my hand in a trice. Nearly every egg was smashed. The strand was 
five feet long, by measure, all once neatly coiled in the foundation of the 
blackbird's nest. 

Unlike the eggs of most other birds, those of the Redwings (Agelaius 
sp.) are much handsomer after blowing than before. The semi-transpar- 
ence of the blue shell allows the brilliant orange of the yolk to show 
through, thus producing a dirty, muddy, sickly color, which is anything 
but inviting. Cleared of this clashing orange, however, the Redwings' 
eggs, for such time as they do not fade, are of the handsomest. 

The eggs of the Tricolored Redwing are normally of a pale niagara 
green tint, sharply and sparingly marked — small-blotched or short- 
scrawled — with an intense brownish black pigment. The variation, not 
in the quality but in the application of this single pigment, determines 








The Tricolored Redwing 

the highly varied results secured. Often the pigment is shadowed, or 
"washed," along its edges, revealing thus its brown character. Not 
infrequently a tinge of the pigment is suffused throughout the shell, and 
we get such basic tints as glaucous, yellowish glaucous, "tilleul buff," 
and even deep olive-buff. Again, and more rarely, the pigment is spread 
about superficially, in whole or in part, paling thus to vinaceous buff, or 
fawn-color. In two instances in the M. C. O. collections the color appears 
as a uniform vinaceous clouding on a warm buff ground; and in one of 
these the freckling is so minute and so uniform as to render the egg almost 
indistinguishable from that of a Yellow-headed Blackbird. 

While I have not been able to detect any constant or divisive element 
in local variations, i.e., no tendency to the formation of races; it is very 
instructive to note the power of the localized or neighborhood sentiment 
in the determination of the nesting dates. Thus, in a small colony, say 
one of 2000 pairs, every nest will be at approximately the same stage of 
construction on a given date. On a given day, four-fifths of the nests 
will contain one, and only one, egg, etc. On the other hand, a large 
colony, say one of 40,000 birds, will be divided up into a dozen separate 
clans, or behavior groups. In one section of the swamp the investigator 
will find only fresh-laid foundations; in another, nests with one egg each; 
in another, perchance, full sets well advanced in incubation. I can only 
account for this on the supposition that the nesting colony grows by 
accretion. Day after day new groups from the outside join themselves 
to the nesting, and immediately set to work on the occupation of some 
closely contiguous section of reeds. The nesting is, thus, a sort of con- 
tinuous Chatauqua, with fresh delegations arriving daily and being 
assigned to reserved sections. 

This supposition receives striking confirmation from an experience 
recorded by Mr. John G. Tyler, of Fresno 1 . At a point some thirty 
miles southwest of the city, Mr. Tyler found a colony of Tricolors 
occupying a dense but restricted patch of nettles. The center of the 
patch, where the cover was densest and presumably most desirable, the 
nests held young birds. Surrounding this choicest area was one in which 
the nests held incubated eggs. And so, moving progressively outwards, 
the cover dwindled and the eggs freshened, until the last comers were 
actually building their nests upon the ground without protection of any 
sort — gallery seats and standing room only. 

It goes almost without saying that the farmers are not enthusiastic 
about this Summer Assembly of Blackbirds. It takes a very considerable 
ration to supply the wants of so many picnickers. Either because the 
morning hours are filled with labor, or because the grain is more easily 

'"The Condor." Vol. IX.. Nov. 1907. pp. 177-17S. 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

Taken in Merced Count, 


Photo by the Author 

extracted at midday, high noon seems to be the appointed time for on- 
slaught upon the grain fields. At such a time one may see countless 
thousands of blackbirds moving over the face of the fields with the in- 
exorability of a threshing gang. The empty heads of oats or barley 
attest the fact that the birds are not looking for weevils. As in the reputed 
flock behavior of the Passenger Pigeon, there is always a vanguard working 
into new territory, as well as a steady stream of detached bevies making 
their way to and from the main camp. To say that the damage in- 
flicted by these birds is inconsiderable is to prevaricate, and to invite 
ridicule. In especial, rice-growing, which might be developed into a 
leading industry in certain water-favored sections of the San Joaquin 
Valley, is at a standstill, and will be until sensible relief is afforded from 
the depredations of blackbirds. 

No. 19 

Red-winged Blackbird 

No. 19a San Diego Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 498e part. Agelaius phoeniceus neutralis Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — San Diego Redwing. Red-shouldered Blackbird. Swamp 
Redwing. Marsh Blackbird. 

Description. — Briefly: Male in spring: Plumage glossy black; the lesser wing- 
coverts red; the middle coverts ochraceous orange. Female: General plumage streaked 
dusky and white; above dusky bordered with grayish and dull ochraceous; below heavily 
streaked or striped dusky and white, clearing (nearly spotless) on chin and upper 
throat. More particularly (Descriptions based on 12 spring adults, 6 males and 6 

II 4 

iioo-<& :\c V. 

Bicolored Redwing 

Male and female, about % life size 
from a water-color painting by Major Allan Brooks 

Jed from 



below he; 

nd 6 

The Red-winged Blackbirds 

females, from the San Diegan district. Characterization of immature and fall plumage 
partly inferential): Adult male in spring: Glossy black with faint bluish or greenish 
reflections; the lesser wing-coverts scarlet-red, or spectrum red, the middle coverts 
(largely concealed) ochraceous buff to ochraceous tawny, often shading on tips to 
whitish; or sometimes sharply tipped with black; the exposed portion of middle coverts 
forming a transverse bar 3 to 8 millimeters in width. Bill and feet black. Adult male 
in fall and whiter: As in spring, but feathers of upperparts lightly (sometimes sides of 
neck, breast, and sides very lightly) fringed or tipped with light rusty or ochraceous 
buff; the black of middle wing-coverts, if present, also buffy-tipped. Immature male: 
Like adult male in autumn, but with strong increase of marginal edgings of ochraceous; 
markings heavier above, lighter below, but only throat, crissum, and tail immaculate; 
the lesser wing-coverts orange or tawny with skirtings of black; middle coverts entirely 
black, tipped with buffy white. Increasing age is marked by increasing redness of 
the lesser wing-coverts, so that only the oldest males achieve spectrum redness. Adult 
female in spring: Above grayish brown or fuscous, the head, neck, and back edged with 
light brownish gray and whitish; the feathers of wings, both coverts and flight feathers, 
narrowly and variously (according to age) margined with whitish and dull brownish 
gray; an obscure whitish line over eye; underparts heavily dusky-and-white-streaked, 
the dusky element preponderating posteriorly, the white anteriorly (the streaks become 
finer on throat and almost disappear on upper throat); a slight rosy or pinkish element 
manifest in the whites anteriorly. Bill dark horn-color above, much lighter below; 
legs and feet dusky brown. Adult female in autumn: As in spring, but marked by 
increase of an ochraceous element throughout, this element appearing as buffy suffusion 
in whites of underparts. Immature female: Like adult female and not certainly 
distinguishable. Young birds: Resemble the adu t female in autumn, but are more 
distinctly yellowish, especially on sides of head and underparts. Length of males 
about 228.6 (9.00). Av. of 6 adult males in M. V. Z. coll: wing 125.2 (4.93); tail 90 
(2.54); bill, length 22.2 (.87); depth at base 12.2 (.48); depth at nostril 9.2 (.36); tarsus 
29.8 (1.17). Av. of 6 adult females: wing 99.7 (3.92); tail 71.4 (2.81); bill, length 18. 1 
(.71); depth at base 10.3 (.40); depth at nostril 8.2 (.32); tarsus 26.2 (1.03). 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee to Robin size; red shoulder-patch bordered by 
buff, of male; general streaky appearance, dusky-and-white, of female. 

Nesting of Agelaius phoeniceus. — Nest: A neatly woven but rather bulky- 
basket of grasses, cattail leaves, or weed bark, usually lashed to upright stalks of cattail, 
or occasionally, in willows or other bushes, and in rank herbage; occasionally also 
nesting upon the ground, but if so, always supported upon the sides by vegetation. 
Eggs (in California): 3 or 4, rarely 5; normally pale bluish green, more rarely pale olive 
buff, marked boldly and sparingly, often in broad scrawls and zigzags, and chiefly 
about the larger end, with brownish or purplish black. Av. size 24.4 x 17.3 (.96 x .68). 
California specimens average smaller than those of phoeniceus phoeniceus. Season: 
April-June; two broods. 

Range of Agelaius phoeniceus. — North America from British Columbia, central 
Mackenzie, and Quebec, south to Costa Rica. 

Range of A. p. neutralis. — Undefined; may include southwestern United States 
from western Texas to the Pacific, except lower Colorado River, etc. (range of A. p. 
sonoriensis) ; or may, not impossibly, be confined to southwestern California (leaving 
birds of remaining areas to be redescribed). 

Distribution in California. — Southern portion of State west of desert divide 
northward, coastally at least to Parallel 36°, interiorly to southern portion of Tulare 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

Basin, thence intergrading indeterminably with californicus upon the north, and acicu- 
latus upon the northeast. 

Authorities. — Gambel, Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, p. 48 
(part); Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, p. 276 (critical) ; Beat, Bull. Div. 
Biol. Surv., no. 13, 1900, pp. 44-45 (part) (food); Ridgway, Proc. Wash. Acad. Sci., 
vol. iii., 1901, pp. 153, 154 (description and range of neutralis); Daggett, Condor, vol. v., 
1903, p. 52 (critical). 

No. 19b Sonora Redwing 

A. 0. U. No. 498a. Agelaius phoeniceus sonoriensis Ridgway. 

Description. — Similar to A. p. neutralis, but male slightly larger and with 
slenderer bill. The adult female lighter, with streaks more strongly contrasted above, 
those of lower parts rather narrower and not so dark, the upperparts more extensively 
rusty. Measurements, 13 specimens (after Ridgway): Wing 125.5 (4.90); tail 93.5 
(3.68); bill 23.9 (.94); depth at base 12.4 (.49); tarsus 30.5 (1.20). 24 adult females: 
Wing 98.8 (3.89); tail (17 birds) 72.9 (2.87); bill 19.8 (.78); depth at base 9.9 (.39); 
tarsus 26.7 (1.05). 

Range of A. p. sonoriensis. — Southeastern California, southwestern Arizona (at 
least the valleys of the Gila and lower Colorado rivers), and the coastal plains of Sonora 
south to Tepic. 

Distribution in California. — Resident in the Imperial Valley, on the Colorado 
Desert west (at least) to Mecca, and in the valley of the Colorado River north (at least) 
to Needles (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Gambel, Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, p. 48; 
Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, p. 453; Ridgway, Proc. Wash. Acad. 
Sci., vol. iii., 1901, p. 154 (range) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. 12, 1914, pp. 
161-163 (crit. ; range; habits) ; Howell and van Rossem, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, p. 233. 

No. 19c Nevada Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 498e, part. Agelaius phoeniceus nevadensis Grinnell. 

Description. — "In shape of bill and other general characters closely similar to 
A. p. sonoriensis; male scarcely distinguishable, but female conspicuously darker 
colored, on account of the great 1 elative breadth of black streaking both above and 
below; in this respect similar to female of A. p. caurinus, but bright rusty edgings on 
back and wing replaced by ashy and pale ochraceous; bill in male of caurinus more 
slender than in either sonoriensis or nevad.nsis." (Orig. descr.). 

Range of A. p. nevadensis. — Undefined. Originally described from northern 
Nevada, nevadensis is presumed to be the breeding form of the Great Basin region, and 
of the Columbian Plateau north into British Columbia. 

Distribution in California. — The plateau region of northeastern California 
and the eastern slopes of the Sierras south (at least) to Lone Pine. 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxvii., 1914, pp. 107-108 
(original description). 

No. I9d Northwestern Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 498L Agelaius phoeniceus caurinus Ridgway. 

Description. — Similar to A. p. nevadensis, and males distinguishable only by 
somewhat slenderer bills; but females show slight increase of the ruddy element in the 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

under whites, and are more extensively rusty-bo dered above (recalling in this respect 
A. p. sonoriensis). Measurements, 9 adult males (Ridgway): Wing 123.2 (4.85); tail 
91.7 (3.61); bill 24.4 (.96); depth at base 11.7 (.46); tarsus 29.5 (1.16). Of 9 females 
Wing 103. 1 (4.06); tail 77.5 (3.05); bill 20.8 (.82); tarsus 26.9 (1.06). 

Range of .4. p. caurinus. — Northwest Coast district from British Columbia south 
to Mendocino County, California. 

Distribution in California. — Occurs sparingly (presumably resident) in the 
northwestern humid coastal strip. 

Authorities. — Ridgway, Proc. Wash. Acad. Sci., vol. iii., 1901, pp. 153-154 
(original description; in Mendocino Co., May 20); Stone, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
1904, p. 582 (Mt. Sanhedrin); Mailliard. J., Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 199 (nesting 
at Humboldt Bay). 

Taken in Washington Photo by the Author 


No 19e Kern Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 498e part. Agelaius phoeniceus aciculatus Mailliard. 

Description. — "Similar to Agelaius phoeniceus neutralis, but of larger size, feet 
averaging somewhat larger; but chiefly characterized by a longer, and comparatively 
more slender bill than any other form of this genus in the United States" (Orig. Desc.).. 
Av. of 21 males: Wing 126.2 (4.97); tail 92.4 (3.63); bi 1 27.2 (1.07); depth at base 12.4 
(.49); tarsus 29.5 (1.16). Of 11 females: Wing 1 13.9 (4.48); tail 76.3 (3.00); bill 22.9 
(.90); depth at base 11 (.43); tarsus 25.7 tj.oi). 

Range (wholly included within California;. — East-central Kern County. 


T/te Red-winged Blackbirds 

Authorities. — Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, p. 13 (orig. desc); ibid., 
pp. 228-230 (distribution); Grinnell and Storer, in Rules and Regl.- Yosemite Natl. Park, 
1920, p. 52 (in Yosemite Valley). 

No. I9f Bicolored Redwing 

A. O. U. No. 499. Agelaius phoeniceus californicus Nelson. 

Description. — Similar to A. p. neutralis, but male usually without, or with 
relatively small, exposure of ochraceous buff on middle wing coverts, the feathers 
broadly tipped with black instead (in extreme examples the feathers are black for the 
distal two-thirds, so that their ochraceous portion is not only completely overlaid by 
the red lesser coverts, but has a wide "margin of safety" so far as exposure is con- 
cerned). Adult female: Scarcely different from that of A. p. neutralis. The tra- 
dition of a darker bird is based on examples of A. tricolor, which have been widely 
confused with those of this species. Dimensions not conspicuously different in any 
respect from those of A. p. neutralis, although bills of extreme bicolored examples may 
average somewhat stouter. 

Remarks. — The "Bicolored Blackbird" was long counted a subspecies of Agelaius 
gubernator, a form found centrally in the southwestern portion of the Mexican plateau. 
The resemblance between the males is indeed a striking one, but the females are quite 
different, the assumption of resemblance having been based in part upon examples of A. 
tricolor, which is excessively common throughout the region occupied by A. p. californi- 
cus. It is conceivable that both gubernator and calif orniiis alike derive from ur- 
phoeniceus, but the hypothesis of a direct line of connection between them is discredited 
by three factors. In the first place the proportions of gubernator are quite different from 
those of western phoenicei, while those of californicus follow them closely. The ranges 
of the two forms are not only discontinuous, but they are separated by a space of a 
thousand miles, the northern portion of which is closely occupied by connected forms of 
phoeniceus. And, lastly, and most conclusively, californicus intergrades with the 
surrounding forms of phoeniceus in almost every conceivable degree. 

Range of A. p. californicus 'wholly contained within California). — Resident in 
the central portion of California west of the Sierras and roughly tributary to the San 
Francisco Bay region, north at least to Sonoma County and interiorly to Tehama 
County, east to western foothills of the Sierras, south coastwise to about Parallel 36, — 
interiorly, and typically, possibly not further south than Stanislaus County. 

Authorities. — Vigors, Zoology of Beechey's Voyage, 1839, p. 21; Heermann, 
Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. x., pt. iv., 1859, p. 53 (nest and eggs) ; Bendire, Life Hist. 
N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 455-456, pi. vi., figs. 16, 17 (habits, nest and eggs); 
Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. xi., 1909, pp. 127-128 (nesting; food habits); vol. xii., 1910, 
pp. 63-70, 2 figs, (critical study); Mailliard, J. W., Condor, vol. xii., 1910, pp. 39-41 
(comparison with tricolor); Beat, Biol. Survey Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 56-59 (food). 

SPRING herself being listed as a "winter resident" in California, we 
are never quite certain when the official season does open. Certainly 
not, as elsewhere, with the coming of the Redwings. Such as are not 
already resident in the State, arrive from the North in late autumn, and 
spend the winter with us. Neither their comings nor their goings are as 
conspicuous with us as they are in the North; but if in mid-February or 
early March we come upon a boisterous company of Redwings crowding 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo by the Author 

a treetop, we may be sure that they are 
mustering for the northern journey. 
What a world of jubilation there is in 
their voluble whistlings and chirpings 
and gurglings, a wild medley of con- 
quest which will strike terror to the 
faltering heart of that northern winter. 
A sudden hush falls upon the company 
as the birdman draws near the tree 
in which they are swarming; but a 
dusky maiden pouts, "Who cares?" and 
they all fall to again, hammer and 
tongs, timbrel, pipes, and hautboy. 
Brewer's Blackbirds and Cowbirds oc- 
casionally make common cause with the 
Redwings in the northern migrations, 
but it is always the last-named who 
preponderate, and it is they who are 
most vivacious, most resplendent, and 
most nearly musical. The Redwing's 
mellow kongqueree or occasional tipsy 
whoop-er-way-up is the life of the party. 

Our more prosaic resident birds will yield more gradually to the 
seductions of springtime. Native Sons require to be shown wherein one 
day is better than another for the undertaking of that most important 
business of life, nesting. As a consequence, southerly ranging Redwings 
take small advantage, if any, of their earlier chances. 

Once upon a time the bird-man was sitting, Turk-fashion, on a great 
mossy log which ran far out into the rustling depths of a northern swamp. 
The April sun flooded the scene with warm light, and made one blink like 
a blissful, drowsy frog, while the marsh sent up a grateful incense of 
curling vapor. A pocket lunch of bread and cheese was the ostensible 
occasion of this noontide bliss, but victuals had small charms beside those 
of the sputtering Tule Wrens, who played hide-and-seek among the 
stems, or the dun Coots, who sowed their pulque pulque pulque notes 
along the reedy depths. 

Upon this scene of marshy content burst a vision of Phoenicean 
splendor, Caurinus I., the military satrap of Paludia, the authentic 
generalissimo of Blackbirds. He was a well-aged bird, and as is the 
proper way with feathered folk, resplendent in proportion to his years. 
His epaulets seemed a half larger again than others, and their scarlet was 
of the brightest hue, contrasting with a black mantle which fairly shone. 



The Red-winged Blackbirds 

He took pains that I should see them, too, and guess his rank, for these 
decorations were ostentatiously uplifted as the bearer slowly descended 
through the air. He appeared an amiable old fellow, and as he lighted 
ponderously on an uplifted branch of my tree, he remarked, " Whoo-kuswee- 
ung," so hospitably that I felt impelled to murmur, "Thanks," and 
assured him of my unhostile intent. " Conquer ee?" he questioned, 
richly. "Er — well, yes, if you are the conqueror." 

But the general had other interests to watch. An upstart male of 
the second year, with shoulder-straps of a sickly orange hue, was descried 
a rod away climbing hand-over-hand up a cat-tail stem. Keyring, 
keyring, the despot warned him ; and because the presumptuous youth 
did not heed him quickly enough, he launched his splendor over the 
spot, whereat the youth sank in dire confusion. And next, our hero 
caught sight of a female, fair to look upon, peeping at him furtively from 
behind her lattice of reeds. To see was to act. He flung his heart at the 
maiden upon the instant, and followed headlong after, through I know 
not what reedy mazes. Oh, heart ever young, and pursuit never weary- 

An annual visit to the cattail swamp is as necessary as a birthday 
to the life of any well-regulated bird-lover. The reedy mazes grow 
ever dearer year by year, and the chorus of expostulating blackbirds, 
which is their inevitable accompaniment, renews our racial youth as if 
by magic. We must not forget the date of first nesting, April 15th, for 
almost before we know it, our friends to the number of a dozen pairs or 
more, have taken up their residence in the old cattail swamp — nowhere 
else, if you please, unless driven to it — and here a dozen baskets of match- 
less weave are swung, or lodged, midway of growing plants. Our distant 
approach has been commented upon from the tops of bordering willows 
by keyrings and other notes. Now at close range, the lordly male, he of 
the brilliant epaulets and the proper military swagger, shakes out his fine 
clothes and says, Kongqueree, in a voice wherein anxiety is quite out- 
weighed by vanity and proffered good-fellowship withal. But if we push 
roughly through the outlying sedges, anxiety obtains the mastery. There 
is a hubbub in the marsh. Bustling, frowsy females appear and scold us 
roundly. The lazy gallants are all fathers now, and they join direful 
threats to courteous expostulations as they flutter wildly about our 
intruding heads. To the residual small boy in us the chance of calling 
out these frantic attentions is irresistible, even though no harm is in- 
tended, or done. Perhaps we love to play the part of bogey, that we 
may rejoice in our own restraint. Perhaps we perceive, if we stop to 
think at all, that our own anxieties may be as mildly amusing to some 
benevolent Presence, and as ill-founded. 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

The Redwings of the phoeniceus type do not colonize closely, as do 
those of the tricolor group. If nests occur within ten or fifteen feet of 
each other, it is only because the cover is limited. The birds delight 
rather to scatter, one, say, to every fifty feet or so, that each may have a 
little freeway, or sphere of influence. Especially at second nesting, which 
is undertaken late in May or early in June, the birds are apt to deploy 
into the fields, now grown with weeds. Beds of wild mustard are favorite 
places of resort and of nest-building. Isolated tussocks of sedge or wire- 
grass, Kern greasewood even, are not despised. Willows may be resorted 
to as the swamps dry up; and H. F. Duprey records 1 interesting instances 
of their nesting in live 
oak trees. At Los 
Banos I found that 
the Redwing nested in 
April in the cattails 
and tules, but forsook 
this cover in May, 
nesting at this season 
by preference in the 
overgrown meadows. 
Especially numerous 
were the nests lashed 
centrally to the stems 
of growing dock 
plants. These were 
sought, apparently, for 
the shade they afford- 
ed, and irrespective of 
the fact that the rising 
flood waters engulfed 
many, season by 

Few eggs exceed 
in beauty those of the 
Red-winged Black- 
bird. The back- 
ground is a pale bluish 
green of great deli- 
cacy, and upon this 
occur sharply-defined 
spots, marblings, 

Taken in Los Angeles County Photo by Donald R. Dickey 

Sept., 1907, pp! 149-152.' " NEST AND EGGS OF THE SAN DIEGO REDWING 


The Red-winged Blackbirds 

traceries, and "pen-work" of dark sepia, purplish black, drab, and helio- 
trope purple. Or a spot of color appears to be deeply imbedded in the 
fine, strong texture of the shell, and carries about it an aura of diminish- 
ing color. Occasionally, the whole egg is suffused with pale brownish, 
or, more rarely, it is entirely unmarked. 

Incubation lasts fourteen days and the young are ready to leave the 
nest in a little over two weeks more. They are frizzly, helpless, com- 
plaining little 
creatures, but if 
they cannot fly well 
they can clamber, 
and they cling with 
the grip of terrified 

Of course the 
Redwings are the 
guardians of the 
swamp. They are 
not less jealous of 
unlicensed avian in- 
truders than of 
humans. Sometimes 
they fail to discrimi- 
nate, and their 
pugnacity leads either to ridiculous or dangerous lengths. Once, at Los 
Banos, I saw a company of Bicolored Redwings set upon an unoffending 
Marsh Hawk, a handsome blue male bird who was attending strictly to 
his own business. The big fellow stood the abuse for a while, then, quick 
as a flash, seized a blackbird in his talons and bore it away. A moment 
later, to our astonishment, he released the little bully, who flew off promptly 
and, let us hope, gratefully. It was just as though the Marsh Hawk had 
purposely restrained his power, and had done it all to teach the saucy 
little fellows a salutary lesson. 

At another time a rascally Redwing was seen taking after a pair of 
Shovellers, as they rose from the creek. His act could have meant 
scarcely more than bravado, but, once launched, he seemed to find 
delight in the fact that the ducks would fly from him, and that he could 
nearly keep up with them. It was all as silly as little Willie playing at 
horse with Grandpa. The old gentleman prances off in mock terror, and 
little Willie toddles after shrieking with glee. Round and round and up 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Red-winged Blackbirds 

and down, pursued the black imp, to our great astonishment, and why 
he ever stopped, the brave mannikin! I do not know. 

Of the physical differences which distinguish the five Californian 
races, enough has been said above. The subject is a very technical one, 
of little interest to the general reader. The differences in habit are, so 
far as noted, merely those of adaptation to a highly varied setting. But 
it is well to admonish the observer who cares to pursue this subject 
further, that an interesting field opens up in the comparative study of 
Agelaiine songs. There are undoubtedly in this group provincialisms of 
speech even more distinctive than the variations of the buff shoulder- 
band. It may be that "races" still more localized and restricted can be 
made out by philological methods. Anyhow, a practiced ear, wherever 
it goes, can note differences. For example, there is a colony in the San 
Joaquin River whose Konqueree note becomes Kaweeero, with a drawl 
and a roll to the er which is quite engaging and distinctive. The dink 
note, also, in this group has lost much of its music, and has become a mere 
noisy chup. On the lower Pajaro River, in Monterey County, the local 
Redwings exhibit notable differences. Their dink note is smaller, the 
kongqueree thinner, and, above all, they have a subdued chup, which 
sounds like nothing else so much as that of one of the Estreldid finches, 
or "Waxbills." 

The Red-winged Blackbird eats insects and grain — chiefly the latter 
when it can be obtained. There has been much learned "investigation" 
of the food habits of this and related species, usually summarized as a 
suspended verdict, or else concluded with a lame apology for manifest 
faults, in view of no less manifest (but less remembered) virtues. But 
why blink the facts? In grain-growing sections contiguous to favorable 
breeding grounds, blackbirds do immense damage, whether to sprouting 
grain or grain in the ear. The only remedy is to protect the crops. If the 
crops are really worth anything, it will pay the rancher to maintain an 
armed patrol about his field during the critical seasons of seeding (and 
sprouting) and ripening. The residual blackbirds will still do some harm, 
but very wild blackbirds will do less harm than birds fed out of the hand. 
And remember, with equal fairness, that every bird kept out of the oat 
field with a whole skin is worth a dollar a year to the alfalfa crop. 


The Yellow-headed Blackbird 

No. 20 

Yellow-headed Blackbird 

A. O. U.^No. 497. Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (Bonaparte). 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: General body color black; also 
space about bill, including eye, black; remainder of head, neck and throat and breast, 
broadlyrich yellow (straw-yellow to wax-yellow, or primuline yellow in younger examples; 
light cadmium, or even cadmium-yellow in older birds); a dab of yellow on the vent, and 
occasionally touches on the lower tibiae; a large white patch near edge of wing formed 
by the primary coverts and three or four outermost feathers of the greater coverts, but 
interrupted by black alula. Bill and feet black. In anything but the highest plumage 
the yellow of the pileum and sides of neck is mo e or less skirted with black. Adult 
female: Brownish dusky, lighter, browner, anteriorly; a line ove* eye, and throat, 
outlining yellow malar patch, whitish; the chest dull yellow mingled with brown; no 
white on wing. Fall specimens show increase of yellow on chest; line over eye, malar 
patch, and throat, more or less yellow. Immature males resemble the adult female, 
but are blacker. In first spring they exhibit intermediary characters, and do not assume 
full plumage until the second season. Length of adult male about 266.7 ( I0 -5°); wing 
141 (5.55); tail 102 (4.01): bill 23 (.90); tarsus 36 (1.42). Length of female about 228.6 
(9.00); wing 114 (4.49); tail 82 (3.19); bill 20 (.78); tarsus 30 (1.18). 

Recognition Marks. — Robin size: black, with yellow foreparts and white 
wing-patches. Always enough yellow about females or immatures to indicate species. 

Nesting. — Nest: a bulky but tidy basket of dried grasses, reeds, or cattails, 
lashed to growing ones; lined with coarse, flattened grasses, or variously, and deeply 
cupped. Eggs: 4, grayish or greenish white as to ground, but often nearly buried by 
dots and spots of brown (mikado brown, snuff-brown, warm sepia, etc.) ; more rarely 
wreathed or cloud-capped with brown. Av. size, 25.8 x 17.9 (1.02 x .71). Season: May 
or June; one brood. 

General Range. — Western North America, breeding from southern British Colum- 
bia, southern Mackenzie, northern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, and northern Indiana, 
south to California and Mexico; wintering from southern California, Arizona, and 
southwestern Louisiana, to' Michoacan and Puebla, Mexico. Accidental in Middle 
and Eastern States. 

Distribution in California. — Common breeder in the San Joaquin-Sacramento 
basin, and throughout the area east of the Sierras and north of the desert; of irregular 
and local occurrence as a breeder elsewhere, save in the mountains and in the north- 
western coastal section; Whitewater, May 27, 1913; Goleta Marshes, Nigger Slough, 
Bear Lake (Morcom). Winters sparingly and irregularly in southern California and on 
the deserts; of more general distribution during migration — one record for Santa Cruz 

Authorities. — Gambel (Agelaius xanthocephalus), Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, p. 48; Ileermann, Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2. vol. ii., 1853, 
p. 268 (nesting); Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1879, p. 301 (nesting habits); 
Bendire, Life Hist. N. Amer. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 446-449, pi. vi., figs. 10-12 (habits, 
nest and eggs) ; Beal, Bull. Div. Biol. Survey, no. 13, 1900, pp. 30-33 (food). 


■ Hi 

/I > 

Yellow-headed Blackbird 

Male and female, about Yz life size 
From a water-color painting by Allan Brooks 

ied by 

, and nor' 



ia and on 



The Yellow-headed Blackbird 

OH, WELL for the untried nerves that the Yellow-headed Blackbird 
sings by day, when the sun is shining brightly, and there are no supporting 
signs of a convulsion of Nature ! Verily, if love affected us all in similar 
fashion, the world would be a merry mad-house. The Yellow-head is an 

Photo by the Author 


The Yellow-headed Blackbird 

extraordinary person — you are prepared for that once you catch sight of 
his resplendent gold-upon-black livery — but his avowal of the tender 
passion is a revelation of incongruity. Grasping a reed firmly in both 
fists, he leans forward, and, after premonitory gulps and gasps, succeeds 
in pressing out a wail of despairing agony which would do credit to a 
dying catamount. When you have recovered from the first shock, you 
strain the eyes in astonishment that a mere bird, and a bird in love at 
that, should give rise to such a cataclysmic sound. But he can do it 
again, and his neighbor across the way can do as well — or worse. When 
your nerves have somewhat recovered, modesty overcomes you, and you 
retire, not without a chastened sense of privilege that you have lived to 
hear the Yellow-head pop the question, — "and also you lived after." 

The expiring Romeo cry is quite the finest of the Xanthocephaline 
repertory, but there are others not devoid of interest. Oh-eh-ah-oh-oo 
is a musical series of startling brilliancy, comparable in a degree to the 
yodelling of a street urchin, — a succession of sounds of varying pitches, 
produced as though by altering the oral capacity. It may be noted 

thus: k p ., J The last note is especially mellow and pleasing, recalling to 
some ' r ' ears the liquid gurgle of the Bobolink, to which, of course, 

our bird is distinctly related. 

Alternating with the last named, and more frequently heard from 
the depths of the nesting swamp is gur, gurrl; or, as oftenest, yewi(nk), 
yewi(nk), gur-gurrl. In this phrase the gurrl is drawn out with comical 
effect, as though the gallant were down on his knees before some un- 
yielding maiden. From the depths of the swamp also comes a phrase 
which should be a fitting response to such a love-sick appeal, but alas 
for our logic, it also proceeds from "himself." Cut that aout, says his 
lordship, in the most matter of fact way. And a distant neighbor, 
believing that discipline is at stake, coincides, cut that a-out. The words 
say themselves, and the most ardent scoffer at "humanizing" cannot 
unthink them. But I do not expect all my readers to follow when I 
assert that, upon occasion, this bird becomes quite vehement, and shouts, 
You gotta cut that a-out. 

The Yellow-head's ordinary note of distrust, equivalent to the dink 
note of the Redwing, is kluck or kohick'. In flight this becomes almost 
invariably oo'kluk, oo'kluk. At rest, again, this is sometimes prolonged 
into a thrilling passage of resonant "1" notes, probably remonstratory 
in character. The alarm cry is built upon the same basis, and is uttered 
with exceeding vehemence, klookoloy, klookoloy, klook ooooo. 

Finally, if one may presume to speak finally of so versatile a genius, 
this bird has a harsh, rasping note very similar in quality to the scolding 
note of the Blue-fronted Jay, only lighter in weight and a little higher 


The Yellow-headed Blackbird 

in pitch. This is 
the note of fierce 
altercation, or the 
distress cry in 
imminent danger. 
Once I heard it 
in the rank herb- 
age bordering 
upon a shallow 
lake in eastern 
Washington. I 
rushed in to find 
a big blow-snake 
coiling just be- 
low a nestful of 
young birds, 
while the 
agonized parents 
and sympathetic 
hovered over the 
spot crying pite- 
ously. To stamp 
upon the reptile 
was the work of 
but a moment; 
and when I drop- 
ped the limp 
ophidian upon 
the ground, all the 
blackbird popula- 
tion gathered 
about the car- 
cass, shuddering but exultant, and — perhaps it was only fancy — grateful 

For all the Yellow-head is so decided in utterance, in disposition he 
is somewhat phlegmatic, the male bird especially lacking the vivacity 
which characterizes the agile Brewer Blackbird. Except when hungry, 
or impelled by passion, he is quite content to mope for hours at a time in 
the depths of the reeds; and even in nesting time, when his precincts are 
invaded, he oftener falls to admiring his own plumage in the flooding sun- 

Photo by the Author 


The Yellow-headed Blackbird 

shine than tries to drive off the intruder. Let the homely and distrait 
female attend to that. 

The nests are stoutly-woven baskets of reeds and grasses, light and 
dry and handsome. No mud or other matrix material is used in con- 
struction, and the interior is always carefully lined with fine, dry grass. 
Tules and cattails, especially of the narrow-leafed variety, are favorite 
cover, but rank herbage of any sort is used, if only it be near or over 
water. The most humble situations suffice; and the nest is often placed 
within a foot of the water, or its equivalent of black ooze. 

Although the species is highly gregarious in late summer and in 
migrations, nests are thinly scattered through the reeds, like those of 
Redwings rather than like those of the Tricolored Blackbird. Neighbors 
are apt to be like-minded, and a given patch of tules will show a uniform 
stage of development — eggs or young. On the other hand, I have found 
communities so at loggerheads that nests ranged from "under construc- 
tion "to " young ready-to-fly. " In the San Joaquin-Sacramento basin, at 
least, four is the rigid rule for eggs. The only exception I ever noted 
contained ten, evidently the product of a single female. 

Yellow-headed Blackbirds share the weakness of their kind for 
grain, whether fresh-sown, sprouting, in-the-milk, or ripening. Waste 
grain is gleaned from the ground, and enormous quantities of weed-seed 
are consumed. None of the blackbirds, however, are vegetarians. 
Insects are freely eaten at all seasons, while grubs and worms are much 
sought after. Alfalfa fields owe a great deal to their cleansing ministra- 
tions, and if a balance could be struck between profit and loss to the 
farmer, the bird might win. Anyhow, he is a splendid fellow, and his 
golden regalia should be passport enough to any mere barley-field. 

Taken in Merced County NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS Photo by the Author 




£Zlto.f /tp.-ui 



Western Meadowlark 

About ■/> life size 

w«a« /S'fvo /rs - 

The Western Meadowlark 

No. 21 

Western Meadowlark 

A. 0. U. No. 501. i. Sturnella neglecta Audubon. 

Synonyms. — Field Lark. Old-Field Lark. Medlark. Medlar (poetical). 
Mudlark (corruption). 

Description. — Adult male: General color of upperparts brownish black, modi- 
fied by much tawny and buffy-gray edgings of the feathers, which throw the black 
into stripes and bars with suggestion of herring-bone pattern; the tawny heaviest on 
secondaries and upper tail-feathers, where taking the form of partial bands; a median 
crown-stripe and posterior portion of superciliary sordid white or buffy; anterior 
portion of superciliary, lower cheeks, chin, upper throat, breast (broadly), middle 
belly, and edge of wing, rich yellow (lemon-chrome, rarely strontian yellow); a large 
black crescent on upper breast; sides and flanks black-streaked, and spotted with pale 
brown on a buffy or whitish ground. Bill variegated, — tawny, black, and white. 
Female: Like male, but smaller and paler, with some substitutions of brown for black 
in streaking; black of jugulum veiled by grayish tips of feathers; yellow of breast, etc., 
duller. The plumage of both sexes is duller and more blended in fall and winter, the 
normal colors being everywhere restrained (save on abdomen) by heavy buffy overlay. 
Immature birds resemble parents, but are grayer, with (pale) yellow more confined, 
and they lack the jugular crescent. Length of adult male 254-279.4 (10.00-11.00) ; 
wing 123.2 (4.85); tail 76.2 (3.00); bill 33 (1.30); tarsus 37.1 (1.46). Female smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Robin size; yellow breast with black collar distinctive; 
general streaky appearance above; yellow on lower portion of cheek as distinguished 
from the eastern Meadowlark {Sturnella magna). 

Nesting. — Nest: on the ground, chiefly in meadows or pastures, in thick grass 
or weeds; a slight depression, lined (carefully or not) and usually overarched with dried 
grasses. Eggs: 4 or 5, rarely 6, 7 of record ; white, speckled sparingly or very sparingly 
(much more so than in 5. magna) with chocolate (often "self-toned," or diluted, to 
vinaceous russet, or "veiled" to vinaceous gray); very variable in shape, — elliptical 
ovate to almost round. Av. size 28.3 x 20.6 (1.12 x .81). Season: April to June; 
two broods. 

General Range. — Western North America, breeding from the southern provinces 
of Canada south to southern California, northern Mexico, and central Texas, east to 
central Iowa, Missouri, etc., retiring in winter from northeastern quarter of range and 
irregularly elsewhere, and passing south through Lower California and Mexico to 
Jalisco and Guanajuato. Casual in several states of the "Old Northwest." 

Distribution in California. — Resident and of general distribution throughout 
the State, save arid portions of the desert, broken mountain sections, and the dense 
forests. Breeds from Lower Sonoran (Colorado Desert, at Indio, Apr. 27, 1917; Fish 
Springs, Apr. 28, 1917) to Lower Boreal (or uppermost Transitional "islands" at Boreal 
levels), e. g., the Cottonwood Lakes in Inyo County, alt., 11,000 ft. The species 
retires irregularly in winter to lower levels, invades the desert and (probably) suffers 
inundation by northern visitors. Found also upon all the Santa Barbara Islands, save, 
possibly, San Nicolas. 


The Western Meadowlark 

Authorities. — Gambel, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. iii., 1847, p. 204; 
Bendire, Life Hist. N. Am. Birds, vol. ii., 1895, pp. 462-465, pi. vi., figs. 23, 24 (habits, 
nests and eggs); Belding, Auk, vol. xiii., 1896, pp. 29-30; vol. xv., 1898, pp. 56-57 
(song); Chapman, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xiii., 1900, pp. 297-320, 8 figs, 
(crit. study) ; Bryant, H. C, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. ii., 1914, pp. 377-510, pis. 
21-24, 5 figs, (food and economic status in Calif.). 

SUMMER silences the birds so gradually, and we ourselves have be- 
come so much absorbed in business during the prosy days of September, 
that we have almost forgotten the choruses of springtime, and have come 
to accept our uncheered lot as part of the established order of things. 
But on a nippy October morning, as we are bending over some dull task, 
there comes a sound which brings us to our feet. We hasten to the 
window, throw up the sash and lean out into the cool, fresh air, while a 
Meadowlark rehearses, all at a sitting, the melodies of the year's youth. 
It all comes back to us with a rush: the smell of lush grasses, the splendor 
of apple blossoms, the courage of lengthening days, the ecstacies of 
courtship — all these are recalled by the lark-song. It is as though this 
forethoughted soul had caught the music of a May day, just at its prime, 
in a crystal vase, and was now pouring out the imprisoned sound in a 
gurgling, golden flood. What cheer! What heartening! Yea; what 
rejuvenation it brings! Wine of youth! Splashes of color and gay 

It is impossible not to rhapsodize over the Meadowlark. He is a 
rhapsodist himself. Born of the soil and lost in its embraces for such 
time as it pleases him, he yet quits his lowly station ever and again, 
mounts some fence-post or tree-top, and publishes to the world an un- 
quenchable gladness in things-as-they-are. If at sunrise, then the gleams 
of the early ray flash resplendent from his golden breastplate, — this high- 
priest of morning; and all Nature echoes his joyous blast: "Thank God 
for sunshine!" Or if the rain begins to fall, who so quickly grateful for 
its refreshment as this optimist of the ground, this prophet of good cheer! 
There is even an added note of exultation in his voice as he shouts: "Thank 
God for rain!" And who like him can sing farewell to parting day! 
Piercing sweet from the meadows come the last offerings of day's daysmen, 
peal and counterpeal from rival friendly throats, unfailing, unfaltering, 
unsubdued: "It is good to live. It is good to rest. Thank God for 
the day now done!" 

The Meadowlark of the East has a poet's soul, but he lacks an 
adequate instrument of expression. His voice does not respond to his 
requirement. Perhaps his early education, as a species, was neglected. 
Certain it is that in passing westward across the prairies of Iowa or 
Kansas one notices an instant change in the voices of the Meadowlarks. 


The Western Meadowlark 

The song of the western bird is sweeter, clearer, louder, longer and more 
varied. The difference is so striking that we can explain it only upon 
the supposition of an independent development. The western bird got 
his early training where prairie wild flowers of a thousand hues ministered 
to his senses, where breath of pine mingled faintly with the aroma of 
neighboring cactus bloom, and where the sight of distant mountains fired 
the imagination of a poet race. At any rate, we of the West are proud of 
the Western Meadowlark, and would have you believe that such a blithe 
spirit could evolve only under such circumstances. 

Bird song never exactly conforms to our musical notation, and there 
is no instrument save the human "whistle" which will even passably 
reproduce the quality of the Meadowlark's song. Nevertheless, many 
interesting experiments have been made in recording these songs, and a 
little attention will convince the least accomplished musician that there 
is a fascinating field for study here. 

A formal song of the Western Meadowlark comprises from four to 
a dozen notes, usually six or seven. The song phrases vary endlessly 
in detail, yet certain types are clearly distinguishable, types which re- 
appear in different parts of the country, apparently without regard to 
local traditions or suppositional schools of song. Thus, a northern singer 
says, Oku wheel' er, ku wheel' ef, and he may not have a rival in a hundred 
miles; yet another bird across a mountain range sings, Eh heu, wheel' iky, 
wheel' iky, or even Eh heu wheel' iky, wheel' iky, wheel' iky, and you 
recognize it instantly as belonging to the same type. In like manner, 
Owy' hee, rec'itative was heard with perfect distinctness in localities 
three hundred miles apart. 

Each bird has a characteristic song-phrase by which he may be 
recognized and traced through a season, or through succeeding years. 
One boisterous spirit near Lake Chelan, in Washington, I shall never 
forget, for he insisted on shouting hour after hour and day after day, 
"Hip! Hip! Hurrah! boys; three cheers!" Another bird near Auburn, 
in Placer County, amused us with his insistent Hick' o wee Willie Cook. 
Yet, while this is true, no bird is confined to a single style of song. A 
performer near Santa Barbara attracted notice by a rich, rolling Wheeeeeroo 
wheeeeeroo, which baffled imitation by the palatal trill (whistled), which 
the birds have taught the writer; but this intricate passage presently 
gave place to the "regular" song, a perfect clarion burst of Hay oh hee 
oh wee' erp. An autumnal soloist in a city park rendered no less than 
six distinct songs or song-phrases in a rehearsal lasting five minutes. 
He gave them without regard to sequence, now repeating the same 
phrase several times in succession, now hurrying on to new forms, pausing 
only after each utterance for breath. 


The Western Meadowlark 

Nor is the effort of the Western Meadowlark con- 
fined to the formal song, for he often pours out a flood 
of warbling, chattering and gurgling notes which, at 
close range, are very attractive. Not infrequently he 
will interrupt one of these meditative rhapsodies with 
the clarion call, and return immediately to his minor 

In the presence of a stranger the lark serves fre- 
quent notice of intended departure in a vigorous toop, 
or toob, accompanying the sound with an emphatic 
flirt of the wings and jerk of the tail. Now and then 
the actual departure is accompanied by a beautiful 
yodelling song. After several preliminary toobs the 
bird launches himself with fantastic exaggeration of 
effort and rolls out, O'ly o'ly o'ly o'ly o'ly, with ravish- 
ing sweetness. 

At nesting time the parent birds have many 
causes for apprehension, and as they move about in 
search of food they give vent to the toob note of dis- 
trust in a fashion which soon becomes chronic. For 
one who studies the Western Meadowlark in several 
States, great interest attaches to the provincialisms 
of speech which characterize each locality. It is probable that this toob 
note of disgust, being more simple and primitive, will afford a better basis 
for local comparison than the more complex song. At any rate, it is more 
stereotyped and inflexible. Thus, on Santa Cruz Island, the toob note, 
while typical as to form, has a peculiarly "ancient" and plaintive quality. 
Elsewhere on the mainland one hears teuk or tew(r)k, very sharp and pene- 
trating. In eastern Washington, again, this note has become doubled, 
too' bit or too' whit, and I think I have caught the same inflection in the 
highlands east of our Sierras. 

At nesting time the Western Meadowlark enjoys a wide distribution 
in California. It is found, alike, at sea level, upon the cattail islands, 
over the grass-covered hills of the cattle country, in all cultivated sections, 
in the grassy openings of the northwestern forests, and over the stretches 
of the northeastern plateau. On the eastern slopes of the Sierras, the 
birds occur irregularly up to the lower levels of pine timber, and once, 
June 23, 1911, I found them at an altitude of 11,000 feet on Cottonwood 
Creek, in Inyo County. 

The Meadowlark is an assiduous nester. This not because of any 
unusual amativeness, but because young Meadowlarks are the morceaux 

Taken in Kings County 
Photo by the Author 









Nest and Eggs of Western Meadowlark 

From a photograph by the Author, taken in San Luis Ohispo County 

hat thi 


ient 1 




The Western Meadowlark 

delicieux of all the powers that prey, — skunks, weasels, minks, raccoons, 
foxes, coyotes, snakes, jays, magpies, crows, and ravens; and if there 
be any other power of darkness, be sure it has its hand in here. Hawks 
and owls otherwise blameless in the bird-world, err in respect to the 
Meadowlark — the game is too easy. Even the noble Peregrine does not 
disdain this humble, albeit toothsome, quarry; and the Kestrel (Cerchneis 
sparverius) will stoop for a young Meadowlark when all other avian 
offerings are virtuously passed by. 

Fecundity then is the only recourse, — this, and concealment. Not 
relying altogether upon its marvelous protective coloration, the lark 
exhibits great caution in approaching, and, if possible, in quitting its 
nest. In either case it sneaks along the ground for a considerable distance, 
threading the mazes of the grass so artfully that the human eye can follow 
with difficulty, or not at all. At the approach of danger a sitting bird 
may either steal from her nest unobserved and rise at a safe distance, or 
else seek to further her deception by feigning lameness, after the fashion 
of the Shore-birds. Or, again, she may cling to her charge in desperation, 
hoping against hope till the last possible moment, and taking chances of 
final mishap. In this way a friend of mine once discovered a brooding 
Meadowlark imprisoned underneath his boot — fortunately without dam- 
age, for she occupied the deep depression of a cow-track. 

To further concealment the grass-lined depression in which the 
Meadowlark places her four or five speckled eggs is almost invariably 
over-arched with dried grasses. This renders the eggs practically in- 
visible from above, and especially if the nest is placed in thick grass or 
rank herbage, as is customary. Touching instances of blind devotion 
to this 'arch' tradition were, however, afforded by a sheep-swept pasture 
in the North. Here the salt-grass was cropped close and the very sage 
was gnawed to stubs. But the Meadowlarks, true to custom, had 
imported long, dried grasses with which to overarch their nests. As a 
result, one had only to look for knobs on the landscape. By eye alone 
we located six of these pathetic landmarks in the course of a half-hour's 

One brood is usually brought off in March or April, and another by 
the first of June. Although Meadowlarks are classed as altricial, i. e. 
having young helpless when hatched, and which require to' be nurtured 
in the nest, the young Meadowlarks are actually very precocious, and 
scatter from the nest four or five days after hatching, even before they are 
able to fairly stand erect. This arrangement lessens the chances of 
wholesale destruction, but it would appear to complicate the problem 
from the parental standpoint. How would you, for instance, like to 


The Western Meadowlark 

tend five babies, 
each in a sepa- 
rate thicket in a 
trackless forest, 
and that haunt- 
ed by cougars, 
and lynxes, and 
tors and things? 
We cannot 
afford to be in- 
different specta- 
tors to this early 
struggle for ex- 
istence, for it is 
difficult to over- 
estimate the 
economic value 
of the Meadow- 
lark. The 
Meadowlark is 
by preference 
an insect-eating 
bird ; but in the 
fall, when in- 
sects are scarce, 
it turns to weed- 
seed and fallen 
grain for suste- 
nance. Later, 
when the fall- 
sown grains be- 
gin to sprout 
and send up the 
first tender 
blade, the birds 
sometimes in- 
vade the fields and delve, quite cleverly, for the hidden treasure. Sprouting 
oats are a clear favorite, and experts estimate that this, together with a little 
wheat and barley, may sometimes amount to as much as one per cent of 
the bird's total annual fare! Of course that's naughty. But to persecute 
and destroy the Meadowlark on that account alone would be as silly and 

Taken in San Luis Obispo County 


Photo by the Author 


The Western Meadowlark 

as criminal as it would be to shoot boys at sight because some boys 
occasionally steal apples. For the fact remains, incontestably proven 
by one of the most painstaking investigations ever conducted, 1 that the 
services performed by the Meadowlark as a destroyer of insects harmful 
to agriculture, overwhelmingly preponderate over the bird's occasional 
destruction of grain. The figures are interesting. Dr. Bryant estimates 
that a Meadowlark requires annually about six pounds of food. Of this 
a half pound is weed-seed, one and three-quarters pounds grain — chiefly 
fallen grain — and two and three-quarters pounds, insects. The grain is 
worth, say ten cents, or if we count the average ounce of sprouting grain 
consumed at fifteen times ordinary value, we will have a debit of fifteen 
cents per annum against the bird. But what is the minus value of pre- 
dacious insects, among them the most destructive known, such as wire- 
worms and cut-worms, which are Meadowlark's specialties? Soberly, 
almost anywhere from a dollar to a hundred dollars a pound, according 
to the value of the crops which the farmer is trying to raise. Yet, 
according to Dr. Bryant, it takes 193 pounds of insect food each day to 
feed the young Meadowlarks of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys 
alone. The imagination staggers before the sober conclusions of science 
regarding our indebtedness to the Meadowlark. In the face of this 
showing, and it does not rest on one man's testimony alone — Professor 
Beal has elsewhere shown that in the matter of grasshopper consumption 
Meadowlarks of average distribution are worth twenty-four dollars per 
month per township in saving the nation's hay crop — In the face of such 
a showing, I say, the efforts which certain individuals have persistently 
made in the halls of our State Legislature to remove protection from our 
Western Meadowlark, argue not only a spirit untouched by beauty or 
worth, but a low grade of intelligence. 

And it goes without saying that we cannot regard this bird as lawful 
game. Its flesh is undoubtedly a delicacy, but so is human flesh. We 
exempt the horse from slaughter not because its flesh is unfit for food — 
it is really very sapid — but because the animal has endeared itself to our 
race by generations of faithful service. We place the horse in another 
category, that of animal friend. And the human race, the best of it, 
has some time since discovered compunctions about eating its friends. 
Make friends with this bonny bird, the Meadowlark, and you will be 
ashamed thenceforth to even discuss assassination. Fricassee of prima 
donna! Voice of morning en brochette! Bird-of-merry-cheer on toast! 
Faugh ! And yet that sort of thing passed muster a generation ago — does 
yet in the darker parts of Europe ! 

1 A Determination of the Economic Status of the Western Meadowlark (Slurnella neglecta) in California, bv 
Harold Child Bryant. U. of C Pub. Zool., Vol. II., no. 14, pp. 377-510. pis. 21-24, 5 text figs.. Feb. 27, 1914. 


The Bobolink 

No. 22 


A. O. U. No. 494. Dolichonyx oryzivorus (Linnaeus). 

Synonyms. — Skunk-Blackbird. Reed-bird. Rice-bird. Meadow-wink. 

Description. — Adult male, breeding plumage: Head and below, rich glossy 
black, — the feathers having at first a buffy edging which wears off as the season ad- 
vances; a broad nuchal patch of strong buff (cream-buff to honey-yellow); scapulars, 
lower back, rump, and upper tail-coverts pale white; middle back gray; upper back, 
wings, and tail glossy to dead black, with various buftV edgings; tail-feathers sharply 
pointed. Bill dull black; feet brown. Adult female: Ground color of plumage olive- 
buff, — clearest below and in median crown, superciliary, and inter-scapular stripes; 
the remainder black and brownish fuscous. Adults in fall, and young: Like female 
in spring, but burner and with less black throughout. Length of male 178-190 (7.00- 
7.50); wing 97.5 (3.84); tail 65 (2.56); bill 11 (.43); tarsus 27.2 (1.07). Female averages 
a half-inch shorter, with similar proportions. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; black, white, and buff plumage of breeding 
male. The breeding female is a shy and obscurely-colored bird, to be recognized by 
the amateur mainly through the attentions of the male. At other seasons both sexes 
and all ages may be known by the frequently uttered dink cry. In the hand the acute 
tail-feathers are quite distinctive. 

Nesting. — Nest: on the ground, in meadow or deserted field; a slight grass-lined 
depression concealed with some art, but not definitely overarched. Eggs: 5 or 6, 
rarely 7; yellowish gray (tilleul buff to pale smoke-gray) or greenish gray (light mineral- 
gray); heavily and often sharply spotted or blotched with deep brown (diluting to 
natal brown or army brown, or veiling to vinaceous gray). Av. size, 21.1 x 15.7 
(.83 x .62). Season: About June 1st; one brood. 

General Range. — North and South America; breeding in Transition zone from 
central latitudes of southern Canadian Provinces west to southeastern British Columbia 
and northeastern California, east to Cape Breton Island and New Jersey, south to 
about Latitude 40 ; wintering in South America to Bolivia and Paraguay. 

Distribution in California. — A breeder, perhaps irregularly, in the extreme 
northeastern portion of the State (Eagleville, Surprise Valley, June 30, 1912); of casual 
occurrence elsewhere; four records: (See Grinnell, Pacific Coast Avifauna, No. II, pp. 
100, 101). 

Authorities. — Littlejohn, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 73 (at Red- 
wood City); Br en in ger. Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1S99, p. 93 (at Monterey); 
Fisher, W. K., Condor, vol. iv., 1902, p. 11 (at Mono Lake); Taylor, W. P., Condor, 
vol. xiii., 1911, p. 211 (at San Bruno Lake); Dawson, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 
28 (at Eagleville). 

IT IS highly characteristic of California that its vast and varied 
empire should have provided a suitable asylum for this troubadour poet 
of the East; and equally characteristic, perhaps, that his presence among 
us should have passed almost unnoted. We are well nigh surfeited with 
notabilities, we Californians, surfeited and perhaps a little spoiled. Lords 


The Bobolink 


and ladies have thronged our streets, and ducal parties have put up at 
our "best hotels." We have dined with Maharajahs, and danced with 
Spanish grandees. We have listened to high-brows from Boston — have 
even gone to hear 'em — twice. The Russian ballet regards us as a private 

possession, and French 
artistes, who have never 
seen Dakota, visit us 
every year. Captains of 
industry from Chicago 
have reclaimed our goat- 
pastures under pretense 
of playing golf, and 
social leaders from 
Gotham hold alternate 
court at Pasadena and 
Santa Barbara. It is all 
very flattering, very 
wonderful ; but please do 
not expect us to get 
excited. They are wel- 
come, of course, or would 
be if they didn't spoil the 
cattle ranges. But, 
really, a multimillionaire 
more or less doesn't mat- 
ter, and what is a duke, 
anyhow? But wake up, 
California! the BOBO- 
Robert of Lincoln! 
apostle of mirth! Mer- 
riest madcap artist of 
spring ! Symbol of divine 
unrest and divine — oh, divine Hope! He is here! Turn out, you Native 
Sons! and muster, you sons of millionaires, to do him honor! You whose 
fathers struck oil,'or whose grandsires struck pay dirt, what will you ever 
strike one-half so rich as this fountain of song, this well of gladness, pure 
and unrestrained! Hail! blessed brother bird! And hail! tumultuous 
minstrel Bobolink! 

It was the chief surprise of a visit paid in 1912 to the Surprise Valley 
in Modoc County to find the Bobolink common and, apparently, breeding. 
Although the season (June 30) would have been counted late at a lower 






The Bobolink 

altitude (that of Eagleville, where the birds were seen, is 4725 ft.), the 
male birds were in high plumage and singing freely. 

Although chiefly confined to the portion of America east of the 
Rockies, Bobolinks had, in all probability, discovered the well-watered 
region tributary to Salt Lake previous to the advent of the white man. 
We surmise that they reached this region by an extension of range from 
the north and east rather than from the south, and that they return 
annually by some 
unplotted east-and- 
west route. The 
spread of agricul- 
ture and of irriga- 
tion in Utah and 
southern Idaho has 
been attended by 
an increase of Bob- 
olinks in that sec- 
tion, and it is alto- 
gether probable 
that the overflow 
from those favored 
regions is seeking 
out, and will find 
increasingly, asy- 
lum in the hay- 
growing sections of 
Washington, Ore- 
gon, and northern 
California. In view, 
therefore, of the 
pleasant possibility 
that Bobolinks may 
increase within our 
borders, I include a 
few paragraphs 
written from a 
frankly eastern 

Next after 
Bluebird, the com- 
ing of Bobolink 
marks the broadest 

Taken in Modoc County Photo by the Author 




The California Evening Grosbeak 

step in the golden stair of springtime, by which we yearly attain the height 
of ornithological joy. His coming heralds that tidal wave of migration 
which begins somewhere during the last week of April, and sweeps over us 
till the middle of May. Without waiting for their more modest mates, the 
males press northward, hot-winged, to riot for a while over the dank mea- 
dows in bachelor companies, and to perfect that marvel of tumultuous song. 
Oh, how they sing, those Bacchanals of springtime! From fence-post or 
tree-top, or quivering in midair, they pour forth such an ecstacy of liquid, 
gurgling notes as must thrill the very clods. Such exuberance of spirit, 
such reckless abandon of mirth-compelling joy would cure a sick preacher 
on blue Monday. As the bird sings, he bows and scrapes and pirouettes 
till, as Wheaton says, "he resembles a French dancing master in uniform, 
singing, fiddling, dancing, and calling off at the same time." 

But when some fine morning about a week later, a shy, plainly attired, 
brown lady drops from the sky with a soft dink, then it is that the passion- 
ate soul of the singer is fairly consumed by the inner fires of melody and 
desire. He dashes like mad after his lady love and pursues her at break- 
neck speed through the thickets of weeds and about fence-rows until he 
loses her in the grass. Then he hovers, or rather dances, in the air, over 
the spot where she vanished, or else retires to a fence-post hard by, to 
make frantic protestations of his devotion. Oh geezeler, geezeler, gilpity, 
onkeler, oozeler, oo, comes from that perfect throat; and somewhere 
between two blades of grass the lady is watching him — the sly minx — and 
chuckling softy to herself. 

Once I heard a chorus of bachelors — or was it a musical contest? — ■ 
where seven birds in the top of a willow were singing with might and main. 
The effect of that wild melody of tinkling, palpitating, and flute-like 
notes, with its changeful syncopations and melodious discord, will not 
soon be forgotten. It was an all star team of the world's most accom- 
plished mirth makers. (The Birds of Ohio). 

No. 23 

California Evening Grosbeak 

A. O. U. No. 514a, part. Hesperiphona vespertina californica Grinnell. 

Description. — Adult male: Forehead and superciliaries wax-yellow; feathers 
about base of bill, crown, and lores black; wings black, with a large white patch formed 
by tips of inner secondaries and tertials; upper tail-coverts and tail black; remaining 
plumage sooty olive-brown about head and neck, shading through olive and olive- 
yellow on distal scapulars, axillars, and lining of wings, lower rump, and under tail- 
coverts. Bill greenish horn-color and citron-yellow; feet brownish. Adult female: 


The California Evening Grosbeak 

General color deep smoky brownish gray or buffy brown, darker on the head, lighter on 
wings, lighter, more buffy, on sides, shading to dull whitish on throat and abdomen, 
tinged with yellowish green on hind neck, clearing to light yellow on axillars and under 
wing-coverts; a small clear white patch about midway of inner primaries; another of 
irregular contour formed by outer edges of inner feathers of greater wing-coverts; 
white blotches on tips of secondaries, on tips of upper tail-coverts and inner webs of 
tail-feathers, in varying proportions. Length about 203.2 (8.00); av. of 6 males in 
M. V. Z. coll.: wing 112 (4.41); tail 62 (2.44); bill 18.8 (.74); depth at base 14.6 (.57); 
width at base 13.8 (.54); tarsus 20.8 (.82). 

Nesting. — Nest: As described by Beck, a substantial structure 35 feet up in black 
oak; of twigs heavily lined with moss-like rootlets of a dark color, and with an inside 
lining of light-colored rootlets; diameter outside 1 14.3 (4.50); inside 76 (3.00). Eggs: 
3 or 4, ovate; light greenish blue, spotted and blotched sparingly with dark brown and 
black — distantly resembling those of a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus sp.). 
Av. size of three: 23.4 x 16.2 (.92 x .64). Season: June 18 (1896), July 9 (1922). 

Range of Hesperiphona vespertina.-'North central and western North America; 
breeds chiefly in the highlands or the coniferous timber from Alberta and southern 
British Columbia south to Chihuahua. Wanders irregularly over tributary lowlands 
in winter and casually east to New England. 

Range of //. v. californica. — "Summer range — chiefly in Sierra Nevada of 
California, south at least to Yosemite National Park; but also Warner Mountains, 
Modoc County, and thence north at least to Bear Creek, Wheeler County, Oregon 
(See L. H. Miller, Condor, VI, 1904, p. 104). Winters irregularly in adjacent territory 
south to Mount Wilson, Los Angeles County, California" — Joseph Grinnell. 

Distribution in California. — As above. This, or an allied form still unde- 
scribed, occurs also in the Trinity Mountains and in the northwestern humid coast 
belt: near Eureka (Clay, Davis); Weaverville, Trinity County, Feb. 27, 1911 (Kellogg); 
near Trinidad, Humboldt County, June 22, 1916 (Dawson); Tehama County, near 
Beegum, July 4, 1916 (Dawson). 

Authorities. — Cooper, Ornith. Calif., 1870, pp. 173-176; Cones, Bull. Nutt. 
Orn. Club, vol. iv., 1879, pp. 65-75 (life history); Mearns, Auk, vol. vii., 1890, pp. 
246-249 (part) (crit.) ; Beck, Nidologist, vol. iv., 1896, pp. 3-4, col. pi. (nest and eggs 
in Calif.); Merriam, C. H., U. S. Dept. Agric, N. Amer. Fauna, no. 16, 1899, pp. 
122-123 (about Mt. Shasta); [Barlow], Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 88 (winter invasion 
of 1900-1901) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. xix., 1917, p. 20 (desc. of californica). 

THE MAN who said, scoffingly, "What's in a name !" brought down 
upon himself an avalanche of criticism, or multitudinous rejoinder, whose 
reverberations, now angry, now eloquent, will never be done rolling. 
In bird-lore especially, history has embodied itself in nomenclature. Here, 
as in human society, the moment of introduction must often be taken up 
with a discussion of names. And while bird-names may be as diverse 
as Smith and Specknoodle, they are rarely so conventionalized, or so 
devoid of immediate significance. There is a fitness, then, in placing 
Hesperiphona, "Voice of the Evening Star," at the head of a group 
conspicuous in song, the Fringillidae. The western implications of the 



a and 

Western Evening- Grosbeak 

Male and female, about s/n, life size 

10, pp. 



ii taki 

i • 


The California Evening Grosbeak 

generic title were further confined by the choice of a specific name, ves- 
pertina, a term applied in 1825 by a New Yorker, one William Cooper, 
to an example hailing from the "far West," namely, from the wilds of 
Michigan! By the logic of our increasing sophistication, vespertina 
vespertina came to be recognized as the eastern form of Hesperiphona, 
and montana was used to designate the western bird. Last of all comes 
Grinnell, the gifted prophet of subspeciation, who restricts montana to 
the Rocky Mountain district and gives us californica for the authentic 
West. So now we have it Hesperiphona vespertina californica, West, 
Wester, Westest! Swayed by such considerations as these, our veteran 
Coues, in periods of rhapsodic appreciation, professed to see in the olive- 
and-gold raiment of this bizarre fowl a fitting symbol of the sunset! 
Moreover, the name vespertina, falling athwart a boundless ignorance, 
gave rise to an early tradition of vocal abilities stimulated by the evening 
hours, or even limited to them. This pretty story was eventually shown 
to be nonsense; but tradition dies hard, and "Evening Grosbeak" it will 
doubtless be till the end of time. 

A juster reason, perhaps, for precedence among sparrows, may be 
found in the enormous bill which this bird boasts. A cone-shaped beak 
is the mark of sparrowness, and here is a proper cone-beak, indeed. 

But for this primacy there are damaging limitations. The Evening 
Grosbeak is neither the most beautiful nor the most tuneful of the Frin- 
gillidce, if he is by common consent rated the oddest. His garb is a patch- 
work; his song a series of shrieks; his motions eccentric; his humor phleg- 
matic; and his concepts beyond the ken of man. Although at times one 
of the most approachable of birds, he is, on the whole, an avian freak, a 
rebus in feathers. 

Perhaps we make too much of a mystery of him, just as we rate the 
owl highest in wisdom for the single discretion of silence, which any 
dunderhead may attain. But now take this group in the park; just what 
are they about? They sit there stolidly in the rowan tree where all the 
passersby may take note of them, giving vent ever and anon to explosive 
yelps, but doing nothing by the hour, until an insane impulse seizes 
one of their number to be off to some other scene no better, be it near or 
far, and the rest yield shrieking consent by default of alternative idea. 
It is all so unreasonable, so uncanny, that it irritates us. 

Evening Grosbeaks are semi-gregarious the year around, but are 
seen to best advantage in winter or early spring, when they flock closely 
and visit city parks or wooded lawns. One is oftenest attracted to their 
temporary quarters by the startling and disconnected noises which are 
flung out broadcast. It may be that the flock is absorbed in the depths 
of a small fir, so that one may come up near enough to analyze the sound. 


The California Evening Grosbeak 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the Author 


Three sorts of notes are plainly distinguishable: a low murmuring of 
pure tones, quite pleasant to the ear; a harsh but subdued rattle, or 
alarm note, wzzzt or wzzzp, familiarly similar to that of the Crossbill; 
and the high-pitched shriek, which distinguishes the bird from all others, 
dimp. A little attention brings to light the fact that all the birds in the 
flock bring out this astonishing note at precisely the same pitch. Once 
distinguished, this note will serve again and again to draw attention to 
this uncanny fowl, as it passes overhead or loses itself in the bosom of 
some giant conifer. 

If a student runs through the brief published annals of this bird, he 
will be surprised to see how much of its history has been written in or 
near the cities. The earliest California account, that of Dr. Cooper, 
hails from Santa Cruz. 1 Another observer, a Mr. W. L. Tiffany, describes, 
in 1878, the repeated appearance of the birds in the city of Minneapolis. 
For myself, I have seen more Evening Grosbeaks within the city limits 
of Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane than in all the country besides. Just 
why these birds should be especially attracted to the centers of popula- 
tion, it is hard to say. Perhaps they love the stir and uproar of urban 

1 Geol. Surv. of Cal., Ornithology, p. 17s (1S70). 


The California Evening Grosbeak 

life, the din which they 
help so valiantly to pro- 
mote. At any rate, it is 
easy enough to see why 
they are more noticeable 
here, for their showy and 
patchy coloration marks 
them as distinguished 
visitors in town, whereas 
in the forest their colors 
so melt into and har- 
monize with their sur- 
roundings that it is dif- 
ficult to follow their 

These Grosbeaks, or 
New World Hawfinches, 
are not to be commended 
as horticulturists. In 
winter they feed largely 
upon the ground, glean- 
ing fallen seeds and 
fruits ; and they are espe- 
cially fond of the winged 
key of the large-leafed 
maple (Acer macrophyl- 
lum) and of the box elder 
(A. negundo calif orni- 
cum). They drop down 
to such a feast one by one from the branches above, and it is amusing to 
note how the loud cracking of seeds is interspersed with music. A little 
later the birds devote themselves to swelling buds, and here too the maple 
is a favorite, though ash, alder, flowering currant, and a dozen more, are 
not disdained. The damage done is not considerable ; for the birds, viewed 
in the large, are not numerous enough, all told, to be taken seriously; but 
viewed in the concrete, the snip, snip of those mandibles in the currant 
bushes is no berry-growers' serenade. 

It may be that the key of high C sharp, or whatever it be, staccato 
con moto, is the accepted love note, and that the green-liveried swain 
hurls declarations at his inamorata, like Samson in Handel's oratorio, 
the live-long year. Anyway, his exertions are redoubled in early June, 
and he charges about in a reckless frenzy which excites the envy of the 

Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 




The California Evening Grosbeak 

oologically minded, no less than the admiration of the ladies in gray, 
who are bound to believe all that is said. 

The nesting of the Evening Grosbeak has been repeatedly and 
accurately described, 1 but eggs are still very rare in collections, and they 
are justly rated among the most difficult of oological trophies. The 
reasons for this hark back alike to the general eccentricity of the bird, 
and to the seclusion of its summer haunts. The first nest of the species 
known to science was taken by Rollo H. Beck in Eldorado County, on 
the 18th of June, 1896, and at an elevation of 4700 feet. It was placed 
in a black oak tree, 35 feet up, and contained four fresh eggs, of a type 
more nearly resembling those of a Redwing (Agelaius phoenicens sp.), 
than those of other, and of course unrelated, "Grossbeaks." Other nests 
since found, especially those in Arizona and New Mexico, have been 
placed in large evergreens, and often at heights from the ground and 
distances from the tree-trunk, sufficient to discourage any but the most 
hardy investigators. The bird's behavior in nesting country is erratic 
in the extreme, just as its psychology elsewhere is beyond analysis. One 
may feel perfectly certain that the bird is nesting, or intending to nest, 
close at hand; yet it will mope about for discouraging and unsuggestive 
hours, or else it will depart noisily into hopeless distances. The casual 
appearances of the bird at such a season suggest a detached aloofness, a 
total want of correlation between human thought and speculation and 
Hesperiphonine affairs. Thus, while in the Yosemite in June, 1914, we 
saw Grosbeaks repeatedly in the very trees which overlooked Camp 
Curry. The voice of "the Stentor, " issuing nightly, undoubtedly made 
the Grosbeaks quake upon their nests, but their secrets were as safe from 
a thousand as from a single pair of inquiring eyes. 

If ever this lady in the green bombazine dress should be detected in 
the act of settling to a suspicious looking bunch at the end of a pine 
branch, she will stand by her guns valiantly; and if incubation be ad- 
vanced, she will almost suffer the hand before she will quit her post. The 
male, meanwhile, if he is about at all, yelps in impotent rage and flits 
distractedly from tree to tree; but it never seems to occur to him that he 
might at least abstract a portion of the bird-man's ear with that potent 

It is important to append a caution against confusing this unique 
and obscure "Voice of Evening" with the more prosaic and abundant 
Black-headed Grosbeak, Hedymeles melanocephalus. The two species, 
both "Sparrows," have nothing else in common beyond the trivial name 
Grosbeak, a big bill, and partially overlapping ranges. They are not 

1 See especially articles by Beck. Rollo H.. Nidologist. Vol. IV.. Sept., 1896. p. 3; Birtwell, Francis J.. Auk. 
Vol. XVIII.. Oct., 1901. pp. 3S8-391; Willard. Frank C. Condor, Vol. XII., March, 1910, pp. 60-62. 


The California Evening Grosbeak 

even closely related, for there are at least four mutually distinct and only 
distantly related groups of "grosbeaks" within the confines of the family 
in America alone. These are the Coccothranstea, the Hawfinches, includ- 
ing the "Evening" Grosbeak; the Pyrrhidce, including the Pine Grosbeaks; 
the Guiracce, including the Blue and the Black-headed "Grosbeak"; and 
the CardinalecE, including the Arizona Cardinal "Grosbeak," which all 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the Author 



but attains our own borders. In view of these necessary distinctions, 
it is unfortunate that a confusion should have crept into the pages of so 
sedate an authority as the British Museum Catalogue of Birds' Eggs. 
The eggs described and figured (Vol. V., page 153, and Plate IX., fig. 1) 
as those of Hesperiphona montana, the "Montana Grosbeak," taken in 
Alameda County, California, are unquestionably those of the familiar 
Pacific Black-headed Grosbeak, Hedymeles melanocephaliis capitalis 

The nest portrayed in the accompanying illustration was found by 
Robert Canterbury of the M. C. 0. staff, July 9, 1922. He had been 
directed to a likely locality, and upon hearing the "yelp" of the male bird 


The Crossbills 

had started "combing" the likeliest fir tree with binoculars. At a point 
15 feet down and 9 feet out, though still 60 feet from the ground, he had 
detected a suspicious looking bunch, from which, upon investigation, a 
female Grosbeak dropped like a plummet, almost to the ground. The 
eggs, looking for all the world like those of a Red-winged Blackbird 
(Agelaius phoenicens) , were fresh, and the birds did not venture near 
enough to afford decent photographs, although I roosted for an hour in 
the tree top. Indeed, it was with a feeling akin to disgust that I saw 
these timorous fowls moping about like wet hens, when the romantic 
hopes of an oological lifetime were about to be realized. I could have 
spared the lobe of an ear, gladly, upon demand. 

No. 24 

Red Crossbill 

No. 24a American Crossbill 

A. 0. U. No. 521. Loxia curvirostra minor (Brehm). 

Description. — Adult male: Tips of mandibles crossed either way; plumage 
dull red (duller in winter), brightest on rump; feathers of back with brownish centers; 
wings and tail fuscous. Shade of red very variable — English red to jasper red but never 
vermilion. Immature males often present a curiously mottled appearance with greenish 
yellow and red intermingled. Female: Dull olive-yellow, or better, brownish gray 
overlaid with yellow; the color present on head and back as broad skirtings to feathers 
having fuscous centers, on breast and sides more uniformly, and almost purely on 
rump and upper tail-coverts; throat and crissal region with least yellow or none. Im- 
mature (?) males are often indistinguishable from adult females, and it is not known 
whether such ever attain the characteristic red plumage. Young birds are finely 
streaked, dusky and buffy whitish, throughout, and everywhere more or less tinged 
with yellow. Adult male, length 139. 7-158. 8 (5.50-6.25); wing 87.4 (3.44); tail 50 
(1.97); bill 16.5 (.65); tarsus 16.5 (.65). Female very slightly smaller. 

Nesting. — Not known to nest in California. " Nest: in forks or among twigs of 
tree, founded on a mass of twigs and bark-strips, the inside felted of finer materials, 
including small twigs, rootlets, grasses, hair, feathers, etc. Eggs: 3-4, 0.75 x 0.57 
[mm 19 x 14.5]; pale greenish, spotted and dotted about larger end with dark purplish 
brown, with lavender shell-markings" (Coues). Season: Erratic, February to October; 
one brood. 

Range of Loxia curvirostra. — Europe, northwestern Africa, northern Asia to the 
Himalayas, and northern North America, or south in mountainous districts to Guate- 

Range of L. c. minor. — Northern and eastern North America, breeding in conif- 
erous forests from northern Georgia to Nova Scotia, to Fort Anderson and to western 
Alaska, southward through Pacific Coast district to western Oregon (Ridgway): (hence, 
birds seen, but not taken, June 24, 1916, near Trinidad, Humboldt County, Cal., may 
have been of this form); irregu'arly south in winter to South Carolina, Louisiana, 
Nevada, and California. 


The Crossbills 

Distribution in California. — Of irregular occurrence in winter, chiefly in north- 
western portion of State; has been taken at Pasadena. Possibly resident in summer in 
northern portion of humid coast district. Not strictly a migrator}' - species, but highly 

Authorities. — Daggett, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 51 ; Grinnell, 
Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 102 (crit.) ; Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, pp. 
73-74; Grin nell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 108. 

No. 24b Sierra Crossbill 

A. O. U. No. 521, part. Loxia curvirostra bendirei Ridgway. 
Synonym. — Bendire's Crossbill. 

Description. — "Similar to L. c. minor but decidedly larger; adult male averaging 
rather lighter or brighter in color, the adult female slightly lighter and grayer." (Ridg- 
way). Also female averaging duller, less extensively yellow. Av. of 38 males, after 
Ridgway: wing 92.2 (3.63); tail 52.6 (2.07); bill 18.5 (.73); tarsus 17.5 (.69). 

Nesting. — Nest: As described by Preston, of twigs interwoven with fine grass 
and pine needles, heavily lined with black moss {Alectoria fremonti) and some feathers; 
diameter outside 4 to 5 inches; inside 2.50; depth outside 3 inches; inside 1.50; placedin 
coniferous tree, settled deeply into protecting pine needles, usually toward tip of branch, 
and at considerable height. Eggs: 3 or 4, dull greenish white, spotted and marked 
sparingly, and chiefly at larger end, with purplish black, or else cinnamon dilution, 
sometimes with a flush of faint purplish or a wash of "weak chocolate." Av. size (10 
spec, Preston) 21.8 x 15.2 (.86 x .60). Season: Not well defined; probably erratic. 

Range of L. c. bendirei. — Central and northern mountain areas of United States, 
except Pacific Coast district; breeding south at least to San Bernardino Mountains in 
California; ranging irregularly in winter, east upon Great Plains, south to Lower 
California and Old Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — Breeding range imperfectly made out, chiefly 
Sierras south to Mount Whitney, but also Mt. Pinos (in Ventura County) and San 
Bernardino Mts. Has been seen in summer in San Jacinto Mts., and in spring (Apr. 
28, 191 1) on Santa Cruz Island, where it possibly has bred. In winter irregularly 
over lowlands wherever conifers of any sort offer. Was common about Santa Barbara 
in winter 1919-20. 

Authorities. — Newberry (Loxia americana) , Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. vi., 
pt. iv\, 1857, p. 87; Ridgway, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. ii., 1884, pp. 101-107 (desc. 
of bendirei); Fisher, A. K., U. S. Dept. Agric, N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, pp. 81-82 
(record stations); Merriam, C. H., U. S. Dept. Agric, N. Amer. Fauna, no. 16, 1899, 
pp. 123-124 (near Mt. Shasta; crit.); Grinnell, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 102 (critical); 
Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 74 (critical; status in so. Calif.); Grinnell 
and Swarth, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. 10, 1913, pp. 270-271 (crit.). 

THE "EARLY NUMBERS" of the Sparrow family, the Evening 
Grosbeaks, the Crossbills, the Pine Grosbeaks, and, to a lesser extent, the 
Purple Finches and the Siskins, are among the most baffling and difficult 
of birds. Their psychology exhibits a combination of preoccupied intent- 
ness and indifference which puts them beyond the pale of ordinary stand- 


The Crossbills 

Taken in Fresno County 



Photo by the A ulhor 

ards. They are all a bit uncanny. And of all this mad coterie, the 
Crossbill is perhaps the most eccentric. At a time a flock will deploy 
through the tree-tops of a city park and feed in dead silence, while pedes- 
trians troop by unnoticing. At another a passing trio of birds will fill the 
air with sharp metallic notes which compel attention from any wayfarer. 
Now the birds will flee noisily at the most distant approach of a stranger. 
Again they will submit to the closest inspection as they crawl about the 
lower branches of a cone-laden sapling. For no good reason, apparently, 
a distant male will shout his distinct call from a tree-top. Others will 
chatter amiably at your feet as they glean fallen seeds, and look up with 
the trustfulness of petted hens. I recall how as a youngster I caught 
one of these birds in midair by rushing him on such an occasion. But a 
Crossbill in the hand is still an enigma, a strange, foreign thing, evidently 
not compounded of flesh and blood. For the rest, he is a wandering 
voice — or a set of such voices — restless, intermittent, syncopated, vagrant. 
And though we shall proceed now to sober discourse of habit, song, 
and nesting, it will be under a haunting sense of unreality. As likely as 
not a bevy of "those crazy Crossbills" will interrupt our task, and we 
shall pause to note the fall and rise of each bird — flight as well as song 


The Crossbills 

syncopated — and we shall half shudder as the shouting mysteries in 
feathers lose themselves in the no less mysterious depths of distant 
conifers. How little of life may be snatched at in passing! We see; we 
hear; we do not comprehend. It is gone. 

The Crossbill undoubtedly owes its peculiar mandibles to an age- 
long hankering for pine-seeds (using that word in the generic sense), a 
desire fully satisfied according to the fashion of that Providence which 
works so variously through Nature, and whose method we are pleased to 
call evolution. The bill of the bird was not meant for an organ of pre- 
hension, and Buffon, the Deist, once won a cheap applause by railing at 
the Almighty for a supposed oversight in this direction ; but as matter of 
fact, its wonderful crossed mandibles enable the Crossbill to do what no 
other bird can, viz., to pry and cut open the scales of a fir cone, in order to 
extract the tiny seed with its tongue. 

These birds are not entirely confined to a vegetable diet, for I once 
detected a group of them feeding industriously in a small elm tree which 
was infested with little gray insects, plant-lice, or something of the sort. 
The presence of these insects, in colonies, caused the edges of the leaves to 
shrivel and curl tightly backward into a protective roll. Close attention 
showed that the Crossbills were feeding exclusively upon these aphides. 
They first slit open a leaf-roll with their scissor-bills, then extracted the 
insects with their tongues, taking care, apparently, to secure most of the 
members of each colony before passing to the next. 

Crossbills also feed to some extent upon the ground, where they pick 
up fallen seeds and other tidbits. An observer in Washington first 
called my attention to another purpose which the birds have in visiting 
the ground. He had noticed how at certain places, and notably where 
dish-water was habitually thrown, the Crossbills were wont to congregate, 
and, turning the head sidewise, to thrust out the tongue along the bare 
ground in a most puzzling manner. Suspecting at last the real state of 
affairs, he sprinkled the ground with salt, and upon their return the 
birds licked it up with great avidity. The birds do not appear to recog- 
nize the salt at first sight, but soon learn to resort to established salt-licks 
in open places. Others have reported similar habits in connection with 
certain mineral springs, where sodium chloride is sure to be one of the 
ingredients. When we recall that the normal food of the Crossbills is 
pine-seeds, this craving for nature's solvent is readily understandable. 

The nesting of the Crossbill is known, but it is not well known, and 
it never can be perfectly known, for the reason that each pair of birds, 
or at least each community of birds, is a law to itself. There is, apparent- 
ly, no published record of the nesting of this bird within the State of 
California, and that in spite of the fact that it is numerically one of the 


The Crossbills 

commonest birds in the Sierras. The nearest I ever came to finding a 
nest was near Victoria, B.C. The exact scene was a neglected, brush}' 
pasture, in which about a dozen lofty Douglas firs and tideland spruces, 
standing well apart, had escaped the woodman's axe. The date was 
May 1 8th, and a couple of Crossbills tittering among the lower branches 
of a nearby spruce had attracted my attention. Crossbills (of a pro- 
vokingly neutral gender) were too common throughout this region to 
deserve notice; but here was manifestly a pair. The male was a young 
bird with touches of dull saffron only, while the female, though not duller, 
was notably smaller, and also very much busier. She selected a twig 
from a lower branch and made off with it through the air, closely followed 
by her adoring and tittering mate. The pair disappeared into the center 
of a giant spruce 200 feet away. 

Back they soon came and I watched the female at close quarters as 
she tried first one and then another of the small dead twigs. The twigs 
were damp, however, and therefore tough. After she had tried a dozen 
or so, pulling and twisting and fluttering without success, she desisted 
and flew to the ground. Here she found exactly what she wanted, and 
made off again to the center of the distant spruce. By a system of 
approaches I presently discovered the object of her care, a growing bunch 
of twigs settled upon a thick, dishevelled bough at a point about eighty 
feet up and eight feet out. 

The female never flew directly to the spot, but always lighted either 
above or below it, and made her way by short, watchful steps. The 
male, I found, did not always attend her closely, but often mounted guard 
on some neighboring tree and tittered. And now and then he varied the 
monotony of vigil by uttering a series of tender and endearing notes, 
most of which came out in short staccato phrases. Song at last! And 
this rare offering, this blooming of the cereus, was of the highest musical 
quality. Here was an artist masquerading all these years as a sphinx! 
Ah! how love unlocks the secret treasuries of song, and puts in play the 
unsuspected chords. And why is love so brief? and the pursuit of pine- 
nuts so inexorable? 

The most notable of these song phrases bore a startling resemblance 
to the anxiety notes of the American Pipit [Anihus s. rubescens): ter- 
wil'lier, terwil'lier, terwil'lier. This phrase it is which makes you think of 
wrens. Indeed, if I had been in the dry country or up in the mountains, 
instead of at sea level, in "Humid Transition," I should have ascribed the 
sound, unhesitatingly, to the Rock Wren. 

Thus were the foundations of the nest-to-be laid in song. And lest 
brethren of the oological fraternity (that sinister but solacing fellowship) 


The Crossbills 

should pluck me by the sleeve and ask, "What happened after that?" 
I will add, sadly, — The next boat carried me back to Seattle. 

In choice of nesting dates the Crossbill is probably the most erratic 
of all northern birds. Having, as it does, a regionally variable, but 
locally dependable, food supply, these birds nest whenever and wherever 
the notion seizes them — it may be in January, it may be in October. 
Indeed, it will not be surprising to learn that Crossbills have nested in 
every month of the year. The quasi-migrations, for which- the Crossbills 
are notorious, are evidently determined by the abundance or failure of 
the cone crop, whether pine or fir. Now the fruiting of the conifers is, 
as every one knows, an exceedingly irregular matter. There is always 
something doing somewhere, but your evergreen has learned to defy the 
seasons; so, of course, the Crossbill's calendar has been turned topsy 
turvy. Communal life, therefore, is maintained the year around, in 
spite of the occasional defection of love-lorn couples; and there is nothing 
in the appearance of a flock of Crossbills in April to suggest that other 
such are dutifully nesting. 

The nest of the Crossbill is said to resemble somewhat that of the 
California Purple Finch, but it is more compactly built, and much more 
heavily lined. The female exhibits a tragic devotion to duty, once 
confessed, and in some cases collectors have actually had to lift the bird 
off her eggs in order to examine them. In one classical instance, recorded 
by Dr. Brewer, of a nest taken early in March, the bird was not only 
several times forcibly removed, but she insisted upon resuming her place 
upon the nest as it was being carried down from the tree. 

Of the distribution of our California Crossbills much yet remains 
to be learned. If our breeding form is bendirei, then it is safe to say that 
the birds have little occasion to leave the limits of the State, or even of 
the mountains, in winter. They are always to be found somewhere in 
the Sierras and in the San Bernardinos. Their occasional appearance in 
the lesser ranges, provided always that they are more or less pine-clad, 
is safely predicable, but it is not known whether they breed in such cir- 
cumstances, or where. The most exceptional instance of recent times 
was reported from Santa Cruz Island, where Messrs. A. B. Howell and 
Adriaan van Rossem found them in numbers in April, 191 1, (and up to 
May 2nd), and where they believed them to be breeding. I saw nothing 
of them in April, 1915, nor have any of our recent parties (1916, 1918, 
1919, 1922) observed them. 


The California Pine Grosbeak 

No. 25 

California Pine Grosbeak 

A. 0. U. No. 515b. Pinicola enucleator californica Price. 

Synonym. — Pine Bullfinch. 

Description. — Adult male: In highest plumage, foreparts, breast, back (cen- 
trally), and rump, rosy red (jasper to pompeian red); back with faintly darker centers 
of feathers; lower belly and under tail-coverts ashy gray (light mouse-gray) — this 
high plumage is the exception. In general, the rosy gives place to ash}' gray in vary- 
ing proportions; wings and tail ashy dusk}-; tips of middle and greater coverts and outer 
edges of exposed secondaries, white. Bill dusky; feet blackish. Adult female: Similar 
to male, but rosy replaced by dingy yellow (varying from olive-yellow and olive- 
tawny to ochraceous) and chiefly confined to head, hind-neck, and upper tail-coverts 
(where brightest) ; feathers of back frequently tipped with ochraceous, and breast 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the Author 



with an ochrey wash. Immature birds: Exactly like adult female, save that males 
sometimes show bricky red on head and rump. Length about 218.4 (8.60); wing 
1 13.5 (4.46); tail 100 (3.94); bill 14.7 (.58); depth at base 10.2 (.40); tarsus 22.3 (.88). 
Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; large, rounded, conical beak; red and gray 
coloration, for size, distinctive. 

The California Pine Grosbeak 

Nesting, as described by Ray. — Nest: A frail platform of coniferous twigs, 
lined with fine, light-colored grasses, and settled carelessly upon horizontal branch of 
conifer, well out from trunk; height in tree 16 (type) to 35 feet. Nesting altitude 
7000-8500 feet. Eggs: 3; greenish blue (rich nile blue), spotted and marked with 
vandyke brown or blackish, and with subdued olive-gray or dull lavender shell mark- 
ings. Av. size 25.9 x 17.3 (1.02 x .68). Season: June; one brood. 

Range of Pinicola enucleator. — Northern parts of Eurasia and North America. 

Range of P. e. californica. — Local resident of the central Sierras from Plumas 
County south to northern Fresno County, and from elevation 6500 to timberline. 

Authorities. — Cooper (Pinicola canadensis), Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., vol. iv., 
186S, p. 8; Fisher, A. K., U. S. Dept. Agric, N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 79; Price, 
Auk, vol. xiv., 1897, pp. 182-186 (desc. of californica); Ray, Condor, vol. xiv., 1912, 
PP- I 57~ I 87> x 7 figs- (desc. of nesting near Pyramid Peak); Hunt, Condor, vol. xxiii., 
Nov. 1921, pp. 187-190 (nesting near Blairsden, Plumas County). 

THE AUTHOR may as well admit, first off, that he never saw a Pine 
Grosbeak. He makes that humiliating confession, well knowing that his 
own reputation as an ornithologist will suffer accordingly, but believing 
that such an admission will also more accurately establish the status of 
the California Pine Grosbeak as a reasonably rare bird. But if he should 
add, in all fairness, that there are only five other mainland species of 
regular occurrence in California which he has not seen in life, it may 
serve to emphasize again the remarkably local character of the range of 
Pinicola enucleator californica. If one would see the California Pine 
Grosbeak, whether in winter or summer, he must repair to the central 
Sierras, and preferably to one of the six counties focussed about Lake 
Tahoe; although there is an old record of one seen by Mr. Nelson "on the 
head of the San Joaquin River, 1 " and Mr. Howell 2 secured a specimen 
near Mammoth Pass, in Mono County, on July 31st, 1914. A member of 
my party also encountered a pair near Twin Lakes in the throat of this 
pass in June, 1919, and again in 1921 Mr. Carriger saw a pair near the 
old stamp mill at Mammoth; but although I kept a sharp lookout for 
three seasons in this same section, no other birds were seen. The Cali- 
fornia Pine Grosbeak is unquestionably rata avis. 

Our best account 3 of the occurrence of this species comes from the 
pen of that veteran oologist of the Sierras, Mr. Milton S. Ray, and I 
condense the substance of his observations, supplemented by those of 
W. W. Price, 4 the original describer of the subspecies: The California 
Pine Grosbeak is of very irregular occurrence, even in the limited area 
where it has been known to breed. The experience of one season is only 

1 North American Fauna, no. 7, May, 1S93, p. 79. 
- The Condor, Sept.. 1915, p. 206. 
3 Condor, Vol. XIV., Sept.. 1912, pp. 157-187. 
' Auk. Vol. XIV., April. 1897, pp. 182-186. 


The California Pine Grosbeak 

a slight index of another 
season's fortunes. The 
fact that they do not 
migrate or retire to lower 
levels in winter seems to 
be purely inferential, but 
there is no reason for 
their leaving the shelter 
of the hospitable pines, 
Pinus contorta, or the 
still more hospitable al- 
pine red firs, Abies mag- 
nified; and these trees, in 
their prime, mark, 
rather narrowly, the 
zone of the birds' actual 

The birds are of a 
decidedly plump, though 
not ungraceful, appear- 
ance, and the rich poppy- 
red plumage of the male 
makes a bright spot in 
memory for one who can 
distinguish it from the 
duller and otherwise very 
different appearance of 
the Cassin Purple Finch. 
Not all the males are 
thus brightly arrayed, 
for they breed in the 
fulvous-and-gray plum- 
age of immaturity (?) 
as well. 

These Grosbeaks 
move about sedately and do not often attract the attention of casual 
observers. On the other hand, they are remarkably fearless, or rather, 
unsophisticated, alighting, as they do at times, within a few feet of the 
observer. They are little given to sociability with other species, and 
seem to live rather an independent, semi-lethargic and dream-like ex- 
istence, where food is abundant and well assured. In common with 
other pine-cone and browse feeders, they are very fond of salt, and in 

Taken in Eldorado County 

Photo by Oluf J. Heinemann 




The California Pine Grosbeak 

company with Cassin Purple Finches and Western Evening Grosbeaks 
they visit the upland salt licks where the sheep are baited. 

The California Pine Grosbeak has a song which, according to Ray, 
deserves to rank along with that of the Dipper, the Hermit Thrush, and 
other major songsters. It is especially comparable to the song of the 
Black-headed Grosbeak, but is, if possible, still more melodious, rich, 
and varied. Unfortunately, the bird is not a persistent singer, and its 
outbursts are as rare as they are uplifting. The bird has also a melodious, 
two-syllabled call-note, which reminds one of the words, "All right." 
At the nest, or in intimate conversation with his mate, the Grosbeak 
indulges a series of amiable twitterings very pleasing to the ear. 

The Pine Grosbeak shows its affinities very clearly in its choice of a 
nesting site. A rather frail platform of coarse fir twigs is heavily lined 
with coiled grasses, and the whole is settled loosely upon some spreading 
evergreen limb at any convenient distance from the ground or the tree 
stem. The female is a sturdy sitter, and requires to be fairly poked off 
if one would see the eggs. Although apparently indifferent to the presence 

Taken in Eldorado County 

Pholo by Oluf J . Heinemann 



Courtesy Milton S. Ray and "The Condor" 


The Dawson Lenco 

of the human stranger, the sitting female does not allow her mate to feed 
her upon the nest, but goes to meet him in another tree, according to 
approved precautions. Like the Cassin Purple Finch, she relieves the 
tedium of incubation by an occasional foraging expedition on her own 
account; and it is thus, we fear, that her business is betrayed to that 
inquisitive exponent of science who has laid so many of the broad founda- 
tions of our knowledge of birds. I refer, of course, to the under-rated 
and over-despised oologist. 

No. 26 

Sierra Nevada Rosy Finch 

A. 0. U. No. 524, part. Leucosticte tephrocotis dawsoni Grinnell. 

Synonyms. — California Leucosticte. Dawson's Rosy Finch. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: General color rich brown, 
varied by rosy; top of head black, bordered irregularly by hoary ash, the ash including 
lores and superciliaries and broadening on hind-neck; lesser and middle wing-coverts 
(in richest examples, all exposed edges of folded wing), rump, and upper tail-coverts, 
flanks, and posterior under-plumage, with touches on axillars and wing-linings, rosy 
red (light jasper red or jasper pink, rarely jasper red), the red appearing as broad 
edges of feathers otherwise brown or white, and variously intermingled, especially on 
rump; remaining plumage rich brown (Prout's brown), blackening on throat, varied 
above by dark centers and paler edging, lightening posteriorly; wings and tail brownish 
dusky, or hoary dusky. Bill black; feet and legs brownish black. Adult female in 
breeding plumage: Like male but paler and duller with much less display of rosy. 
Bill blackish. Adults in autumn (fresh plumage): As in spring, but plumage "varied 
by white" (leucosticte), and with increase of rosy; the feathers of breast skirted by 
pinkish ashy in scaled effect; those of upperparts brownish-ashy-bordered; crown more 
extensively white; the inner greater coverts and tertials broadly edged with brownish 
buff; the rump and posterior underparts more broadly tipped with jasper pink. Bill 
yellow, darkening toward tip. Immature birds: Similar to adults in spring, but much 
paler; in general, buffy ashy brown; feathers of back with darker centers; wings with 
much buffy brown edging; rosy element much reduced, sometimes appearing only 
upon edges of flight-feathers. Length about 165 (6.50). Av. of adult males (Grin- 
nell): wing 104.6 (4.12); tail 70.4 (2.77); bill II. I (.43); depth at base 7 (.27). Of fe- 
males: wing 99.8 (3.92); tail 65.8 (2.59); bill 11 (.43) ; depth at base 7.1 (.28). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; rich brown and rosy coloration; frequents 
high altitudes. Cheeks not gray, as distinguished from the northern form, L. t. littoralis. 

Remarks. — While the characters assigned for distinction between L. t. teph- 
rocotis and L. t. dawsoni are comparatively slight, they are supported by a wide dis- 
continuity of range between the two forms. Theoretically, a gap of 650 miles in the 
established breeding ranges of two related forms, not identical, should entitle each 
to specific rank. It is for this reason, chiefly, that we attach weight to Dr. Grinnell's 
original description, as follows: "As compared with its nearest relative, Leucosticte 


The Iki 

I o 

g to 



to that 
oad founda- 


Sierra Nevada Rosy Finch 

Male and female, about */i life :ize 



I ' 


males (Grin- 

. . ■ 

les' in the 



The Dawson Leuco 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the Author 


tephrocotis tephrocotis Swainson, of the northern Rocky Mountain region, in British 
America and western Alaska, general coloration in all plumages grayer toned, less 
intensely brown, size slightly less, the bill being distinctly less in bulk, and wing averag- 
ing more rounded; juvenal plumage much grayer, especially anteriorly, both above 
and below; breeding females less different, breeding males least different, but still 
perceptibly less vivid in the chestnut about the head." 

Nesting. — Nest: Placed in sheltered niche of mountain cliff or under boulder 
of rock-slide; a thick-walled, tidy structure, compacted of moss or dried grasses, or 
weathered vegetable fiber; lined indifferently with finer grass and occasional feathers; 
diameter outside, 6 or 7 inches (mm 152-177); inside 2.50-2.75 (mm 63.5-69.8); depth 
outside 3.00 (mm 76.2); inside 1. 50-1. 75 (mm 38.1-44.5). Eggs: 4 or 5, elongate 
ovate, pure white. Av. of 10 specimens: 22.5 x 15.6 (.88 x .61). Season: June 
(cliff nesters), July (moraine nesters); one brood. 

Range of Leucosticte tephrocotis. — Western North America, breeding in the 
higher mountains from the Alaska Peninsula south to the southern Sierras, and in 
winter deploying over plains east to Saskatchewan (casually to Minnesota) and south 
to Nevada and Colorado. Eastern limits of breeding range in the United States 
imperfectly made out. 

Range of L. t. dawsoni. — At least the higher portions of the central and south- 
ern Sierras from Nevada County south to Olancha Peak; also sparingly about the 
higher peaks of the White Mountains; retires in winter to lower levels, chiefly easterly. 
Northward extension imperfectly made out. Examples seen by Vernon Bailey Aug. 
17 (1898) on Mt. Shasta (N. A. Fauna, no. 16, "Shasta Report," p. 124) are likely 
to have been transitional; not seen on Shasta in 1916. 


The Dawson Leuco 

Authorities. — Cooper, J. G., Ornith. Calif., 1870, p. 164, fig.; Fisher, A. K., 
N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, pp. 82-83 (distr. ; habits); Daggett, Bull. Cooper Orn. 
Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 119; Dean, Condor, vol. vii., 1905, p. 112 (food); Ray, Condor, 
vol. xii., 1910, pp. 147-161, figs. 43-54 (discovery of nest and eggs) ; Grinnell, Condor, 
vol. xv., 1913, pp. 76-78 (desc. of dawsoni); Dawson, Condor, vol. xvi., 1914, p. 41 

IN ONE SENSE at least the American Leucostictes stand at the very 
apex of evolutionary progress. If life began, as the biologists assert, in 
the depths of the ocean, then it is the "Leuco" who has carried life's ban- 
ner highest. Today he flaunts it from the mountain peaks, from Shasta and 
Whitney no less than from Blanca and Baker and Robson. If lofty asso- 
ciation means anything for character, also, the Sierra Nevada Rosy Finch 
ought to be the very best of birds, for it is his privilege to spend a lifetime 
wrestling with the eternal snows. Be that as it may — and we, perhaps, 
are not able to set up the standards of bird ethics — there can be no doubt 
that this exalted breed of birds constitutes one of the most fascinating 
subjects for study which western bird-life offers. And because its ways 
of life have been so long remote from ordinary observation, the Leuco- 
sticte has been invested with something of the same sanctity which, 
in the thought of Nature's purest worshippers, clings about the vestal 
mountains. It seems a sort of sacrilege to bring them down, these 
vestal mountaineers, to ply them with questions of food and raiment 
and manner of life. The author knows something of these things, per- 
haps as much as any one, but instead of telling about them he would 
rather sing a paean and draw the curtain of respect. It is one thing 
to know the Eleusinian mysteries, but quite another to proclaim them 
from the house-top. Your pardon, gentle Leucos! 

A technical description of the Leucosticte's wardrobe may be found 
in any manual, and we pause here only to note that the rosy fringes and 
flushes which decorate its sober browns are a common adornment in the 
family Fringillidce. There are, it may be, a hundred species of "rosy 
finches" at the very least, so that the attempted monopoly of the name 
"Rosy Finch" for our American Mountaineers is absurd and futile. 
No more fortunate is the name "Leucosticte," meaning "varied by 
white." The whitish edgings on this bird are few and obscure and in 
no wise distinctive. The name "Leucosticte" is a jaw-breaker, and 
the public will not stand for it. We are in a box. But since we are 
in it, let's make the best of it, and abbreviate our angel's name to Leuco. 
Never mind what it means; nobody pays any attention to Greek nowa- 
days. It sounds distinctive, not to say expensive, and a wee bit endearing. 
Shall it be "Leuco," then? 


The Dawson Leuco 

Taken in Fresno County Photo by the Author 


What, now, does our divinity — eat? To all intents and purposes, 
snow. Watch a company of them deploy over a snowfield, hopping 
sedately from crest to crest of the tiny ridges, or else escalading into the 
pits which the sun has made. They are pecking industriously at the 
surface as they go, and accumulating — well, not snow-flakes, nor yet 
snow-balls, but frozen insects, instead. It is marvelous what a varied 
diet is offered to these patient gleaners of the glaciers. The warm 
winds wafted up from the great interior valley bear moths and beetles, 
bugs and winged ants — they know not whither; and these, succumbing 
to the sudden cold of the Sierran heights, fall in a beneficent shower over 
the Leuco's table. Doubtless a few predatory insects, in a more active 
state, may be found. If it be asked what the predatory insects, in turn, 
feed upon, I point to the black "dust" which lies scattered over the 
surface of a June snowbank in such a uniform fashion that suspicion 
is aroused. These tiny black specks, a score or so to the square inch, 
are insects — of what order I cannot tell — insects not over a millimeter 
in length and perhaps a tenth of that in thickness. Thus I saw them 
in myriads about Mammoth Crest in 1919. What their little businesses 


The Dawson Leuco 

might be, I could not conjecture; but they were quite active, and, as 
certainly, they were on their native heath. When one breathes upon 
these insects, they disappear, and they do so by diving into the depths 
of the snow — or, say, to a depth of three or four millimeters — down the 
interstices caused by the action of the sun. There's romance for you; 
and there are, speaking in all sobriety, about forty billion of these snow 
bugs to the square mile. 

As the season advances and the area of the snowfields is reduced, 
the Leucos resort to the south slopes of the peaks, where yellow-winged 
locusts and deer-flies and the hardy butterflies, notably Vanessa cali- 
fornica, hold forth. These they pursue on the ground, or else seize 
in midair by dextrous leaps from below. They feed also at the lower 
levels over the heather beds and in the vicinity of the cirque lakes. Once 
I saw a company of these Leucos feasting on caddis-flies. So eager 
had they become that they alighted upon the stones which protruded 
above the water of a shallow lake, where they could seize the becoming 
caddis-flies as they crawled out of their chrysalis cases. Although this 

Taken in Inyo County 



Photo by the A ulhor 


The Daws-' 

I, as 
it int 












• 1— < 




















































The Dawson Leuco 

was well below timber line, I never, save once, saw the Leucostictes 
alight in a tree, and I have an idea they feel very ill-at-ease in such a 

No bird, however, could be more thoroughly at home, or more 
matter-of-fact in its behavior, about precipices or in ice-bound couloirs. 
Whether in nest-hunting, mate-hunting, or in the ordinary quest for 
food, a Leucosticte will flit from crevice to point up the face of a twelve 
hundred foot escarpment as though it were a garden dike. The crannies 
are explored in leisurely fashion in quest of lurking bugs; and if it is 
mating time, the bird pauses to sing, or rather, chirp, from some eminence 
that would make an Alpensteiger dizzy. The "bergschrund," or chasm 
where the rock-wall and ice-wall part company, has no terrors for the 
Leuco. Once I saw a precocious infant (of L. t. hepburni) which had 
tumbled into one of these places some thirty feet in depth ; but mama was 
feeding him, and he was as cheerful as a cricket, expecting, no doubt 
justly, to win out again after his wings were a little stronger. 

Beyond the fact that the Sierran Leucos are mildly sociable at all 
seasons, and definitely gregarious in winter, little is known of their 
habits and economy, save as observed casually by campers and mountain- 
climbers and, more definitely, by questing oologists. Whatever may be 
the popular or even Audubonian opinion of the last-named gentry, there 
can be no question in any honest mind that science owes much to the tire- 
less research of the bird-egger. Granting that it is the lure of the trophy, 
or early possession of a something, however trifling, which the other 
fellow hasn't got, which impels the prodigious toils of the oologist, it 
remains true that in four cases out of five it is the field oologist who has 
brought back the first adequate accounts, not only of nesting, but of 
behavior and economy, of song and courtship, and of most that goes 
to make up the vital interest of a bird. 

So far as the records show, it was Henry W. Carriger who, in June, 
1910, found the first occupied nest of the Leucosticte within the limits of 
the United States. Certainly he was the first to find a nest of the "Sierra 
Nevada Rosy Finch." This nest was taken on the 22nd of June by 
Milton S. Ray from under a boulder, one of myriads constituting the 
great weathered-out rock-field which covers the upper slopes of Pyramid 
Peak fait. 10,020 ft.), in Eldorado County, and within 150 feet of the 
top of that mountain. This nest, n/4, now reposes in the cabinets of 
the Woodland Heights Museum of Analytical Oology. To Mr. Ray's 
vivid and enthusiastic description 1 of the exploit there is little to be 
added save the biographies of the participants. 

The second set of eggs, n/5, now resting in the Thayer Museum, was 

1 The Condor .Vol. XII., Sept., 1910. pp. 147-161. 


The Dawson Leuco 

taken by H. H. Kimball, June 20, 1915, at an elevation of 8900 feet. 1 I am 
under the impression, also, that Dr. P. B. Moody, of Sand Point, Idaho, 
has taken eggs of the Hepburn Leucosticte, a related subspecies, in Idaho; 
but if so, the accounts were obscurely published. 

The lure of the Leuco has always possessed a peculiar fascination 
for the author since his first encounter with the bird (L. t. hepburni), in 
1896 on Wright's Peak, in Washington. In view of this special weakness, 
he craves pardon for indulging for once in a historical resume of his own 

In July, 1900, a nest, which could have belonged to no other bird, 
was found in a peculiarly exposed situation, just below the summit of 
Wright's Peak (alt. about 9300). The Leuco search was the motif of a 
few days spent in the high Cascades in 1906, and again in 1907. On the 
latter occasion an old nest and a nest containing young were found. 

In California in June and July, 191 1, a determined search was made 
along the mountains accessible from our camp at the Cottonwood Lakes; 
but although the birds were common at altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 
14,000 feet, only one location was made during the season, and that one 
accessible only to the birds. The nest, whose existence was attested by 
visits of the male bird, was placed out of reach in a horizontal crevice, 
thirty feet over on a cliff which overlooks Army Pass, and which is sheer 
three hundred feet in height. By dint of going over the brink some fifty 
feet further west, I succeeded in worming my way, face down, along a 
ledge to the entrance of the crevice. It proved to be narrow, crooked, and 
altogether impossible — whereat I spat, reflectively, 270 feet, and wished I 
had never come. 

On the 21st of July, 1913, while, in company with a dozen fellow mem- 
bers of the Sierra Club, engaged in scaling the North Palisade Peak (alt. 
14,254), I came upon a nest containing five young about three days old. 
The nest was set well back in a cranny, which fronted a sheer drop of some 
two hundred feet, and it must have been within six hundred or seven 
hundred feet of the summit, say at an elevation of 13,600. This was, 
apparently, the second California record. 

In June, 1919, the field party maintained by the Museum of Compara- 
tive Oology made headquarters in the throat of Mammoth Pass in Mono 
County, at an elevation of 8500 feet. From this camp as a base we made 
several visits to the higher altitudes of the southerly-lying ranges, and 
spent eight nights in desultory camps made on rock ledges or rocky 
moraines. The following account, beginning on June 18, 1919, sum- 
marizes our experiences and fortunes. 

It looked terribly steep, that north-facing snow-cliff which led down 

1 John E. Thayer, in epist., Aug. 5, 1919. 

The Dawson Leaco 

from the Mammoth Crest, but the westering sun, backed by a searching 
wind, urged a quick retreat to camp four miles away and 2500 feet below. 
The snowfield reached the very top of the ridge, choking the throat of a 
couloir and expanding below between massive cliffs several hundred feet 
high. The left-flanking cliff was dark in shadow, but the east-flanking 
wall was still bathed in sunlight. There might be Leucos down there ; and 
a slide would save miles of walking. Accordingly, I let go, pike-point 
hard pressed against the rasping snow. The first hundred feet might have 
been a parachute drop. The course was narrow. Ominous ledges sud- 
denly flashed up at the side. The startled snow, half ice, rather, flew 
up and engulfed my glasses. Steering had to be by instinct, and only 
frantic efforts kept the hurtling pilgrim right end up. But soon the pace 
slackened. Sun-kissed wells in the snow began to act as bumpers, and 
motion ceased presently, while the heart was still in a sort of panic. A 
Leuco spoke. Tearing off the blinded snow-glasses, I looked up — just in 
time to see a female Leucosticte disappear into the face of an obliquely 
fronting wall, and at a point a hundred feet or so up. Moments passed, 
and still she stayed. "A location," thought I, and backed off, slowly, 
across the snow, with eyes glued to the mysterious spot, until I felt the 
impact of the west wall, and, scarcely turning, clambered out upon a ledge. 
It was a cold ledge but not so cold as the penetrating snow. Sure enough, 
the bird has never stirred from that spot. But now comes a male sidling 
up to a neighboring point and giving a chirrup, whereat the hidden female 
darts out and joins her mate for a frolic. It is a probable location, albeit 

Two evenings later, fortified by the presence of my son, William 
Oberlin, a stripling of nineteen, I take up a station with him on the identi- 
cal ledge which had witnessed the location. There is barely room on this 
rocky shelf for two persons to lie down ; and if one rolls off, why it is only 
a hundred-foot slide over snow. We have brought up grub and blankets 
and a jag of wood. W T hile William makes camp, although it is beastly 
cold, I man the binoculars and watch every bird that stirs over the snow or 
works across the face of the towering cliffs beyond. There are birds in 
plenty — for Leucos — say three or four in sight at once. Usually two or three 
are gleaning industriously over the face of the snowfield. The snow is in 
full shadow and the birds are most active at this time, partly because the 
glare of midday no longer blinds the eyes and makes snow work practically 
insufferable, even for birds, and partly, no doubt, because it is the last 

If there are nesting activities on, they are conducted sub rosa. 
There is no eagerness to display domestic secrets. These must be ferreted 
out. But there is lavish display of romantic interest. Males are chirping 


The Dawson Leuco 

Taken in Mono County 



Photo by the Author 

loudly from vantage points; and as often as one of them discovers a female, 
presumably unengaged, he darts down into her neighborhood, then sidles 
over to her, hat in hand, so to speak, and pours forth a strident flood of 
amorous professions. The antics in which one of these hot-hearted 
bachelors engages are lush beyond description. If the lady will endure 
his presence at all, the male fairly perspires adoration. His wings quiver 
and his whole frame trembles. He turns about, slowly, in order that his 
enamorata may see how his every feather is engulfed ; or if he pauses, he 
puts up a wing affectedly, as though to shield himself from the lady's 
overpowering glances. If the lady is cold — cold, but not impossible — in the 
very extremity of despair the smitten one procures a wisp of straw, seizing 
it by the middle, and bearing it about like a huge moustachio, the while his 
eloquent pleas are pouring forth. By this act, of course, he signifies that 
he speaks of conjugal affection. The lady must be won to a sense of 
responsibility. The days are long but the snows are melting. "Oh, will 
you? won't you? say, why don't you cast your lot with mine?" 

These advances have various denouements. If the female is indeed 


The Dawson Leuco 

smitten, as must in the nature of things sometimes happen, the couple 
adjourn to some cave among the rocks and carry out the purpose of love in 
secret. If the lady is only shy, she sidles off, or flits, and there is instant 
pursuit. The couple charge about like meteors amuck, and if they do not 
dash their brains out, it is a good sign that love is not blind. But if, as 
oftener happens, the lady is either previously engaged, or minded to try 
out the young swain's professions, she makes spiteful dabs at her admirer 
while he falls back in pretended and ecstatic alarm. Oftener still, the 

swain is addressing a law- 
fully wedded wife, for it 
seems to be his principle to 
try all doors till one of them 
yields. In that case, the 
lady tells him quickly to 
be off about his business, 
and is obeyed, or else — 
an avenging bolt falls out 
of the blue. The lawfully 
wedded husband, who nine 
times in ten is on the job, 
whether near or remote, 
falls upon that young ras- 
cal and either chases him 
clear out of bounds, or ad- 
ministers an actual drub- 
bing. There seem to be 
more males than females, 
and it is proper form for 
the ladies to be always at- 
tended in public by their 

On this evening in 
question we followed the 
fortunes of a score of these 
advances and retreats, or 
sudden flights, but sorted 
out only two events of any significance: A male bird fed his mate (or 
young) once in a crevice only a dozen feet up on the opposite wall ; and an 
unattended female, who fed quietly over the snow for half an hour, had 
such an authoritative way in "bouncing" her unwelcome admirers, that 
we kept our eyes focused upon her ultimate determinations. The signifi- 
cant moment came. When the shades of night were gathering thickly, she 




f ^ ja 
1 ^ 


IvJiift ". . v -.., 







/■ ' 



Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 



The Dawson Leuco 

quietly withdrew from the field and lost herself, immediately, in a hole, one 
of a dozen lying at the back of a great shattered niche in the wall, from 
which tons of rock — a schistose granite — had recently fallen. This loca- 
tion, if location it was, was forty feet below location No. i, and fairly in a 
vertical line with it. 

Fearing above all else a premature attack, we left these prospects 
to ripen, and visited instead the lower nest, where there was a suspicion of 
young. Sure enough, there were five youngsters about five days old, in a 
sturdy nest, which must have held its complement of eggs about June 2nd, 
the earliest recorded or inferential date for Leucos. 

Days of tireless and all but unrewarded quest followed. Beetling 
cliffs began to lose something of their terrors, and if a bird disappeared 
midway on a six hundred foot precipice, instead of resigning in despair, as 
we had been inclined to do at first, we calculated soberly the chances of 
approach by wells or ledges, or dangling ropes. A female, traced to a hole 
eighty feet up on a sheer cliff, emerged presently with a white fcecal sac. 
No need to bother that nest, then. Another, 200 feet up and 200 feet over, 
seemed more feasible, and we determined to try it later. In the meantime 
we kept looking for confirmatory evidence regarding the early prospects. 
We learned that the feeding visits of a male to his mate on the nest were 
exceedingly infrequent. The females themselves, apparently, indulged 
two feeding periods, — one about eight or nine o'clock in the morning, and 
the other after sunset. In most instances, whether by male or female, the 
approach to the nest was made by leisurely stages. Significant actions 
were lost in the maze of casual appearances, or under a camouflage of 
indifference. At last, however, on the evening of the 23rd, spying chillily 
from our snow-and-rock-bound ledge, we had the satisfaction of seeing the 
male bird visit the original location site, where he fed and departed. The 
next morning we caught the unattended female, she of the shattered niche, 
flying straight to her domicile, and disappearing. As luck would have it, 
we were standing at the time on the snowfield immediately below, and saw 
precisely which one of the twenty odd crevices she entered. It was time 
for action. 

The writer elected, for reasons which need not be dwelt upon, to di- 
rect operations from below, while two of the party, my son, William 
Oberlin, and our field assistant, Robert Canterbury, equipped with ropes 
and pikes, made the lengthy detour and approached from above. The 
cliff was full five hundred feet high, but the upper portion was receding and 
graduated, by reason of the jointed character of the rock, into a sort of 
grim staircase. The "steps" themselves, however, sloped sharply, and it 
was no small task to get within forty feet of the nest from above. Here the 
boys set their pikes in a fissure and attached a 150-foot rope, which reached 




































The Dawson Leuco 

the bottom of the cliff, with ten feet to spare. Down this William present- 
ly descended. With a shout he greeted the appearance of the first nest, 
and with another shout reported that its four eggs were fresh. The nest, 
it seems, was set in a shallow cranny almost invisible from below, so that 
the eggs were only four or five inches in, and the skirts of the scanty pile 
reached the edge. The female had darted off when the rope was cast over, 
but she returned now and circled the clinging lad with anxious cries. The 
eggs were put hastily into a box, and the nest went into William's hat, 
after which he quickly descended a matter of twenty feet, where a tiny 
ledge afforded temporary respite. Here he managed to pack the eggs 
securely, to wrap the nest in tissue, and to lower them both to my waiting 

The next site, a little to one side, is much more difficult. A deep 
recess some twelve feet wide, eight feet high, and from three to six feet 
deep, has been formed by the recent defection of a great block of schist. 
The back of this cavity has been rent and shattered as by an explosion. 
Some of the ragged fragments are ready to tumble at a breath, and the 
overhang itself looks very unstable. I besought William to arrange his 
loops for entirely independent action; but he neglected to do so at first, 
with the result that when he did eventually cast them, as he was obliged 
to do, they were not well placed, and one was non-functional. 

It was fortunate that we had seen the exact spot at which the bird 
entered, and that I was able to indicate it from below. Peeping in, the 
boy saw the skirts of a nest set well back and quite unobtainable. The 
overhang was so great that William had great difficulty in keeping in touch 
with the situation. There wasnot sufficient projection from the cliff itself 
to support his weight entirely, so he struggled with the diverse purposes 
and functions of rope and knob. Finally, in desperation, he ascended the 
rope a little and pried frantically with his foot at the most obstructive rock. 
By alternately bearing down and toeing up he succeeded in dislodging it, 
and it fell, a hundred-weight crashing amid a cloud of rock-dust. When 
the air cleared, the boy beheld a handsome nest now scantily supported, 
but holding four eggs apparently fresh, "93/4-19 Dawson's Leuco." Now 
to retrieve them ! He first tried the use of the box. With a foot on the 
cliff, hugging in, and the other in the loop of the rope, and with the left 
arm about the rope and the hand clutching the box, he reached up with 
the right hand and abstracted an egg, when another supporting rock of 
twenty pounds weight or so let go, bringing the nest down with it. The 
boy frantically intercepted the nest while the rock placidly lighted on the 
back of his neck. He succeeded in shaking off the incubus and at the 
same time holding onto the nest amid the attendant smother of rock-dust. 
This was, it must be confessed, a rather complicated moment. There was 


The Dawson Leuco 

evidently some atten- 
dant language, more or 
less smothered by 
rocks. Will says he ex- 
pected to find an ome- 
lette in the nest; but he 
somehow managed to re- 
place the egg which he 
had clutched in his right 
hand, and to remove the 
whole mass, eggs and all, 
to his hat. This he nec- 
essarily gripped in his 
teeth, and slid thirty 
feet, to safety, without 
more ado. 

To his great delight, 
and mine, he found the 
eggs absolutely unin- 
jured. Two perfect sets 
of Leucosticte eggs, 
worth, say, $400, "ex- 
change," retrieved on the 
descent of a single line! 
There was an exploit to 
be remembered with 
pride and gratitude! 

Leaving the boys to 
recover from their exer- 
tions, I cleared, that 
same afternoon, for a 
distant prospect which I 
had named the Grand 
Cirque, and where an 
elaborate system of 

north-facing snowbanks protected by rugged peaks was nursing half a 
dozen cirque lakes, whose waters eventually found their way into the San 
Joaquin River. Arrived, toward evening, upon these happy hunting 
grounds, I first paused to make camp on the upper reaches of the central 
moraine. I don't mind rocks for bedding — am rather fond of them, in 
fact — but insist upon an approximate degree of horizontality. The bed I 
constructed there of schistose slabs, levelled and matched to a nicety, 


8 «*■» '£} 

Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 



The Dawson Leuco 

amid a chaos of boulders, fills my heart with reminiscent longing at this 
distant and comfortable moment. To live over again the early triumphs 
of cavemen is one of the sweetest privileges of the Sierras. Thus fortified 
by the certainty of slumber, I addressed myself for the remaining hours of 
daylight to the snowfields and the cliffs, and soon had the satisfaction of 
making a location. This was confirmed by a later, and enduring, visit of 
the female, at a point midway of the main cliffs, and on a wall 425 feet 

Taken in Fresno County 

Photo by the Author 


high. Forbidding as the prospect appeared, I saw how it might, conceiv- 
ably, be reached through a succession of wells, or deep fissures, whose low- 
est ramifications extended to a tiny ledge which seemed to command the 
very niche on which the Leuco had lost herself. Repairing, accordingly, 
the next day to the peak (altitude 11,600) with Robert, who had joined 
me, we contemplated the descent. It was not alluring. It was, in fact, 
abominably steep, and a good bit farther than we had counted on. We 
stripped to the barest necessities, save rope and pikes (both a mistake, as 
the event proved), and prepared, with some little trepidation, to go down. 
The passage may be described briefly as a well, a near perpendicular ledge, 
and a well. The upper well was obstructed in two places by rock-masses 


The Dawson Leuco 

lodged in its throat. It was easy to pass behind the uppermost of these 
obstructions, but the other forced us outside. There was nothing here 
but two blank walls. Bob felt confident, but I was dubious. Finally, 
I let him down with a rope to the first convenient landing, and saw 
him climb up again, to prove that it could be done. Still a little timorous, 
I had him let me down, by way of playing safe, till I got the feel of the 
thing (we had but one rope and had to take that down with us). The 
very walls here were treacherous, for their stability had never been tested 
save by the soft-falling snow. Block after block I flung down as we 
descended, so as to forestall the danger of attack from behind. 

The upper reaches of the second well were occupied by a snowbank 
and a slithering mass of treacherous accumulation, gravel and wash, all 
too steep for occupation, but guarded on the outside by a ledge which we 
had difficulty in descending. When the ledge rose again to the propor- 
tions of a guardian wall, we were compelled to consider the well proper, a 
black hole at least a hundred feet deep with about a five to one grade, — 
that is, the bottom, about one hundred feet farther down, was about twenty 
feet farther west. I first dropped a big boulder down, both because it was 
threatening to go itself and to test the depth. Out from under the 

Taken in Fresno County 

Photo by the Author 



The Dawson Leuco 

ricocheting passage darted a Leucosticte, midway. Perhaps the damage 
was already done, but, anyway, the fever for removing loose rocks was so 
strong upon us that we sent others down the well, reckless of possible 
damage to Leuco's eggs. But cooler counsels soon prevailed. Anxiously 
we thought, "Perhaps that Leuco's nest is not very far back from the well, 
after all." So the larger obstructions which remained were lifted one by 

one and passed up to be 
cast off outside. 

While we were de- 
liberating as to the use 
of the rope, the Leuco 
fluttered into the well, 
and lighted at the en- 
trance of one of the pos- 
sible side tunnels. Evi- 
dently what she saw dis- 
pleased her, for she flew 
away again. Soon she 
returned and went far- 
ther, apparently cover- 
ing the nest. But she 
was ill at ease and her 
quick departure filled me 
with further forebodings. 
Sure enough, when I had 
wormed my way down 
thirty feet or so, the 
eggs flashed in view, four 
of them, but one of them 
marked by an ominous- 
looking black spot, 
which proved, indeed, to 
be a gash. When I ar- 
rived, at last, at the nest 
level, puffing and wet 
and bedraggled — the 
walls were oozing icy 
water — I found that 
every egg had been 
struck by tiny flying par- 

Pholo by the Author . . r . q. 

tides ot rock. 1 wo were 



Taken in Fresno County 


The Dawson Leuco 

all were savable, and the nest was an elegant and generous structure of 
compacted mosses, which in itself would have been worthy of preservation. 
The gloomy chamber in which the nest reposed was not over fourteen 
inches in total depth from the side wall, and the wonder is that the eggs 
were not scrambled. 

Of the further descent and of the discovery that the nest on the out- 
side wall contained young birds a day old, I need not speak. We found 
the rope was useless, because of the danger of flying rocks. We had to 
keep close together, so that whatever was dislodged might not acquire a 
dangerous momentum. We wormed our way up, therefore, as we had 
wormed down, viz., by bracing our backs against one wall and gluing 
palms and toes to the other. The round trip consumed exactly two and a 
half hours. Viewed dispassionately from the outside, the undertaking 
looks foolhardy enough. I am quite sure I would not go down the same 
wells to recover a fifty-dollar purse; but I am equally sure that either of us 
would go as far, or farther, for a set of Leuco's eggs. "94/4-19 Sierra 
Leuco" now reposes in the cabinets of the Museum of Comparative 
Oology, and they are not for sale. 

Well ; this is not a monograph of the Leucosticte — nor a biography of 
the author. What follows must briefly summarize the experience of those 
glorious days. It is only by spending continuously the months of June and 
July in Leuco country that one comes to realize how sharply the resident 
population of Leucos divides upon the question of nesting sites. The 
cliff-nesters find their favorite sites available in June, and they, accordingly, 
fall to early in the month. The moraine or rock-slide nesters expect their 
home sites to be buried in snow until late in June; and, subject to the va- 
riation of the seasons, nest complements may be expected in such situ- 
ations at any time from the 1st to the 20th of July. The noisy scenes of 
courtship, therefore, may extend from the middle of May to the middle of 
July; but the actual nesting is conducted so quietly, so decorously, that 
the inexperienced student is likely to be utterly deceived. 

Theoretically, it ought to be very easy to trace a nesting female in 
such exposed situations as constitute the habitat of the Sierra Leuco. 
But, practically, one marvels when they do build. At least Leucosticte 
psychology has not yet been codified. Some females transport materials 
surreptitiously and spend days at it. Others build furiously while the 
fever is on, and are done. One bird, which I had traced at midday, had 
started her nest under a boulder on the side of the central moraine of the 
Grand Cirque, at a point not three feet distant from the retreating snow- 
bank, and on a level with it. She secured her material, grass and roots, by 
the beakful on a young meadow some two hundred feet away; and in the 
half hour during which I had her under observation she averaged a trip a 


The Dawson Leuco 

Token in Mono County 



Photo by the Author 

minute. On the minute schedule she would spend about forty seconds 

gathering a load and fifteen or twenty seconds in arranging it; but I saw 

her speed up to twenty and five, respectively. The male, meanwhile, 

made himself useful by conducting periodical inspections, and offering 

advice (unheeded, no doubt), but chiefly by mounting guard and chasing 

off intruders. Needless to say, the birds did not resent my presence, for 

concealment is impossible under the pitiless glare of a Sierran noonday. 

When we saw a Leucosticte seize a blob of cotton-batting which had 

blown off our ledge onto the snow, and bear it off in triumph toward a 

neighboring moraine, we thought that our oological fortunes were made. 

We dashed after her forthwith; but somewhere near the rocks an aerial 

scrimmage developed into a quite spirited affair, in which half a dozen 

Leucos and a snooping Clark Nutcracker figured. It was all over in a 

moment; but when the smoke of battle cleared away, we saw nothing of 

bird, cotton, or nest. A second theft was no more successfully traced, for 

the fugitive had no sooner disappeared around a sharp turn than she gave 

up all further interest in nest-building. A third, indeed, yielded a 

location ; but this was a matter of sheer luck, for the bird used cotton only 

once, although tempting morsels were, by now, distributed all about the 



The Dawson Leuco 

While it is true that the nest-hunter's day is punctuated by such 
episodes as these, the reader should be reminded that hours of unrewarded 
vigil precede or follow these occasional flashes of revelation. The rigors 
of the evening hours, which are the best for observation, are most right- 
eously offset by the ardors of midday, when, if one is obliged to be 
exposed, he feels more like a roasted marmot than a self-respecting 
scientist. More than once under the intolerable glare I have confessed 
myself "plumb leucoed," and" have beaten for shelter. 

The nests of the Leucos are always fully sheltered. They are set 
back in niches or placed under boulders, sometimes in chambers of 
generous proportions, and always beyond the reach of rain or snow. The 
birds show wisdom, too, in avoiding the established paths of falling rocks 
or melting snows. The Leucos themselves are fully alive to the danger of 
avalanches and there is an uneasy movement, or a sudden taking to wing, 
whenever a rock-fragment "lets go" in their neighborhood. 

Some of the nests are drab-looking affairs, especially where weathered 
grasses are the only materials obtainable. Some, however, are wonder- 
fully compacted of mosses, and are lined with feathers or other soft sub- 
stances. An example in the M. C. O. collection 
has a black flight-feather of the Clark Nutcracker 
set at a rakish angle in its brim. Another boasts 

a Rock Wren's plume, 
and has a lining of cot- 
ton, feathers, and human 

Taken in the Grand Cirque Photo by the Author 


OF LIMBER PINE (Pinus Jlexilis) 


The Dawson Leuco 

hair. The nests are, naturally, of 
the sturdiest construction, with 
walls from one to three inches 
thickness, with hollows 
deeply cupped. By rea- 
son, therefore, of their 
substantial character, as 
well as their protected 
situation, old Leucos' 
nests will reward patient 
search in almost any 
part of our higher peaks. 
Eggs of the Leuco are of 
the purest white, un- 
marked. Their shape is 
ovate, or elongate ovate, 
with an unusually sharp 
decrease in size toward the 
little end. This shape is said 
to be characteristic, also, of the 
genus Montijringilla of the Old 
World; and the oological evi- 
dence goes to show that the two 
genera, Leucosticte and Monti- 
jringilla, have a common origin. 
The pace of the Leuco day quickens when these white ovals part and 
naked babies, to the number of four or five, are born into this world of 
snow-glare and hunger. The parents, however, have capacious throats, or 
crops, and to obviate the handicap of a long haul, comparatively infrequent 
visits are made to the nest. I have seen parents making trips every five 
minutes, but ten- or fifteen-minute intervals are more usual, with half 
an hour, or such a matter, for older birds. Food material rarely protrudes 
from the parental beak, but the nature of the visit, whether parental or 
conjugal, may be surely determined by the presence or absence of the 
fcecal sac, the laden diaper, without which no self-respecting parent will 
quit the presence of his (or her) offspring. We should hesitate to in- 
vestigate this intimate matter, were it not for the cocky assurance and 
frank delight with which the fond parent bears off this lowly emblem. 
He seems to come like the bearer of good news and beams a cheerful 
"Family well," in response to our courteous inquiry. As a matter of fact, 
this arrangement for rigid sanitation is one of the most marvelous and 
commendable features about a well-appointed bird home. The infantile 

Taken in Fresno County 

Photo by the Author 


THE SET SHOWN IS 1 16/4-22 M. C. O. 


The Dawson Leuco 

economy operates with the precision of clock-work. In goes a ration of 
insects, out comes the wastage of a previous feeding, all done up in sanitary 
white wrappings. The parent seizes the bundle and carries it two or three 
hundred feet away before dropping it. The nest and its vicinage are kept 
immaculate, and the bird's arch-enemy, the Clark Nutcracker, has no 
clew from careless ordure as to the presence of possible victims. 

The little ones are silent for a day or so, but as their strength in- 
creases they greet the returning parent with an increasing uproar of 
satisfaction. The secret is out, now, for such as will hear, but it is not 
until the day of first flight that the outcry of the youngsters becomes 
incessant. Hearing that he was out, I pursued the firstborn of a certain 
brood with photographic intent. But the youngster was wary. He 
fluttered and chirped his way around the east wall, and then when I 
headed him off, he spread his little wings and flew clear across the amphi- 
theater, a distance of near a hundred yards. He made a successful 
landing on a ledge, but afterwards he fell into the bergschrund, from which 
he was rescued, or coaxed, by his anxious mama. This youngster, once 
out, cheeped without intermission for at least eight hours. I timed him 
once, and he cheeped exactly 104 times in a minute. That's 49,920 
cheeps in a union day! 

In complete contrast with this bantling's behavior was that of a 
baby sister (?) whom I found sitting quietly on a rock-slide. When I 
approached she said nothing, but started out 
bravely, and tumbled in the snow thirty feet 
away. Distinctly bored by this show 
bad form, she presently tried again; 
and I'm blessed if she didn't rise on 
those little wings and make the west 
wall as valiantly as her noisy brother 
had done. Moreover, she sought a 
well and hid quietly, while the 
cheeper winged off for other fields — ■ 
much to our relief. 

The Leucosticte is not, as I had 
once supposed, songless. It would be 
fair to say, however, that he is tune- 
less. The "song" of the male con- 
sists only of a high-pitched ecstatic 
(for him) chirping, reeled off by the 
minute and without definite inter- 
mission. The notes vary so in 
"quantity," i. e., in length and inten- 

Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 



The Dawson Leuco 

sity, that an effect as of several participants is produced by each performer. 
Three artists at a time will produce a "din"; but the resulting effect of 
large numbers does not exaggerate the abundance of the birds. Most of 
them are silent. During the courting season the chirping choruses are 
kept up for an hour after the last rays of sunlight have faded from the 
highest peak. The din so created reminds one rather unpleasantly of a 
company of English Sparrows foregathering in an ancient ivy, and quite 
too hilarious for sleep. Again, before sunrise, there is an outburst of tune- 
less racket, followed very shortly by dead silence. 

Akin to these strident chirps, but of very different function, are 
the questing notes: zee'o, zee'o; hootititeet. The first couplet, strictly 
speaking, constitutes the inquiry, while the hootititeet usually announces 
the intention to fly to another spot. The entire cycle, then, may run 
somewhat as follows: (alighting) zee'o, zee'o (ruffling of feathers); zee'o, 
zee'o (shifting on perch) ; zee'o (feathers composed again — "She evidently 
isn't here"); hootititeet (momentary pause — flight to neighboring stand). 

The Leuco also indulges much sotto voce "slushy stuff" in the near 
presence of his lady love. If you see a Leuco come in from a hundred yard 
flight, light on a stone and begin to gush softly, it's ten to one his lady 
is in hiding near by; and it's three to one he knows exactly where she is. 

Then there are scolding notes of various degrees of intensity, emo- 
tional rather than functional expressions ; and there is a mellow schthub of 
inquiry, mellow and low, not often heard during the nesting season. Also 
a lighter, casual note of greeting, inquiry, or appraisal, schthib, or schtlib, 
matter-of-fact and unemotional. Lastly, there are hovering or flight notes 
which are distinctly melodious and very difficult to syllabize. If the 
Leuco is not a singer, he is by no means destitute of expression. 

These are impressions of nesting time. What the bird does with him- 
self throughout the long Sierra winters we scarcely know. It is certain 
that he does not have as hard a time of it as some of his northern cousins. 
But for the sake of comparison I append a condensation of Mr. E. S. 
Cameron's account 1 of the Gray-crowned Leucostictes (L. t. tephrocotis), 
which he encountered in winter in northern Montana. 

Mr. Cameron found that these birds arrived each season about the 
25th of October, and departed about March 15th. At Miles City during a 
February cold snap which registered 42 degrees below, the birds remained 
moping about in the cottonwoods and appeared paralyzed with cold and 
hunger. One which ventured into the house through an open door was 
captured and kindly treated, but was too far gone to recover. In milder 
times the Leucos are a prominent and charming feature of the prairie 
landscape. They feed not alone upon the ground, but also over the weeds 

1 The Auk. Vol. XXIV, Oct., 1907, pp. 402 & 403. 


The Common Redpoll 

and grass-tops, obeying now the individual whim, or yielding to the flock 
impulse which sends them whirling away in erratic curves. 

"Sometimes the flocks complete circles in the air, when they look 
like a variegated wheel of birds, or fly untiringly about the cedar thickets 
after the manner of Bohemian Waxwings. During snowy weather they 
allow an approach to within four or five yards when engrossed with grass 
seeds and withered dog daisies on the bare perches on the hillsides. If 
forced to rise they sweep around in a dense cluster and immediately return 
to the same spot, — their wings making a loud rustling noise. Rosy 
Finches are very numerous at my ranch in Dawson County; I have seen 
about a thousand at one time, by the water trough, distributed in the 
pines, and on the ground. A long stream of birds may keep flying into a 
draw for about a minute, and be all lost to sight in the long grass upon 
alighting, but the same flock perched in a small dead cedar (completely 
covering it) is a remarkable and charming sight. ' ' 

No. 27 

Common Redpoll 

A. O. U. No. 528. Acanthis linaria linaria (Linnseus). 

Synonyms. — Redpoll. Lesser Redpoll. Linnet. Lintie. 

Description. — Adult male: Crown carmine; throat and breast broadly rosy 
(eugenia red) in varying proportions according to season; frontlet, lores, and throat- 
patch sooty black; remaining lower parts white, flanks and crissum streaked with 
dusky; above variegated dusky, flaxen-brown, and whitish, the feathers having dusky 
centers and flaxen edgings; rump dusky and white in streaks, tinged with rosy; wings 
and tail dusky with flaxen or whitish edgings; two inconspicuous wing-bars formed by 
white tips of middle and greater coverts. Female: Similar, but without red on rump 
and breast, the latter suffused with buffy instead; sides heavily streaked with dusky. 
Immature: Like female, but without crimson crown. Length 139.7 (5-5°) or less; 
wing 75 (2.95); tail 55 (2.16); bill 9 (.35); depth at base 6 (.23); tarsus 15 (.59.) Fe- 
males average less. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler to sparrow size; crimson crown-patch in adults; 
no dusky spot on breast. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: A bulky affair of twigs and 
grasses, heavily lined with feathers, and placed in tree or bush. Eggs: 4 to 6; pale 
bluish green, dotted and speckled with reddish brown or umber. Av. size 16.5 x 12.7 
(.65 x .50). 

Range of Acanthis linaria. — Northern part of Northern Hemisphere, south 
in winter to middle temperate latitudes (A. O. U.). 

Range of A. I. linaria. — As above, except Greenland and extreme northerly 
sections of North America, where replaced by rostrata and holboelli, respectively. 

i 7 8 

The Common Redpoll 

Occurrence in California. — Known only from report of J. M. Willard of forty 
specimens taken between Nov. 30 and Dec. 23, 1899, near Eagle Lake in Lassen County. 

Authorities. — Willard, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, pp. 45-46 (only Calif, record); 
Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 109. 

region of northeastern 
California is especially 
favored in the matter of 
northern visitors; and it 
is reasonable to suppose 
that flocks of these 
sturdy little Eskimos, 
such as sweep down an- 
nually through eastern 
Washington and Oregon, 
not infrequently reach 
our own borders. There 
is, however, only one re- 
corded 1 instance, that by 
Mr. J. M. Willard, of 
Redpolls encountered 
from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23, 
1899, near Eagle Lake, 
in Lassen County. This 
observer says: "At first 
I found only two large 
flocks, but later numer- 
ous smaller ones greatly 
increased their number. 
I ran into the first of 
these flocks, well in a 
forest, a mile or so from 
a valley. The birds were 
circling about over the 
tree-tops, twittering 
noisily, much after the 
manner of Spinus pinns 
[the Siskin], and now and then they would settle into the upper branches 
of some pine, to be off again almost before the stragglers had reached it. 
Later the flock settled on the birches and bushes along a small stream, 
alighting all around me. Late the same afternoon 

I found another flock out in the sage-brush three-quarters of a mile from 



1 Condor, Vol. IV., pp. 45-46 


The Common Redpoll 

the edge of the forest." Specimens secured showed that these birds 
fed habitually upon birch buds, or upon the tenderer portions of the 

The comparison with Spinus pinns is quite apropos; but the student 
is likely also to compare the Redpoll with the more familiar Willow 
Goldfinch. The resemblance between these two species is a striking 
one, both in form and appearance, as well as in habit and note. Once, 
however, the eyes have been assured by a near revelation of convincing 
red that A canthis linaria linaria and not A stragalinus tristis salicamans 
is before them, the ears remark also a slight foreign accent in the sweetie 
call, and in the rattling flight notes. 

As in so many similar cases, we are not permitted to know just what 
the determining causes of a southern movement are. It is known that 
the Redpoll can withstand the fiercest cold, even that of northern Alaska. 
Possibly the migration is dictated by diminishing food supply. Or 
perhaps it is "just for instance." That will cloak our ignorance as well 
as anything. And who are we that we should deny the birds the right 
to be whimsical or erratic, or to answer, "Oh, just because," to our im- 
pertinent questions? We got our own wanderlust from the birds, anyway. 

While in the South, the Redpoll is little dependent upon the forests 
and not at all upon the offerings of evergreen trees. It seeks, rather, the 
open wind-swept plains, or the scanty shelter of willow-bordered streams. 
It subsists partly upon seeds as well as upon buds, or "browse." A 
large flock may feed for half an hour at a time in industrious silence; or 
else it may break out with a babel of pleasant chatter, very heartening to 
the listening ear. Redpoll again proves kinship with Goldfinch by 
eating thistle-seeds; and with Siskin by his extravagant fondness for the 
alder catkin. Like a Chickadee, too, he rather prefers to cling to a 
branch back downward, so that he can feed with head uphill. When you 
think of it, now, it must be easier to let food trickle downhill than to 
lift the head every time, or to gulp against gravity. These little rascals 
have their reasons. 

Redpoll's manner is very confiding; and we are sure that he would 
not begrudge us a share of his winter viands, if we cared for them. The 
author is no hide-bound vegetarian, but he is gratified to record that a 
"simple diet of grains, fruits and nuts" makes for contentment among 
the birds, even at forty below zero. 

As spring comes on, and the gentle hyperboreans prepare to return 
to their native heather, one may see the deep-dyed crimson of full regalia 
on crown and breast. But during the actual breeding season, we are told 
by a competent observer in Greenland, Holboell, that the male not only 
becomes exceedingly shy but loses his rosy coloring. It is hardly to be 


The Pine Siskin 

supposed that this loss of color is a protective measure, but rather that 
it is the result of the exhaustive labors incident to the season. Nature, 
in that forbidding clime, cannot afford to dress a busy workman in fine 
clothes. It is noteworthy in this connection, also, that caged Redpolls 
lose their rosy tints never to regain them. 

No. 28 

Pine Siskin 

A. O. U. No. 533. Spinus pinus (Wilson). 

Synonyms. — American Siskin. Pine Finch. Pine Linnet. 

Description. — Adult male and female: Above brownish buffy; below creamy 
buff and whitish, everywhere streaked with dusky or dark olive-brown; the streakings 
are finer on head and foreparts, coarser on back and breast; wings fuscous, the flight- 
feathers light greenish yellow, or sulphur-yellow, at base, and the primaries edged with 
the same color; the greater coverts broadly and the middle coverts lightly tipped with 
buffy white; tail fuscous, all but the middle feathers sulphur-yellow at base. Bill 
comparatively slender, acute. Young birds closely resemble parents, but are more or 
less suffused with yellow throughout. Length 120. 6-127 (4-75-5- 00 ); wing 69.9 (2.75); 
tail 45.7 (1.80); bill 10.9 (.43). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; conspicuous general streakiness; sulphur- 
yellow markings of wings and tail, most noticeable in flight. 

Nesting. — Nest: Saddled upon horizontal limb, typically of evergreen tree, 
well concealed from below, usually at moderate heights; very variable in structure, 
flimsy to massive and ornate; composed of small twigs, weed-stems, fibers, and tree- 
moss, with a lining of fine rootlets and horse- or cow-hair, rarely feathers. An average 
nest measures externally 4^ inches wide by 2% deep; internally 2 inches wide by 
1 deep. Eggs: 1 to 5; usually 3 or 4; pale bluish green, lightly dotted and spotted, 
rarely scrawled, with dull rufous and blackish, chiefly about larger end. Av. size 
17 x 12.2 (.67 x .48). Season: March to September, largely governed by altitude; 
one brood. 

General Range. — North America at large, breeding in higher latitudes, and in 
coniferous forests of the West, to southern boundary of United States; also sparingly 
in northeastern United States, and in the mountains of North Carolina; irregularly 
south in winter to Gulf of Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — In summer nearly coextensive with that of ever- 
green timber; especially common in the higher mountains just below the limit of trees 
and through the humid coastal portion of the State; also resident in the coastal region 
south to San Francisco Bay. In winter occurs sporadically at lower levels, and is 
attracted by evergreen culture, although not altogether dependent upon it. Casual (?) 
upon Santa Cruz Island (April, 1915). 

Authorities. — Heermann (Linaria pinus), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 266; Cooper, Ornith. Calif., 1870, pp. 172-173; Barlow and Price, 
Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 171; Carriger and Pemberton, Condor, vol. ix., 1907, pp. 
18-19, 2 figs, (nesting habits); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, pp. 75-76 
(status in s. Calif.). 


The Pine Siskin 

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I X^i /* 


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^ \v 


' nS 

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Taken in Washington 


Photo by the Author 

IT IS rather a sad commentary upon our childish predilection for 
color, that the Goldfinches of California should be so well known, while 
the more plainly colored Pine Siskin, who is in every way the ranking 
major of the Siskin-Goldfinch group, should be known only to the ornitho- 
logically elect. To be sure, Nature must have intended it so. The 
plumage of Spinus pinus is a triumph of obscurity. The heavy, streaky 
pattern, worked out in dusky olive on a buffy brown base, prepares the 
bird for self-effacement in any environment; while the sulphur-colored 
water-mark of the outspread wings barely redeems its owner from sheer 
oblivion. This remark applies, however, only to plumage. In behavior 
the Siskin is anything but a forgettable bird-person. 


The Pine Siskin 

Taken in Washington 

Whatever be the time of year, Siskins roam about in happy, rollicking 
bands, comprising from a score to several hundred individuals. They 
move with energy in the communal flight, while their incessant change of 
relative positions in flotk suggests those intramolecular vibrations of 
matter, which the "new physicists" are telling us about. When a bird 

is sighted alone, one sees that it is the 
graceful, undulatory, or "looping," 
flight of cousin Goldfinch which the 
social Siskin indulges so recklessly. 
Many of the notes, too, remind 
us of the Goldfinches. There are 
first those little chattering notes in- 
dulged a-wing and a-perch, when the 
birds are not too busy feeding. The 
koodayi of inquiry or greeting is the 
same. But there is another note 
quite distinctive. It is a labored, but 
singularly penetrating production 
with a peculiar vowel sound (like a 
German umlauted u), ziim or zzeem. 
So much effort does the utterance of 
this note cost the bird, that it always 
occasions a display of the hidden sul- 
phur markings of wing and tail. 

Too much emphasis cannot be 
laid upon the value of this note as a 
recognition mark. A review of the 
pages of California literature dis- 
closes a tendency on the part of those 
who have observed the bird in win- 
ter in southern California, to cackle 
as though they had discovered an 
exceptional occurrence, while, as 
matter of fact, the peculiar ziim of the 
Pine Siskin is one of the most famil- 
iar of notes to those who know it. It 
is rather the best thing about the 
Pine Siskin, this greeting tossed down 
from the upper air, as he passes on we 
know not what heavenly errand. 
Ziim — it is earnest enough ; it is mel- 
ancholy even ; yet somehow it stirs the 

Pkolo by the Author 

(try saying it out loud) 


The Pine Siskin 

Taken in Mono County 



Photo by the A itthor 

love of the wild in us. It is a call to fellowship with the simple, sincere things, 
a call which wakes responsive chords in an honest heart. Adios, brother! 

When fired by passion the Siskin is capable, also, of extended song. 
This daytime serenade is vivacious, but not loud, except in occasional 
passages, — a sort of chattering, ecstatic warble of diverse elements. The 
bird has, besides its own peculiar notes, many finch-like phrases and 
interpolations, reminding one now of the Willow Goldfinch, and now of 
the California Purple Finch. The most striking phrase produced in this 
connection is a triple shriek of the Evening Grosbeak, subdued of course, 
but very effective. An ecstatic singer heard on the banks of the Eel 
River in Humboldt County, used the chirp of the English Sparrow in- 
stead of the shriek of the Evening Grosbeak in concluding its medley. 
The bird would perch on the top of a redwood sapling just over my head, 
and pour out a flood of mostly meaningless twaddle. One recognized it 
as an intended anthology, but it was too incoherent, too childish, to be 
identified. Then would come with startling distinctness this would-be- 
fetching vocal masterpiece, chirp chirp, — moving one to a strange disgust. 

Lest one should suppose we were exhausting the repertory of the 


The Pine Siskin 

Pine Siskin, I mention, as only one of many, a puzzling squeak heard 
repeatedly near Trinidad, in Humboldt County. The squeak had the 
quality and volume of the cry of the Fulvous Tree Duck. I should have 
put it down to accidental resemblance and the source as a creaking red- 
wood stump with fire-thinned shattered sides, but the notes were repeated- 
ly and diversely heard with attendant znms. 

The Pine Siskin enjoys a peculiar and as yet 

imperfectly defined 
distribution in the 
breeding season. It 
corresponds rough- 
ly with that of ever- 
green timber, but 
makes exception of 
the Digger Pine 
(Pin us sabiniana 

Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 


Douglas), and, to a certain degree, of the Yellow Pine (P. ponder osa). 
The birds' feeding forays include all alder trees which are flanked by 
evergreen timber, but the alders which line the southern streams at the 
lower levels are visited only in winter. 

Much of Siskin's food is obtained upon the ground. City lawns are 
favorite places of resort; these birds, together with California Purple 
Finches, appearing to derive more benefit from grass plots, whether 
as granaries or insectaria, than does any other species. They share also 
with Crossbills a strong interest in the products of fir trees, whether in 
cone or leaf. Their peculiar province, however, is the alder catkin, and 
the tiny white seeds obtained from this source are the staple supply of 
winter. Mr. D. E. Brown, of Seattle, has examined specimens in which 
the crops were distended by these seeds exclusively. While the observer 
is ogling, it may be an over-modest Kadiak Sparrow, a flock of Pine 
Siskins will charge incontinently into the alders above his very head. 
With many zews and zeems they fall to work upon the stubborn catkins, 


The Pine Siskin 

poking, twisting, prying, standing on their heads if need be, to dig out 
the dainty dole. Now and then, without any apparent reason, one 
detachment will suddenly desert its claim and settle upon another tree, 
precisely similar, a few feet away; while its place will be taken, as likely 
as not, by a new band, charging the tree like a volley of spent shot. 

Nesting time with the Siskin extends from March to September, and 
the parental instinct appears in the light of an individual seizure, or 
decimating epidemic, rather than as an orderly taking up of life's duties. 
Smitten couples drop out from time to time from the communal groups, 
and set up temporary establishments of their own; but there is never 
any let-up in the social whirl on the part of those who are left; and a 
roistering company of care-free maids and bachelors en fete may storm 
the very tree in which the first lullabies are being crooned by a hapless 
sister. Once in a while congenial groups agree to retire together, and a 
single tree or a clump of neighbors may boast half-a-dozen nests; though 
which is which and what is whose one cannot always tell, for the same 
intimacy which suggested simultaneous marriage, allows an almost 
unseemly interest in the private affairs of a neighbor. 

Once embarked upon the sea of matrimony, the female is a very 
determined sitter, and the male is not inattentive. In examining the 
nest of a sitting bird one may expect the mother to cover her eggs at a 
foot's remove, without so much as by-your-leave. 

The nest, in our experience, is almost invariably built in an evergreen 
tree, usually a Douglas spruce (Pseudotsuga mucronata), a young redwood, 
or, in the San Francisco section a Monterey Cypress. So strong is this 
bird's predilection for the last-named tree as a nesting site, that it will 
repair to the orderly rows which bound properties in and about San 
Francisco. Messrs. Carriger and Pemberton report 1 that of forty nests 
of the Pine Siskin found in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, all but 
one were in cypress trees, while the exception came from the very top of a 
fifty foot eucalyptus. Since these gentlemen have made a very close study 
of this species, I put the description of sites and nests in their own words: 

"Nests were usually about twelve or fifteen feet from the ground, 
but notes show records of several forty feet up, and one fifty feet from the 
ground. The site chosen was almost invariably about six or eight feet 
from the trunk of the tree and upon the top of a good, strong, leafy limb. 
The nests were well built, quite compact, and slightly larger than those 
of the Green-backed Goldfinch whose nesting theSiskins' closely resembles. 
Nests were constructed of dry roots, grass and leaves from under the 
cypress trees, and were generally, though not always, lined with consider- 
able hair. The nests were always of the same material and could be 

1 Condor, Vol. IX., Jan., 1907, pp. 18-19. 


The Willow Goldfinch 

distinguished at sight from nests of the western chipping sparrow, Cali- 
fornia purple finch, and willow goldfinch, all of which birds were sometimes 
nesting within a few yards of one another." 

The eggs are three or four, rarely five, in number, though sets of one 
and two are not uncommon in some seasons. They are a very pale 
bluish green in color, with dots, blotches, streaks, and occasional mar- 
bling, of rufous and brown, chiefly about the larger end. They vary 
considerably in size and shape, running from subspherical to a slender 
ovate. Measurements of average eggs are .68x48 inches. 

Incubation lasts about twelve days, and the young are ready to fly 
in as many more. The brood does not remain long in a family group 
but joins the roving clan as soon as possible. We suspect, therefore, that 
the Siskin raises but one brood in a season ; and she undoubtedly heaves 
a sigh of relief when she may again don her evening gown, and rejoin 

No. 29 

Willow Goldfinch 

A. O. U. No. 529b. Astragalinus tristis salicamans (Grinnell). 

Synonyms. — California Goldfinch. "Wild Canary." "Thistle-bird." 

Description. — Adult male in summer: General plumage clear lemon-yellow 
("canary" yellow); a short crown-patch, including forehead and lores, black; wings 
black, the lesser and middle coverts mingled yellow and white; tips of the greater coverts 
and edges of secondaries white; tail black, each feather broadly tipped with white on 
inner web; upper tail-coverts with admixture of white; middle of bell}' and crissum white. 
Bill orange, tipped with black; irides brown; feet and legs light brown. Adult male in 
fall and winter: Quite different, the yellow element usually reduced to a tinge on 
throat, cheeks, and lesser wing-coverts; general color brownish olive (Saccardo's umber), 
paling on scapulars, rump, and sides, lighter (sordid buffy) on underparts centrally; 
upper tail-coverts varying to pure white; crown-patch partially or entirely concealed 
by olive; greater wing-coverts and tertials bordered by white or pale olive-brown. 
Bill darker. Adult female in summer: Similar to male, but without black cap and 
much paler and duller; upperparts dull greenish olive; underparts sordid yellow (pyrite 
yellow), often with yellow element confined to anterior portion; wings and tail fuscous. 
Adult female in fall and winter: Similar to adult male in fall, but without trace of 
crown-patch. Young birds: Closely resemble adults in fall, but are more extensively 
tinged with yellow below. Length of adult (sexes about equal): 127 (5.00); wing 70 
(2.75); tail 44 (1.73); bill 10 (.39); tarsus 13.5 (.53). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; black and yellow sharply contrasting; 
conical beak; undulating flight; "perchicopee" note; willow associations. In con- 
tradistinction from A. psaltria, note brighter yellow back of male, black crown-patch 
reduced in area and more sharply defined. The females are indistinguishable out of 
hand, save by association and notes. 

Nesting. — Nest: A well-made cup, usually of compacted vegetable fibers, 
finely shredded grasses, pappus of seeds, etc., settled in crotch of tree or shrub and 


The Willow Goldfinch 

made fast to supporting branches throughout its entire depth; placed at moderate 
heights — 5 to 15 feet up in willow or sapling. Eggs: 4 or 5; ovate; pale niagara 
green, unmarked. Av. of 28 eggs from Eureka (M. C. O. coll.): 16.5 x 9.4 (.65 x .47). 
Season: May, June, July; one brood; 

Range of Astragalinus tristis. — North America from southern Canada to Lower 
California, Mexico, and the Gulf Coast. 

Range of A. I. salicamans. — Pacific Coast district from southern British Colum- 
bia to southern California; and in winter south to central Lower California. 

Distribution in California. — Common resident, of local distribution, chiefly 
in Upper Sonoran and humid Transition zones, west of the Sierran divide. While 
not found regularly east of the mountains, it shows some tendency to encroach upon 
the desert via the larger passes, especially in winter: Palm Springs, Jan. 25, 1913; 
but also Whitewater, May 27, 1913; Palm Springs, May 28, 1913; and Lancaster, 
on edge of Mohave Desert, May 17, 1919. Affects riparian willow association, but is 
by no means confined to it. 

Authorities. — Heermann {Carduelis tristis), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 
2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 266; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xiv., 1897, pp. 397-399 (desc. of salicamans); 
Dwight, Auk, vol. xix., 1902, pp. 150-164 (variation, plumage, molt, etc.); Tyler, Pac. 
Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 75-76 (habits at Fresno). 

BRIGHT apostle of midsum- 
mer! Herald and poet of sunlit 
hours! How the drooping heads of 
waterless daisies lift up when they 
catch his cheerful salutation! Per 
chic' i chic' , — Perchic' opee, says the 
rollicking beak as he throws his pen- 
dant loops of flight. Perchic-ichic, 
perchic — and lo, the minstrel is sud- 
denly quenched in a riot of thistle- 
down. Or else it is a great fruiting 
sunflower which has engaged his at- 
tention, and he must pause upon the 
instant and test the ripeness of those 
luscious seeds. Dayick? Dayick? he 
questions, but the stolid ranks of 
little striped elves stand silent. They 
are not quite ready yet. Whereupon 
the happy minstrel remarks puchew 
or chu wee 00, in a forgiving voice, and 
flies with an indulgent titter to an- 
other prospect. 

There are those who profess to 
find a tinge of melancholy in the 
notes of the Willow Goldfinch; but 

J 88 

Taken in San Diego County 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


The Willow Goldfinch 

that must be because the singer offers the same sweet strains when the 
goldenrod is fraying, and the sered yellow leaves of willows are rattling to 
the ground. For the rest, Sir Goldfinch is the very apostle of good cheer. 
Spring or autumn, we learn to accept his passing notes as little bouquets 
flung down from heaven. Per chic'opee perchic' per chic' opee. Where is 
the heart that will not treasure such an offering ! 

Of course it is the Green-backed Goldfinch which furnishes the 
dominant element of California Goldfinchdom. Days will pass in which 
never a Willow Goldfinch is seen. But the birds are always somewhere 
about, at least west of the Sierras. If one frequents the willow bottoms, 
the larger "Goldies" are sure to be seen; while gardens, orchards, edges 
of clearings, and overgrown fencerows will get their innings. The 
"Willows" mix freely with their cousins, the Green-backs, but the attach- 
ment is not slavish, and a startled flock will, as a rule, separate into its 
specific elements. Some confusion will always linger in the student's 
mind until the notes of the two species— and, for that matter, of A. 
lawrencei as well — are thoroughly threshed out. Both species have 
generic phrases and rattles, but these serve to link them rather with 
Cousin Siskin, or Serinus even, than with each other. The song of the 
Willow is often an artless and a breathless jumble of happy notes. They 
are ecstatic and babyish, rather than studied; and so far as I know, 
the Willow never plagiarizes, as do psaltria and lawrencei. 

The Goldfinches are the only birds which may with any degree of 
propriety be called "wild canaries." The true Canary, Serinus canarius, 
is not, of course, a New World bird. But the phylogenetic relationship 
between a number of these Fringilline genera, Spinus, Acanthis, Carduelis, 
etc., is very close; and it is well known that the Goldfinch will cross with 
the Canary, although the resulting offspring is, I understand, infertile. 

The nesting of the Willow Goldfinch is not usually postponed to 
such lengths as in the East, where tristis typicus holds forth. And that, 
perhaps, is because the California bird is not abjectly dependent upon the 
thistle for nesting material. Nesting takes place normally in May 
or June; but the birds occasionally prolong their efforts into July; and 
April nests are of record. In their later nesting the Willow Goldfinches 
show some disposition to colonize. Nests are placed at moderate heights 
in willow trees, in ceanothus bushes at the lower levels, or even in weeds. 
In construction a wide range of materials is used, although a given bird 
may limit herself to a very narrow choice. A nest before me is a mass of 
willow down almost as pure as cotton; but there is structural support of 
grass and rootlets. Another shows no cotton, but is a close-set structure 
of grass, weed-stems, string, moss, catkins, dry leaves, flower-heads, and 
rootlets, with a lining of brownish gray pappus. 


The Willow Goldfinch 

Four or five eggs of a delicate bluish green 
constitute a set, and the female broods for four- 
teen days. A like time or less is required by the 
babies before they reach maturity; and when 
they leave the nest they drone babee! babee! with 
weary iteration until all but their doting parents 
are driven frantic. The fledglings 
are quickly inducted into the mys- 
teries of what to eat and how to 
rustle it; but they much pre- 
fer to be waited on by their 
parents. Most of the young- 
sters, as a consequence, 
are thoroughly"spoiled," 
and the assiduity dis- 
played by an overwork- 
ed female Goldfinch 
tending a batch of over- 
grown squealers reminds 
us, all too surely, of 
"home and mother." 

During the nesting season these birds subsist partly upon insects, 
chiefly bugs, flies, and caterpillars; but at other times they feed almost 
exclusively upon seeds. They are very fond of sunflower seeds, returning 
day after day till the crop is harvested. Seeds of the lettuce plant, 
turnip, and other garden vegetables, are levied upon freely where occasion 
offers; but thistle seed is a staple article; and the steady consumption of 
weed seeds, such as alfilaria, groundsel, and tarweed, lifts this bird into 
the class of highly useful species. 

In the winter season Willow Goldfinches are everywhere very much 
less in evidence. They do not migrate, apparently, but they take on a 
duller plumage, and they live more quietly. Just as the impression gets 
about that they are gone, one stumbles upon a large company stealing 
about in the tops of the sycamore trees, or else sunning themselves at 
the edge of a ceanothus patch. If too much disturbed, they will perchic 
perchic opee as of yore; but it is a pale reflection of midsummer glory. 

Taken at Los Colibris Photo by the Author 


! / 



mod ■ 

they leave 1 

Green-backed Goldfinch 

Male and female, about % life M 



lettuce plant, 

upon freely where occasion 

and the steady consumption of 

:1, and tarweed, lifts this into 

on a 

on gets 


£<f/aj*./» : i- t j „ 

The Green-backed Goldfinch 
No. 30 

Green-backed Goldfinch 

A. O. U. No. 530a. Astragalinus psaltria hesperophilus Oberholser. 

Synonyms. — "Yellow-Bird." "Wild Canary." California Goldfinch. 

Description. — Adult male (no seasonal change): Pileum, broadly, glossy black; 
sides of head and upperparts olive-green, or warbler-green, clearer, more yellow, on 
rump, sometimes faintly streaked with darker, or blackish, on back; upper tail-coverts 
chiefly black; wings black; the middle and greater coverts and tertials (variably) 
tipped with white; both webs of inner primaries crossed about midway with white, 
forming a conspicuous blotch in flight; tail black, the two or three outermost pairs 
of feathers extensively white on inner web; underparts lemon-yellow, paling poster- 
iori}-, shading on sides. Bill horn-color; feet and legs brownish. Adult female: Like 
male but much paler and duller, without black. Above dull olive (citrine drab); below 
olive-yellow, paling posteriorly. Immature males are like adult females but brighter, 
with early indications of black cap. Length of adult about 127 (5.00); wing 65.5 
(2.58); tail 43 (1.69); bill 9 (.35); tarsus 15 (.59). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; black cap of male not sharply defined 
against olive-green of upperparts; coloration not definitely gray, and chin not black, 
as distinguished from A. lawrencei; the commonest yellow bird of California. 

Nesting. — Nest: Placed at almost any height but usually moderate, and in 
almost any host, — tree or bush or even rank weeds; live oaks and sycamores favorites; 
a rather careless affair of twisted grasses and weed fibers, deeply cupped, lined with 
fine grasses or horsehair; settled firmly into concealing bunch of leaves or branching 
twigs, or sometimes artfully incorporated with immediate setting. Measures 3 inches 
wide (mm 76.2) by 2 deep (50.8) outside, 1% inches wide (mm 41.4) by i>£ inches 
deep (mm 38.1) inside. Eggs: 4 or 5, ovate, pale bluish green, unmarked. Av. of 
28 spec, in M. C. 0. coll.: 15.5 x 11. 4 (.61 x .45). Season: April to June, or occasion- 
ally in autumn; two or three broods. 

Range of Astragalinus psaltria. — Southwestern United States from central 
northern Texas, northern Colorado, southern Idaho, and southern Oregon, south 
through Mexico to northern South America. 

Range of .4. p. hesperophilus. — Southwestern United States from Utah and 
southern Oregon south to Cape San Lucas, Sonora, and the extreme southwestern 
coast of Mexico; shows some altitudinal retirement in winter. 

Distribution in California. — An abundant breeder below the Transition zone 
and locally within that zone; most abundant along the southern coasts and in the 
central interior; rare or wanting in the humid Northwest; apparently absent from the 
central region east of the Sierras, at least above the head of Owens Valley and its 
tributaries (White Mountains above Bishop, May 26, 1919; Hilton Creek, Long Valley, 
June 1, 1919; near Mammoth Camp, June 11, 1919), although reappearing in Lassen 
and Humboldt counties (Goose Lake, June 24, 1912; Surprise Valley, June 29, 1912; 
Eagleville, July 12, 1912); of local distribution in the deserts; of limited occurrence on 
some of the Santa Barbara Islands (Santa Cruz Island, April 4-19, 1915); and casually 
on the Farallons. 

I 9 I 

The Green-backed Goldfinch 

Authorities. — Gambel, Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2. vol. i., 1847, pp. 52-53 
(habits and nesting); Atkinson, Oologist, vol. xi., 1894, pp. 240-241 (habits); Ridgway, 
Bull. U. S. Nat. Mus., no. 50, pt. i.. 1901, pp. 115-116 (crit. re arizonm) ; Grinnell, Con- 
dor, vol. iv., 1902, pp. 115-116 (crit.); Oberhoher, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xvi., 1903, 
p. 116 (desc. of hesperophilus) ; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 73-75, pi. 
vi. (food); Chambers, W.L., Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, p. 166 (nesting). 


is, after the "Linnet," possibly the most 
abundant numerically of the breeding birds 
of central and western California. That 
he is not also the most familiar can be due 
only to carelessness or inattention on the 
part of a too easily satisfied public. Gen- 
tle, trustful, dainty, musical, inoffensive, 
sociable, and abundant — these adjectives 
certainly entitle their subject to the fullest 
recognition on the part of Californians. 
The Green-back, too, is a bird of all 
seasons. It is well distributed at nesting 
time, insomuch that a bird-lover may 
scarcely cock his ears out of doors with- 
out catching the plaintive sweetness of 
the keyring call, near or remote. Spring 
or summer, little companies of them will 
foregather in the shade trees and raise a 
little hurricane of song, breathless gladness 
of childhood welling from a hundred child- 
ish throats. In the autumn the Goldies 
make common cause with the flocking 
Linnets, and glean from the roadside, 
or else straggle over the weedy meadows 
by the thousand. At such a time the 
telephone wires bear more than messages, 
and what they carry is of more worth, 
to my notion, than nine-tenths of what 
passes unheeded beneath the birdies' toes. 
There is no flock impulse or solidarity of 
action among goldfinches. A great com- 
pany scattered over the ground will melt 
away somehow before the invader; but 
the fear-thought is absent, and there is none to cry, Beware! 

The pitch and volume rather than the cadence of the Green-backs' 

n in Santa Barbara Courtly 
Photo by the Author 



The Green-backed Goldfinch 

notes remind some 
people of their caged 
pets (poor, tedious 
beasts) and so our birds 
get called "wild canar- 
ies." But half an ear 
will show that the 
Green-backs' calls are 
sweeter and subtler, 
with the tang of the 
open and the breath of 
active experience. There 
is, beside, a plaintive 
quality, a little hint of 
bitter-sweet, about the 
Goldfinch voice. The 
bird asks questions of 
life, Choo-i? choo-i? ques- 
tions which it quietly 
answers in a voice of 
self-chiding: Chooi? 

cheeo! Chooi? cheeo! 
"Why, of course; I 
should have known 
that." As often as the 
business of rustling food 
compels the bird to shift 
ground — and that is 
pretty often — it signal- 
izes the movement by a 
rattle, a musical rattle, like the titter of an excited school-girl. And when 
attention is seriously turned to song, the bird evinces an astonishing 
ability. Not only does it pour out a flood of musical chatter, sui generis, 
but it deftly seizes the notes of all its associates. There is no time for 
leisurely choice. Song of Flicker, Wren, or Pewee — everything goes, pell 
mell, into the medley. Bird song is not so much imitated as appropriated. 
At a single sitting, with a sprig of white sage for a platform and a grass- 
covered hillside for a concert chamber, I have heard the following com- 
posers so clearly represented that the ears were incredulous: San Diego 
Wren, Western Lark Sparrow, Red-shafted Flicker, San Diego Song 
Sparrow, Western Wood Pewee, House Finch, Western Gnatcatcher. 
On this occasion another Goldfinch, probably a female, sat within six 

Taken in Riverside County 

Photo by the A uthor 


1 93 

The Green-backed Goldfinch 

inches of the singer, apparently entranced with his melody. Again and 
again I have seen these uprooted forests of song swept along on the flood 
of the Goldfinch's own passion; and I think, more than ever, that music 
is a spontaneous gift. Or else music is a circumambient ether. We have 
only to get in tune, keyed up by some exalted passion, and lo! we vibrate 
melodiously. At least it is so with the Goldfinch. 

For the information of one of the older authorities, Dr. J. G. Cooper, 
we will record that nests of the Green-backed Goldfinch have recently been 
found. I am sure I do not know what could have befallen the good 
Doctor the day he wrote 1 by way of summary: "I have not met with 
their nests, nor with any description of them; but they doubtless much 
resemble those of C. tristis." Not met with them! Shades of Audubon! 
Where were your eyes? For if there is one virtue which the Green-backed 
Goldfinch possesses above another, it is that of propagating. Not 
otherwise are the swollen ranks of hesperophihis maintained. Where is 
the sycamore tree and where the cypress that has not sheltered the 
Green-back's humble cradle? Where is the weed-patch even that has 
not resounded to the tsui tsui tsweetie of dainty fledglings greeting a return- 
ing parent with quivering wings, and a soft flood of thanks? Has all 
this good fortune been reserved for our day? 

These Goldfinches not only nest 
"most anywhere," but they carry 
their labors through the 
seasons with relentless 
energy. The birds are 
in full song by February, 
and although they do 
not often nest as early as 
March, they are all at it 
in April, and all busy 
until July. There are 
three published records 
of nests with eggs or 
young found in October; 
and one, that of John M. 
Miller, of Parlier, of a 
November nest. This 
last held fresh eggs on 
the 22nd, but in spite 
of the care of the parents, 
it was wrecked by hard rains a week later 



Taken in Ventura County 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 

'Ornithology of California, Vol. I. Edited by S. F. Baird from the MS notes of J. G. Cooper, 1870. 


The Green-backed Goldfinch 

The range of choice in nesting sites for this species is very great. 
Sycamore trees are an early favorite, because of the shelter promised by 
its generous leaves. And in this connection it may be well to note that 
most birds, whether ground or tree nesters, see to it that their nest is in 
shadow through the middle of the day. The burning rays of the sun must 
be avoided, at least by the tender nestlings. It is this fact, and not pre- 
sumed escape from observation, which is the controlling factor in most 


Photo by D. R. Dickey 
Taken in Ventura County 

nest-building projects. The cypress is also a favorite with the Goldfinch, 
and whether the nests be placed close to the trunk of the tree, or, prefer- 
ably, well out toward the tip of a branch, is determined again by the shade 
offered by some overshadowing twig or branch. Live oaks conceal their 
myriads also. In this case, the bird, securely sheltered by a bristling 
array of sturdy leaves, prefers the tip of a drooping branch, or at least 
an outside situation. When the timber gives out, the Green-backs take 
cheerfully to the major weed-patches, or even invade the open sage, to 
take pot luck with Bell Sparrows and Bush-Tits. 


The Green-backed Goldfinch 

In pursuit of her supremest duty, the Lady Green-back becomes quite 
fearless. Not only will she sit quite close under approach, or suffer 
removal from the nest by hand, but she is not even deterred at nest- 
building by the presence of a stranger. Spying something suspicious in 
the top of a slender sapling, I once climbed up a stouter tree and bent the 
sapling over for inspection. Milady arrived just then with a load of cotton 
blankets. Although she did look mildly inquisitive, she made careful 
disposition of her load, and went and came as usual. 

Eggs of the Green-back are described as pale green, greenish blue, or 
pale blue. This really means that the greener of the two elements in the 
color scheme fades out and leaves only a paler blue-green. But in any 
event, the color of these eggs in the cabinet is altogether different from the 
life color, for this fairy lantern is lighted from within by an orange-red 
bulb. This may be necessary, but we do not recommend greenish blue 
as a medium for the transmission of red light. Incubation lasts eleven 
or twelve days, and infancy as much longer. Of the period of "sweet 
dependency" which follows, none but a natural born kindergarten teacher 
is qualified to speak. But like the man running for Congress, we will 
own, first off, that these babies are the sweetest cherubs that ever were 
invented. And that is very lucky, because the dear knows that there are 
about thirty million of them per annum in California. 

Taken in Santa Barbara County Photo by the Author 




The Lawrence Goldfinch 

In view of this almost oriental fecundity, it is doubly fortunate that 
the economics of the Green-backed Goldfinch is above reproach. Ninety- 
six per cent of the bird's food consists of weed-seed. Among the various 
weeds which supply its wants, the Napa Thistle (Centaurea melitensis) 
stands supreme. It would seem to be feat enough to pluck these tiny 
seeds one by one, with their corrugated sides and bristling tufts, but the 
Goldfinch cracks each brittle shell and, aided no doubt by its tongue, 
extracts with consummate skill the starchy kernel. As an instrument of 
precision the Goldfinch bill is hard to beat. And if it were not for the 
gentle Goldfinch, even thirty million of him, our fields would all go to 
thistle seed, and we might have to eat thistles for bread. Hail, then, to 
his increasing millions! And if good old Doctor Cooper — peace to his 
ashes! — ever does take a notion to reincarnate, we will undertake to 
show him a Green-back's nest. 

No. 31 

Lawrence's Goldfinch 

A. O. U. No. 531. Astragalinus lawrencei (Cassin). 

Description. — Adult male in spring: General color neutral gray, paling on 
underparts posteriorly; pileum, face, and throat, narrowly, black; breast dark yellow 
(nearly pyrite yellow), everywhere sharply outlined against the surrounding gray; 
rump yellow; back touched with yellow centrally; the wings black, heavily edged with 
yellow; the tertials bordered with white; tail black, the three or four outermost pairs 
of feathers heavily blotched with subterminal white on inner web. Bill light; feet 
brownish. Adult male in autumn: As in spring, but back and sides of hind neck 
brownish olive. Adult female in spring: Like male in spring but without black on 
head and throat; duller. In autumn: Above brownish olive. Young birds are like 
adult female in autumn, but yellow element is almost or quite confined to wing, where 
also largely replaced by buffy brown edgings; breast faintly streaked. Length of 
adult about 127 (5.00) ; wing 68 (2.68) ; tail 48 (1.89) ; bill 8 (.31) ; tarsus 13 (.51). Fe- 
male slightly smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; black chin and throat of male distinctive; 
black, yellow, and gray in contrast; yellow on center of breast, in contrast with sur- 
rounding gray, fairly distinctive for female; of irregular and local occurrence. 

Nesting. — Nest: A rather loosely woven cup of highly varied materials, — 
grasses, wool, weed-stems, and feathers; placed at any height in cypress tree, or at 
moderate height (2 to 15 feet) in weeds, artemisia, elderberry bush, or small tree, as 
live oak. Eggs: 4 or 5, rarely 6, pure white. Av. of 18 eggs in M. C. O. coll: 15.5 x 10.9 
(.61 x .43). Season: April, May, one brood. Extreme dates: Shandon, April 8, 
1916, 5 fresh eggs; Claremont, July 5, 1903, 4, inc. begun. 

General Range. — California and northern Lower California; in winter east to 
Arizona (but chiefly at Colorado Valley points) and New Mexico (Fort Bayard, — 
Stephens, MS.). 


The Lawrence Goldfinch 

Distribution in California. — Of very local occurrence in summer west of the 
Sierras, perhaps chiefly in the southwestern coast districts, but also north through 
Great Valley to McCloud River, in Shasta County (Grinnell) and east to Weldon, 
Kern Co. (Grinnell), Raymond, Madera Co. (Grinnell), and Oroville, Butte Co. 
(July 18, 1912); breeding chiefly in Upper Sonoran life zone; perhaps casual breeder 
in Lower Sonoran (Indian Wells, Colorado Desert, April 27, 1917). Perhaps casual 
on Catalina Island, but a regular breeder on Santa Cruz Island. Winters irregularly 
in San Diego district and east of the desert divide to the Colorado River. 

Authorities. — Cassin, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1850, p. 105, pi. v. (orig. 
desc); Heermann, Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2. vol. ii., 1853, p. 266 (nest and 
eggs); Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, p. 239 (meas.) ; Belding, Occ. Papers, 
Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, pp. 138-139 (range); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 
1912, p. 75 (status in so. Calif.); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 76-77 
(status in Fresno district). 

IN STRIKING contrast with the almost infallible uniformity of 
distribution enjoyed by Cousin Psaltria, is the highly irregular and freakish 
disposition of lawrencei. Its breeding areas, though perhaps not incon- 
stant, are exceedingly circumscribed, and its sporadic appearances in 
other than breeding areas give the impression of a very unstable bird. 
Doubtless it would be interesting to plot the breeding range of this species, 

Taken in San Diego County 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 






erhaps nol 

breeding rang 

Lawrence's Goldfinch 

Male and female, about % life size 
From a ovater-color fainting hy Georg: Miksch Sutton 

The Lawrence Goldfinch 

and to try to find out the determining causes which move its choice. But 
published accounts of the bird's notes and habits are very meager; and in 
general, the Lawrence Goldfinch appears to have escaped both common 
and critical observation. 

The pattern of coloration of the male lawrencei is distinctive enough; 
that of the female much less so; but as to the more significant distinctions 
of habit and psychology, I can offer only notes upon the song and the 
nesting habits. The Lawrence Goldfinch has no proper song of his own, 
but renders instead a vivacious medley, which is even more varied and 
extended and impetuous than that of psaltria. Thus I have heard repro- 
ductions of Sparrow Hawk, Meadowlark, Lark Sparrow, Junco, Rock 
Wren, Audubon Warbler, Plain Tit, Robin and Bluebird. One of these 
roistering bodies sang for me at ten feet while I was aloft in a cottonwood 
tree on the banks of the San Juan Creek. The singer was surcharged 
with energy, and he swayed his head from side to side in the enthusiasm of 
utterance, — a sort of combination electric fan and Victrola, never hesi- 
tating for a moment when he changed records. Some of the minor links 
of his song were undoubtedly his own ; but the characteristic things were 
shamelessly plagiarized. Among the minor notes is a pee udle, or pilildle 
(umlauted) note, by which a sharp ear once aroused may trace the bird 
forever after. While lawrencei lacks (I believe) the musical titter of 
psaltria, it has a sharply penetrating deew deew couplet which answers 
the same purpose. And there is good need to memorize these notes if you 
would learn more of the ways of lawrencei. For, sitting high in a budding 
cottonwood tree, these Lawrence Goldfinches secure about the same 
obliterance which their Cousin Green-back does in the sycamores. You 
may spy one aloft because he is singing, but you are surprised a moment 
later when a dozen emerge from the same branch. 

Nesting, I find, is studied to the very best advantage in isolated 
clusters, or in hedges, of the Monterey Cypress. Here the birds colonize 
to some extent, and I have found as many as ten nests at once in two 
adjoining trees. There is no flock impulse in this matter, however, for 
along with uncompleted nests were others containing eggs, and others 
still with young. In default of cypress trees, live oaks will do, or elder 
clumps, or even the lowlier stations of the open sage. 

April is the nesting month in the San Juan country. I have taken 
eggs as early as April 8th; and Mr. Truesdale, I believe, has a record for 
April ist. The altitude here is about a thousand feet. In the more 
elevated stations of southern California, the seasons may be prolonged 
into June, or even July. Eggs of this species, unlike those of our other 
goldfinches, are pure white — not even greenish white, as reported by 


The Lawrence Goldfinch 

Taken in 

San Diego County 

Photo by 

Donald R. Dickey 



Dr. Brewer. l They are smaller than those of either tristis or psaltria, and 
bulk about two-thirds that of the former. The nests are exquisite crea- 
tions, highly varied in construction and sometimes quite picturesque. A 
dainty cup before me, an inch and a half in diameter and one in depth, is 
compacted of wool, flower-heads, fairy grasses, horsehair, and feathers. 
Another, of coarser construction, boasts several additional ingredients, but 
dispenses with horsehair in favor of sheer feathers for lining. A third 
displays a garland of protruding and highly nutant grass-heads, as chic as 
a Parisian bonnet. The female, naturally, disputes the intruder's claim 
to such a piece of handiwork; but she does not often have to be lifted 
from the nest. 

Although irregularly resident in winter throughout its breeding 
range, the Lawrence Goldfinch seems to prefer the deserts of Arizona and 
New Mexico for a winter home. This east and west migration, having 

Baird, Brewer & Ridgway, Vol. I., p. 479. 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

nothing of the economic insistence of the north to south flights, is a hap- 
hazard affair. And by the same token, the Lawrence Goldfinch seems to 
be a sort of haphazard bird. 

No. 32 

Cassin's Purple Finch 

A. O. U. No. 518. Carpodacus cassini Baird. 

Description. — Young (?) adult male: Crown carmine red; back and scapulars 
grayish red (light jasper red), mixed with brownish gray, and sharply streaked with 
dusky; wings and tail dusky, with more or less edging of reddish gray; remaining 
plumage, including rump, chiefly grayish red (jasper pink — never really" rosy"), 
passing into white posteriorly below; flanks and under tail-coverts sometimes sharply 
streaked with dusky. Bill horn-color; feet and legs light brown. Adult female, 
immature male, and old (?) male: Everywhere (save on wings, tail, and lower abdomen) 
sharply streaked with dusky, clearly, on a white ground, below; above, on a brownish 
gray or dull olive-buffy ground. Length of adult 152-165 (6.00-6.50); wing 92 (3.62); 
tail 64 (2.52); bill 12.6 (.49); tarsus 19 (.75). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; red of crown contrasting with back dis- 
tinctive as compared with C. p. calif ornicus; general streakiness of female (and male in 
more common plumage). The cast of plumage is less strongly olivaceous, and the 
streaking is both finer and sharper, less blended. 

Nesting. — Nest: On a basis of interlaced pine twigs, rather bulky, is bedded a 
firm cup of interwoven grasses, rootlets, fine bark-strips, and, if possible, horsehair. 
The whole is usually settled in the bushy radiating tip of a pine branch, well concealed, 
and at any height, from ten to eighty feet. Measures outside 5 or 6 inches (mm 127 
to 152) wide, by 3 or 4 inches (mm 76-101) deep; inside 23^-3 inches (mm 63-76) wide, 
by \-iyi in. (mm 25-38) deep. Eggs: 4 or 5, ovate to elongate ovate; bluish green 
(microcline green), spotted sharply and rather sparingly with light purplish gray, or 
violet-gray, and black. Av. of 37 specimens in M. C. O. coll.: 20 x 14.8 (.79 x .575). 
Season: June; one brood. 

General Range. — Western North America, breeding chiefly in mountainous 
regions and in Upper Sonoran to Boreal zones, from southern British Columbia south 
to northern Lower California, central Arizona and northern New Mexico; in winter 
from central California and southern Arizona south over Mexican plateau to Vera 
Cruz, San Luis Potosi, and Valley of Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — Common resident of timbered mountainous dis- 
tricts, chiefly on semi-arid or eastern exposures; breeding in coniferous timber from 
lower limit of yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa) to limit of trees. Center of abundance 
in east central Sierras, rare in northern coastal ranges. Has not been reported from 
coast ranges south of San Francisco, but possibly occurs in San Rafael Mountains of 
Santa Barbara County. Winter range imperfectly made out, but bird probably retires 
to somewhat lower levels, and is known to deploy somewhat over foothills. Has 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

been taken at San Jose (C. Barlow, Condor, II., 1900, p. 132) and Los Angeles (H. 
Swarth, Condor, III., 1901, p. 66). 

Authorities. — Coues, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1866, p. 80; Cooper, J. G., 
Orn. Calif., 1870, pp. 155-156 (voice); Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. x., 1887, p. 
215 (on Mt. Shasta); Ray, Auk, vol. xx., 1903, p. 187 (nesting at Lake Tahoe) ; Grinnell, 
Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., 5, 1908, pp. 89-90 (habits and nesting in San Bernardino Mts.). 

ALTHOUGH possibly quite unknown to the stay-at-home element 
of our populous coastal cities, the Cassin Purple Finch is, nevertheless, 
among the best known and numerically most important birds of the State, 
for he it is who is the authentic hillsman, the multitudinous mountaineer, 
the genius loci of Sierra pine forests and of all timberline resorts. Roughly 
speaking, cassini is the dry weather bird, the Eastsider, the "arid Transi- 
tion" species, while purpurens is the Westsider, the humid Transition 
form. Although the ranges of the two species inosculate according to a 
very complex pattern traceable along the western slopes of the Sierras and 
the southern ranges, they do not appreciably overlap. The ranges of 
C. cassini and C. mexicanus, likewise, are mutually exclusive, by reason of 
the greater elevation of the former; whereas the ranges of purpureus and 
mexicanus have a wide coincidence. 

It is the camper-out of the high Sierras who sees the Cassin Purple 
Finch at his best. The males are filling the forest with song throughout 
the months of June and July; and the females are pouting, or else waiting 
upon pouting children, throughout July and August. The word "pout- 
ing" is advisedly chosen, for of all lady birds of my experience, the female 
Cassin is, I believe, the least to be commended either for modesty or for 
its presumed opposite, that neo-feminine virtue of self-reliance. In the 
early days of courtship she may, indeed, be coy enough — the seasonal 
promptings of nature are usually of tardier appearance in the female, but 
once her consent is given, the female Cassin becomes either a wanton or a 
clinging vine — or both. No sound is commoner, therefore, in the pine 
forests of the upper levels than the coaxing note, oree-eh oree-eh, of the 
female Cassin Purple Finch. It is delivered as often as not with quivering 
wings, and unmistakably invites the attentions of the male, sometimes to 
the visible embarrassment of that overworked, and consequently inatten- 
tive, individual. Perhaps it is fair to call this oreeh a love note, but it is 
delivered with the simpering insistence of a spoiled child. Ordered favors 
come tardily, and the wells of spontaneity are easily troubled. 

When the mating season proper is over, and there are eggs to be 
incubated, she teases her husband for food, oree-eh, oree-eh. He is doing 
the best he can, poor soul! but she vexes him with reminders. "Yes, yes, 
dear. Don't you see I'm doing the best I can? Oh, anon!" Perhaps we 
do the lady an injustice, but we have seen what we have seen. 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

The male Cassin, on the other hand, is"a gallant suitor and a good 
provider. When his heart is warmed with the fresh stirrings of passion, 
he fills the woodland with melody. He twitters good-fellow greetings to 
every passerby, and he tries the summits, first of one pine tree and then 
of another, honoring each with a sprightly round of song. If the notes 
are his own, they are poured out in a quick flood, lasting, perhaps, only two 
seconds. They are somewhat lighter in character, less rounded and 
mellow than the perfect flutings of the California Purple Finch. But 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the Author 


there is dash and brightness about them which is infectious. Like cousin 
purpureas, the Cassin helps himself freely to the common fund of wood- 
land music. His obligation is unconscious — he is no mimic; but I have 
heard Western Lark Sparrow (carried up several thousand feet) , Western 
Vesper Sparrow, Mountain Bluebird, and Western Tanager peeping out 
through Cassin's throat. Once, on Shasta, to our great delight, we heard 
the theme of the Townsend Solitaire. The exalted opening was purely 
Myadestine, but the quaver and jumble which followed were Carpodacine. 
Another medley heard in the Warner Mountains contained songs of the 
Sierra Junco, the Western Wood Pewee and the Western Ruby-crowned 
Kinglet. If a musician is known, so infallibly, by the company he keeps, 
we will not complain either of Cassin's morals or his art. 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

He is an ardent lover, too. Once, upon hearing the note of a female 
Cassin Finch — she was seeking food and very intent upon the job — I gave 
attention and saw as pretty a sight as one could wish to see. A male in 
resplendent red plumage lighted on the ground beside the dull-colored 
female — or, more strictly speaking, he lighted at a distance of about two 
feet — and gave a coaxing squeak of singular intensity. Meanwhile, his 
crest was erected until it shone like a diadem of rubies, and he stood with 
outstretched wings quivering in an ecstacy of passion. The female made 
a spiteful run at him, whereupon he flashed away, and resumed, always at 
a distance of two feet. Again and again the play was repeated, the male 
resplendent with ardor and the female not even coy, only spiteful. Alas! 
for the untimed ardors. Alas! for the love that wakes too soon — or sleeps 
too late. 

The great business of the Carpodacine life (the three species are alike 
in this) is nesting. This impression of the preponderating passion is 
heightened in the case of the Cassin Finch by the irregularity of the nest- 
ing season. Fresh eggs may be found at any time from June 1st to July 
15th, and that, apparently, with little reference to the "breeding level" 
(i. e., altitude of maximum activity for a given season) or the behavior 
of neighbors. Here a love-lorn couple are playing with a few sticks, pre- 
tending to build a nest — which as like as not they will presently tear down 
and rebuild elsewhere — while yonder a pair of birds are feverishly attend- 
ing a nestful of clamoring young. 

In choice of nesting sites great preference is shown for the lodge- 
pole, or tamarack, pine (Pinus contorta). The nest is usually settled into 
the upper whorl of branches of a sapling, say, twenty or thirty feet high, 
or else placed near the tip of one of the lower branches of a full-grown tree. 
Having in either case the most thickly leaved pine twigs to depend upon 
for support, the outer structure of the nest is of the flimsiest character, 
usually a mere filling up of irregularities. The lining — and some nests 
are virtually all lining — is most carefully constructed and of highly varied 
materials. Horsehair is a favorite wherever obtainable, but feathers are 
rarely used. For the rest, fine grasses, rootlets or flower pedicels are 
staples; shredded bark, deer- and rabbit-hair or chance bits of cotton of 
rarer appearance. A pullet's nest is two and a quarter inches wide by an 
inch and a quarter in depth inside. A mother in Israel requires a nesting 
hollow three and a quarter inches wide by one and three-quarters deep. 
A nest taken near our Mammoth Lakes camp we call "the souvenir" 
because it contains, besides bits of cotton and hemp, a selection of human 
hair, strands from Barbarita's golden locks, orthodox raven tresses in 
abundance, and, I regret to add, a few threads of a compromising gray 
which no one of our party would own to. Quite the handsomest nest in 


Cassin Purple Finch, Female on Nest 

From a photograph by the Author 
Taken in Mono County 

The Cassin Purple Finch 

the M. C. O. collection, however, is one which is lined with black horse- 
hair picked out with bits of white cotton, and ornamented as to the brim 
with a few sprays of the brilliant yellow-green lichen (Evernia vulpina). 
A word, perhaps, ought to be said for the nest and the bird which 
furnished the subject of our accompanying photogravure. I regret to say 

Taken in Mono County 

Photo by the A ulhor 

TWIN LAKES (Alt. 8500 feet) AND MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN (Alt. 11034 feet) 


that so far as the lady is concerned it must be a somewhat disenchanting 
word. The nest was sighted near the top of a small Murray pine (Pinus 
contorta), say, 30 feet up and 4 feet out. Bird-nesting was our first busi- 
ness that year (1921), but I decreed a temporary stay of judgment in this 
case for photographic purposes. Arrived upon the scene and with legs 
firmly disposed about the main trunk, I not only found the female bird on 
but the male standing by, waiting, as the event proved, for a chance to 
feed his mate. I hauled up the camera by means of a small rope; but the 
light was not right, so I had to forfeit some magnificent poses. I sat 
within four feet while the male fed his mate, full tenderly, by regurgita- 
tion. I was much instructed to note what a lengthy and tedious process 
this was. While the female held her bill open, the male thrust food down 
her throat by means of no less than 15 or 18 distinct convulsive efforts, 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

Taken in Mono County 
Photo by the Author 



each, apparently, successful. The female was so thoroughly stuffed that 
she made deglutitive efforts from time to time for as much as five minutes 

The female Cassin Finch was an ideal subject, but she was consider- 
ably shaded by closely investing branches, insomuch that my first six 
exposures were necessarily inadequate. But having secured "something", 
I ventured, for my last plates, to cut away the cover entirely, and found 
to my amazement that she would stand for it. At minimum range, 2}4 
feet, I shot down with the Graflex (Heliar lens) upon the bird, now fully 
exposed. Knowing that I had no more plates for the day, nor time on the 
morrow, I started to "collect" the nest, much against my photographic 
conscience and judgment. To my continued amazement the female 
allowed me to cut the branch at close range, and she did not quit her eggs 
until I had her within eight inches of my face. When with the nest 
branch in hand I extended it to its original position, she promptly sat 
again, and this time I hauled her in until she was within four inches of my 


The Cassin Purple Finch 

face. This operation could undoubtedly have been repeated indefinitely, 
but alas! my plates were gone. 

Never have I been torn by more conflicting emotions than upon this 
occasion, and never has the pathetic fallacy of avian domesticity been 
more thoroughly discredited. 

When I had packed away the eggs and wrapped the nest in brown 
tissue paper and lowered it to the ground, the male and the female Cassin 
Finch searched about over the nesting site in utter bewilderment; but so 
far from sensing their disaster as a personal loss, they put in odd moments 
copulating, and once I saw the wanton female mount the male and go 
through the copulatory ecstacy. 

In the face of such a display it is impossible to be swayed longer by 
anxiety or concern for domestic felicities in the bird. They are simply 
the agents of overmastering instincts, through which Nature accomplishes 
her benign purposes and achieves her infinite variety. To interfere at 
any point with these processes is no more a moral issue than is the wring- 
ing of a cockerel's neck when the pot waits. 

Taken in Modoc County 

Photo bv the Author 



The California Purple Finch 

No. 33 

California Purple Finch 

A. 0. U. No. 517a. Carpodacus purpureus calif ornicus Baird. 

Description. — Adult male: General body plumage dark red, or grayish red 
(oxblood red, Vandyke red, pompeian red, occasionally vinaceous rufous), clearest on 
crown and upper tail-coverts, more or less mingled with dusky on back and scapulars, 
passing into white on crissum and under tail-coverts; wings and tail brownish dusky 
with reddish or bright brown edgings. Bill and feet brownish. /;/ autumn, the color 
slightly duller and more blended. Adult female: Above olive dusky in streaks, with 
edging or gloss of brighter olivaceous; underparts whitish, everywhere, save on middle 
abdomen, crissum and under tail-coverts, streaked with olive dusky, finely on throat, 
broadly on breast and sides, shading into pattern of upperparts on sides of head, 
neck, and chest. Immature male, and male in ordinary (?) plumage: Exactly like fe- 
male in coloration. Length about 158.7 (6.25); wing 80 (3.15); tail 60 (2.35); bill 
1 1.9 (.47); tarsus 18.3 (.72). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; dull rosy coloration of male (without 
crossed mandibles), but streaky pattern oftenest seen. Male differs from that of 
C. cassini in darker shade of red on crown, with less contrast. Requires careful dis- 
crimination from C. mexicanus frontalis, with which it sometimes associates loosely 
at the lower levels. Note greater extension of red, especially upon back; red usually 
but not always of a duller hue. In streaked plumage, more olivaceous and with some- 
what coarser pattern. More sedate in bearing, but song more vivacious and better 

Nesting. — Nest: A well built cup, composed externally of interlaced twigs, 
internally of mosses, fine grasses, string, horsehair, cotton waste, etc.; placed on hori- 
zontal or ascending branch of tree at moderate elevation (5 to 40 feet), and usually 
at considerable distance from trunk. Measures 5 inches (mm 127) wide by 3 (mm 76) 
deep outside; 2.25-2.50 (mm 57-63) wide inside by 1.25 (mm 31.7) deep. Eggs: 4 or 5; 
ovate to elongate ovate; light bluish green (microcline green), spotted and streaked, 
chiefly about the larger end, with dark olive-gray and a little black. Size rather 
variable; a typical set from Eureka averages 20.4 x 14.4 (.80 x .57). Season: May- 
June; one or two broods. 

Range of Carpodacus purpureus. — North America from southern Canada 
south to the southern border of the United States. 

Range of C. p. californicus. — Pacific Coast district, breeding from southern 
British Columbia and Vancouver Island south to southern California and east to the 
Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. Although partially resident throughout its 
range, many of the northern birds retire in winter, so that the population in south- 
ern California is augmented, and a few pass as far south as the Santa Catalina Mount- 
ains in Arizona (Scott). 

Distribution in California. — Common resident of Upper Sonoran and Tran- 
sition areas west of the Sierran divide, especially coastwise, and on the lower west- 
ern slopes of the Sierras and southern mountain system. C. p. californicus is a 
lover of cool weather and moisture, and its range is roughly complementary to that 


insl ban ?.■■■': 


Cassin's Purple Finch (upper) 
California Purple Finch (lower) 

Males and females, about % life size 
From painting by Brooks 

sj otted and 


K 3® 

The California Purple Finch 

of C. cassini. The higher residents retire irregularly to the lower slopes and adjacent 
valleys in winter. Casual in winter on Santa Cruz Island (Linton). 

Authorities. — Gambel (Erythrospiza purpurea), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. ii., 1847, p. 5$;Baird, Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 413 (desc. of 
calif ornicus) ; Cooper, W. A., Bull. Nuttall Orn. Club, vol. iii., 1878, pp. 8-10 (nesting 
habits, nest and eggs). 

TRUTH to tell, the people of California really know very little about 
the "California" Purple Finch. We owe the name (presumably good 
advertising) to an accident of discovery rather than to the character or 
prominence of the bird in California. The bird is not prominent at best, 
even in those regions — our northern sister states — where its presence is 
not overshadowed, as it is here, by that of the ubiquitous House Finch. 
The Purple Finch is rather a demure bird, quiet and inoffensive, "of the 
streaked streaky," and those streakings of a dull olivaceous quality which 
confers anything but distinction. The male, indeed, is entitled to a court 
dress of wine purple, but this regalia is not often seen, and we do not know 
to this day whether it is the badge of immaturity, or a mark of honor 
conferred upon old age. And even this brilliance may escape attention, 
for the bird's movements are not advertised by rattles or chirps, as is the 
case with so many of its cousins. A company of Purple Finches will feed 
so quietly in a blossoming fruit tree, for example, that no observer would 
suspect their presence, save for an occasional click of the mandibles. That 
the Finches do some mischief at such times is undeniable. I have seen 
them on a March morning, in Washington, feeding in the luxuriant bushes 
of the red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). They pluck the flowers 
assiduously, and either eat the fleshy part at the base, the tender ovary, or 
else press out the nectar just above, or both. A flower is first plucked off 
whole and held in the bill, while the bird appears to smack its lips several 
times; then the crimson corolla is allowed to drop upon the ground, which 
thus becomes carpeted with rejected beauty. 

Like many related species, the California Finch is rather unwary, so 
that one may study his behavior at close range. To this fortunate trait 
we owe knowledge of the Purple Finch's virtues as well as of his pecca- 
dillos. Once as I was passing along my garden walk in August, several 
of these Finches were frightened from the gooseberry bushes. "What! 
eating my gooseberries too?" I frowned horribly. But one bird, pre- 
sumably a young of the year, almost immediately returned to the very 
bush against which I was standing, and resumed his avocation, which 
proved to be that of gleaning caterpillars. At a distance of four feet I saw 
the bird search each gooseberry limb with the greatest care and devour a 
naked green worm about half an inch long, which my own eyes could 
scarcely have detected. Six or eight of these miscreants were devoured 


The California Purple Finch 

before the bush was pronounced clean, whereupon the zealous deputy 
gardener flitted to another bush. 

Because the Purple Finch is usually so unobtrusive, we are startled at 
the first outburst of spring song. Nothing more spontaneous could be 
desired ; and the mellow, musical yodelling of this bird is one of the choicest 
things allowed us in the West. The song is midway between a trill and a 
carol, and has a wild quality which makes it very attractive. The notes 
are so limpid and penetrating that one is sometimes deceived as to the 
distance of the singer, supposing him to be in a neighboring copse, when, 
in truth, he occupies a distant fir-top. Cheedooreedooree dooree dooree 
dooree dooree dooree dreeetoreet may afford an idea of the rolling, rollicking 
character of the song, but is, of course, absurdly inadequate. 

It is interesting to note that an experienced orchestral musician, 
Mr. F. N. Bassett, of San Francisco, rates the song of the Purple Finch as 
supreme in musical quality, only that of the Black-headed Grosbeak 
being, in this gentleman's opinion, at all comparable to it in respect to 
purity and rotundity of tone. According to this authority: "The 
Purple Finch pours his song forth in notes like liquid pearls, unmarred by 
poor tone quality or metallic accents. It is a finished performance of an 
unassuming, finished artist. It is not so melodious as the songs of many 
of our inferior singers, but the tone quality outclasses theirs. "i 

A master singer among the Purple Finches once entertained us from 
the top of a fir tree a hundred feet high. He was in the dull plumage ; that 
is, without red ; and although he sang briskly, at intervals, we were not 
prepared for any unusual exhibition of vocal powers on his part. It was a 
long time, therefore, before we put the cry of a distant Steller Jay up to 
him. Our suspicions once aroused, however, we caught not only the 
Steller Jay cry, unmistakably, but also half a dozen others in swift and 
dainty succession, after the usual Purple Finch prelude. I clearly recog- 
nized notes of the Flicker, Steller Jay, Canary, Crossbill, and Bewick 
Wren. These imitative efforts varied in correctness of execution, and 
came to us with the distance of the original singer plus that of the Finch, 
so that the result was not a little confusing, though very delightful when 

During courtship this Finch will sometimes execute an aerial song- 
dance, consisting of sundry jerks and crazy antics, interspersed with a 
medley of ecstatic notes; at the conclusion of which he will make a sug- 
gestive dive at his fiancee, who meanwhile has been poking fun at him. 
Courtship, in fact, is a strenuous matter, and though the female is docile, 
not to say amorous, after she is won, she knows how to exact the last 
farthing of tribute from the wooer. Once I saw a suitor who had quite 

1 "The Gull," Vol. III., no. 6, June, 1921, p. 2. 

The California Purple Finch 


lost his head, and was 
mouthing the approved 
gibberish of infatuation. 
Very young and very 
silly he looked as he 
stood with fluttering 
wings and strident voice, 
coaxing, coaxing, coax- 
ing. He had a hand- 
some red head, and was 
not a badly put up bird 
—but love makes us all 
look foolish. So at least 
thought the buxom and 
spirited dame he was 
suing, and the suitee 
drove at him viciously 
as often as he renewed 
his suit. Again and again 
she pursued him, now 
knocking him headlong, 
now merely driving him 
from his perch; but ever 
and ever the love-sick 
swain kept up his unme- 
lodious yipping, — and 
the enamorata, mind you, 
did not fly away. The 
whole performance re- 
minded me strongly of 
the courtship of the Eng- 
lish Sparrow, save that 
the gallant did not stand 
his ground as well as does 
Cock Sparrow; and the 
well, perhaps she was even more unreasonable and vicious. But 

Phuto by the Author 


this kind makes the very best wives, they say. 

Of the nesting of the California Purple Finch very little appears to be 
known, and nothing of moment written. I have found nests on only one 
occasion, near Santa Barbara, although I am persuaded that the birds 
breed regu'arly along our creek bottoms. A nest containing two eggs was 
found on the 27th of May, 1915, settled among the branching terminal 


The California Linnet 

twigs of a live oak tree, at a height of thirty feet. Unfortunately, the 
California Jays robbed the nest, as they did another in the same grove; 
and so far as observation went, a small colony of these finches were prac- 
tically prevented from nesting in that locality. 

Nests are placed, preferably, near water, in evergreen or deciduous 
trees, and at heights varying from six to forty feet. They usually occur 
on a bough at some distance from the trunk of a supporting tree, seldom 
or never being found in a crotch. Composed externally of twigs, they 
are lined copiously with green moss, horsehair, and string; and contain 
four or five handsome blue-green eggs, spotted and dashed with violet 
and black. 

Two broods are probably brought off in a season, the first about the 
20th of May and the second a month or so later. A sitting female outdoes 
a Siskin in her devotion to duty, and not infrequently requires to be lifted 
from her eggs. The male trusts everything to his wife upon these occa- 
sions, but is on hand to do his share of the work when it comes to feeding 
the babies. 

No. 34 

California Linnet 

A. O. U. No. 519. Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis (Say). 

Synonyms. — California House Finch. Crimson-fronted Finch. Burion. 

Description. — Adult male in highest spring plumage: Head and neck all around, 
throat, and breast, broadly, and rump, rich red (carmine, light carmine, or nopal 
red), or, rarely, tinged with orange; upper back more or less tinged with the same 
shade (but red never so widely diffused above as in C. purpureus californicus) ; remaining 
upperparts, wings, and tail brownish gray, or fuscous; margins of feathers vaguely 
paler; remaining underparts whitish, finely streaked with brownish gray (much more 
streaked than C. purpureus). Bill horn-color; feet and legs dark brown. In autumn, 
the reds duller (grayer), more blended, and more widely diffused; the intensity of red, 
especially, reduced on crown, where varied by darker centers to feathers (pure only 
on forehead); the wings with many edgings of pinkish, or brownish buffy, not present 
in spring. In this plumage the appearance of C. m. frontalis very closely approximates 
that of C. purpureus, the chief distinguishing mark being the presence of numerous 
and distinct dusky streaks on the posterior underparts, and their more buffy back- 
ground. Adult female in spring: Above dull grayish brown, streaked with darker; 
below dull white, sharply and finely streaked with grayish brown or dusky; wings and 
tail grayish brown without distinguishing marks. Adult female in fresh fall plumage: 
Above, plumage more blended; wings with some marginings of lighter (buffy gray); 



The California 

runk of a 

. they 
nnd string; an' ! 


■aght off 3t about the 

California Linnet 

Male anj female, about % life si^e 

Carpodacus mexicanus fron: 


■ . 
ish gra rgins of f e 


. ■ 

' - 
ings th son 

£//*,% /5?-w/£s, 


The California Linnet 

below, streaks broader and less distinct by reason of buffy edgings. Immature birds 
resemble the female parent, but are more finely streaked with dusky below, and more 
heavily margined by brownish buffy, especially on wing-coverts and tertials. Length 
about 154.9 (6.10); wing 78 (3.07); tail 56 (2.20); bill 10.4 (.41); depth at base 9.6 
(.38); tarsus 17.8 (.70). Females have slightly shorter wing. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; red and streaky plumage of male; all 
streaky pattern of female. In spring, males are brighter red than males of C. p. 
calif ornicus: in autumn they are more thoroughly streaked below; red of back more 
restricted (spring), or paler (autumn). Female not certainly distinguishable from 
that of the Purple Finch in autumn, but upper plumage rather more blended and grayer, 
less olivaceous. 

Nesting. — Nest: Placed in almost any conceivable situation, but chiefly about 
buildings or in crannies of cliffs, and in places offering more or less protection; as, 
Monterey cypress trees, beds of "prickly pear" (Opuntia) cactus, old birds' nests, 
and the like; a sturdy cup, constructed, often, with great taste from carefully selected 
and uniform materials; as, string, straw, grasses, etc.; or else compacted of every 
available sort of soft materials. Eggs: 4 or 5, rarely 6; thin-shelled, very pale bluish 
green, or, rarely, white (quickly fading to white upon exposure), sharply and sparingly 
spotted, chiefly about the larger end, with dark brown, blackish, or purplish black — 
occasionally immaculate. Av. of 42 California-taken specimens in the M. C. O. 
coll.: 18.5 x 13.7 (.73 x .54). Season: March to July; 2 or 3 broods. 

Range of Carpodacus mexicanus. — Western United States from Oregon, 
southern Idaho, and southern Wyoming, east upon the plains to Kansas, and south 
throughout Lower California and to southern border of the tableland of Mexico. 

Range of C. m. frontalis. — As above, excepting the southern half of Lower Cali- 
fornia and the southern portion of old Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — Abundant resident throughout the State below 
Transition; numbers reduced in northwestern humid portion, and confined on deserts 
to vicinity of water, and somewhat dependent in great central valley upon vicinity of 
"culture"; breeds up to 6000 or 7000 feet, or exceptionally, to 8000 (Mammoth Camp, 
Mono County); passes irregularly to higher altitudes in late summer. Found also 
on all islands contiguous to California. 

Remark. — An alleged form, dementis, originally described by Mearns (Auk, 
xv., 1899, pp. 258-261), from San Clemente Island, is here relegated to synonymy. 
I quite agree with Howell's conclusion (Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, pp. 73-75) 
that we have "not a single constant character whereby dementis can be identified." 

Authorities. — Audubon {Fringilla frontalis), Ornith. Biog., vol. v., 1839, pp. 230- 
232; Gambel, Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. i., 1847, pp. 53-54 (habits); 
Keeler, Zoe, vol. i., 1890, pp. 172-176, pi. vi. (life history) ; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 
30, 1907, pp. 13-23, pi. ii. (food) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. 7, 191 1, pp. 
I 79 _I 95 (coloration); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 74-75 (status in 
Fresno district); Shepardson, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, pp. 100-101 (laying in nests of 
other birds). 

A KINDERGARTEN teacher of our acquaintance tells of a little 
girl in her care who shows a precocious interest in birds. One day when 
the teacher was exhibiting some skins of local birds, a linnet was held up 
for identification. "Oh, I know what that is," cried the tot excitedly, 


The California Linnet 

"that's the limit." There are farm- 
ers, at least, who will endorse this 
sentiment, not to mention amateur 
gardeners, park commissioners, and 
various and sundry, charged or self- 
charged with the maintenance of the 
public weal. What tidy housewife, 
contemplating the litter of spring- 
time upon her porches, has not felt, 
upon occasion, that the limits of hos- 
pitality have been reached ? Or what 
suburban fruit-grower, faced with 
half-eaten peaches or plums, but has 
felt that the limits of patience have 
been passed? And yet, I suppose, 
there is not another bird in the West 
which is responsible for so much 
amiable discourse, so much friendly 
camaraderie, so much homely good 
cheer withal, as this ubiquitous "lin- 
net." The bird is part and parcel of 
our California life, as much to be 
taken for granted as sunshine and 
dry weather. The linnet is the bread- 
and-butter of the bird feast which 
life daily spreads before us. We may 
pass it over, for the nonce, in favor of 
more notable dainties, but it is staple. 
We will come back to it. For my 
part, I confess without shame, that I 
am fond of the linnets. They may 
litter my porches and they may strip my vines if they like. I will take my 
pay in music, — that incessant, uplifting chorus of commonplace joy. It 
is reward enough to see the happy creatures breeding and brooding under 
our very noses, and lavishing upon us that flattery of confidence which 
they possess in common with our own children. They are not angels; 
and sometimes we call them dirty little brats — the birds, I mean — but 
the home that is not surrounded by an investing halo of linnets, I hold it 
to be unblest. 

The House Finch is without question the most abundant bird in 
California. It probably outnumbers all other resident species three to 
one, and in some localities ten to one. It does not to any large extent 

Taken on Santa Cruz Island 

Photo by the Author 



The California Linnet 

invade the chaparral nor the deserts, per se, nor does it seek to possess the 
mountains; and yet within its range it gives an impression of ubiquity 
which is very nearly supported by the facts. The bird's adaptability 
is marvelous. It is practically without associational restraints, and 
although its preference is for cultural surroundings, it makes its home in 
the most secluded barrancas, or haunts alike the cliffs which front the 
cattle range, and those which face the sea. 

Of course, this associational adaptability presupposes, or depends 
upon, accommodation in food habits. Feeding originally upon seeds and 
the minor fruits, the bird's tastes quickly parallelled those of mankind. 
If it was barley that these gracious hombres, their hosts, planted, why then 
the birds would eat barley, — barley by the handful, barley by the bushel, 
barley by the acre, or so at least the jealous farmer claimed. Later it was 
fruit. If we would persist in setting out such delectable dainties as plums, 
and cherries, and apricots, and nectarines, why, of course, our little pen- 
sioners, the aborigines, began to help themselves. Why not? And if the 
damage is beginning to run up into big figures, millions, they say — again 
a wee exaggerated, I fear — well, I'm afraid there is going to be trouble. 
But let us think the problem all the way through. 

Admitting that some of the witnesses are prejudiced, let us, never- 
theless, hear what all of them have to say, and then let us weigh conclu- 
sions. Comes the Bird-Lover, who says: "The California Linnet is a 
native species of unusual attractiveness. His sprightly, varied song is 
pleasing to all ears, and even his minor notes, his chirpings and chipper- 
ings, have a musical and not unpleasant quality. In disposition these 

birds are singularly amiable. Never 
quarrelsome and abusive, like the 
English Sparrow, the Linnet gets 
along well with its own kind and 
with its immediate neighbors. More- 
over, its manifest attachment to the 
human race has endeared it to the 
hearts of bird-lovers everywhere. 
The bird is never impudent, or bla- 
tant, or strident. It comes and goes 
pleasantly, trustfully, modestly. Al- 
though its association with man is 
fairly close, it is not known to be a 
filth accumulator, nor a disease car- 
rier; and the presumptions are all in 

laken in Ventura County ^fc\ r r . 

photo by Donald r. Dickey xN~^ favor of a helpful, happy association 

for mutual benefit." 


The California Linnet 


Comes now the Agriculturist 
(call him farmer, fruit-grower, or 
what not) and testifies: "I have 
seen the birds in my barley fields. 
They pick up grain in the barnyard, 
and it stands to reason that they are 
damaging the crops. I'm trying to 
raise a little fruit, an acre or so of 
mixed varieties, but the linnets beat 
me to it every year. They bite into 
an apricot, and if they don't eat the 
whole of it, the smaller birds or the 
yellow-jackets finish the job. Not 
content with one or two peaches at a 
time, they pick into a dozen, and 
have the whole crop rotting before I 
know it. The only way I can head them off is to spread mosquito netting 
over the tree; and that's a pretty hard, not to say expensive, piece of busi- 
ness. I work hard enough for a living, as it is, and I'd like a little fruit 
once in a while to help out." 

Comes now the Economist, the Government Expert, and he says: 
"What these gentlemen say, most of it, is true. The linnet does eat a 
little grain, and it does do considerable damage to fruit, especially in 
small, outlying orchards. It is practically impossible for a small grower 
to raise fruit without the use of netting, unless the numbers of linnets are 
either substantially reduced, or unless they are intimidated by some 
special means. But the alleged destruction of grain has been greatly 
exaggerated. The bird eats chiefly fallen grain, and this item does not 
arcount to above one-fourth of one per cent of the total diet for the year. 
In the case of fruit, the damage is not much felt by the larger growers. 
The birds do not flock extensively during the early fruiting season, and 
their depredations are chiefly confined to the edges of the orchard. The 
increase of fruit-growing does not appear to be a controlling factor in the 
abundance of the birds; although it may prove necessary in some cases 
to reduce their numbers and to keep them within bounds. 

"On the other hand, House Finches are enormous consumers of weed 
seed. In the autumn they make common cause with the goldfinches, and 
together, in immense flocks, they purge the fields of many weeds which 
otherwise would increase to plague the farmer. Nature's balance depends 
upon the maintenance of very considerable numbers of these birds. The 
total or even approximate destruction of the species would probably work 
an enormous hardship upon agriculture." 


Photo by the A uthor 

The California Linnet 

Needless to say, the author yields deference to the economist; but 
before sentence is pronounced upon even a portion, say a half or two- 
thirds of these birds (and then only under the strictest local necessity), 
he would respectfully urge one very important consideration peculiar to 
California. We are menaced by the invasion of the English Sparrow. 
Having conquered the East, this blatant foreigner is not only pressing 
upon our borders, but he is penetrating along every line of least resistance 
into our most intimate midst. Resistance on our part is almost hopeless. 
We may shoot and trap and poison till doomsday, but by such methods 
we shall only partially abate the nuisance. But, fortunately for us, we 
have a powerful ally in the defense. It is the California Linnet. He is 
already on the ground, and he is thoroughly entrenched. The sparrow's 
place is preoccupied. It is only because the English Sparrow found an 

economic gap, an un- 
filled place in the scheme 
of things, that he spread 
through the East like an 
investing army. That 
gap does not exist here. 
The question with us is, 
shall we have Linnets or 
English Sparrows? For 
in proportion as we sac- 
rifice our Linnets, we 
shall encourage the Spar- 
rows. To my mind there 
can be only one answer 
to this question. Save in 
the matter of the injury 
done to fruit, the Linnet, 
compared point by point 
with the English Spar- 
row, is far and away the 
more desirable citizen. 
Tuneful, where the for- 
eigner is strident; mild- 
mannered and sociable, 
where the interloper is 
clannish and brutal ; 
happy and innocent, 

Taken in Ventura County Photo by the Author where the gamin is SUrly 

the cholla cactus is an accustomed couch" and spiteful. One has 


The California Linnet 

only to review the quasi-personal qualities of these contrasted birds, to 
make instant choice. If we must have satellites, by all means let us have 
Native Sons. The Linnet is our best bulwark against the Menace. 

Not the least interesting aspect 
of bird study is what we might call 
comparative genology. By this we 
mean a study of the vital characters 
which distinguish species, a study of 
geno-dynamic values, as distinguish- 
ed from studies of structural fea- 
tures, habits, psychology, etc. A 
geno-dynamic appraisal, to be of any 
value, must involve a pretty thor- 
ough knowledge of the present status 
of a given species, its distribution, its 
associations, its reactions with other 
species, its adaptation to changing 
environment. It presupposes a deep 
knowledge of taxonomic relation- 
ships and of phylogeny — in short, the 
racial history of the bird. Its task, 
as I conceive it, is to estimate the 
relative value of a species, and to 
express that value in terms of energy 
and achievement, noting in each case 
direction of development, rate of de- 
velopmental progress, degree of suc- 
cess or failure, mobility, adaptabil- 
ity, and the like. 

Those whose interest has sur- 
vived the preceding paragraph will 

be prepared for a geno-dynamic appraisal of the House Finch ; but in 
expressing it we will use common terms, instead of seeking to evolve or 
further define a special vocabulary, such as every budding science requires. 

The species Carpodacus mexicanus is of northern extraction, as 
evinced by its similarity to certain Asiatic forms. It was the first of its 
genus to flee southward before the advancing ice of the Glacial Epoch ; 
and upon the retreat of the ice, the species quickly accommodated itself 
to the diverse and rapidly changing conditions of its new home, viz., the 
highlands of western Mexico and the lower levels of the southwestern 
states, instead of following the glacial retreat more closely, as did C. cas- 
sini and C. purpureas. We may affirm that the species mexicanus accom- 

Taken in Ventura County 

Photo by D. 




The California Linnet 

plished this adjustment by virtue of its inherent and special adaptability 
(however derived). This phenomenal adaptability, or tolerance of change, 
still remains the most prominent inheritance, or characteristic, of the 
species, and has made it the dominant form of the region which it occupies. 
This adaptability owns only one restriction, albeit an important one. The 
House Finch is closely dependent upon water, and is rarely found breeding 
at a distance above half a mile ("a few hundred yards," Dr. A. K. Fisher 
says 1 ) from stream or spring. But again, adaptability, or ease of accom- 
modation to environment, is not to be confused with plasticity, which is, 
rather, susceptibility to change in environment, and which reflects itself 
in the altered structure or appearance of the bird. Of this latter charac- 
teristic the Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia, with its twenty subspecies 
in California alone, is a most conspicuous example. The House Finch, on 
the other hand, overrides obstacles, and is able to absorb, as it were, the 
shocks of change within its corporate, or specific, body, without evidence 
of corresponding somatic change. 

One of the results of this ability is a certain tendency to vary, which 
exhibits itself in off-plumages and freaks, quite independently of associa- 
tion or environment. Thus, it is well known that partial albinism is 
common among House Finches. Among adult males, also, a more or less 
complete substitution of yellow for red is sometimes encountered. Caged 
birds are certain to lose their rosy tints, and to put on this mongrel yel- 
low. That this tendency to dichromatic manifestation is more evident 
in insular examples is probable; and it may be that insular conditions, 
like confinement, for some reason fail to support the production of red 
pigment. As a further example of freakishness, Swarth cites a case 
where two young females, caught in the wild, showed distinct traces of red 
in their plumage. 

This trait in the House Finch, which we have rather carelessly called 
the tendency to vary, may either be due to the species having reached the 
saturation point of numbers, or the limit of vitality in development. Con- 
ceivably these freakish manifestations may be evidences of phylogenetic 
weakness, or approaching decay, rather than promises of new departures 
in development. On the whole, I think the evidence of the eggs rather 
supports the latter view. The type is weakening. Whereas the egg is 
normally pale bluish green with blackish markings, sparingly applied, 
white shells are not rare, and some sets are entirely devoid of markings. 
Runts and other freak eggs are relatively numerous in this species, also. 

But without pausing longer to establish the geno-dynamic status of 
the species, we hasten to note that in its nesting habits the California 
Linnet exhibits the utmost diversity of taste and the utmost degree of 

1 Report Death Valley Expedition (1893), p. 80. 


The California Linnet 

accommodation to varied conditions. The bird does nest about houses 
and outbuildings, multitudinously; but the very name House Finch is so 
often challenged by experiences afield, that one is sooner inclined to call 
it devil finch or spook finch. Does one penetrate the fastnesses of the 
cattle country, where the Dalton gang and the James boys used to hold 
forth, it is to study the mighty Eagle, or to trace the "bullet hawk" 
(Falco mexicanus) to its ledge. But lo, the "House" Finch has set its 
little tepee in a cranny beside the noble falcon ; and while the falcon hurls 
its thunders from the blue, this tedious chit simpers 
and chirps as though its tiny affairs were nature's 
chief concern. Does one visit the cliffs at Pizmo to 
get the salty sting of the gales, or "to hear old Triton 
blow his wreathed horn," lo! the House Finch has 
come before. Here upon these storied cliffs, where 
birds of high and rare degree, Peregrines, Surf-birds, 
Royal Terns, pause, in passing, to _____ 

greet the shore, these irrever- 
ent commoners gossip and 
flutter, or gather straws. 
Not even the occasional 
presence of the White- 
throated Swift, the speed 
demon of the upper air, 
daunts these hardy sans- 
culottes. They, too, dis- 
port themselves aloft, or 
wing placidly across 
some yawning chasm 
which the sea has cleft, 
heedless alike of the buffeting 
wind and of the fretful sea 
mews. House Finch, indeed! Why, 
there is no juniper tree where a 
man may be alone with his Maker, but this bird hops in its branches and 
twangs his little lute! 

The House Finches nest almost anywhere. If you want a playmate 
to engage in a state-wide game of hunt-the-thimble, confer with this bird 
before issuing the challenge. Nests are caught in vines, or placed on tim- 
bers, under cornices, in bird-boxes, mail-boxes, or in any cubbyhole which 
an outbuilding offers. Mr. E. C. Mailliard 1 tells of a pair which built in a 
garage, and which followed the fortunes of its nest while, for experiment's 

1 Condor, Sept., 1917, p. 166. 

Taken in Ventura County 
Photo by the Author 



The California Linnet 

sake, this was shifted about from place to place, until it had occupied 
"every available spot" in the building. Eggs were laid under these try- 
ing circumstances and were hatched successfully, although the birds 
deserted when the man stayed around too long. The exposed ends of 
mission tiles are favorite places to fill with sticks. Bridges, windmills, 
piers, warehouses — nothing which promises shelter is overlooked. Trees 
of any sort and of any height are available, — cypresses, live oaks, syca- 
mores, cottonwoods and willows, even the inhospitable eucalyptus. I 
have found nests in the open sage a mile from timber. The cholla cactus 
is an accustomed couch when not too far removed from water. On the 
San Jacinto River we found nests settled against the stems of the great 
blossom stalks of Yucca whipplei. 

Choice of nesting materials is as catholic as that of nesting sites. 
Again the catalog comprises anything soft and available: straw, grass, 
weed-stems, flower-heads, string, wool, cotton, vegetable down, bark- 
strips, moss, horsehair, and, rarely, feathers. There is, however, real 
artistry among the House Finches, and often the builder makes choice of 
a single material, so that there is a tasteful simplicity in the finished 
product. A nest taken near Los Banos is composed almost exclusively 
of the half-developed buttons of the sycamore tree, together, of course, 
with their lengthened and very pliable stems. Another taken from a 
neighboring tree was composed of willow twigs interspersed with the seed- 
stalks of the shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa pastoris). Another bristles 
with the outstanding heads of a Briza. A specimen in the M. C. O. col- 
lection is composed almost entirely of cords plucked from old fish nets. 
Another taken from the porch of Mr. John Driver, in Montecito, is built 
of our charming gray lichen — and so through an endless catalog. 

Most interesting of all is the House Finch's habit of appropriating old 
birds' nests. The primary thought is that of shelter; and those which 
afford the deepest shelter are oftenest used. Thus, we find old nests of 
the Bullock and Arizona Hooded Orioles great favorites. The mud 
bracket of the Barn Swallow is often re-rented, and the abandoned tene- 
ments of Cliff Swallows are occasionally invaded. In most cases the finch 
provides a new lining, one better moulded to her own form than the old 
structure. In the case of a pair using an old magpie's nest, the only mark 
of association evidenced by the nest proper was that its outer aspect upon 
one side curved in conformity with the larger bowl of the pie. But again, 
the finch's contribution may be a mere apology; and there are signs of a 
definite tendency toward parasitism, as betokened by this slovenly use of 
other birds' nests. Mr. D. I. Shepardson records 1 several instances where 
eggs of the House Finch were found with eggs of other birds. In one case, 

i Condor. Vol. XVII.. Sept.-, 1915. pp. 100-101. 


The California Linnet 

that of a Cliff Swallow's nest containing three eggs of the owner and two 
of the House Finch, it is perhaps as fair to assume that the finch attempted 
to occupy the swallow's nest before the owner had begun laying, and was 
driven out upon the Cliff Swallow's assumption of duty. In another, that 
of an Arizona Hooded Oriole, the observer supposed that the finches had 
driven off the rightful owner and had established themselves. A third 
instance, of a Black Phoebe's nest containing five well incubated eggs of 
the Phoebe and one partially incubated egg of the House Finch, we may 
suppose either an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the House Finch 
to take unlawful possession, or else a more fortuity, a "dropped" egg, 
such as homeless females are occasionally guilty of. It is easy to see, 
however, that temptation lurks along this path. The habits of this very 
domestic bird will bear watching. 

Usually the nesting of the House Finch is a matter of unceasing 
industry, two or three broods being raised each year. Tyler, however, 
found a company of birds haunting a raisin warehouse in Fresno County, 
which he was convinced did not breed at all during an entire season. 

The young birds are little tyrants, yet as "cunning" as they are 
insatiable. They follow their parents about with importunate cries when 
we would judge them fully able to care for themselves. But mother 
doubtless knows best, and it certainly is a pretty sight to see a busy 
mother stuffing food down the throat of a tremulous hobbledehoy who 
looks at least half a size larger. And the youngster doesn't forget his 
manners, either. If he does say "Please" pretty often and pretty em- 
phatic, he also says "Thank you" all over, with quivering wings, which 
to my notion are most expressive and grateful. 

And when the family life of the House Finch is merged in the greater 
life of the flock, this charm of manner is not all forgotten. Though the 
songs of springtime are hushed, the keep-in-touch notes are still cheerful 
and friendly. And when a cloud rises, two or three thousand strong, 
from a wayside weed-patch to settle on the telephone wires, the heart 
of the passerby insensibly warms as he hears pleasant greetings and a 
babel of polite discussion. Surely, these are amiable bird-folk, and we 
may thank our lucky stars that California has bred gentlemen-commoners 
instead of gibbering assassins. 


The English Sparrow 

No. 35 

English Sparrow 

Introduced. Passer domesticus (Linnjeus). 

Synonyms. — The Sparrow. House Sparrow. Domestic Sparrow. Street 

Sparrow. Gamin. Hoodlum. Mobbing Sparrow. 

Description. — Adult male: Pileum and occiput deep mouse-gray; rump and 
upper tail-coverts mouse-gray, tinged with olivaceous; back, wings, sides of neck, 
and supra-auricular region chestnut, varied on back and wings by black centers of 
feathers; tips of median coverts white, forming a conspicuous transverse bar; lores, 
region below eyes, chin, throat, and breast, broadly, black; cheeks and sides of throat 
dingy white; the remaining underparts smoky gray. Bill black; feet brownish. Im- 
mature male: Like adult, but chestnut area on sides of head and neck veiled and tipped 
with buffy; the black of throat and breast reduced in area and more or less veiled with 
white tips. Adult female: Somewhat similar to adult male, but without chestnut 
of upperparts and sides, and without black below; upperparts brown (between Sac- 
cardo's umber and sepia) on pileum and rump, this color shading on sides and breast 
into the lighter tone of remaining underparts; back, tail, and wings extensively black, 
edged by pale cinnamon; a dull buffy supra-auricular stripe, bordered by dusky, 
takes the place of the chestnut stripe of the male. Length 139. 7-158. 8 (5.50-6.25); 
wing 76.2 (3.00); tail 55.9 (2.20); bill 12.7 (.50). Sexes of about equal size. 

Nesting. — Nest: If in a tree or other situation requiring structural consist- 
ency, a bulk}- sphere of grass and trash, with entrance hole on side, and heavily lined 
with feathers; otherwise a varied filling of hole, niche, or cranny, whether in trees or 
cliffs or about buildings, but always copiously lined with feathers. Eggs: 4 to 6; 
white; heavily sprinkled and spotted with grayish brown (hair-brown to bone-brown 
with drab shadings), pigment usually uniformly distributed and sometimes obliter- 
ating background; otherwise (often one egg in each clutch) more sharply defined and 
showing tendency to confluence in coronal wreath. Av. size 21.8 x 15.8 (.86 x .62). 
Season: March to September; several broods. 

General Range. — Nearly the whole of Europe (except Italy) and Siberia to 
Irkutsk and Dauria, south through Asia Minor, Persia, India, and Ceylon to Cochin 
China. Introduced into North America, New Zealand, Australia, etc. 

Distribution in California. — Introduced to San Francisco about 1871 or 1872; 
now increasing at lower and middle levels throughout the State, but still radiating 
from "cultural," especially railroad, centers. Introduction into southern localities 
much retarded by presence of California Linnet (Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis), 
and still more or less under control. Passer domesticus knows no barriers of tempera- 
ture or humidity, and thrives alike in Del Norte Count}' or in the Colorado desert 
(Mecca, Jan. 30, 1913). It is crossing to the islands (Farallons, May 29, 1911; Santa 
Cruz, April 12, 1915), but is not likely to invade the upper slopes of the Sierras. 

Authorities. — Barrows, U. S. Dept. Agric. Div. Orn. & Mamm., Bull. no. 1, 
1889, pp. 19, 201, 262 (history of arrival and spread in Calif.); Belding, Occ. Papers, 
Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, pp. 168-169; Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 


The English Sparrow 

76~(history in s. Calif.) ; Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. II, 1915, pp. 111-112 
(history of spread throughout Calif.); Phillips, J. C, Auk, vol. xxxii., 1915, pp. 51-59 
(crit. compar. of Old World and Amer. spec); Grinnell, Amer. Nat., vol. liii., 1919, 
pp. 468-473 (comment on occurrence in Death Valley). 

WHAT a piece of mischief is the Sparrow! how depraved in instinct! 
in presence how unwelcome! in habit how unclean! in voice how repulsive! 
in combat how moblike and despicable ! in courtship how wanton and con- 
temptible! in increase how limitless and menacing! the pest of the farmer! 
the plague of the city! the bane of the bird-world! the despair of the 
philanthropist! the thrifty and insolent beneficiary of misguided senti- 
ment! the lawless and defiant object of impotent hostility too late aroused ! 
Out upon thee, thou shapeless, senseless, heartless, misbegotten tyrant! 
thou tedious and infinite alien ! thou myriad cuckoo, who dost by thy con- 
suming presence bereave us daily of a million dearer children ! Out upon 
thee, and woe the day! 

Without question the most deplorable event in the history of Ameri- 
can ornithology was the introduction of the English Sparrow. The 
extinction of the Greak Auk, the passing of the Wild Pigeon and the 
Turkey, — sad as these are, they are trifles compared to the wholesale 
reduction of our smaller birds, which is due to the invasion of this wretched 
foreigner. To be sure he was invited to come, but the offense is all the 
more rank because it was partly human. His introduction was effected 
in part by people who ought to have known better, and would, doubtless, 
if the science of ornithology had reached its present status as long ago as 
the early Fifties. The maintenance and prodigious increase of the pest is 
still due in a measure to the imbecile sentimentality of people who build 
bird-houses and throw out crumbs for "the dear little birdies," and then 
care nothing whether honest birds or scalawags get them. Such people 
belong to the same class as those who drop kittens on their neighbors' 
door-steps, because they wouldn't have the heart to kill them themselves, 
you know. 

The increase of this bird in the United States is, to a lover of birds, 
simply frightful. Their fecundity is amazing and their adaptability 
apparently limitless. Mr. Barrows, in a special report prepared under the 
direction of the Government, estimates that the increase of a single pair, 
if unhindered, would amount in ten years to 275,716,983,698 birds. The 
number actually alive in America today must run well into the billions. 

As to its range, we note that its subjugation of the East has long 
been accomplished, and that the occupation of the West now involves 
every considerable town and village. According to Professor Grinnell, to 
whose careful review 1 I am largely indebted, the English Sparrow, having 

1 Pacific Coast Avifauna, no. 11, Oct.. 1915, p. 111. 

The English Sparrow 

first been purposely introduced at San Francisco in 1871 or 1872, made its 
way by means of the transcontinental railways, and by 1886 had become 
thoroughly established in the San Francisco Bay region, — as also at 
Eureka, Stockton and Hollister. "Within a few years practically all suit- 
able parts of California north of the 35th parallel and west of the High 
Sierras had been invaded." Southern California, both by reason of the 
insulation provided by the eastern deserts, and the previous occupation 
by the House Finch, was long immune. But in 1901 Howard noted the 
birds at Bakersfield, and in 1903 at Tehachapi, although they were not to 
be found that season at Mohave. Newhall, 1906 (reported by Law), 
appears to be the earliest date for Los Angeles County, although the birds 
made their appearance in Los Angeles the following year. Bradford 
Torrey saw them at Santa Barbara in 1909. By 1912 Pasadena and 
Riverside were employing a professional Sparrow-killer to keep the pest 
down; but San Diego was immune till November, 1913. Howell and 
Huey saw the pioneers, or spies, on San Clemente on March 30th, 191 5, 
and shot hopefully; while I was less successful, in that I had no gun to 
rebuke the first pilgrim on Santa Cruz Island, April 18, 1915. 

At the present writing, the occupation of all cities and towns is prac- 
tically complete, and the birds swarm through the Imperial Valley and 
the infra-sea-level stations of the Colorado Desert, no less than along the 
upper reaches of the Sacramento and in the Surprise Valley. 

The favorite means of dissemination has always been the box car, and 
especially the grain car. The Sparrows, being essentially grain and seed 
eaters, frequent the grain cars as they stand in the railroad yards, and are 
occasionally imprisoned in them, hopeful stowaways and "gentlemen of 
fortune." In this manner, also, the larger cities and railroad towns were 
first colonized. The sparrow follows the flag of commerce, and if he were 
prescient he would probably dread as much as we do the day when increas- 
ing pressure of numbers will drive him into the chaparral. 

Difficult as it may seem, it is true that the English Sparrow adopts the 
policy of Uriah Heep upon first entering a town. With all the unctuous 
humility of a band of Mormon apostles, the newcomers talk softly, walk 
circumspectly, and either seek to escape notice altogether, or else assid- 
uously cultivate the good opinion of their destined dupes. Thus, I 
resided in the town of Blaine, on the northern border of the United States, 
for two months (in 1904) before running across a single member of the 
pioneer band of nine English Sparrows, although I was assured on good 
authority that the birds had been there for at least two years. A very 
similar experience attended early inquiries in Santa Barbara, and it was 
not till 1 913 that I learned precisely which palm trees in town were most 
likely to harbor the Englishers. 


The English Sparrow 


_**~<* ' 

The Sparrow, by the way, although his entrance into southern Cali- 
fornia was so belated, has found an impregnable fortress in the Washing- 
ton Palm, Neowashingtonia filifera (Wendt) Sudworth. Wherever this 
stately savage displays 
his luxuriant mane, there 
the English Sparrow 
foregathers with his 
mates ad infinitum et ad 
nauseam. So far as 
southern California is 
concerned, the "prob- 
lem of the English Spar- 
row" will be the problem 
of persuading the proud 
owners of Washington 
Palms to subject their 
favorites to tonsorial 

If there are those 
who still require evi- 
dence that the English 
Sparrow is an undesir- 
able alien, I beg to sub- 
mit for their considera- 
tion the following speci- 
fic charges, each con- 
firmed by experience no less than by authority. 

1. The English Sparrow destroys fruits, berries, grains, buds, gar- 
den-seeds, and tender shoots. To take up a single item: The total 
economic loss to the nation through the consumption of grain in the shock 
is enormous. A hundred million bushels would probably be a low esti- 

2. The bird destroys as many beneficial insects as it does injurious, 
so it can claim no exemption because of its occasional and unquestioned 
services as an insect destroyer. 

3. It is a frequent and almost inevitable disseminator of disease, 
through its use of poultry litter and other trash in nest-building. 

4. It harbors and disseminates chicken-lice (Dermanyssus gallince, 
Redi), as well as bird-lice (D. avium De Geer). An able investigator, 
Ewing, 1 found 18,000 of these poultry mites in a single nest of this Spar- 
row. This is a fatal offense in the eyes of poultry raisers. 

Taken in San Francisco 


Photo by the A uihor 

1 Auk, Vol. XXVIII., July, 1911, p. 338 


The English Sparrow 

5. The English Sparrow reduces the number of desirable native 
birds through destruction of their eggs and young, and through usurpa- 
tion of their nesting sites. 

6. It discourages and drives out desirable native species by con- 
tinual annoyance and by the employment of mob tactics. 

7. It defiles shrubbery, ornamental vines and trees, houses and 
public buildings, by its excrement; and it builds bulky, disfiguring nests 
out of unsightly trash. 

8. The Sparrow's voice is always harsh and discordant, and its 
incessant racket imposes a severe tax upon the nervous energy of the 

9. Its unwelcome presence defiles the more remote woodland sanc- 
tuaries and mars the serenity of the everlasting hills, no less surely than 
it does that of the cities and the rural centers. 

It requires no further testimony to show that the presence of this bird 
is absolutely undesirable. It is a scourge to the agriculturist, a plague to 
the architect, and the avowed and determined enemy of all other birds. Its 
nests are not only unsightly but unsanitary, and the maudlin racket of 
their owners unendurable. The bird is, in short, in the words of the late 
Dr. Coues, "a nuisance without a redeeming quality." Although we 
assent to this most heartily, we are obliged to confess on the part of our 
race to a certain amount of sneaking admiration for the Sparrow. And 
why, forsooth? Because he fights ! We are forced to admire, at times, his 
bull-dog courage and tenacity of purpose, as we do the cunning of the 



Taken in San Fran 


Photo by the A nthor 


The Alaska Longspur 

weasel and the nimbleness of the flea. He is vermin and must be treated 
as such ; but, give the Devil his due, of course. What are we going to do 
about it? Wage unceasing warfare, as we do against rats. There will pos- 
sibly be rats as long as there are men, but a bubonic plague scare operates 
very effectually to reduce their numbers. No doubt there will be English 
Sparrows in cities as long as there are brickbats, but a clear recognition of 
their detestable qualities should lead every sensible person to deny them 
victuals and shelter. Every well-ordered community should have a 
salaried official whose sole business it is to trap, shoot, burn, poison, and 
otherwise discourage this most reprehensible alien. The House Sparrow is 
no longer exterminable, but he may be, must be kept within bounds. 

No. 36 

Alaska Longspur 

A. 0. U. No. 536a. Calcarius lapponicus alascensis Ridgway. 

Description. — Adult male in summer: Head, throat, and fore-breast black; 
a buffy line behind eye and sometimes over eye; a broad nuchal patch, or collar, of 
reddish brown (hazel); remaining upperparts light grayish brown, streaked with black 
and with some whitish edging; below white, heavily streaked with black on sides and 
flanks; tail fuscous with oblique white patches on the two outer pairs of rectrices. 
Bill yellow with black tip; feet and legs black. Adult male in winter: Lighter above; 
the black of head and chestnut of cervical collar partially overlaid with buffy or whitish 
edging; the black of throat and breast more or less obscured by white edging. Adult 
female in summer: Similar to male in summer, but no continuous black or chestnut 
anywhere; the black of head mostly confined to centers of feathers, — these edged with 
buffy; the chestnut of cervical collar only faintly indicated as edging of feathers with 
sharply outlined dusky centers; black of throat and chest pretty thoroughly obscured 
by grayish edging, but the general pattern retained; sides and flanks with a few sharp 
dusky streaks. Adult female in winter: Above buffy grayish brown, streaked (cen- 
trally upon feathers) with black; wing-coverts and tertials with rusty areas between 
the black and the buffy, and tipped with white; underparts warm buffy brownish, 
lightening on lower breast, abdomen and under tail-coverts; lightly streaked with black 
on throat, chest, and sides, sharply on sides and flanks. Immature birds resemble 
adult female in winter, but are more extensively brownish buffy above, the male 
showing also early indications of jugular black. Length of adult males about 165 
(6.50); wing 95.8 (3.77); tail 63.3 (2.50); bill 11.7 (.46); tarsus 21.8 (.86). Female 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; terrestrial habits; black head and breast 
of male. The bird may be distinguished from the Horned Lark, with which it some- 
times associates, by the greater extent of its black areas, and by the chirruping or 
rattling cry which it makes when rising from the ground. 


The Alaska Longspur 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: In grass tussock on ground, 
flimsy or bulky, of grasses and moss, frequently water-soaked, and lined carefully 
with fine coiled grass, and occasionally feathers. Eggs: 4 to 6; light clay-color with 
a pale greenish tinge, variously marked, — speckled, spotted, scrawled, blotched, or 
entirely overlaid with light brown or chocolate brown. Av. size 20.3 x 15.7 (.80 x .62). 
Season: First week in June; one brood. 

General Range of Calcarius lapponicus. — Northern portion of Northern Hemi- 
sphere, breeding in Arctic region. 

Range of C. J. alascensis. — "The whole of Alaska, including (and breeding 
on) the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands, Unalaska, and the Shumagins; east to Fort 
Simpson, south in winter through more western parts of North America to Nevada 
(Carson City), eastern Oregon, Colorado, western Kansas, etc." (Ridgway). 

Occurrence in California. — Two records, one by Frank Stephens, False Bay, 
San Diego County, Oct. 2, 1909 (Condor, XII., 1910, p. 44), and one by Henry W. 
Marsden, Gunthers Island, Eureka, Oct. 2, 1909 (Condor, XII., 1910, p. no). 

Authorities. — As above. 

IT IS a curious coincidence that the only two records of the occur- 
rence of the Lapland Longspur in California were made on the same day, 
October 2, 1909, and from localities so widely separated as Eureka and 
San Diego. In both instances, also, the birds were found near the ocean. 
In this respect they preserved the tradition of springtime, for in their 
Alaskan home the Longspurs breed down to tidewater; but their winter 
home is, preferably, the dry prairies of the interior. It would not be sur- 
prising, therefore, if the birds were to be found in Modoc and Lassen 
counties in winter; but their occurrence on the coast was purely fortuitous. 

Those who have seen the prairies of Iowa or Kansas give up these 
birds by scores and hundreds every few rods, have been able to form some 
conception of their vast numbers; but it remained for the storm of March 
13-14, 1904, to reveal the real order of magnitude of their abundance. An 
observer detailed by the Minnesota State Natural History Survey esti- 
mates that a million and a half of these "Lapland" Longspurs perished in 
and about the village of Worthington alone; and he found that this de- 
struction, though not elsewhere so intense, extended over an area of 
fifteen hundred square miles. 

In spite of these occasional bufferings of fortune, such birds as do 
reach Alaska bring a mighty cheer with them to the solitudes. As Nelson 
says: 1 "When they arrive, early in May, the ground is still largely covered 
with snow, with the exception of grassy spots along southern exposures 
and the more favorably situated portions of the tundra, and here may be 
found these birds in all the beauty of their elegant summer dress. The 
males, as if conscious of their handsome plumage, choose the tops of the 
only breaks in the monotonous level, which are small rounded knolls and 

1 Rep. Nat. Hist. Colls, in Alaska, 1887, p. 183. 


The Chestnut-collared Longspur 

tussocks. The male utters its song as it flies upward from one of these 
knolls and when it reaches the height of ten or fifteen yards, it extends the 
points of its wings upwards, forming a large V-shaped figure, and floats 
gently to the ground, uttering, as it slowly sinks, its liquid tones, which fall 
in tinkling succession upon the ear, and are perhaps the sweetest notes that 
one hears during the entire spring-time in these regions. It is an exquisite 
jingling melody, having much less power than that of the Bobolink, but 
with the same general character, and, though shorter, it has even more 
melody than the song of that well-known bird." 

No. 37 

Chestnut-collared Longspur 

A. O. U. No. 538. Calcarius ornatus (J. K. Townsend). 

Description. — Adult male in spring: Head black and white and buff; crown 
and sides of cervix, a post-ocular streak, and a patch on side of neck, black; throat 
and cheeks warm buff; enclosed areas white; breast extensively black (occasionally 
with dabs of chestnut, and, in early spring, more or less veiled with buffy) ; everywhere, 
including lower throat, outlined against white of remaining underparts; a sharply 
outlined nuchal patch, or half-collar, of chestnut; remaining upperparts blackish, 
edged with flaxen (light buffy brown); wings chiefly dusky with buffy brown edgings; 
the lesser and middle coverts black; the inner feathers of lesser coverts broadly tipped 
with white, the middle and greater coverts tipped with flaxen or whitish; tail extensively 
white, the feathers blackish-tipped, decreasingly from central pair. Bill light brown; 
feet and legs darker. Adult male in autumn and winter: As in spring, but lighter by 
reason of more extended flaxen edging; blacks almost entirely veiled by buffy tips; the 
nuchal chestnut reduced and veiled. Adult female: Similar to male in winter, but 
still lighter and duller; the black of breast almost entirely obscured by buffy tips, and 
chestnut collar wanting; in general, a flaxen bird, streaked with dusky above, and with 
some outcropping of black on breast centrally (in highest plumage the characteristic 
pattern of lesser wing-coverts most nearly retained). Immature birds resemble adult 
female, but lack wing pattern and are obscurely streaked on sides of head and throat 
and on chest (tail pattern of white distinctive). Length of adult male 146-157 (5.75- 
6.20); wing 85 (3.35); tail 56 (2.20); bill 10.5 (.41); tarsus 20 (.78). Females average 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler to sparrow size; black breast with chestnut 
collar of male distinctive; but female very obscurely colored, — a dull cinnamon-buff y 
bird, streaked with dusky above; terrestrial and more or less gregarious habits. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: Of grass and weed-stems, 
lined with fine grasses, moss and horsehair; sunk flush with surface of ground, under 
protection of weeds or grass-tuft. Eggs: 4 or 5; ovate, dull whitish as to ground, 
heavily but obscurely freckled, spotted, or clouded, with drab or purplish drab, and 
sharply but sparingly marked with brownish black. Av. size 19 x 14 (.75 x .55) (Reed). 
Season: June, July; two broods. 


The Chestnut-collared Longspur 

General Range. — The central plains region. Breeds from southern Sas- 
katchewan, south to central Kansas, and from the prairie portion of Montana east 
to western Minnesota; winters from Nebraska and Iowa to Sonora and southern 
portion of Mexican tableland; accidental in New England, Maryland, and California. 

Range in California. — Of accidental occurrence in Inyo County (Cow Camp, 
15 miles north of Darwin, Sept. 28, 1917 — an immature female taken by Joseph Grin- 

Authority. — Grinnell, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 87. 

THE OCCURRENCE of a single straggler taken by Grinnell in 
eastern Inyo County extends by a considerable distance the potential 
range of Calcarins ornatus. The bird is rated by Swarth 1 an abundant 
migrant, and less commonly a winter resident in extreme eastern Arizona, 
"occasionally straggling further westward." The normal range of the 
species is the Great Plains region; and it would appear that the south- 
ward-moving hordes sweep around the southern end of the Rockies in 
New Mexico, and so into Arizona and Sonora, rather than risk crossing 
the Rocky Mountains at a point further north. This California wan- 
derer, on the other hand, probably became involved with birds of some 
other species crossing the Rockies in Wyoming or northern Colorado. 

Of the birds' appearance near Fort Hays, Kansas, Dr. Allen writes :' 
"They live in summer in large scattered colonies, generally many pairs 
being found at the same locality, while they may not be again met with 
in a whole day's travel. We found them very shy for so small birds, and 
were obliged to obtain all our specimens by shooting them on the wing at 
long range. They breed, of course, on the ground, constructing a rather 
slight but neat nest of dry grass and the stems of small plants. The eggs 
appear to be commonly five in number, blotched and streaked with rusty 
on a white ground, full sets of which were obtained the first week in June. 
This species has the curious habit of circling round the observer, with a 
buoyant, undulatory flight, generally high in the air, and usually keeping 
all the while well out of range, uttering, meanwhile, its rather sharp but 
musical call notes." 

1 Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 10, 1914. p. 51. 

2 In Coues' "Birds of the Northwest," 1874, pp. 122-123. 


The Lark Bunting 

No. 38 

Lark Bunting 

A. O. U. No. 605. Calamospiza melanocorys Stejneger. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: Nearly uniform black, duller 
(browner or grayer) on back; a patch of brownish gray on flanks, occasionally crossing 
rump; a large white blotch on wing formed by middle and greater coverts; tertials 
edged with white, and tail-feathers white-blotched on tips. Bill dark horn blue 
above, paler below; feet brown. Adult female: Quite different; above grayish brown, 
finely and heavily streaked with dusky; below white, sharply streaked, especially 
on sides of throat, on breast and sides, with dusky; white blotch on wing much reduced 
and tinged more or less with buffy. Adult male in autumn: Much like adult female, 
but wing markings more pronounced; chin black; and feathers of underparts extensively 
black basally (with irruptive appearance when disturbed). Length of adult male 
about 165 (6.50); wing 88 (3.46); tail 68 (2.67); bill 14 (.55); depth at base 1 1.4 (.49); 
tarsus 24.4 (.96). Females average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; all black of male in high plumage, with 
white wing blotches, distinctive. In case of females and autumnal males, the robust 
beak, taken in connection with white blotches on wing and tips of tail-feathers, prevents 
confusion in an otherwise "merely streaked" bird. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: Of grasses, sunk flush with 
surface of ground. Eggs: 4 or 5; pale bluish green, immaculate, or, rarely, speckled, 
or marked with reddish brown. Av. size 22 x 16 (.88 x .65). Season: June; one brood. 

General Range. — Plains of central North America, breeding from southern 
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba, south to northeastern New 
Mexico and northwestern Texas, east to Nebraska and western Minnesota; in winter 
from southern Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Texas south over the tableland 
of Mexico and in southern Lower California. Occurs sporadically during migrations 
west to California, east to Iowa; accidental in Atlantic seaboard states. 

Occurrence in California. — Irregular visitor, chiefly in late winter or spring, 
in southern portion of State; occasionally occurs in some numbers. There are about 
thirteen published records of occurrence, all lying within the area defined by Santa 
Barbara (Mailliard), Tulare Lake (J. S. Cooper), San Diego (Holterhoff), and the 
Colorado River (J. Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Cooper, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, vol. ii., 1877, p. 92 (Tulare Lake); 
Cones, Birds of the Northwest, 1874, p. 163 (peculiarities of structure; habits; nests 
and eggs, etc.); Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 137 (Calif, records); 
Wyman, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 203 (Los Angeles); Herron, Condor, vol. xviii., 
1916, p. 205 (Cabezon); Whittle, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, p. 74 (flight song). 

DID YOU EVER hear of a bird wearing a dress suit under an ulster? 
Well, that is precisely what the Lark Bunting does; that is, the male Lark 
Bunting, during nine months of the year. The female, poor drudge, is 
not allowed any such finery, even for her honeymoon. She makes shift 
the year around with a dull habit of brownish gray, streaked with dusky 


The Lark Bunting 

or relieved with whitish below. The only ornament she is allowed to 
wear is a creamy shoulder patch, and this must be reefed to the smallest 
possible dimensions, save in flight. But the male, bless you, has solved 
the problem of splendor — splendor plus economy. When family cares are 
over for the season, and it is time to think of getting ready for the annual 
southern trip, this crafty Beau Brummel orders a brand new black suit 
with white trimmings, say, epaulettes and braid. But when, after the 
last try-on, he comes out of the tailor shop (that is, the post-nuptial molt) 
late in August, he is nearly enveloped from head to foot in a flaxen "duster," 
suitable for travelling. The new black suit is there, you know, but since 
the bird can carry no bags, the tailor-made does duty for underclothes. 
Only with advancing springtime do the ends of the feathers wear away 
(aptosochromatism the ornithologists call it), and disclose to view the 
resplendent black of the wooer and gallant, the troubadour poet of the 

The Lark Bunting, though a very self-sufficient and straight-forward 
mortal, is, nevertheless, a bit of a puzzle to the science. Lark he is not, 
for his claws are not lengthened like those of the Alaudidce, nor even like 
those of certain other terrestrial finches. The name comes only from his 
habit of singing a-wing. Viewed structurally, he is, no doubt, a sparrow. 
The turgid beak suggests Emberiza of the Old World, so that the name 
"Bunting," otherwise little used in America, may be allowed to pass. 
The eggs which, in this species, are spotless green (niagara green), or, very 
rarely, maculated, link the bird to Spiza, and possibly to the lesser gros- 
beaks. But this black grosbeak of the prairies looks and acts more like 
a Bobolink. He is much the shape and size of a Bobolink; the contrast 
between nuptial and eclipse plumage is the same; and the flocking of 
winter is not altogether different. 

The normal winter range of Calamospiza is Texas, Arizona, Lower 
California, and the Mexican table-land. Occasionally the autumnal 
migrants overshoot the mark and land in southern California; but oftener, 
apparently, the records are made in the spring by migrants which, return- 
ing from Lower California, pursue a course a little too far northward 
before swinging to the east. Winter flocks may be composed of both 
sexes in equal or very unequal proportions. They feed quietly upon the 
ground in the open, whether along a river bottom or over the baldest 
desert. The Lark Buntings are not averse to civilization, and they some- 
times frequent Mexican dooryards or barnyards with much the freedom 
and something of the manner of blackbirds. And because they are seen 
lingering on into May is no sign that they are going to breed with us; for 
the spring winds of Manitoba blow chill and there is no hurry. 

Encountered upon his native prairie, Calamospiza gives one a vivid 


The Western Lark Sparrow 

assurance of his fitness. There are only two "elements" to consider, the 
ground and the air, and the Lark Bunting is equally at home with either. 
Be the wind never so fresh, the happy-hearted bird, all lark now, launches 
vigorously and nutters up to a height of ten or twenty feet, singing the 
while. Then he makes a parachute of his wings, bat-fashion, or like a 
concave Y, and, struggling with the wind, or bent on ostentatious gal- 
lantry, settles to the ground still singing. The song, which is not loud, 
consists of a pleasing repetition of several very different phrases. By 
phrases, in this instance, is meant a short succession of notes of one qual- 
ity. Thus, one phrase will consist of four double notes given in the same 
key, weo weo weo weo. Another, perhaps immediately succeeding, will be 
an insect trill, like that of the Grasshopper Sparrow. The effect produced 
by an endless succession of these rocketing birds is very impressive ; and 
the Lark Bunting comes in time to symbolize all that is distinctive in the 
life of the Great Plains. 

No. 39 

Western Lark Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 552a. Chondestes grammacus strigatus (Swainson). 

Synonyms. — Quail-head. Western Lark Finch. 

Description. — Adult: Head variegated, black, white, and chestnut; lateral 
head-stripes black in front, chestnut behind; auriculars chestnut, bounded by rictal 
and post-orbital black stripes; narrow loral, and broader submalar black stripes; 
malar, superciliary, and median stripes white, the two latter becoming buffy behind; 
upperparts buffish gray-brown, clearest on sides of neck, streaked by blackish brown 
centers of feathers on middle back and scapulars, persisting as edging on the fuscous 
wings and tail; tail-feathers, except middle pair, broadly (decreasingly from outermost) 
tipped with white; below white, purest on throat and belly, washed with grayish buff 
on sides and crissum, also obscurely across fore-breast, in which is situated a central 
black spot. Bill dark brown above, darkening toward tip, paler below; feet and legs 
pale brownish. Young birds lack the black and chestnut of head, and are more or less 
streaked below, at least across breast. Length 158.8 (6.25); wing 87 (3.42); tail 70 
(2.75); bill 12 (.47); tarsus 20.3 (.80). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; head variegated black, white, and chest- 
nut; fan-shaped tail broadly tipped with white and conspicuous in flight. 

Nesting. — Nest: Either on the ground, more or less concealed by protecting 
grass-clump or bush, or else in bush or tree at moderate heights; in the former instance 
a more or less careless but thick-walled saucer of dried grasses, lined with horsehair; 
in the latter, a sturdy deep cup built externally of twigs, weed-stems and grasses, or 
string and trash, and heavily lined, as before, with horsehair, or, more rarely, rootlets. 
Eggs: 4 or 5; ovate, or short ovate, often notably rounded; white, pinkish or bluish 
white, spotted or scrawled in zigzags, or else finely scrolled about the larger end with 
dark browns and purplish. Some examples are as finely scrolled as eggs of the Icterine 



wo-nsqg AiBd iralgsW , 

. bag sffiM 






g the 




- - 

Western Lark Sparrow 

Male and female, about % life size 




• I 


S-* ■ 

&"** /&-**#* - 

The Western Lark Sparrow 

orioles, and rare examples are handsomely mottled, or partially veiled, with liver- 
brown. Av. of 45 California-taken specimens in the M. C. O. coll.: 20.3 x 15.7 (.80 
x .62). Season: April 15 to June 30: one or two broods. 

Range of Chondestes grammacus. — North America from the Pacific Coast east, 
regularly to Ohio and Tennessee, casually to the Atlantic seaboard, north to central 
British Columbia and Saskatchewan, south over the Mexican plateau and, in winter, 
through Lower California and southern Mexico to Guatemala. 

Range of C. g. strigatus. — As above, save that eastern boundary roughly coin- 
cides with that of the Great Plains. 

Distribution in California. — Resident throughout the State in the Upper 
Sonoran life zone, but chiefly in the interior valleys west of the Sierras; found sparingly 
in Lower Transition (San Jacinto Mountains, alt. 6300, June 3, 1913; Humboldt 
County, June 14, 1916), and descending casually within the upper limits of Lower 
Sonoran (Palm Springs, May 27, 1913; Mohave Desert, near Palmdale, May 16, 
1919; Indian Wells, Inyo County, May 19, 1919). Seasonal redistribution imper- 
fectly made out; local population is possibly stationary, but entire State is lightly 
swept by northern migrants which reinforce local populations, or deploy over deserts. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza grammica), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. ii., 1893, p. 265; Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, pp. 456-457 
(crit. ; meas.) ; Coale, Bull. Ridgway Orn. Club, vol. ii., 1887, pp. 24-25 (crit.) ; Atkinson, 
Oologist, vol. xvii., 1900, pp. 105-107 (life hist.); J add, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, 
pp. 66-68 (part) (food); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 79-81. 

Taken in Ventura County ^^^^^■■■■UMI^^^^^^^ Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Western Lark Sparrow 

THERE is a spot near Shandon so 
and its unspoiled simplicities, that one 
tion to it. The vaquero knew its solitu 
fully upon its skirts; but so far 
tion of the "oil-rig," and the 
If you will promise not to plot 
join us on an afternoon in 
raining off and on for 
is clear now, and 

endeared by reason of its verdure 
hesitates to draw invidious atten- 
des, and the rancher dwells peace- 
it has been spared the desecra- 
other engines of civilization, 
"improvements," you shall 
early April. It has been 
a week, but the sky 
the lush grasses 
feet with the 


'dobe hills rise 

of the village, and their 

durous eminences stretch 

our vision. A full third 

for the rains have beaten 

to time, and the sides of 

with huge amphitheaters 

whose sides, in turn, are 

fluted in a thousand fantastic forms 

Take?: in Ventura County 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


of fulness. The 
smartly to the east 
rounded, varied, ver- 
ke a canvas before 
of the canvas is yellow, 
too fiercely from time 
the hills are rent open 
and earthen funnels, 
gashed and scarred and 
Fierce little barrancas, as sharply 

graven in the greensward as with the stroke of an etcher's tool, have led off 
the sudden torrents from the vortices of these weird funnels, but tiring 
presently of their impetuous burdens, they have spewed out the muddy 
waters in great yellow triangles over the sides of the lower slopes. But 
elsewhere all is green, green save for the glowing pink of owl's foot clover, 


Taken in Ventura County 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


The Western Lark Sparrow 

<-^^%, the purple of massed lilies, or the honest blue of 

^^•^3 '" lupine, wave on wave. Little rounded chains of 

flanking hills descend with graceful sweep in 
cadences of green. Their sides, too, are faintly 
terraced with the concentric furrows of a thou- 
sand cattle trails now smothered in green. Grass 
is everywhere; but over it all is the pale glaucous 
shimmer of the younger sages, vying with the 
accumulated grays of last year's flower-stalks. 
x\nd here and there, partially yet gracefully dis- 
tributed, are spaces dotted with the larger 
"sages," chamisal or eruptive Rhus, with their 
stronger note of stippled blue-green. 

A lazy country road skirts this scene of 
beauty; and, upon either side, its intermittent 
strand of fence-wire, sagging indolently, sup- 
ports a gallant crowd of the merriest, sweetest sparrows to be found in the 

whole glad realm. No, they are not a crowd, 

either, for although the Western Lark Spar- _ 

rows foregather here annually to pass y/ 

the season of courtship, and although \\JL\tf 

one may count a hundred of them 

in the length of a dozen panels, 

they are not animated to any 

considerable extent by flock 

impulses, nor does one 

think of them en masse. & 

Whether it be run- 
ning nimbly along the I 

ground, or leaping into 

the air to catch a risen I 

grasshopper, one feels in- I 

stinctively that here is a ' 

dainty breed. The bird 

endears itself, moreover, 

because of its fondness for 1 

wayside fellowship. If you 

are on horseback, the Lark 

Sparrow, like the Horned Lark 

loves to trip ahead coquettishly 

along the dusty road, only to yield 

place at last to your insistent steed 

Taken in Washington 
Photo by the Author 



The Western Lark Sparrow 


with an air of gentle re- 
proach. As it flits away, 
you catch a glimpse of 
the rounded tail held half 
open, with its terminal 
rim of white; and you 
know that you have met 
the aristocrat of the 

Or it may be you 
have caught the bird 
singing from a fence- 
post, and rather than 
lose his run (for poesy 
also has its mechanics), 
he will pause momentar- 
ily instead of seeking 
safety in flight. Then 
that marvelous head 
comes into full view. 
What a striped beauty 
he is! A finger-ring slip- 
ped over theQuail-head's 
head will pass twenty- 
three patches of pure 
color, — black, white, 
chestnut and buffy, be- 
fore it encounters a 
streaky admixture of 
flaxen, black, and rufous- 
tawny on the hindhead. 
The rest of the bird is 
"sparrow-color," above, relieved only by the flashing white tips of the fan- 
shaped tail. If you are very lucky or very well-behaved, the song will 
resume. And the song of the Lark Sparrow is one of Nature's sacraments. 

This bird, more frequently than others, is found singing in the middle 
of the very hottest days in summer, and at such times his tremulous notes 
come to the ear like the gurgling of sweet waters. But Ridgway's 
description is still unsurpassed. 1 "This song is composed of a series of 
chants, each syllable rich, loud, and clear, interspersed with emotional 
trills. At the beginning the song reminds one somewhat of that of the 

Taken in San Diego County 



Photo by Donald R. Diekey 

"Birds of Illinois." Vol. I., p. 263 

2 3 8 













































The Western Lark Sparrow 

Indigo Bird (Passerina cyanea), but the notes are louder and more metal- 
lic, and their delivery more vigorous. Though seemingly hurried, it is 
one continued gush of sprightly music; now gay, now melodious, and then 
tender beyond description, — the very expression of emotion. At inter- 
vals the singer falters, as if exhausted by exertion, and his voice becomes 
scarcely audible; but suddenly reviving in his joy, it is resumed in all its 
vigor, until he appears to be really overcome by the effort." 

Nor is it alone the emotions of springtime which provoke this min- 
strel to utterance. In fall or winter, when they are flocking, a special 
dispensation of sunshine will set them all to singing. No less than a 
score of them are huddled together in a treetop, and a merry eistedfod 
we shall have of it. Little Welchmen! That's what I call them, for 
they excel in song as they do in gladness of heart. Aye, aye, what a 
merry mad bird house it is! No two of them singing alike in theme or 
tempo, but all of them pitching in at once with a royal good will! Isn't 
it glorious — tinkling, bubbling, gushing, trilling! Who says that a 

December day in Cali- 
fornia is not as good as 
June anywhere else? 

As in the case of the 
Sandwich and Savanna 
Sparrows, the curiously 
striped coloration of this 
bird's head is evidently 
intended to facilitate 
concealment. The bird 
peering out of a weed 
clump is almost invis- 
ible. And yet, as I was 
once passing along a 
sage-clad hillside with an 
observing young rancher, 
my companion halted 
with a cry. He had 
caught the gleam of a 
Lark Sparrow's eye as 
she sat brooding under a perfect mop of dead broom-sage. The camera 
was brought into requisition, and the lens pointed downward. The 
camera-cloth bellied and flapped in the breeze, yellow tripod legs waved 
belligerently, and altogether there was much noise of photographic com- 
merce, but the little mother clung to her eggs. The stupid glass eye of 
the machine, spite of all coaxing, saw nothing but twigs, and we were obliged 

Taken in Ventura County 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Western Lark Sparrow 

to forego a picture of the 
sitting bird. To get a 
picture of the eggs (see 
page 237), I was obliged 
to hack away the pro- 
tecting brush, having 
first slipped in a hand- 
kerchief to protect the 
nest and contents from 
showering debris. 

In the Shandon 
country, where Western 
Lark Sparrows abound, 
nesting is oftenest un- 
dertaken on the ground, 
either with or without 
the protection of a bush 
or a lupine clump. But 
in the vicinity of Santa 
Barbara, where the bird 
is also not uncommon, 
although very irregular- 
ly distributed, the nests 
are oftener taken up into 
trees at moderate heights, 
ingly improved. 



The construction in such case is correspond- 
A sturdy basket of twigs, weed-stems, roots and twisted 
grasses, is beautifully lined with horsehair (what will the birds do when 
horses become extinct?). The eggs, four or five in number, white as to 
ground color, and purplish black or sepia as to markings, are among the 
most varied and easily the most interesting of the sparrow tribe — at 
least in California. The markings of sepia are often intricately scrolled 
about the larger end ; and at their best the eggs are not exceeded in beauty 
even by those of the oriole. One specimen before me has twenty-two 
interwoven lines of color in the space of one-fifth of an inch. Another 
has discontinuous lines and flecks, like the colored lint-marks in a bank- 
note. Indeed, I am inclined to think that the Bureau of Printing and 
Engraving got the idea from a Lark Sparrow's egg. Other eggs again, 
some few, are as plainly and sparsely marked and spotted as the egg of 
a Brown Towhee (Pipilo crissalis). Oriole he is not, not even remotely; 
but how did our Lark Sparrow hit upon the decorative scheme pre- 
empted — patented, I had almost said — by the Bullock Oriole? Here is 
a nut for oologists to crack. 


The Vesper Sparrows 



No. 40 

Vesper Sparrow 

No. 40a Western Vesper Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 540a. Pooecetes gramineus confinis Baird. 

Synonyms. — Western Grass Finch. Bay-winged Bunting. 

Description. — Adults: General tone of upperparts grayish brown or buffy 
brown on the edges of the feathers, modified by the dusky centers, and warmed by 
delicate traces of rufous; bend of wing bay (between tawny and sayal brown), con- 
cealing dusky centers; wings and tail fuscous with pale tawny or whitish edgings, — 
outermost pair of tail-feathers principally white, the white crossing to inner web about 
midway of shaft, and involving terminal portion broadly; below sordid white, sharply- 
streaked on breast, flanks, and sides with dusky brown; the chin and throat with small 
arrow marks of the same color and bounded by chains of streaks; auriculars clear 
hair-brown, with buffy or lighter center; usually a buffy suffusion on streaked area 


The Vesper Sparrows 

of breast and sides. Length of adult male 146.1-158.8 (5.75-6.25); wing 83.6 (3.29); 
tail 65.8 (2.59); bill n. 2 (.44); tarsus 21.6 (.85). Female a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; general streaked appearance; white lateral 
tail-feathers conspicuous in flight; frequents fields and open sage. 

Nesting. — Nest: A depression in the earth, neatly lined with grasses, rootlets 
and horsehair. Eggs: 4 or 5, pinkish-grayish-bluish white, speckled, spotted, and 
occasionally scrawled or mottled with reddish brown. Av. size 20.5 x 15.2 (.81 x .60). 
A set of four from Mono County averages 23.4 x 15.5 (.92 x .61). Season: About 
June 1st; one brood. 

Range of Poacetes gramineus. — Temperate North America, south in winter 
to southern Mexico. 

Range of P. g. confinis. — Western North America, breeding in Upper Sonoran, 
Transition, and Lower Canadian Zones, from southeastern British Columbia, Al- 
berta, and Saskatchewan, south to central eastern California and Arizona, east to 
Texas and the middle of the Great Plains region; winters from southern California and 
central Texas to southern Mexico and Lower California. 

Distribution in California. — Breeds in high mountain meadows in the southern 
Sierras, and in Transition to Canadian life zones east of the Sierras from the Inyo 
Mountains north to the Oregon border; winters in the valleys of the San Diego district, 
rarely to Santa Barbara, less commonly on the deserts, and in the San Joaquin Valley 
north to Fresno (Tyler). Limits of winter range imperfectly made out, and perhaps 
indeterminable as distinguished from P. g. a finis. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza graminea), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 265; Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 448 (desc. of 
confinis); Fisher, A. K., N. Amer. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 85; Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. 
Sci. Pub., vol. ii., 1898, p. T,6;Judd, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, p. 58 (food); Tyler, 
Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, p. 77 (winter habits in Fresno district). 

A SOBER garb cannot conceal the quality of the wearer, even though 
Quaker gray be made to cover alike saint and sinner. Plainness of dress, 
therefore, is a fault to be readily forgiven, even in a bird, if it be accom- 
panied by a voice of sweet sincerity and a manner of self-forgetfulness. 
In a family where a modest garb is no reproach, but a warrant to health 
and long life, the Vesper Sparrow is preeminent for modesty. You 
are not aware of his presence until he disengages himself from the engulfing 
grays and browns of the stalk-strewn ground or dusty roadside, and 
mounts a fence-post to rhyme the coming or the parting day. 

The arrival of the Vesper Sparrow upon its elevated breeding grounds, 
in late April or early May, according to season, may mark the supreme 
effort of that particular warm wave; but you are quite content to await 
the further travail of the season while you get acquainted with this 
amiable new-comer. Under the compulsion of the sun the bleary fields 
have been trying to muster a decent green to hide the ugliness of winter's 
devastation. But wherefore? The air is lonely and the sage untenanted. 


The Vesper Sparrows 

The Meadowlarks, to be sure, have been romping about for several weeks 
and getting bolder every day; but they are roisterous fellows, drunk with 
air and mad with sunshine. The winter-sharpened ears wait hungrily 
for the poet of common day. The morning he comes a low sweet murmur 
of praise is heard on every side. You know it will ascend unceasingly 
thenceforth, and spring is different. 

Vesper Sparrow is the 
typical ground bird. He 
eats, runs, sleeps, and 
rears his family on the 
ground; but to sing — ah, 
that is different! 
Nothing less than the 
tip of the highest sage- 
bush will do for that; a 
telegraph pole or wire is 
better; and a lone tree in 
a pasture is not to be 
despised for this one pur- 
pose. The males gather in 
spring to engage in decorous 
concerts of rivalry. The song 
consists of a variety of simple, 
pleasing notes, each uttered two or 
three times, and all strung together to 
the number of four or five. The charac- 
teristic introduction is a mellow whistled 
he-ho, a little softer in tone than the succeeding notes. The song of the 
western bird has noticeably greater variety than that of the eastern. 
Not only is it less stereotyped in the matter of pitch and duration, but 
in quality and cadence it sometimes shows surprising differences. One 
heard in Washington, near the 49th parallel, would have passed for 
Brewer's on a frolic, except for the preliminary "hee-ho's"; Heeoo heeoo 
heeoo buzziwuzziwuzzi wnzziwuzziwuzzi weechee weechee. And it would 
not be surprising if he had learned from Spizella breweri, who is a constant 
neighbor and a safe guide in matters of sage lore. The scolding note, 
a thrasher-like kissing sound, tsook, will sometimes interrupt a song if 
the strange listener gets too close. Early morning and late evening are 
the regular song periods; but the conscientious and indefatigable singer 
is more apt than most to interrupt the noontide stillness also. 

Since this species is a bird of open country and uplands, it cares 
little for the vicinity of water; but it loves the dust of the country roads 

Taken in 
Photo by 
the Author 

(Alt. 12,245) 


(alt. 7300) A TYPICAL 






The Vesper Sparrows 

Taken in Idaho 

as dearly as an old hen, and the daily dust-bath is a familiar sight to 
every traveler. While seeking its food of weed-seeds and insects, it runs 
busily about upon the ground, skulking and running oftener than flitting 
for safety. Although not especially timid, it seems to take a sort of 
professional pride in being able to slip about among the weed-stems 

It is, of course, at the nesting time that the sneak-ability of the bird 

is most severely tested. 
The nest, a simple affair 
of coiled grasses, is usu- 
ally sunk, or chambered, 
in the ground, so that its 
brim comes flush with 
the surface. For the 
rest, the brooding bird 
seldom seeks any other 
protection than that of 
"luck," and her own 
ability to elude observa- 
tion when obliged to quit 
the nest. Her behavior 
at this time depends 
largely upon the amount 
of disturbance to which 
she is subjected. At 
first approach of danger 
she is inclined to stick 
to her post till the last 
possible moment, and 
then she falls lame as she 
flutters off . But if often 
frightened, she shrewdly 
learns to rise at a con- 
siderable distance. 

In the northern states 
the Vesper Sparrow 
raises two or even three 
broods in a season, but 
inasmuch as the ranges 
affected by the birds in 
this State are rather ele- 
vated ones, it is doubtful 

Photo by H. J. Rust 



The Vesper Sparrows 

if more than one brood is raised. The Western Vesper Sparrow is not 
by any means so common in California during the breeding season as it 
is in the more northern states, and its breeding range seems to be confined 
chiefly to the plateau region east of the Sierras, from Owens Valley north. 
I have found it most commonly in Long Valley in southern Mono 
County, where, in association with the Brewer Sparrow and the Sage 
Thrasher, it is one of the most characteristic birds of the dwarf-sage belt, 
which skirts the lowermost slopes of the mountains. It is also a familiar 
figure along the crests of the White Mountains; and we have an egg in 
the M. C. O. collection which was taken there at an elevation of 10,000 feet. 
There has been a notable shifting of this species within historic times. 
This change has been marked by a vigorous and successive encroachment 
along the northern limits of the breeding area, and, as nearly as we can 
make out, by a corresponding retirement from southern territory. As 
in so many other instances, the movement in California has been altitud- 
inally upward, with a resultant reduction of area. 

No. 40b Oregon Vesper Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 540b. Pooecetes gramineus affinis Miller. 

Synonyms. — Pacific Vesper Sparrow. Miller's Grass Finch. 

Description. — Similar to P. g. confinis but smaller and coloration darker, 
browner above, more distinctly buffy below. Length of adult male about 146 (5.75); 
wing 77.2 (3.04); tail 57.9 (2.28); bill 10.9 (.43); tarsus 20.6 (.81). Female a little 

Nesting. — Not known to breed in California. As in preceding subspecies. 

Range of P. g. affinis. — The Pacific Coast region; in summer from British Co- 
lumbia to northwestern Oregon; in winter, California west of the Sierras to Cape San 

Distribution in California. — Winter resident and migrant west of the Sierras. 
Range imperfectly distinguished from preceding in winter, and doubtless overlapping 
it in southern portion. 

Authorities. — Newberry (Zonotrichia graminea), Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. 
vi., pt. iv., 1857, p. 88;Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., vol. ii., 1898, p. 36; Wittard, 
Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 30; McGregor, Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 25\Grifi?iell, 
Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 113; Swarth, Condor, vol. xix., 1917, p. 130. 

THE VESPER Sparrows are a very much less conspicuous element 
of the Californian avifauna than of that found in the regions to the north 
of us. Confinis does not breed in this State, though suitable "prairies" 
are not lacking in Trinity or Siskiyou counties. Known only, therefore, 
as a winter resident and migrant, it seeks the open situations of the 


The Savanna Sparrows 

coastal counties, consorts freely with local Lark Sparrows, skulks about 
in meadows or stubble fields, and joins in the chorus of springtime only 
when it is on the point of departure for the Willamette or Puget Sound. 

Mr. Bowles finds that eggs may not be looked for in the vicinity of 
Tacoma before the first week in May, and they are not certainly found 
before the middle of that month. Open prairie is most frequently 
selected for a site, and its close-cropped mossy surface often requires 
considerable ingenuity of concealment on the bird's part. Ploughed 
ground, where undisturbed, is eagerly utilized. At other times a shallow 
cup is scraped at the base of a small fern, or the protection of a fallen 
limb is sought. 

The eggs, from three to five in number, are perhaps the most hand- 
somely, certainly the most quaintly marked of any in the sparrow family. 
The ground-color is grayish white; and this, in addition to sundry freck- 
lings and cloudings of lavender, is spotted, blotched, and scrawled, with 
old chestnut. 

The female sits closely, and sometimes will not leave the nest until 
removed. She seldom flies, at that, but steps off and trips along the 
ground for some distance. Then she walks about uneasily or pretends 
to feed, venturing little expression of concern. Curiously, her liege lord 
never appears in defense of his home, but after the young are hatched 
he does his fair share in feeding them. 

No. 41 

Savanna Sparrow 

No. 41 Aleutian Savanna Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542. Passerculus sandwichensis sandwichensis (Gmelin). 

Synonyms. — Larger Savanna Sparrow. Sandwich Sparrow. 

Description. — Adults: General tone of upper plumage grayish brown — the 
feathers blackish centrally, with much edging of grayish brown (sometimes bay), 
flaxen, and whitish; an ill-defined mesial crown-stripe dull buffy, or tinged anteriorly 
with yellowish; lateral stripes blackish, with grayish brown edging reduced; a broad 
superciliary stripe yellow, clearest over lore, paling posteriorly; cheeks buffy with some 
mingling and outcropping of dusky; underparts whitish, clearest on throat, washed 
with buffy on sides, heavily and sharply streaked on sides of throat, breast, sides, 
flanks and thighs with dusky; streaks nearly confluent on sides of throat, thus defining 
submalar area of whitish; streaks darkest and wedge-shaped on breast, more diffused 
and edged with buffy posteriorly; under tail-coverts usually but not always with con- 
cealed wedge-shaped streaks of dusky. Bill dusky or dull horn-color above, lighter 
below; feet palest; iris dark brown. Immature birds are brighter; the yellow, usually 


The Savanna Sparrows 

less prominent in superciliary stripe, is often diffused over plumage of entire head, 
and, occasionally, down sides; the bend of the wing is pale yellow (or not); the sides 
are more strongly suffused with buffy, which usually extends across breast. Length 
of male about 146 (5.75); wing 77 (3.03); tail 53 (2.08); bill 12. 2 (.48); depth at base 
7.6 (.30); tarsus 22.6 (.89). Females a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size (but much more robust in appearance 
than a warbler); general streaky appearance; the striation of head, viewed from before, 
radiates in twelve alternating areas of black and white (or yellow) ; larger and lighter 
than the (rare) Savanna Sparrow (P. 5. savanna) ; larger, darker and browner than 
the common Western Savanna Sparrow (P. s. alandinus) . 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and Eggs: Much as in local 
breeding species. 

Range of Passerculus sandwichensis. — "North America from the Arctic Coast 
south to Guatemala and the West Indies, breeding in the East mostly north of the 
United States, in the West south to the southern part of the Mexican tableland." 
(A. O. U. Check-List.) 

Range of P. s. sandwichensis. — Northwest coast, breeding in Unalaska and 
neighboring islands, wintering eastward and southward along the coast from British 
Columbia to northern California. 

Occurrence in California. — Occasional winter visitant to northern localities 
west of the Sierra divide; has been taken as far south as Merced County (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Belding, Occ. Papers, Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, p. 142; Ridgway, 
Bull. U. S. Nat. Mus., no. 50, pt. i., 1901, p. 191; McGregor, Condor, vol. ii., 1900, 
P- 35; Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 113. 

No. 41a Eastern Savanna Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542a. Passerculus sandwichensis savanna (Wilson). 

Description. — "Similar to P. s. sandwichensis, but decidedly smaller (wing 
averaging much less than 76.20 and never more than 73.66), the bill much smaller 
both actually and relatively; coloration averaging browner, with superciliary stripe 
less continuously or conspicuously yellow" (Ridgway). Av. of 16 adult males (R): 
wing 69.3 (2.73); tail 49.3 (1.94); bill 10.4 (.41); depth at base 6.6 (.26); tarsus 20.8 

Range of P. s. savanna. — Eastern North America, breeding in Boreal and Tran- 
sition zones, from Ungava south to northern Iowa, mountains of Pennsylvania, etc. ; 
and wintering from southern Indiana and New Jersey south to northeastern Mexico 
and Cuba. 

Occurrence in California. — Based on specimens taken in Humboldt and Del 
Norte counties, the first one Dec. 4, 1910, by C. I. Clay, of Eureka, and identified 
by Dr. Joseph Grinnell; others by Messrs. Joseph Mailliard, Chester Lamb and Chase 

Authorities. — Clay, Condor, vol. xix., 1917, p. 68 (at Humboldt Bay) ; Mailliard, 
Condor, vol. xxiv., May, 1922, p. 95 (occur, at Kneeland Prairie and Requa). 

No. 41b Western Savanna Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542b. Passerculus sandwichensis alaudinus Bonaparte. 
Synonym. — Gray Savannah Sparrow. 


The Savanna Sparrows 

Description. — Similar to P. s. savanna but decidedly paler and grayer; less 
bay or none in edging of feathers of upperparts; yellow of superciliary stripe usually 
paler, sometimes nearly white; bill longer and relatively weaker. Other dimensions 
about as in P. s. savanna. 

Recognition Marks. — As in P. s. sandwichensis. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. As below. 

Range of P. s. alaudinus. — Western North America, breeding from the Arctic 
coast of Alaska and Mackenzie, south to the southern portion of the Mexican plateau, 
east to the western edge of the Great Plains; range on the west defined by that of 
P. s. nevadensis from the Great Basin region, and P. s. brooksi of the Pacific Coast dis- 
trict. (It is, however, incredible that in a species as plastic as P. sandwichensis the 
same breeding form should hold from Mackenzie to Mexico, a latitudinal range of 
fifty degrees!) Winters from northern California and northern Texas to Lower Cali- 
fornia, Mexico, and Guatemala. 

Distribution in California. — Abundant in winter at lower levels and in open 
situations throughout the State, but more commonly west of the Sierras. Found also 
on the Santa Barbara Islands. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza savanna), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 
2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 265; Bonaparte, Comptes Rendus, vol. xxxvii., 1853, p. 918 (desc. 
of alaudinus); Grinnell, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, pp. 21-22 (crit.) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. 
Publ. Zool., 5, 1910, pp. 311-316 (crit.; comp. with nevadensis); Bishop, Condor, vol. 
xvii., 1915, p. 188 (crit.); Palmer, T. S., Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 123 (discovery). 

No. 41c Nevada Savanna Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542b, part. Passerculus sandwichensis nevadensis Grinnell. 

Synonyms. — Desert Savanna Sparrow. Pale Savanna Sparrow. 

Description. — Similar to P. s. alaudinus but much paler throughout in all 
plumages; white replacing buff, — black streaks thus more conspicuously contrasted, 
there being a minimum amount of hazel marginings; size slightly less. — After Grinnell. 
Of unquestionable validity as a subspecies. 

Recognition Marks. — As in preceding — palest. 

Nesting. — Nest: In pasture or grassy bottom lands, a depression in ground, 
lined with grasses, and sparingly with horsehair; usually under protection of a "cow- 
blake." Eggs: 4 or 5; greenish or bluish white as to ground, spotted and marked, or 
else mottled and clouded, with Vandyke brown or verona brown. Sometimes the 
entire egg is covered with a pale wash of this color. Av. of 18 California- taken eggs 
in the M. C. O. coll.: 18 x 13.5 (.71 x .53). Season: May-June; two broods. 

Range of P. s. nevadensis. — The Great Basin region; limits not yet defined, 
but probably has a considerable northerly extension in the Upper Sonoran zone, 
possibly to British Columbia; winters, at least southerly, to the Pacific Coast and 
(probably) Mexico. 

Occurrence in California. — Resident in summer in watered valleys east of 
the Sierra divide. An isolated colony reported by Grinnell from northeastern Kern 
County. Winters south upon the deserts and southwest to the coast. Birds from 
the northern confines of nevadensis probably occur throughout the State in winter 
(See Bishop, Condor, XVII., Sept., 1915, p. 186). 








a| a. a. 





O j ^ adensis Grinnell. 

b S I 





2 Iced, or 

*• i eggs 


The Savanna Sparrows 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool.,5, 1910, pp. 312-316 (orig. desc); 
Bishop, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, pp. 186-187 (crit.) ; Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 
II, 1915, pp. 113-114 (range); Mailliard, J., Condor, vol. xxi., 1919, p. 75. 

No. 4ld Dwarf Savanna Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542b, part. Passerculus sandwichensis brooksi Bishop. 

Description. — "Nearest in size of P. s. bryanti, but with slightly longer wing and 
tail, slightly smaller bill, and shorter tarsus; much paler in coloring, with the dark 
central stripes much narrower both above and below, and the rusty paler. Smaller, 
but with relatively longer bill than P. s. alaudinus and P. s. nevadensis ; much paler 
and with less rusty in plumage of upperparts than P. s. alaudinus; closely resembling 
P. s. nevadensis in color, but slightly darker and more brownish above, with the supra- 
loral stripe broader and richer, and with the auricular region, nape and sides of neck 
washed with buff, these differences showing best in birds of fresh winter plumage" 
(orig. desc). Av. of 8 males (after Bishop): wing 66.9 (2.63); tail 46.6 (1.83); bill 10 
(.39); depth at base 5.8 (.23); tarsus 20.1 (.79). 

Range of P. s. brooksi. — Described by Bishop from specimens taken at Sumas 
and Chilliwack, B. C, supplemented by two (male and female) taken August 19, 
1909, on Humboldt Bay. Probably the coast district of British Columbia and Wash- 
ington, intergrading toward Humboldt Bay with bryanti. (I cannot believe that 
these August specimens from Humboldt Bay were really migrants.) Also reported 
by Mailliard as the breeding bird of Del Norte County. 

Occurrence in California. — As above. 

Authorities. — Bishop, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, pp. 187-188 (at Humboldt Bay); 
Mailliard, Condor, vol. xxiii., Sept., 1921, p. 164. 

SINCE nine of the eleven recognized forms of Passerculus are accred- 
ited to California, it may be in order to review the whole group briefly. 

The genus Passerculus is a clearly definable and substantially homo- 
geneous one. So nearly uniform is it that, save for the circumstance of 
insularity connected with P. princeps (and no less with P. rostratus 
sanctorum, for which, however, a specific value is not claimed), it is 
debatable whether there is really more than one species, viz., P. sand- 
wichensis. However opinions may differ as to the existence of recog- 
nizable intergrades between P. s. sandwichensis and P. s. alaudinus, 
or between P. s. bryanti and P. beldingi, or between the last named and 
P. rostratus, it is certain that these coupled comparisons indicate the 
lines of closest and most recent relationship. The fortunes of the incipient 
species and subspecies have been so clearly influenced by the factors of 
isolation and climatic control, that it may be worth while to set the 
whole case before us: P. princeps is an insular form breeding on Sable 
Island, Nova Scotia, and wintering along the Atlantic Coast; P. s. 
sandwichensis is the robust form localized upon Unalaska and contiguous 
islands, but retiring in winter along the Pacific Coast; P. s. savanna, 
P. s. alaudinus, P. s. nevadensis, and P. s. brooksi, all barely differen- 


The Savanna Sparrows 

tiated, occupy during the breeding season the greater part of northern 
North America and a large but irregularly defined portion of the United 
States, and the elevated section of central Mexico. This range excludes 
the southeastern states broadly, as it does also interior southern Cali- 
fornia and Arizona. Savanna is the darker form from the northeast, 
breeding north to northern Ungava, and south irregularly through the 
northern and north central states, and retiring in winter as far as the 
Gulf or beyond. Alandinus breeds throughout the northwestern quarter 
of North America to the north coast of Alaska, save for the portions 
occupied by sandwichensis and brooksi. The latter, recently defined, 
occupies the Pacific coastal region of Washington and British Columbia, 
and perhaps of Oregon. Enjoying, as it does, a perpetually mild climate, 
it is at least partially sedentary. Nevadensis occupies the Great Basin 
region, broadly, extends north indefinitely to merge with alaudinus, and 
south, narrowly, to the central tablelands of Mexico. These four forms, 
with, possibly, sandwichensis proper, should always be thought of together. 
Along the coast of the Californias a sharper differentiation occurs. 
A form scattered over the coastal uplands from San Francisco Bay north- 

Taken in Inyo Coitntv Photo bv the Author 



The Savanna Sparrows 

ward probably deserves 
separate recognition, al- 
though it is not easily 
distinguishable in ap- 
pearance from P. s. bry- 
anti. This undescribed 
form probably retires to 
the southward in winter; 
and its occasional ap- 
pearance in the San 
Diegan district has 
provoked discussion of 
possible relationship 
with beldingi. Bryanti, 
a darker form than 
alaudinus, is believed to 
be sedentary in the 
marshes bordering upon 
San Francisco, ' 
Monterey, and 
Humboldt bays. Its 
occurrence further south 
is conjectural. Beldingi is a well-marked form which, so far, appears to 
be strictly sedentary in the coastal marshes from Santa Barbara to San 
Diego and San Quentin Bay. Of the rostratus group, variously resident 
or resident-in-summer in Lower California, rostratus proper, and, possibly, 
P. r. guttatus, comes north to winter. The differentiated values of ros- 
tratus and beldingi are as clear-cut as those of princeps; and their tenure 
of the land is presumably as ancient. But as among specimens of sand- 
wichensis, whether from Nevada, Chihuahua, Quebec, Vancouver Island, 
or the Klondike, there is no certain decision, save through appeal to an 
extended series of skins in one of the larger museums. In this group of 
narrow distinction and broad distribution there seems to be, in like 
manner, no definable difference in song and none in habit, save as enforced 
by local conditions. It is idle, therefore, to try to impress upon the 
popular attention the distinctions alleged within this group. 

Not every bird can be a beauty any more than every soldier can be a 
colonel; and when we consider that ten times as many shot-guns are in 
commission in time of peace as rifles in time of war, we cannot blame a 
bird for rejoicing in the virtue of humility, envying neither the epaulets 
of General Blackbird nor even the pale chevrons of Sergeant Siskin. A 
Savanna Sparrow, especially the washed-out western variety, is a mere 



The Savanna Sparrows 

detached bit of brown earth done up in dried grasses — a feathered com- 
monplace which the landscape will swallow up the instant you take eyes 
off it. To be sure, if you can get it quite alone and very near, you see 
enough to admire in the twelve-radiating pattern of the head, and you 
may even perceive a wan tint of yellow in the superciliary region; but 
let the birdling drop upon the ground and sit motionless amidst the 
grass, or in a criss-cross litter of weed-stalks, and sooner far will you 
catch the gleam of the needle in the haystack. 

Savanna Sparrows are birds of the meadows, of the pastures, of 
weedy waysides, and of open places generally. A fallow field is treasure- 
trove; and as for the fences, every barleycorn length of every wire or 
rail-top probably knows the pressure of Savanna's foot. In the warmer 
lowlands the birds swarm all winter long, and if the Zonotrichice did not 
already hold unquestioned honors in point of abundance, I would respect- 
fully enter P. sandwichensis as a contestant. But as for the migrants, all 
you can ever get out of them is a game of hide-and-seek — or else an 
apprehensive tss from distant weed-tops, where the birds are taking 
counsel together as to what line of flight they shall next attempt. 

Save for the littoral forms, P. s. bryanti and P. beldingi, which 
receive separate consideration, the Savanna Sparrows are not extensively 
resident in summer in California. They may be found regularly only 
in the northeastern portion of the State, and in the region east of the 
Sierras as far south as Owens Lake. Dr. Grinnell, however, has noted 
an isolated colony in northeastern Kern County, at the junction of the 
Kern River with its South Fork, and there is no reason why others may 
not be mapped out in the meadows of the Sierran foothills. 

In their nesting habits these little fellows come nearer to colonizing 
than do any other resident members of the Sparrow family. Large 
tracts of land, apparently suitable, will be left untenanted, while in a 
nearby field of a few acres half a dozen pairs may be found nesting. 
They are beginning to show an interest in irrigated tracts, especially 
pastures, but they find alfalfa or grain fields quite too densely covered 
for their purposes. 

To ascertain the presence of these birds, the ear-test is best, when 
once the song is mastered. The latter consists of a series of lisping 
and buzzing notes, fine only in the sense of being small, and quite un- 
musical, tsut, tsut, tsu wzzzzztsubut. The sound instantly recalls the 
Western Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum bimaculatus) , 
who is an own cousin; but the preliminary and closing flourishes are 
a good deal longer than those of the related species, and the buzzing 
strain shorter. 

Love-making goes by example as well as by season, so that when 


The Savanna Sparrows 

the choral fever is on they are all at it. The males will sing from the 
ground rather than keep silence, although they prefer a weed-top, a 
fence-post, or even a convenient tree. The female listens patiently, near 
by, or if she tries to slip away for a bit of food, the jealous lover recalls her 
to duty at once by an ardent chase. 

The nest is settled snugly in the dead grasses of last year's ungathered 
crop, and is thus both concealed from above and upborne from below, and 
is itself carefully done in fine dead grasses. 

The sitting bird does not often permit a close approach, but rises 
from the nest at not less than thirty feet. The precise spot is, therefore, 
very difficult to locate. If discovered, the bird will potter about with 
fine affectation of listlessness, and seems to consider that she has done 
her full duty in not showing the eggs. 

My first nest of these rather baffling birds was found near Goose 
Lake on the ioth of June, 1912. I was traversing a big wire-grass 
meadow when a male Savanna crossed my bows, settled at a hundred feet 
by the edge of the water, and began to pick about with a preoccupation 
which was a shade too intense. I paused and studied him carefully 
until, unable longer to bear the strain of suspicion, the female burst 
cover at twenty feet. I did not see exactly where she rose, but I knew I 
had a warm scent, so I threw down my bandana (with which no proper 
oologist goes unprovided) and began the search on hands and knees. 
A particularly good-looking "cow-flop" tempted me to look ahead of 
my proper and duller territory, and there, perfectly concealed by the 
edge of the dung cushion, which was held aloof by the stiff grass, I found 
a beautiful set of five dark eggs. The nest itself was merely resting upon 
the surface of the damp earth, being stiffly supported all around by the 
wire-grass. The female chipped solicitously, but remained out of sight; 
while the male, whose zeal had done the mischief, sang diligently from a 
distance of a hundred feet. 

"Nothing succeeds like success." Having found my first nest of 
the Nevada Savanna Sparrow, I proceeded straightway to pick out 
another. We were dragging the wire-grass on the shoreward side of 
the beach ridge for ducks' nests, when a Savanna Sparrow flushed. 
I didn't know within ten feet where the bird, presumably a male, rose; 
but I chose a spot arbitrarily and looked about. An inviting example 
of Minerva's handiwork lay close by, and this I seized forthwith, where- 
upon a bird exploded from beneath, revealing as she fled a dainty nest 
which contained two eggs and two young just hatched. I replaced the 
cow-dropping, for experiment's sake, and found that it actually and com- 
pletely covered the Sparrow's nest, leaving only room for passage between 
the lip of the nest and the benign roof. One cannot forbear a chuckle 


The Savanna Sparrows 

over this provident arrangement which Mother Nature has ordained. 
But, really now, a canopy of indurated fiber upborne by a hundred sturdy 
spears of grass — what is it but a fairy palace, if you will see it 
so? Nature's humblest ministries are tenderest, and the uses of life 
sanctify the lowliest means. 

No. 4le Bryant's Marsh Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 542c. Passerculus sandwichensis bryanti Ridgway. 

Description. — "Similar to P. s. savanna, but smaller and darker, with more 
slender bill; decidedly smaller and very much darker and browner than P. s. alaudinns, 
with black dorsal streaks very much broader, the underparts much more heavily 
streaked with black, and, in winter plumage, with the chest, sides, etc., strongly tinged 
with brownish buff" (Ridgway). Also feet and legs much darker brown. Av. of 8 
California-taken males (Bishop): wing 66.1 (2.60); tail 46.1 (1.81); bill 11 (.43); depth 
at base 5.9 (.23); tarsus 21.9 (.86). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; 12-rayed pattern of head; heavy streaking; 
much darker and more heavily streaked on breast and sides than the Western Savanna 
Sparrow, P. s. alaudinus; lighter and less heavily streaked than P. beldingi. 

Nesting. — Nest: Shows characters of foregoing or succeeding form, according 
to situation. Eggs: 4 or 5; indistinguishable from those of other forms. Season: 
April-June; two broods. 

Range of P. s. bryanti. — Common resident of California coast from Monterey 
north to at least Humboldt Bay; largely but not exclusively confined to vicinity of 
salt marshes. Irregularly south in winter, at least as far as Santa Barbara. 

Authorities. — Baird {Passerculus anthinus), Rept. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 
1858, p. 445; Ridgway, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. vii., 1885, p. 517 (desc. of bryanti); 
Wicks, Avifauna, vol. i., 1895, p. 27 (nesting) ; Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 
1915, p. 114 (range; crit.); Squires, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 228 (on uplands); 
Mailliard, J. and J. W., Condor, vol. xxii., 1920, pp. 63-66, 2 figs, (on hills of Marin Co.). 

THE CASE of the Bryant Marsh Sparrow is still open for investiga- 
tion. It is so largely a matter for expert judgment that I propose to 
present a brief anthology of current discussion; and pass all questions of 
habit with the remark that Bryant's Marsh Sparrow of the lowlands is 
essentially like its kinsman, P. beldingi, both in its attachment to the life 
of the tidal marshes, especially salicornia, and in its sedentary character. 

"Common resident on the tidal marshes bordering Monterey, San 
Francisco, Tomales and Humboldt Bays. The metropolis of this sub- 
species in its most typical characters is the salicornia association of San 
Francisco Bay and here in many places it is abundant. The Humboldt 
Bay representatives (specimens in Mus. Vert. Zool.) are somewhat inter- 


The Savanna Sparrows 

mediate in character towards alaudinus. Wherever this form occurs at 
all it is apparently permanently resident." (Grinnell, 1915) 1 . 

"Bryant's Aiarsh Sparrow (Passerculus s. bryanti) is common on 
the marshes around Humboldt Bay, its breeding habitat being supposedly 
confined to tidal marshes. Yet a male of this form was taken on May 28 
(1916) on Kneeland prairie on top of a range at an elevation of about 
2800 feet and 18 miles from salt water. It appeared to be nesting but 
neither nest nor mate was secured. This individual is indistinguishable 
from specimens taken at same date on salt marsh near Eureka except that 
the bill is more slender than any other obtained." (Mailliard, 1916) 2 . 

"Joseph Mailliard's note on the Bryant Marsh Sparrow in a recent 
issue of The Condor suggests a solution to what has been a puzzling 
problem to me for some time. I have found the Bryant Marsh Sparrow 
breeding on the Islais Marsh, south of the Potrero district. But there are 
other birds apparently of this species, averaging somewhat lighter, 
however, found resident in the Presidio, on the Ingleside Golf Links, and 
high up the slopes of Twin Peaks. I have noted them many times 
during the breeding season at the two last named stations. Most of the 
books speak of this sparrow as though it were found nowhere else than on 
the salicornia marshes near sea level. It is my opinion that there is an 
upland form of Passerculus sandwichensis bryanti which verges toward 
P. s. alaudinus, and that it ranges from Humboldt County south at least 
to the Transition area of San Francisco County. I may add that I 
noted this same light-colored Bryant Marsh Sparrow last July on the 
uplands of western Sonoma County some miles from the sea." (Squires) 3 . 

"The question is an interesting one, and there seems a great likelihood 
that there really are two forms nearly alike but of different habits. 
I have taken specimens of what I supposed was bryanti at different 
times and places high up on hills and ranges, but, except for the one 
mentioned in the notes from Humboldt Bay, have never taken any at 
a high elevation in the height of the breeding season, although a few 
were taken at dates very close to it. These latter were supposed to be 
wanderers or non-breeders at the time, but recent events make me doubt 
this conclusion. 

"In our collection is a set of eggs, taken by C. A. Allen, at that 
time living at Nicasio, Marin County, California, the data of which are 
as follows: 'Western Savannah Sparrow. Black Mt., Marin Co., Calif., 
Apr. 29, 1877. Eggs fresh. Nest on ground. Male shot. Nest on 
top of mountain.' This is not the exact wording of the data but is the 
essence of it. We did not see the parent of this set, and have always 

1 Pacific Coast Avifauna, no. 11. by Joseph Grinnell (Oct. 21, 191.5). p. 114. 
■ Joseph Mailliard in The Condor, Vol. XVIII., Sept., 1916, p. 199. 
3 W. A. Squires in The Condor. Vol. XVIII., Nov.. 1916, p. 228. 


The Belding Marsh Sparrow 

been very skeptical concerning its identification or connection with the 
nest, but have kept the set in abeyance all this time. It looks now as if 
Allen might have been pretty close to the truth, and that the bird was 
this possible upland form." (Mailliard) 1 . 

No. 42 

Belding's Marsh Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 543. Passerculus beldingi Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — Belding's Sparrow. Southern Savanna Sparrow. San Diego 
Marsh Sparrow. 

Description. — "Similar to P. sandwichensis bryanti, but still darker in colora- 
tion, the underparts more heavily and more extensively streaked with black, the 
upperparts more olivaceous and more uniform; wing and tail averaging shorter, but 
bill larger; legs and feet darker (grayish brown)" (Ridgway). Also bill slenderer, 
longer, and differently proportioned. Adults (sexes alike): Above blackish brown 
highly varied and tempered by marginings of dull, rusty, grayish brown or olive- 
gray; head showing obscurely the 12-rayed pattern of the genus, but central crown 
stripe scarcely distinguishable, and the malar and sub-malar stripes less coherent, 
superciliary pale yellow, and sometimes a yellow tinge spreading over crown; under- 
parts white, or palest buffy, heavily streaked, especially on breast and sides, with 
brownish black, the lateral streaks sometimes bordered vaguely with rusty brown; 
the longest under tail-coverts narrowly and very sparingly streaked with blackish. 
Bill brownish, darker above, lighter below; feet and legs brown. Length of adult 
male about 146 (5.75); av. of males: wing 65.4 (2.58); tail 48.3 (1.90); bill II. 5 (.45); 
depth at base 5.6 (.22); tarsus 21.3 (.84). Females somewhat smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; marsh-haunting habits; the darkest and 
most heavily streaked of the Marsh Sparrows. 

Nesting. — Nest: On moist ground of tidal marsh in salicornia, well concealed, 
or else in protecting clump of neighboring levels; a rather bulky cup of weed-stems 
and grasses. Eggs: 3, or rarely, 4; greenish or bluish white, speckled and spotted 
or washed and clouded with verona brown. Av. of 10 eggs in M. C. O. coll.: 18.5 
x 14.2 (.73 x .56). Season: April-June, two broods. 

General Range. — Common resident of the coastal marshes from San Diego 
north at least to Santa Barbara. Never strays far from the beach bluffs in the neigh- 
borhood of salt marshes. 

Distribution in California. — As above. 

Authorities. — Coues (Passerculus anthinus), Ibis, ser. 2, vol. ii., 1866, p. 268; 
Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Survey, 1876, p. 240 (meas., habits); Ridgway, Proc. 
U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. vii., 1885, p. 516 (desc. of beldingi); Gault, Bull. Ridgway Orn. 
Club, vol. ii., 1887, pp. 58-60 (nesting) ; Belding, Occ. Papers, Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, 
pp. 144-145 (nesting); Robertson, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 73 (nesting); 
Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 77 (status; nesting season). 

1 Joseph Mailliard in The Condor. Vol. XIX., March, 1917, p. 69. 

The Belding Marsh Sparrow 

THE "SAVANNA" Sparrows, 
elsewhere highly migratory, have 
along the coasts of the Californias 
become largely sedentary, and are, 
therefore, better known as Marsh 
Sparrows. Most contented of all are 
the little dark beldingis, which inhabit 
the tidal marshes such as dot the 
coast between Santa Barbara and 
San Quentin Bay, L. C. We are 
bound to admit that the birds' re- 
quirements as to house furnishing, 
"garden sass," and such, are of the 
most modest; but "eternal sunshine" 
(with a judicious blending of eternal 
fog), a glimpse of the empurpled 
hills, and the wafting of gentle sea 
breezes, the purest on earth, make 
beldingi immeasurably content with 
his little plot of salicornia and his 
front parapet of sand dunes. So far 
as we know, therefore, the Belding 
Marsh Sparrow is absolutely seden- 
tary, and each individual lives and 
dies in its own little pasture. 

But it never occurs to anyone to 
pity the Belding Marsh Sparrows, 
We are filled with envy, instead, as 
often as we visit their haunts. Every rod's advance through the impeding 
succulent weeds puts up a sparrow who forthwith posts on an uppermost 
spray and regards you with patient indulgence; or else signals to his 
fellows, similarly posted, as to the next convenient rendezvous. Presently 
he plumps into the depths again, and pursues his business so adroitly 
that you will scarcely see him after. It is all so detached, so other- 
worldly, so utterly beyond your feeble apprehensions, that you feel like 
an unlettered cow permitted to stand in a clover field where fairies are 
at play. 

The case is quite hopeless unless you are provided with binoculars, 
say of 8-power. It is good sport, then, to study the sleek outlines of a 
posted sparrow, to note the smart blackish stripes which crowd the 
chest and cover the flank, the touch of yellow over the eye, which relates 
the bird to sandwichensis , the feet darker than any other of the genus, 

Taken in Santa Barbara County Photo by the Author 



The Belding Marsh Sparrow 

and, most of all, the twinkling eye, which tells not of taxonomic secrets — 
most trifling of all — but of a merry life, rich in experience and high 
adventure, and not unacquainted with passion. 

Belding Sparrows colonize, rather closely, at nesting time — a certain 
five-acre stretch at Sandyland harbors about twenty pairs in April — 
and at all seasons the birds know where their fellows are. At the close 
of the nesting season the Sparrows deploy more widely through the more 
elevated weedy stretches which surround the marshes proper, or take up 
their station in the sand dunes, where they may Welcome the return of 
Pipit, most indefatigable of beach-combers, or of Audubon Warbler, 
gayest of beach-haunt- 
ing tourists. At such 
times, also, they invade 
the beaches proper, nim- 
bly pursuing the kelp- 
flies, or snatching salty 
comfits from the wet 
sand. The approach of 
a stranger, however, re- 
calls the impropriety of 
such a course. There 
may be a little hiding 
and sulking behind 
driftwood or stranded 
kelp-roots, but a mo- 
ment's reflection sends 
them bolting for cover 
in the beloved weeds. 

Not all ears may hear 
the humble "chip" with 
which the birds keep in 
touch, and the song, 
here possibly first de- 
scribed, is so insect-like, 
that one despairs of 
persuading his friends to 
attend its trivial course. 
For an ear keyed high 
the bird says, tsit tsit tsu 
weezz tsit tsit, and though 
a mouse could put it to 
shame as a vocalist, the 

Taken in San Diego County 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Large-billed Sparrows 

bird is dead in earnest, so that the difficulty experienced by the performer 
in squeezing out the weezz note gives the listener a spasm of sympathy. 
When the courting season is at its height, all the fairies (or, more properly, 
exactly half of them) are talking at once; and the intrusive cow steps 
softly so as not to miss the fun. 

Nesting is on in early April, while by May 1st most of the house- 
holders have brought off their broods. The birds nest indifferently in 
the shelter of the salicornia itself, or else they seek the protection of 
larger growth hard by. A discovery is made by accident, as of some 
bird sitting tighter than usual and flushing directly at close range. For 
when the colony is aroused the females appear to slip away at long range, 
and one may tramp about for an hour among forty pairs, all mildly 
disturbed and very alert, without making a single location. When 
flushed at close range, and knowing that she is observed, the female 
flutters over the tops of the plants for a great distance as though seeking to 
decoy. But if the nest is approached, she will not return nor evince 
further interest. 

The nest is settled firmly upon the ground among interlaced stems 
or grasses, and always under adequate cover of grass or weed. One 
nest before me is made entirely of dried salicornia stems, lined with 
duck feathers. Another, deeply cupped, is composed of frayed weed- 
stems and finely woven grasses, with a single horsehair. The eggs have 
the same variety of ground as those of the San Diego Song Sparrow, 
and are not certainly distinguishable from them in markings; but they 
average lighter. 

No. 43 

Large-billed Marsh Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 544. Passerculus rostratus rostratus (Cassin). 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike): Above and on sides of hind-neck drab, 
streaked sparingly on back with dark brown, and sharply on pileum with blackish; 
wings margined with lighter brown (wood-brown or avellaneous); a short yellowish 
buffy superciliary; a rictal stripe and a submalar stripe of cinnamon-brown enclosing 
narrow malar area of white; underparts buffy white, almost immaculate on chin 
and throat, middle of belly and on under tail-coverts; heavily streaked across breast 
and on sides, each streak blackish brown, bordered broadly with cinnamon-brown. 
Bill brown above, paler (yellowish brown) below; feet and legs light brown. Length 
about 152.4 (6.00); av. of males: wing 72 (2.84); tail 53 (2.09); bill 13 (.52); depth 
at base 7.6 (.30); tarsus 23 (.91). Females somewhat smaller. 


The Large-billed Sparrows 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; pale coloration, light grayish brown above, 
white streaked with brown below; beach-haunting and pier-dwelling habits. 

Nesting. — Not known to breed in California. Nest and eggs still undescribed. 
Doubtless much as in preceding species. 

Range of P. rostratus. — Southern California, Lower California, and the coast 
of Sonora. 

Range of P. r. rostratus. — According to Oberholser, breeds at the head of the 
Gulf of California in Sonora and Lower California. At the close of the breeding 
season scatters to southward, westward, and northwestward, reaching coast of southern 
California and Cape San Lucas. 

Distribution in California. — Resident in "winter" from August to March 
along the coast of southern California, from San Diego north regularly to Point Con- 
ception, casually (?) to Santa Cruz; also in the southern interior, at least at Salton 
Sea (Mecca, Jan. 31, 1913). 

Authorities. — Cassin, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1852, p. 184 (original de- 
scription); Heermann, Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 265 (habits 
in brief) ; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xxii., 1905, pp. 16-21 (query as to summer range; Calif, 
synonymy); Anthony, Auk, vol. xxiii., 1906, pp. 149-152 (regarding breeding range); 
Oberholser, Ohio Journal of Science, vol. xix., 1919, pp. 344-354 (crit. ; range). 

No. 43a San Lucas Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 544a. Passerculus rostratus guttatus Lawrence. 

Description. — Similar to P. r. rostratus, but smaller and slightly darker, es- 
pecially as to streaking of underparts; sides more deeply marked with brownish buffy; 
bill slenderer. 

General Range. — "Lower California. Breeds on Abreojos Point; winters in 
southern part of the Peninsula (San Jose del Cabo)" (A. O. U. Check-List). 

Occurrence in California. — Records by Edward J. Brown, of Los Angeles, 
of a male taken at Anaheim Landing, Orange County, Oct. 5, 1916, and eighteen skins 
of both sexes collected at Sunset Beach, Orange County, between Nov. 13, 1916 
and Jan. 31, 191 7. Identified by Mr. H. C. Oberholser. 

Authorities. — Brown, E. J., Auk, vol. xxxiv., 1917, p. 340 (Anaheim and Sunset 
Beach) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. xxi., 1919, p. 41. 

CHRISTMAS bathing at Coronado or Long Beach is regularly 
featured by the "movies," and duly participated in by loyal Californians, 
desirous of impressing their eastern friends. It is great sport for the 
hardy and the boastful; but it is the August crowd, panting from the 
fervid interior stretches, which bathes because it must. And it is August 
which brings the Large-billed Sparrow to our shores. Seated demurely 
on a cushion of kelp, or scuttling nimbly about among its stranded rib- 
bons, the bird snaps at flies and snatches up the tid-bits of the sea. So 
modest are its ways and so sober its colors, it is quite likely to escape 
the notice of careless bathers; but once espied, the bird becomes motion- 
less, or else breaks for the shelter of the dunes. 









































The Large-billed Sparrows 

August is the proper seaside month, and Large-billed Sparrows are 
common all along our southern beaches at this season. Some few remain 
through the season, domiciled in the drift-wood, which is their favorite 
but scanty hiding place; but most of the birds settle upon our docks or 
piers for their winter residence. Here they subsist upon the crumbs 
left from fishermen's lunches, or upon the oats scattered by wasteful 
work-horses. The undergirding of the wharf affords them welcome 
shelter, to which they instantly repair in time of danger. 

Contact with civilization has not yet roughened their manners, 
as it has in the case of the blatant English Sparrows; for they are ever 
dainty and demure. It is well worth while in an idle noon to entice 
these birds by proffer of crumbs, to see them race over the planking with 

many a prudent halt, and 
finally accept your offering 
with sippling beaks (pre- 
cisely as though they were 
drinking instead of eating) 
and upturned glances of 

At such times also we 
have heard the Passercu- 
line song, although, coming 
as it did in midwinter, 
probably not in its fullest 
volume. The song, gener- 
ically similar to that of 
P. s. alaudinus, is squeakier, 
if possible, as well as 
longer, and it ends in a 
pookish trill, both finer and 
lighter: Tsut tsut tsu wzzz 
tsut tsu wizzy weee. Having 
little enough of musical 
quality, its delivery is at- 
tended with visible effort, 
as though it had to be squeezed out to the last atom. 

Those who sigh at the passing of the mysteries, have at least this 
small comfort, that the nesting range of the Large-billed Sparrow is not 
yet (Sept., 1915) precisely determined, and that its nest and eggs are 
still unknown. By dint of much public inquiry in 1905 it developed 
that Mr. A. W. Anthony had taken a female in breeding condition in 
April at Rancho San Ramon, 25 miles north of San Quentin Bay, Lower 


Taken in Santa Barbara Photo by the Author 


The Large-billed Sparrows 

California; and that he had seen other such ministering to scattered 
young in the neighborhood of Oceanside, above San Diego. Mr. A. M. 
Ingersoll also believes that he once saw a nesting female near San Diego. 
These records probably do mark the breeding range of the species, al- 
though it may extend considerably further southward. It is surmised, 
also, that the Large-billed Sparrow nests on drier ground, or at least that 
it does not invade the salt marshes, which are the peculiar province 
of P. beldingi. 

The case is an interesting one, because Large-billed Sparrows are 
of regular occurrence, except during the breeding season, all along our 

Taken in Santa Barbara Photo by the Author 


southern coasts as far north at least as Santa Barbara; and there is one 
record of a specimen taken at Santa Cruz, August 27, 1895. 

If the surmise of a southern breeding haunt proves to be correct 
we shall have here, as pointed out by Dr. Grinnelh'an example, unique 
among our land birds, of a northward autumnal migration with compensa- 
tory vernal return. The bird also winters along the shores of Lower 
California and western Mexico, in proportions not yet defined; but inas- 
much as it is a strictly littoral species, never being found at rest above 
half a mile from salt water, it is not altogether surprising that the bird 
should seek to expand its range in both directions. 

'Auk, Vol. XXII. . Jan., 1905, p. 20. 


The Western Grasshopper Sparrow 
No. 44 

Western Grasshopper Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 546a. Ammodramus savannarum bimaculatus (Swainson). 

Description. — Adults in spring: Crown brownish black, parted by a median 
stripe of buffy gray; nape olive-gray, spotted with dark cinnamon; remaining upper- 
parts black and fuscous, feathers edged with light olive-gray and tipped with cinnamon 
in varying proportions (a single feather, as from the greater wing-coverts, will exhibit 
the four colors); below cinnamon-buffy, brightest on the breast, clearing to whitish 
on lower breast and belly; the sides and flanks darker; an elongated spot over the eye, 
bend of wing, and edge of wing near alula, yellow. Bill horn-color above, yellow 
below; feet yellow. In winter: plumage softer and more blended by reason of increase 
of the cinnamon-buffy element, which now appears as additional margining of feathers 
above. Young birds are heavily spotted with blackish across the chest. Length of 
adult male 123. 2-132 (4.85-5.20); wing 62.5 (2.46); tail 46.5 (1.83); bill 10.9 (.43); 
tarsus 19.6 (.77). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; unmarked below; bright yellow edge of 
wing; grasshopper notes; an obscure, close-hiding terrestrial species. 

Nesting. — Nest: On the ground; a cup of coiled, dried grasses, sunk flush with 
surface and usually well concealed in grass or other vegetation. Eggs: 4 or 5; short- 
ovate, sometimes rounded; clear white, sharply and moderately, or heavily, speckled 
and spotted, chiefly at larger end, with reddish brown (burnt umber to pecan brown); 
av. size 18.8 x 14.2 (.74 x .56). Season: April to June, but chiefly May; one or two 

Range of A. savannarum. — United States south to West Indies, Central America, 
and northern South America. 

Range of A. s. bimaculatus. — Western North America, breeding from south- 
eastern British Columbia, northern Montana, and southern Minnesota, south to 
southern California and Texas. Winters from central California, southern Arizona, 
and southern Texas, to Cape San Lucas and Central America. 

Distribution in California. — Partially resident or summer resident, irregu- 
larly and locally, in meadows and lowlands, or on open grassy hillsides west of the 
Sierras, from Sacramento and Mendocino counties (Ukiah, June 13, 1916) south to 
San Diego; more widely distributed in winter. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza passerina) , Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 
ser. 2, vol. ii., 1853, p. 265; Henshaw, Rept. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, pp. 240-241 
(nesting at Santa Barbara); Willett, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, p. 204; Pac. Coast Avifauna, 
no. 7, 1912, p. 78 (nesting in so. Calif.); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 
78-79 (habits); Dixon, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, pi. 84 (nesting at Escondido) ; Pember- 
ton, Condor, vol. xix., 191 7, pp. 24-25 (nesting in Santa Monica Mts.). 

"THOSE bird-lovers who disclaim all interest in entomology will be 
slow in discovering this humble species, for its song is nearer like the 
chirring of some insect than the voice of a bird. There always comes a 
day in late April when the half-grown meadows and fields are suddenly 
found to contain from one to six pairs each of these buzzing Sparrows. 


The Western Grasshopper Sparrow 

But with the possible exception of certain Warblers, there is no other 
bird of anything like the abundance of this one, whose very outline is so 
nearly unknown to all but the experienced bird-watcher. Its coloration 
is the plainest possible, its station lowly, and its habits secretive. Perched 
upon some weed-top, or standing on a fence-rail, the male sends out at 
regular intervals a weak hissing trill which occupies a fraction over a 
second in delivery. The sound is not exactly like that of any known 
insect, but is comparable to the clicking of a locust — or better, to the 
shrilling of the corydalis. Again, the opening and closing of a loud-ticking 
watch, especially if it be opened with a clatter and shut with a snap, 
is suggestive of the strange performance. Later in the season a longer 
effort is sometimes heard. First comes the full 'chirr,' then slow notes, 
three or four in number, as though the progress of the 'wheels' was 
somewhat impeded ; after which the burr proceeds with the original or 
accelerated rapidity — the whole occupying three seconds. The song will 
carry a hundred yards for a sharp ear, or further if the ear be laid to the 
ground; but a fresh cold in the head will spoil the concert at thirty feet. 

"Only once did I see a Grasshopper Sparrow holding forth from 
the top of a tall sapling in a fence-row. Surely he must have atoned 
for his boldness by skulking among the grass roots for two days there- 
after. The birds require to be nearly stepped upon — technically 'kicked 
out' — before they will take wing. Some will move off in a flurried 
zig-zag, but others with a direct buzzing flight like a bee, — in both cases 
to plump down into the weeds at no great distance." (The Birds of 

The foregoing account applies equally well to the western form of 
the Grasshopper Sparrow, which is merely a little paler and differently 
proportioned. But something remains to be said of the highly irregular 
distribution of the western bird in the breeding season. It is common 
only in the "San Diegan district," a faunal area which embraces Ventura 
and Santa Barbara; and even here it is very sharply localized, being 
found in some low-lying meadow, or again in an upland pasture, and not 
occurring again for a dozen miles. In the State at large one might 
travel a hundred miles without once encountering it. Then suddenly a 
colony of a dozen pairs might be found occupying a stretch of alfalfa, or 
a grassy hillside not too closely cropped by cattle. Besides the stations 
of occurrence enumerated by Grinnell, 1 I have found it breeding (or 
at least singing) in northeastern San Luis Obispo County, and in north- 
western Kern, on the coastal mesa above Santa Cruz, and at a point 
near Ukiah in Mendocino County. 

Nesting occurs from April to June according to elevation and season. 

1 Distributional List, p. 115. 

Western Grasshopper Sparrow at Nest 

From a photograph by D. R. Dickey and L. Huey 
Taken near San Diego 

The Western Grasshopper Sparrow 

The nests are grass-lined depressions sunk flush with the level of the 
ground, and usually ensconced in the shelter of some weed or important- 
looking grass-tuft. The female leaves in a casual way, and whether she 
sneaks or flushes sharply, it takes a quick eye to mark the movement of 
such an obscure groundling. 

Mr. J. B. Dixon reports 1 the taking of a nest near Escondido, first 
noted on the 13th of April, 1915. It was 
located in an extensive alkaline 
meadow covered with salt grass, 
and enjoyed the shelter of a 
clump of grass. The nest, 
which contained four eggs, 
was built entirely of fine 
dead w e e d - s t a 1 k s, 
loosely pressed together, 
with a lining of fine dry 
grass and grass-seed- 
heads, and was so frail 
that its removal could 
with difficulty be accom- 

"When we ap- 
proached the nest the 
female flattened out on 
the nest and watched us 
anxiously. She flushed 
when we were about six 
feet away, and after we 
had stood still for several 
seconds conversing in 
whispers upon the color 
pattern of the back, and 
the lack of a decided 
yellow streak over the 
eye the observers had 
anticipated some form 
of Passerculus. The 
bird slipped off the nest 
with no trace of commo- 
tion, and ran, or rather 
sneaked away, using 

1 Condor, Vol. XVIII., March, 1916, p. 84. 

Taken in San Diego County Photo by D. R. Dickey and 


L. Huey 

2 6k 

The Nelson Sparrow 

every available tuft of grass as a screen to hide behind. When she 
reached a little ridge about twenty feet away she hopped up in plain 
sight, and took a flying hop to another ridge a few feet farther away. 
To a passerby she would appear to have flushed from a point some 
twenty feet away from the nest. Mr. Schnack observed the bird when 
she left the nest several times, and he said that this was her character- 
istic way of leaving it. The male could be heard uttering a faint 
insect-like chip from some clod or ridge near by, but he was very shy 
and kept circling the nest at a distance." 

No. 45 

Nelson's Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 549.1. Ammospiza caudacuta nelsoni (Allen). 

Synonym. — Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike) : Pileum narrowly black, warmed by brown 
edgings; a median stripe of olive-gray, broadening behind; a narrow nuchal collar, 
dresden brown centrally, olive-gray laterally, in highest plumage pattern of back and 
scapulars falling into four broad stripes of mingled black and dark brown, bordered 
narrowly by white and converging behind; the effect carried out by tertials having 
black centers and white lateral borders (in lower plumage pattern lost, but all colors 
represented as streaks); rump and upper tail-coverts mingled olive-gray and tawny- 
olive sharply streaked with black; edge of wing pale yellow, the flight-feathers with 
tawny olive edging (carrying out color scheme of sides); throat narrowly and belly 
broadly white; remaining plumage, viz., sides of head (enclosing a gray space bordered 
above with black), chest broadly, sides, and crissum, clay-color (grayish orange- 
yellow), the chest and sides obscurely streaked with dusky. Bill dark brown above, 
lighter below; feet and legs (drying) brownish. Length about 139.7 (5-5°) i wing 55 
(2.17); tail 47.5 (1.87); bill 10.4 (.41); tarsus 20 (.79). Females average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; strong tawny (clay-colored) suffusion of 
breast, superciliary and sides; variegated pattern of upperparts, which always in- 
cludes sharp white streaks on scapulars. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: On the ground, of grasses, 
usually well concealed by surrounding grasses. Eggs: 5; whitish or dull greenish 
white, heavily speckled and spotted, or else nearly buried in reddish brown (Rood's 
brown to snuff brown). Av. size 19 x 13.7 (.75 x .54). Season: About June 1st. 

Range of Ammospiza caudacuta. — Marshes both salt and fresh of eastern and 
interior North America. Winters on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from North Caro- 
lina to Texas. 

Range of A. c. nelsoni. — The interior representative, breeding from Great 
Slave Lake and west central Alberta southeastward to northeastern South Dakota; 
winters on South Atlantic and Gulf coasts; casual on the north Atlantic coast during 
migrations as far as Maine. Accidental in California. 

Occurrence in California. — See below. 


The Nelson Sparrow 


Authorities. — Ridgway, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. xiv., 1891, p. 483 (at Mil- 
pitas; desc. of [becki); Dwight, Auk, vol. xiii., 1896, pp. 271-278, pi. iv. (mono- 
graph) ; Barlow, Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 132. 


The Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

THE NELSON Sparrow lives a life of such furtive obscurity, even 
on its breeding grounds in the Dakotas and on the Canadian plains, that 
the mention of its name does not excite hope in the Californian breast. 
Its casual appearance in California, twice recorded, is not supported by 
additional evidence west of the Rocky Mountains, and we are left to 
suppose that both cases are really accidental, examples of those stragglers, 
common to many species, which attempt to go straight south in autumn 
instead of proceeding in a sharply southeasterly direction, as prescribed 
by ancient precedent. But we speak with studied restraint. Almost 
anything may prove to be true regarding the range of a species so obscure. 
The very existence of the bird was not suspected until 1875, when it 
was taken on the Calumet marshes, in what is now South Chicago. 
Almost immediately thereafter it was recorded from Racine, Wisconsin, 
then from Michigan, then from Kansas, and then it began to bob up on 
the Atlantic seaboard. The history of the progressive recognition of this 
ignis fatuus of the marshes, until its normal range was known to include 
Great Slave Lake and the Gulf States, is one of the lesser romances of 

The nesting was first described by Walter Raine 1 from examples 
studied in Manitoba; but the first United States record was made by 
Eugene S. Rolfe 2 who, on June 14, 1899, found a nest containing five 
eggs deeply sunk in wet earth of a tiny grass island in a dismal flooded 
area near Devil's Lake. Mr. Rolfe's prediction that "its discovery will 
probably continue rare and the merest accident" has proved all too true. 
An acquaintance, Mr. Remington Kellogg, recently employed by the 
Biological Survey for explorations in the Dakotas, informs me, however, 
that he found several nests of the Nelson Sparrow during the course of a 
season's work. But having been straitly charged by "the Chief," whose 
youthful predilections have been quite forsworn, not to "bother with 
birds' eggs," these rarities were, unfortunately, lost to science. 

No. 46 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 580. Aimophila ruficeps ruficeps (Cassin). 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): Rufous and olive-gray; the olive-gray 
purest on sides of neck and sides of head (where appearing as broad superciliary and as 
malar stripe), darkening as it crosses the chest broadly, with accession of tawny element 
on sides and crissum; clearing, buffy whitish, on throat and belly; above and on wing- 

1 Nidiologist, Vol. I., Feb., 1894, p. 88. 

2 Nidologist, Vol. VI., Oct., 1899, pp. 356-357. 


mqS bsnwo'i 

9si8 all! 

The Rufous-crowned 5 

on its breeding .: 
the mentior 

r i 


'fan pla 

; by 
left to 

: mai 

th in autumn 
ction, as pr< 

Lint. All 


ot sus when it 

South Chicago. 

an to bob up on 


ti to include 


rst I i n cord vva 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow ismal 

About % life size [ on [hat 

all too 
ly employed b\ 
ikotas, infon 
been stra 

rn, not to "bother 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 


nd as 







The Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

coverts appearing as skirting, or bordering, with increase posteriorly; the rufous ele- 
ment (between chestnut and mars brown) nearly pure on top of head (or faintly parted 
by median line of olive-gray), elsewhere appearing as broad centers of feathers, on 
hind-neck, back, and scapulars, in decreasing ratio posteriorly; wings and tail rufous- 
dusky, the secondaries edged with rufous, and the tail chiefly dull rufous on upper 
exposed surface, which is also obscurely barred with darker; edge of wing pale buffy; 
a post-ocular streak of rufous; a narrow line over eye, and a distinct malar stripe black. 
Bill dark horn-color above, lighter below; feet and legs very pale brownish. Young 
birds are duller and grayer above, and very finely streaked with brownish dusky below, 
with slight increase of the tawny element posteriorly. Length of adult male: 146- 
153 (5-75-6-00); wing 59 (2.32); tail 63.5 (2.50); bill 11.4 (.448); tarsus 20 (.78). Fe- 
male doubtfully smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Small Sparrow size; rufous color nearly pure on crown 
and spread decreasingly over remaining upperparts, distinctive; a denizen of brushy 
or half-open hillsides and fallow fields near heavy cover. 

Nesting. — Nest: On the ground, a rather bulky affair of weed-stems, grasses, 
and trash, lined with fine grasses or horsehair, and placed in shelter of bush or weed 
clump, usually on rocky hillside. Eggs: 4 or 5; short-ovate, or almost oval; pure 
white or pale bluish white. Av. size, 18.8 x 15 (.74 x .59). Season: May to July, 
but chiefiv Mav; one or two broods. 

Taken in San Diego Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

Range of Aimophila ruficeps. — Southwestern United States from central Cali- 
fornia east to Oklahoma, south to Cape San Lucas and southern Mexico. 

Range of A. r. ruficeps. — Resident in the Upper Sonoran life zone of California 
west of the Sierras from Marin and Sutter Counties south to the San Pedro Martir 
Mountains of Lower California. 

Distribution in California. — Locally resident chiefly on open or semi-arid 
hillsides, as above. Common on Santa Cruz Island, and found, at least formerly, on 
Santa Catalina. 

Authorities. — Cassin (Ammodromus ruficeps), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. 
vi., 1852, p. 184 (orig. descr. ; Cosumnes R. or Calaveras R.) ; Sennett, Auk, vol. v., 1888, 
p. 40 (synopsis of group); Barlow, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, p. 107 (monograph; habits, 
song, nest and eggs, etc.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 80 (Santa 
Barbara Islands; distr., crit.); Todd, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, p. 126 (distr., crit.). 

THERE IS nothing sinister about the stealthiness of this creeping 
Sparrow. He is neither plotting mischief nor playing at hide-and-seek, 
and he seems to be so pleasantly absorbed in the interests of his little 
world of grass and weeds as to be quite oblivious to scrutiny or impending 
danger. There is something so demure, so winsome, so unaffected in his 
manner as he steps out into the open a dozen feet away, culls a bug and 
dissects it appreciatively, or else hums a half-forgotten song, that pre- 
judice is immediately disarmed and thoughts of collector's envy dismissed. 
If the bird notices you at all it is only to bestow a friendly glance, after 
which he pursues the even tenor of a way which you are sure embraces 
all the beatitudes. In fine, the Rufous-crowned Sparrow must impress 
everyone who observes him at all as an amiable and gifted poet of content, 
a sort of embodiment of sunshine and solitude and homely cheer. 

Few lives are so devoted to the humbler levels. Even the Savanna 
Sparrow will go rocketing off through the air when disturbed. But 
the Rufous-crown steps about through the grass-stems or tufted 
cover of a rocky hillside without ostentation or appearance of effort; 
and even when hard-pressed seems to regard flight as unprofessional, 
a pitiful and degrading last resort. Yet as the breeding season approach- 
es, the Rufous-crown does not hesitate to explore the upper reaches of 
last year's weed-tops, or to sing from prominent stations on rock or bush. 

The song of the Rufous-crown is one of the freshest, most vivacious 
and engaging, as well as varied, of all that may be heard upon our south- 
ern hillsides. Its vivacity is wren-like. Its minor notes, especially, a 
ravishing titter, tew tew, remind one now of a Bewick, and now of the 
Rock Wren, but they are sweeter than either. Its song has the sponta- 
neity of a Winter Wren's, but its volume, duration, and cadence are 
rather those of the Lazuli Bunting. My attention was once caught by a 
spirited passage-at-arms and pursuit between a Lazuli Bunting and a 


The Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

Brown Towhee, and I passed on, musing upon the ways of Lazulis, when 
a song burst forth at my elbow near the roadside. Suit suit zul eb stutz 
tuzzuzzu wei, said the voice, and I should have let it pass for the song 
of the Lazuli if curiosity had not been provoked by its nearness. There 
in a brush-clump not ten feet away sat a Rufous-crowned Sparrow 
vigorously delivering himself of the stolen (?) song. Fortunately, the 
Lazuli returned presently to defend his honors, and I had ample oppor- 
tunity to make a critical comparison of their songs. The resemblance is, 
after all, superficial, due rather to the accidental characters before 
enumerated than to quality. The Sparrow's song is more sprightly, more 
varied, and of a sharper, more penetrating quality. It is 
rather less musical, and it lacks altogether that caressing drawl 
which marks the Finch's effort. A few moments later the 
Rufous-crown took a station well up in a eucalyptus tree and 
burst forth with great regularity at intervals of ten seconds, 
with each "performance" lasting about one and a half seconds. 
The song is so little stereotyped that it contains hints now of 
Vesper, now of Lark Sparrow (in the kitty kitty opening 
notes), now of Willow Goldfinch (for vivacity), but always, 
most of all, of Lazuli Bunting. 

On Santa Cruz Island, where I found the birds abundant 
in the spring of 1915, I was deceived repeatedly by the 

chattering, vivacious, and 

^wren-like qualities of the 

Rufous-crown's song. Wee 

chee chit i wit chit i wit chit it, 

the bird said, all at a breath; 

and it may be that there is 

an average shade of difference 

in the insular song, but Lord 

forbid that the species-hunters 

should get after them on that 

account. For fear they might, 

I will say that prickly pears 

are very abundant on Santa Cruz Island, and that 

the birds frequent the thickest patches. They are 

really very ungetatable, if you please. 

If any one supposes that because the Rufous-crown 
is a fairly plentiful bird in southwestern California, the nests are common 
likewise, then he is entitled to another guess. The discovery of one of 
these obscure cradles, sunk flush with the ground on some weed-strewn 
hillside, is something of an exploit. Or perhaps it is fairer to say that 

Taken in San Diego 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Rufous-crowned Sparrow 

discovery of a Rufous-crown's nest is a fortunate accident — a bird 
flushed at close range, or almost stepped on — for deliberate tracing of the 
bird to a nest is all but impossible, owing to the exceeding wariness of 
the bird's approach. Mr. Pemberton has given us one of the best ac- 
counts, ' that of a set taken in Alameda County. Of the general conditions 
obtaining in that locality, the observer says: 

"Favored localities are extremely hot, dry, unsheltered hillsides with 
southern and western exposures, which harbor a growth of black and gray 
sage, and a scattering of white oaks. Vegetable matter being from 88 to 
97 per cent of their food, it is necessary that there be an undergrowth of 

"Colonies are the rule, and the writer found, usually, a dozen pairs in 
the confines of a two or three acre hillside. The birds seldom leave the 
bushes for the oaks, their favorite perches being the tops of the sage. 
During the ante-nuptial season, the birds may be seen on their favorite 
perch, giving their peculiar cicada-like song, which has a wonderfully 
ventriloquistic power, and is very confusing when one is trying to locate 
the bird." 

The nest was found quite by accident by a lay member of Mr. 
Pemberton's party on a steep, grass-covered, oak-shaded hillside. "The 
nest was a poor affair — simply a few dry grasses were arranged on one 
side and part of the bottom of an irregular hole on the edge of a bank 
along the side of a small gully. The eggs rested upon the earth, with a 
few grasses crossed between, and a small sage sheltered the nest from 
the sun. 

"The lateness of the date, July 8, 1908, argued well for incubated 
eggs, but we were glad to find these perfectly fresh. They were three 
in number, glossy white, with no trace of the bluish color spoken of by 
some writers, though slightly pink before blowing. The eggs are now 
in the writer's collection, and are prized the most of all the shells to be 
found there." 

The record of the occurrence of this species upon the Marysville 
Buttes, in Sutter County, 2 marks the northernmost extension in the 
West of a genus whose members are characteristic of Sonoran uplands as 
far south as Costa Rica. The genus Aimophila, as defined by Ridgway, 3 
embraces fourteen species and twenty-six "races," many but not all of 
them marked variously by the peculiar "red hair" which is so character- 
istic of our California bird. That they are of an ancient stock is evidenced 
by the fact that their eggs, so far as known, are either white, or pale 
bluish white, the bleaching of a long-drawn evolution. 

1 J. R. Pemberton in The Condor. Vol. XII., July. 1910, pp. 123-125. 

2 Grinnell. Distributional List, p. 123. 

» Birds of North and Middle America, Vol. I., pp. 231-233. 


The Desert Sparrow 

Taken in San Bernardino County 


Photo by Wright M, Pierce 

No. 47 

Desert Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 573a. Amphispiza bilineata deserticola Ridgway. 

Description. — Adult: Crown and nuchal collar, continuous with sides of 
breast and upper tail-coverts, neutral gray; hindhead and remaining upperparts 
brownish gray, nearly fawn color on middle of back and on wings; a conspicuous white 
superciliary stripe bounded narrowly by black above and separated from white malar 
stripe (not reaching base of bill) by gray on sides of head; lores, anterior portion of 
malar region, chin, throat and chest centrally black, the last-named with convex 
posterior outline; remaining underparts white tinged with grayish on sides and flanks; 
tail blackish, the outer web of outermost rectrix chiefly white, the inner web with white 
spot on tip, second rectrix (sometimes third or even fourth) tipped with white on inner 
web. Bill dusky; feet and legs brownish black. Young birds: Like adults but with- 
out black pattern of head markings; chin and throat white or flecked with grayish; 
breast streaked with same and back faintly streaked with dusky; some buffy edging 
on wing. Length of adults about 135.9 (5.35); wing 67 (2.64); tail 64 (2.52); bill 10 
(.40); tarsus 19 (.75). Females a little less. 


The Desert Sparrow 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; grayish coloration; strong white super- 
ciliary; black throat with white trimmings distinctive. 

Nesting. — Nest: Placed one or two feet up in sage-brush or other desert plant, 
rarely on ground; a sturdy cup of interwoven grasses and plant fibers, lined with 
horsehair or other fine material. Eggs: 3 to 5; bluish white, unmarked; av. size 17.2 
x 13-3 (-°7 x -5 2 )- Season: May or June; two broods. 

Range of Amphispiza bilineata. — Arid plains of western United States west 
to Sierra Nevada Mountains, north regularly to northern Nevada, casually to Oregon 
(Jewett), and eastern Washington (Douglas County, May 31 to June 6, 1908), east to 
western Texas, and south to northern Mexico, and the whole of Lower California. 

Range of A. b. deserticola. — As above, save as delimited by A. b. bilineata, 
which occupies the extreme eastern portion of specific range in Texas and northern 

Distribution in California. — Summer resident in southeastern California, 
especially the fringes of the deserts, north, locally, to White Mountains, Mono Lake, 
Susanville (June 4, 1912), and the lower slopes of the Warner Mountains; west casually 
in southern portion during migration; one occurrence (possibly a breeding station) 
in central northern Kern County west of the divide (Sheldon). 

Authorities. — Cooper (Poospiza bilineata), Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 203 (Mohave 
R. and Providence Mts.); Fisher, N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 95 (many Calif, 
localities; dates of nesting, etc.); Sheldon, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 172 (Poso Mts., 
Kern Co.); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 82 (occur, in so. Calif.); Grinnell 
and Swarth, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. x., 1913, p. 277 (San Jacinto Mts.; nest and 
eggs, etc.). 

THE SAGE-BRUSH desert is a thing of uttermost simplicity, 
Viewed broadly there is nothing but soil and sage and sunshine. Shelter 
there is none, at least for humans. Vegetation is in one kind. One 
pervasive scent, that of artemisia, haunts the atmosphere. The sky 
itself is a simple void, for clouds have no proper place here; only the 
simple wind and sun (at first futile, then benign, then ardent, and then, 
alas! how pitiless!). Silence, the dearest simplicity of all, broods over 
the desert, yet before its comfort stales, the occasional offerings of some 
of the desert's mild children stand forth in naked, beautiful simplicity. 
Modest voices which would be smothered elsewhere, as in the chaos of a 
riverside chorus, here speak to eager ears, and bring nourishment to a 
heart already rested. 

It was thus I heard in the cool gray of a sage-scented morning my 
first Desert Sparrow. I had been checking off the scattered numbers 
of the desert choir, Brewer Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, and 
the rest, when suddenly this fresh voice of inquiry, Bleu chee tee tee, 
burst from within a stone's throw. The binoculars were instantly 
levelled and their use alternated rapidly with that of note-book and 
pencil as the leading features of the stranger's dress were seized upon in 
order of saliency: Black chin and throat with rounded extension on 


Desert Black-throated Sparrow on Nest 

In Opunlia ramosissima 

From a photograph by Donald R. Dickey 

Taken near Hesperia 

The Desert Sparrow 

chest outlined against whitish of underparts, and separated from grayish 
dusky of cheeks by white malar stripe; lores, apparently including eye, 
black; brilliant white superciliary stripe; crow r n and back warm light 
brown. It was a costume of distinction, yet when the stranger's black 
bib was averted he was instantly lost to view in the engulfing neutrals. 
Later, a female, scarcely different in appearance, was glimpsed as she 
flitted coquettishly from bush to bush, in company with her liege lord; 
but the most diligent search failed to discover a nest, if such there was. 
Nesting was almost certainly upon the gallant's mind, for he sang at 

intervals. The 
notes of his 
brief but musi- 
cal offering 
had something 
of the gushing 
and twinkling 
quality of a 
Western Lark 
Sparrow. A 
variant form, 
whew, whew, 
w hi 1 1 e r e r , 
began nicely, 
but degen- 
erated in the 
last member 
into the metal- 
lic clinking of 
a Spurred To- 
whee. Again, 
the opening 
notes were 
given alone, 
whew whew or 
chew chew, as 
though the 
singer sensed 
danger and 

Taken in San Bernardino County Photo by Wright M. Pierce ^ 



The Desert Sparrow 

Desert Sparrows nest 
twice in the season, once 
in March or April, and 
again in May or June. 
Their eggs are purest 
white; and the nests are 
placed a foot or so above 
ground in sage bushes 
or, upon the southern 
deserts, in yuccas, or 
chollas, or young mes- 
quites. When surprised 
upon the nest, the 
female will drop to the 
ground and scamper off 
with tail uplifted, — con- 
spicuous, and intention- 
ally so. If the decoy 
ruse will not work, the 
male tries singing. If 
that too fails, there is 
really nothing more to 
do but to keep out of 
harm's way and let hap- 
pen what will. On the 
eastern slope of the 
Sierras there are great 
stretches of sage which 
harbor scarcely any 
other birds save Desert 
Sparrows. Here in late 
June one may see dozens 
of them in a brief walk, mostly family groups, — anxious, flitting mothers 
who cannot sit still on a sage bush for two consecutive seconds for worri- 
ment, and pudgy little brats with short tails, who fly up valiantly, and 
who cannot for the brief lives of them see what mama has to worry about. 
In winter the Desert Sparrows retire from their more elevated or 
northern ranges, and roam the southern deserts in company with their 
kinsmen, the Sage Sparrows. The companies are not large, not over 
two or three score usually, but whether at Palm Springs, at Tucson, or in 
western Texas, it is an unfailing pleasure to attach yourself to one of them 
as member at large, and watch the shifting play of the endless quest. 


Taken in San Bernardino County Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


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The Bell Sparrow 

Taken in Inyo County 


Photo by the Author 


No. 48 

Bell's Sparrow 

A. O. U. Xo. 574. Amphispiza belli (Cassin). 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): Head and neck above and on sides deep 
neutral gray, the pileum washed with brownish, and with some dusky shaft-streaks 
which increase in numbers on extreme forehead; lores and area around eye, except 
above, slaty black; a prolonged submaxillary stripe (not reaching bill) slaty black; 
eye-ring, a spot over lore, and malar stripe continuous with chin, white; remaining 
upperparts brownish gray or warm hair-brown, the back and scapulars lightly streaked 
with blackish; axillars and wing lining narrowly, including edge of wing, yellow; the 
coverts and marginings of wing largely wood-brown, the lesser coverts often tinged 
with yellow, the middle and greater coverts tipped with brownish buffy, forming two 
pale bars: flight-feathers and tail blackish (deepest black on exposed tertials) and all 


The Bell Sparrow 

Taken in San Bernardino County 

Pholo by Wright M. Pierce 


more or less margined with wood-brown; sides, flanks, and crissum strongly tinged with 
vinaceous buff, all sparingly but strongly streaked with dusky; a black spot on center 
of breast; remaining underparts white. Bill bluish dusky above, lighter below; feet 
and legs dark brown. Young birds follow rather closely the pattern of parents, but 
are duller and are abundantly sharp-streaked with blackish on breast and sides of 
breast. Length of adult male about 152.4 (6.00); wing 66.8 (2.63); tail 66.3 (2.61); 
bill 9.1 (.36); tarsus 20.6 (.81). Female slightly smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Small sparrow size; sage or low-chaparral-haunting 
habits; dark gray coloration above, white below, with black spot (very small) on 
breast, and long submalar streaks, like drooping moustachios, of black outlined against 
white. Much darker every way than A. nevadensis. 

Nesting. — Nest: A sturdy cup composed chiefly of weed-stems and flower 
pedicels, and heavily lined with dried flower-heads; placed one or two feet up in sage- 
bush or other desert shrub. Eggs: 3 or 4; pale greenish blue, or bluish white, marked 
lightly or heavily, sometimes mottled, with reddish brown (cameo brown, testaceous, 
onion-skin pink). Av. of 14 eggs in M. C. O. coll.: 18.6 x 14.3 (.73 x .56). Season: 
April to June; two broods. 

General Range. — Common resident in California, locally, in Upper Sonoran 

The Bell Sparrow 

zone, west of the Sierras and desert divides, north to Marin, Sonoma, Solano, and 
Eldorado (at least formerly) counties, south to northwestern portion of Lower Cali- 
fornia; occurs on San Clemente, San Nicholas, Santa Rosa, and (probably) Santa 
Cruz Islands. 

Distribution in California. — As above. 

Authorities. — Cassin (Emberiza belli), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. v., 1850, 
p. 104, pi. 4 (orig. descr.; Sonoma or San Diego, Calif.) ; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xv., 1898, 
p. 58 (crit.); Pierce, Condor, vol. viii., 1906, p. 152 (nesting habits); Grinnell and 
Swarth, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. x., 1913, p. 278 (San Jacinto Mts. ; habits); Howell, 
Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 79 (San Clemente, San Nicholas, and Santa Rosa 

WITH SPECIMENS in hand for comparison the 
casual student would suppose that Amphispiza 
belli and A. nevadensis might be included 
within a single species. Such, indeed, was 
the earlier understand- 
ing until Grinnell' 
pointed out, in 1898, 
that the breeding ranges 
of the two forms interlap 
without resulting inter- 
gradation. This dis- 
covery and the 
subsequent delimitation, 
still incomplete, of the 
breeding range of A. 
nevadensis canescens, has 
quite upset our earlier 
notions both of the re- 
lationships and distribu- 
tion of A. belli, so that 
we cannot speak dog- 
matically at this time. 

Dr. Grinnell says of 
the Bell Sparrow^ "Ad- 
heres closely to the 
c h a m i s a 1 (^4 denostoma fascicu- 
latum) association," yet no one 
of my five nests-and-eggs was 
taken in chamise, and only one 
(San Jacinto River, alt. 2200 

» Auk, Vol. XV., Jan. , 1898. p. 58. 

- Pacific Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915. p. 21. 

by the 



The Bell Sparrow 

in the chamisal associa- 
tion. Two of these re- 
cords were made in the 
pure desert association of 
the San Fernando Valley, 
Opuntia bemardina, 
Yucca whipplei, Sambu- 
cus glanca, Rhus laurina, 
and the rest. Both nests 
were in "broom sage" 
(A rtemisia dracuncu- 
loides), as also were two 
found in eastern San Luis 
Obispo County, April 15, 
1914, although the latter 
may possibly have 
marked a heretofore un- 
recognized extension of 
A. n. canescens. 

The remarkable sit- 
uation as regards A. belli 
and A . nevadensis invites 
hypothesis. The undif- 
■ ferentiated members of 
the original species, 
Amphispiza preglacialis , 
pushing northward and 
westward from a distri- 
bution center in Sonora, 
invaded southern Cali- 
fornia and the Great 
Basin region. Later, 
becoming isolated by the Sierro-San ice barrier, the form belli evolved, 
while its counterpart and erstwhile brother was evicted from California 
by the refrigeration of the eastern slopes of the Sierras and the White- 
Mountains-Inyo-Desert system. In the reoccupation of this Owens 
Valley country a new form, A. n. canescens, has evolved, and this form, 
pushing its conquest westward, has stormed the Tehachipe and the bound- 
ing barriers of the Mojave Desert, and has spilled over variously into the 
Kings-Kern and San Joaquin regions. If this hypothesis be the correct 
one, we may expect a steady advance on the part of A. n. canescens, and 
a gradual retirement of the more strongly marked but weaker belli. 


Photo by L. Huey and D. R. Dickey 


1- V 


a- S 

2 a 


The Bell Spar 

>n of 

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tiated m< nbei & 
rial s « 

5 - 1 
2 |i^ 

J. « o 
Ion cent< ^'W' c 

s i 

iia and th ° t 

form /'• 

- be the correct 

The Sage Sparrows 

Bell's Sparrow is probably not strictly sedentary, but neither is 
it migrant. Local breeders form winter companies and rove more or 
less, but how much or whither, we have no means of knowing. Mr. 

Taken in San Bernardino County 

Photo by Wright M. Pierce 


Stephens (MS) thinks that all individuals move southward some distance 
in winter. Such a roving company I found in January, 1913, upon the 
summit of the Santa Ynez range near Santa Barbara. What with the 
dark coloring and the glint of white on the edge of the lateral tail feathers, 
I took them for Juncoes at first, and this impression was heightened by 
their constant use of the tittering, or "banner" note, so characteristic 
of Junco hvemalis. 

No. 49 

Nevada Sage Sparrow 

A. O. U. Xo. 574.4. Amphispiza nevadensis nevadensis Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — Artemisia Sparrow. Sage Sparrow. 

Description. — Similar to Amphispiza belli, but much lighter in every respect; 
the head pattern partially obliterated, and the dusky streakings of back sharper and 
more numerous. Adults: Head and neck above and on sides neutral gray, washed 
lightly with drab and touched on forehead with converging streaks of dusky; remaining 
upperparts drab (light brownish gray), sharply marked on back and scapulars with 
brownish dusky; pattern of wings as in preceding species, but all markings lighter; 
axillars and edge of wing pale yellowish white; the lesser coverts also sometimes tinged 
with yellowish; outer web and tip of outermost tail-feather white; a supraloral spot, 
an orbital ring, and (usually) a short median line on forehead white; sides of head 
slaty gray; lores dusk}-; underparts white, clearest on throat, where bounded and set 
off from white of malar area by interrupted chain of dusky streaks; occasionally with 


The Sage Sparrows 

dusky spot on center of breast; washed on sides and flanks and crissum with buffy, 
and streaked on sides but not on crissum with dusky. Bill blackish above, lighter 
below; legs dark brown, toes darker; iris brown. Young: "Pileum, hind-neck, 
chest and sides, as well as back, streaked with dusky; otherwise essentially as in adults" 
(Ridgway). Underparts save on throat sometimes tinged with yellowish or buffy. 
Length of adult male about 152.4 (6.00); wing 80 (3.15); tail 81 (3.19); bill 10 (.39); 
tarsus 21.5 (.846). Females a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size (barely); ashy gray or light drab plumage; 
white throat partially defined by dusky streaks; dusky, white and gray pattern of 

Nesting. — As in preceding species. 

Range of Amphispiza nevadensis. — Breeding in sage-brush plains of western 
United States from central Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming south to southern 
Colorado, south central California, and (A. n. cinered) Lower California; wintering 
south from southeastern California, southern Nevada, and southern Utah to south- 
western Texas and Chihuahua. 

Note. — If A. n. cinerea of Lower California really occupies the isolated area 
assigned to it by the A. O. U. Check-List (3rd Edition), i. e., "West coast of Lower 
California from Santo Domingo to Ballenas Bay," it must either relate itself to .4. belli 
and stand as A. belli cinerea, or else assume full specific rank as Amphispiza cinerea. 

Range of A. n. nevadensis. — As above, save as delimited by A. n. canescens in 
south central California and A. n. cinerea in Lower California. 

Distribution in California. — Breeding in the Artemisia (tridentata) east of 
the Sierras from the Surprise Valley south to Mono Lake and in the desert ranges 
southwest of Owens Valley. 

Authorities. — Henshaw, Rep. Orn. Spec. Wheeler's Surv., 1876, p. 243 (Kern- 
ville); Johnson, Zoe, vol. ii., 1891, p. 22 (crit); Fisher, N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, 
p. 96, part (many Calif, localities) ; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xv., 1898, p. 58 (crit.); Taylor, 
Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. vii., 1912, p. 397 (Nevada; habits, nest and eggs). 

No. 49a California Sage Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 574. lb. Amphispiza nevadensis canescens Grinnell. 

Description. — Similar to A. n. nevadensis, but size slightly less and coloration 
somewhat darker — thus approaching A. belli in character. Length of wing 71 (2.8); 
tail 77 (3.04). 

Range of A. n. canescens. — Common in summer in the Upper Sonoran belt of 
sage-brush along the mountains encircling the south end of the San Joaquin Valley: 
Piute Mountains and Mt. Pinos; west rim of Owens Valley on Lone Pine Creek and 
near Owens Lake; vicinity of Walker's Pass; near Bakersfield and McKittrick, Kern 
County, and on Carrizo Plains, San Luis Obispo County; south to east slope of San 
Bernardino Mountains, and north to west side of Tulare Lake (Grinnell). Occurs 
in winter on the southeastern deserts to the Colorado River (Potholes, Feb. 11, 1913), 
north to Fresno County, west to San Diegan district (San Fernando Valley, etc.). 

Authorities. — Fisher {Amphispiza belli nevadensis), N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, 
p. 96, part (Calif, localities; crit.) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. vii., 1905, p. 18 (orig. descr.; 
Mt. Pinos); Auk, vol. xxii., 1905, p. 387 (Mt. Pinos; habits, crit.); Swarth, Condor, vol. 
xii., 1910, p. 108 (Riverside; crit.); ibid., Condor, vol. xiii., 191 1, p. 163 (Carrizo 
Plain, breeding). 


The Sage Sparrows 

THANK God for the sage-brush! It is not merely that it clothes 
the desert and makes its wastes less arid. No one needs to apologize for 
the unclad open, or to shun it as though it were an unclean thing. Only 
little souls do this, — those who, being used to small spaces, miss the sup- 
port of crowding elbows, and are frightened into peevish complaint when 
asked to stand alone. To the manly spirit there is exultation in mere space. 
The ground were enough, the mere Expanse, with the ever-matching 
blue of the hopeful sky, but when to this is added the homely verdure of 
the untilled ground, the 
cup of joy is filled. One 
snatches at the sage as 
though it were the sym- 
bol of all the wild open- 
ness, and buries his 
nostrils in its pungent 
branches to compass at 
a whiff this realm of 
unpent gladness. Prosy? 
Monotonous? Faugh! 
Back to the city with 

you ! You are not fit for 
the wilderness unless 
you love its very worm- 

The sage has interest 
or not, to be sure, ac- 
cording to the level from which it is viewed. Regarded from the super- 
cilious level of the man-on-horseback, it is a mere hindrance to the pursuit 
of the erring steer. The man a-foot has some dim perception of its 
beauties, but if his errand is a long one he, too, wearies of his devious 
course. Those who are best of all fitted to appreciate its infinite variety 
of gnarled branch and velvet leaf, and to revel in its small mysteries, are 
simple folk, — rabbits, lizards, and a few birds who have chosen it for 
their life portion. Of these, some look up to it as to the trees of an ancient 
forest and are lost in its mazes; but of those who know it from the ground 
up, none is more loyal than the Sage Sparrow. Whether he gathers a 
breakfast, strewn upon the ground, among the red, white, and blue, of 
stork-bill, chickweed, and fairy-mint, or whether he explores the crevices 
of the twisted sage itself for its store of shrinking beetles, his soul is filled 
with a vast content. 

Here, in the springtime, he soon gets full enough for utterance, and 
mounts the topmost sprig of a sage bush to voice his thanks. In general 

Taken in Washington 

Photo by the A uthor 



The Sage Sparrows 

character the song is a sort of subdued musical croaking, mellow and 
rich at close quarters, but with little carrying power. The bird throws 
his head well back in singing, and the tail is carried more nearly horizontal 
than is the case with most Sparrows. A song from a northern station 
ran: Heo, chip' pew ay , chip'peway, chip'peway, but a more common type 
is Tup, tup, to weely, chup, tup. A pretentious ditty, occupying two 
seconds in delivery, runs Hooriedoppety, weeter wee, doodlety pootat'er, — 
an ecstacy song, wherein the little singer seems to be intoxicated with 
the aroma of his favorite sage. 

One may search a long time in the neighborhood of the singer — 
who, by the way, closes the concert abruptly when he realizes that he 
is likely to give his secret away — before finding the humble domicile 
a foot or two up in a sage bush. A nest which contained five eggs was 
composed externally of sage twigs set into a concealed crotch of the 
bush, but the bulk of it consisted of weed-bark and "hemp" of a quite 
uniform quality; while the lining contained tufts of wool, rabbit-fur, 
cow-hair, feathers, and a few coiled horse-hairs. The feathers were 
procured at some distant ranch, and their soft tips were gracefully 
upturned to further the concealment of the eggs, already well protected 
by their grayish green tints. 

Another nest, sighted some forty paces away, contained one egg, 
and we had high hopes of being able to secure photographs of one of 
the prospects (not to mention the eggs themselves) upon our return 
with the camera. But a few rods further we came upon a crew of sneak- 
ing Magpies, scouring the sage with a dozen beady eyes, and passing 
sneering or vulgarly jocose remarks upon what they found. When 
we returned, therefore, a day or two later, we were not surprised to 
learn that the feathered marauders had preferred egg-in-the-bill to 
souvenir photographs. 

Bird-nesting is a heartless business. Its devotees become hardened 
by practice, although the ends doubtless do justify the means in the 
case of a few serious investigators. But now and then confiding trust 
wins over you, and despoils you of a coveted take — especially if you are a 
bird-photographer. Last Sunday — May 31, 1908, it was — I came upon a 
cunning home in a sage bush on the hillside just back of camp. It was 
empty, but manifestly awaiting the finishing touches, a few more trim 
feathers, to fit it for occupancy. Four days later the nest held three eggs, 
and the day following four, with the mother bird sitting tight. In fact, she 
was very loth to leave, and let me put my face within a foot or so of her be- 
fore stealing off softly. This aroused the photographer in me and made 
the oologist groan, for I had been this road before, and foresaw a contest 
of courtesy instead of oval treasures much needed by a certain museum. 


The Sage Sparrows 


Photo by the Author 



Three days later I returned with the Graflex and took snap-shots at 
five feet. The day following I came with the Premo, straddling legs, 
flapping cover-cloth and all, and I made the little mother a promise. If 
she will sit for her portrait at the Premo limit of two feet, I will not touch 
her eggs. Agreed! She allows me to make all but the final adjustments 
without leaving her eggs. Finally, however, the strain becomes a little 
too great, and she slips off, but only to stand at six inches remove on the 
same bush. She holds her ground, too, when I snip away some twigs 
which obstruct the view, only craning her head and standing on tiptoe to 
see what I am about. Upon my retiring she immediately returns to her 
charge, and I am able to photograph her twice at two feet, using only 
the ordinary bulb. What extraordinary courage! What an over- 
mastering power is this mother love! Here am I a hulking six-footer, 
backed by engines of unguessed potency, towering over a bit of a bird 
whose very heart is no bigger than the end of my little finger. She is 
free to fly, but she flies not. Her place is here, and here will she stick 
though the heavens fall ! 


The Slate-colored Junco 

Two days later I return and find the mistress absent. Secret hope, 
I confess, mingles with real solicitude for the absentee, for those eggs 
are of a particularly handsome tint of pale artemisia green, speckled 
and irregularly spotted, chiefly about the larger end, with lavender and 
purple. Who will deliver me from this temptation! Ah, here she comes 
again, tripping daintily from twig to twig, taking her place and resuming 
her task as complacently as though there were no strange passions abroad. 
Again and again she sits patiently while shutters click and plate-holders 
are flourished. We will have photographs anyhow. If she quits the 
eggs to stretch now and then, she never leaves the nesting bush, even 
while I am rearranging the tripod. The male at no time appears, al- 
though I hear him singing in the distance. He, too, trusts this very capable 
little person to "manage." 

My little Sage Sparrow was faithful to the last. Time came to 
break camp, and I could not wait to see the babies hatch. But I went to 
say goodbye to the mother, and she let me put my face right down within 
a foot of hers. I was her good giant and she feared me never a whit. A 
flood of soft talk sprang to my lips. I could not restrain it, penitence, 
congratulation, and an infinite yearning. Why cannot all of life be like 
this — sacrifice, fidelity and uprightness! Perhaps one day we shall — 
understand — each other. 

No. 50 

Slate-colored Junco 

A. O. U. No. 567. Junco hyemalis hyemalis (Linnaeus). 

Synonyms. — Eastern Junco. Snowbird. 

Description. — Adult male in spring: General color slaty black (or dusky 
neutral gray); middle breast, belly and crissum white, abruptly contrasting with 
slaty of upper breast (which has a concave outline by reason of the continuation of 
slaty on sides), shading on sides; wings and tail deeper slaty black; the two outer pairs 
of rectrices wholly white, the succeeding pair extensively white, or not, centrally on 
distal portion of inner web. Bill pinkish white, narrowly tipped with dusky; iris dark 
reddish brown or purplish; legs light brown, feet darker. Adult male in fall and winter: 
As in spring, but upper parts lightly washed with reddish brown; the sides and some- 
times the throat lightly veiled with buffy. Immature males are still more heavily 
veiled, with snuff-brown or light bister above, with buffy below, and with a cloudy 
buffy suffusion of the under whites. Adult female: Like adult male, but slaty lighter 
and duller, usually with slight veiling by brownish above and buffy below; the accession 
by brownish is correspondingly greater in autumn; and immature females are still 
more extensively brown. Young birds are drab above with blackish streaking, and 


The Slate-colored Junco 

heavily streaked below on a dull buffy ground. Length of adult male, 152.4-165 
(6.00-6.50); wing 79 (3. 11); tail 66 (2.60); bill 10.9 (.43); tarsus 21 (.83). Females 
average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; nearly uniform slaty coloration; concave- 
ended outline of pectoral slate in contrast with white of underparts; does not show 
contrast between head and back, as compared with the Junco oreganus group. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs much as in succeeding 

General Range. — Eastern and northern North America, breeding from the 
mountains of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and the northern tier of states west 
to Minnesota, north to Labrador, the Arctic Coast and the valleys of the Yukon and 
Kowak River in Alaska; south in winter throughout the eastern states to the Gulf 
Coast, and casually to New Mexico, Arizona, and California. 

Occurrence in California. — A casual winter visitant practically throughout 
the State, but chiefly on the lower mountain ranges. 

Authorities. — Jeffries, Auk, vol. vi., 1889, p. 221 (Santa Barbara) ; Bishop, 
N. Am. Fauna, no. 19, 1900, p. 85 (Alaska; nests and eggs, habits, etc.); Judd, U. S. 
Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, p. 80 (food); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, 
no. 7, 1912, p. 81 (occur, in so. Calil.) ; Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 
119 (summary of occurrences in Calif.) ; Dwight, Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xxxviii., 
1918, p. 285, col. pis. (distr., variation, crit.). 

SO FATAL is the human tendency to generalize that most of us 
think of the Pacific Coast of North America as a north and south line, 
and recall Alaska vaguely as somewhere to the north of us. Yet St. 
Michael, at the mouth of the Yukon, is west of Honolulu; and a Slate- 
colored Junco raised on the Seward Peninsula would have to travel due 
east at least forty degrees (and a trifle of twenty-three degrees south) 
in order to winter as far east as California. What wonder, then, that 
of the great bulk of Alaskan Snow-birds, pursuing in autumn a leisurely 
east by southeasterly course for the eastern states, a few should become 
deflected to the southward too soon! Anyhow, this happens so often 
that we have given up trying to keep count of the "winter occurrences" 
of the Slate-colored Junco. 

Juncoes are highly sociable creatures, especially in winter. Other 
migrants afford congenial company; and the birds do not make as big 
a fuss over a different shade of color of the foreparts as we do. It is 
noticeable, therefore, that most of the northern Juncoes seen occur 
either singly or in small groups, in company with the California thurberi. 
There is nothing in behavior and little enough in appearance to dis- 
tinguish the two forms; and there are, doubtless, a thousand unnoticed 
birds in the State to one that catches the eye of a practiced bird-man. 


The Oregon Juncoes 

No. 51 

Oregon Junco 

A. O: U. No. 567a. Junco oreganus oreganus (Townsend). 

Synonyms. — "Oregan Snow-Finch." Western Snow-bird. Oregon Snow- 
bird. Townsend's Junco. 

Description. — Adult male: Head and neck all around and chest (abruptly 
denned along convex posterior edge) sooty black; back abruptly and scapulars and 
edging of tertials warm reddish brown (between Prout's brown and snuff-brown); 
rump, upper tail-coverts, lesser wing-coverts, and tips of greater coverts, slaty gray 
or deep neutral gray, sometimes glossed with olivaceous; wing's and tail dusky, edged 
with ashy; the outermost rectrix wholly and the second chiefly white, the third pair 
more or less white centrally near tip; sides of breast, sides, and flanks strongly washed 
with pinkish brown (fawn-color or vinaceous fawn) ; remaining underparts (below 
chest) white. Bill pinkish white with dusky tip; iris claret-red; feet and legs pale 
brown. Immature male: Like adult, but brown of upperparts redder (walnut-brown 
to natal brown); hindhead and nape with skirtings of the same color; the sides more 
strongly tinged with fawn-color; the black of chest slightly skirted with whitish. Adult 
female: Like adult male but black of foreparts much duller, — more grayish or slaty; 
the red of back slightly browner; hindhead and nape more or less veiled or mingled 
with color of back, thus decreasing the contrast; sides less extensively washed with 
pinkish brown; a slight reduction of white in tail. Immature female: Like adult 
female, but contrast of foreparts still further reduced; distinction between head and 
back obliterated by reddish brown veiling; tone of upperparts slightly more grayish 
(dark Rood's brown); the grayish black of throat and chest further veiled by pale 
vinaceous fawn. Young birds are pale reddish brown above and yellowish bufify 
(more sordid on chest) below everywhere, save on throat, belly and crissum finely 
streaked with dusky. Length of adult male about 161. 3 (6.35); wing 75 (2.95); tail 
65 (2.56); bill 11 (.43); tarsus 21 (.83). Female smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; black of head and throat contrasting 
with white of breast; sides pinkish brown; white lateral tail-feathers; head black as 
compared with J. hyemalis; back reddish brown as compared with /. 0. shufeldti. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs as in /. 0. thurberi. 

Range of Junco oreganus. — Pacific coastal regions of western North America, 
breeding from Yakutat Bay, Alaska, south to Lower California, east to west central 
Alberta (couesi) ; winters irregularly southward and eastward (couesi) or at lower levels. 

Range of J. 0. oreganus.- — The northern coastal representative now breeds from 
Yakutat Bay, Alaska, south to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and winters irregularly 
southward along the coast to Santa Cruz Island, or casually east of the Sierra-Cascade 

Occurrence in California. — Winter visitant west of the Sierras, regularly to 
San Francisco Bay region, casually to Santa Cruz Island. 

Authorities. — Newberry (Struthus oregonus), Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. vi., 
pt. iv., 1857, p. 88, part (San Francisco); Bryant, W. E., Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., 2nd 
ser., vol. i., 1888, p. 47 (Farallons) ; Chapman, Auk, vol. viii., 1891, p. 115 (crit.) ; Dwight, 
Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xxxviii., 1918, p. 291, col. pis. (distr., variation, crit.); 
Swarth, Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool., vol. x., 1912, p. 59 (Vancouver Id.; habits, crit.). 


The Oregon Juncoes 

No. 51a Coues's Junco 

A. O. U. No. 567b. Junco oreganus couesi Dwight. 

Synonyms. — Washington Junco. Hybrid Snow-bird (Coues). Rocky 
Mountain Junco (Coues). Shufeldt's Junco. 

Description. — Adults: Similar to J. 0. oreganus, but back (in males) less 
rufescent, more grayish (pale olive-brown to dull army-brown) ; in females snuff- 
brown; black of head and throat a little more slaty; also averaging larger. Length 
152.4-165 (6.00-6.50); wing 80 (3.15); tail 69 (2.72); bill 11 (.43); tarsus 21 (.83). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; black of head and throat contrasting with 
brownish gray of back and with white of breast; grayer on back than preceding. 

Range of /. 0. couesi (as defined by A. O. U. Committee under name Junco 
hyemalis connectens). — Rocky Mountain region, breeding from coast of southern 
British Columbia, east to west central Alberta, and south to northern Oregon; win- 
tering over entire Rocky Mountain tableland to eastern Colorado, Arizona, New 
Mexico, western Texas, Chihuahua and Sonora. Casual in northern Lower California. 

Occurrence in California. — See general discussion below. 

THE CASE of our northwestern wintering Juncoes is involved in 
notable confusion. All depends upon definition of the summer ranges of 
the three related forms, oreganus, couesi, and thurberi. 

There is least question regarding oreganus, for that subspecies now 
breeds entirely north of the United States, probably no further south 
than the Queen Charlotte Islands; and its contributions to the winter 
population of northern California are perfectly manifest by reason of the 
decided rufous of their backs. 

But the case of couesi is more involved. As now defined by the 
A. O. U. committee (Check-List, 3rd Edition, 1910) couesi (formerly named 
connectens) includes not only the breeding birds of the Rocky Mountains 
in eastern British Columbia, but also those of Vancouver Island and 
Puget Sound. Either this is correct, or the Puget Sound specimens 
represent a northward extension of thurberi, or else they deserve recog- 
nition as a separate subspecies. In any event, these Puget Sound and 
southern British Columbia breeders must winter more or less in northern 
California; for they largely forsake their summer home, and their place 
is taken by oreganus. If, however, these southern winter- taken speci- 
mens of hypothetical couesi are not actually separable from thurberi, 
we shall have to restrict the range of couesi to the northern interior, and 
recognize an enormous northwestern extension of thurberi. 

The situation has probably been complicated by recent rapid move- 
ments in the case of all these forms. Oreganus, at least, was the recog- 
nized breeding bird of Puget Sound no later than 1903. 

We have here an indubitable instance of that northward trend of 
species clearly recognizable in the East, but obscured to our vision in 


The Oregon Juncoes 

TakerTin Washing^ 
Pholo'_by the A uihor 

the West by reason of varied 

conditions and insufficient 

data. The theory is that 

Ik. the birds are 

still following 
the retreat of 
the glacial ice. 
We know that 
the glacial ice- 
sheet, now 
confined to 
and the high 
North, once 
covered half 
the continent. 
In our own 
mountains we 
see the ves- 
tigial traces of 
glaciers which 
were once of 
noble propor- 

1 1 on s 



know that the 
advance of the 

continental ice-sheet must have driven all animal life before it; and, like- 
wise, that the territory since relinquished by the ice has been regained by 
the animals. What more natural than that we should witness through 
close observation the northward advance of those varieties of birds which 
are best suited to withstand cold, and the corresponding occupation of 
abandoned territory on the part of those next south? 

Juncoes, moreover, are erratic in their migrations; and in the West, 
at least, tend to become non-migratory. While Oregon Juncoes are the 
common winter birds of Puget Sound, Coues' (or Thurber's) are not 
entirely absent at this season, and we may even look to see them presently 
hold their own throughout the year. The problem is further complicated 
by what we call vertical migration, by which is meant that mountain 
birds descend to the valleys in winter, instead of flying southward. 
Winter "couesi," therefore, may or may not be strictly resident at, say, 
Camp Lewis, near Tacoma. The summer birds of that region may be 


•nil fiirsig 

Tfie Oregc 


t of 

rial ice- 


Sierra Junco 

Male and female, about % 'if e s ' ze 
From toater- color fainting by Allan Brooks 

n 1 a n d 

and the high 
>r t h , on 

"■ ■ ■ ■ 


see the ves- 

races of 

iciers which 


W e 



animal life before it; and, like- 

e has been regained by 

ural than that we should witne ugh 

he northward advance of those varieties of birds which 

withstand cold, and th ;p inding ccupation of 


id in th. 
n Juncoes are the 
are not 


of iij, ing southv. 
ictly resident at, say, 
hat region may be 

The Oregon Juncoes 

the ones which retire to our borders; while the wintering birds may have 
descended from the Olympics or from Mount Rainier. 

No. 51b Sierra Junco 

A. O. U. No. 567c. Junco oreganus thurberi Anthony. 

Synonyms. — Thurber's Junco. California Snow-bird. 

Description. — Adult male: Similar to J. 0. couesi, but head, neck, and chest, 
blacker; i.e., of recovered intensity, practically as black as J. 0. oreganus; sides much 
paler, avellaneous to vinaceous-buff. Adult females: In mature examples closelv 
approximating the colors of adult males; black of foreparts only a shade less intense; 
back a little more rufescent and a shade lighter. Young birds: Like those of J. 0. 
oreganus but lighter and grayer above, and never yellowish buffy below, palest pinkish 
buff instead. Length of adult male (after Ridgway) : 135-151 (5.32-5.95); wing 78 
(3.07); tail 65.3 (2.57); bill 10.7 (.42); tarsus 20 (.79). Females; wing 72.9 (2.87); tail 
62.2 (2.45); bill 10.7 (.42); tarsus 20.3 (.80). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; head, neck, and chest black; convex out- 
line of chest contrasting with white of breast and light pinkish of sides; the commonest 

Nesting. — Nest: On the ground, sunk flush, or not; often deeply recessed on 
side hill, or else under protection of low shrubbery; a sturdy cup with walls an inch or 
more in thickness, wrought externally of mosses, weed-stems, and dried grasses, and 
lined with fine, light-colored grasses, or horsehair where obtainable. Eggs: 3 to 5; 
ground-color white tinged with pinkish, greenish, or bluish, speckled or spotted, broadly 
or narrowly, rarely mottled or clouded with reddish brown or vinaceous. Av. size. 
19.8 x 15.2 (.78 x .60). Season: May-July; two broods. 

Range of J. 0. thurberi. — Chiefly the mountains of California, but breeds from 
an undetermined area in Oregon south to the Laguna Hansen Mountains of Lower 
California; in winter found at lower levels, and casually east to Arizona. 

Distribution in California. — A summer resident of Transition and Boreal 
zones throughout the State, save in the Monterey section, where replaced by J. 0. 
pinosus. An irregular breeder at intermediate levels (e. g. Santa Margarita — Swarth); 
and a casual breeder at lower levels (Stanford University — Snyder; Berkeley — Wythe). 
In winter found at all lower levels including the deserts (sparingly) and the Channel 

Authorities. — Newberry (Struthus oregonus), Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. iv., 
1857, p. 88. part (n. California in summer); Anthony, Zoe, vol. i, October, 1890, p. 238 
(Wilson's Peak; orig. desc); Kaeding, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 80 
(Calif.; distr., habits, crit.) ;Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1908, p. 95 (habits, 
desc. nests and eggs, etc.); Beat, U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 82 
(food); Dwight, Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xxxviii., 1918, p. 291, col. pi. (distr., 
variation, crit.). 

ONE'S FIRST encounter with Junco in the Southland is likely to 
take place on some little oak-sprinkled ridge, the coolest of that section. 
First one bird, then another, will quit the ground, most unexpectedly to 
you, and take refuge in a live oak tree. It's a game of hide-and-seek 
henceforth with you for "it," unless you resolutely sit down and efface 


Taken in Fresno County 

The Oregon Juncoes 

yourself until such time as the birds are ready to 
play a game of their own choosing. 

There is a jovial restlessness about these 
birds in flock which is contagious. Their 
every movement is accompanied by a 
happy titter, and the pursuit of neces- 
sities is never so stern that a saucy 
dare from one of their number will 
not send the whole company off pell- 
mell like a rout of school-boys. 
Whenever a Junco starts to wing, it 
flashes a white signal in the lateral 
tail-feathers; and this convenient 
"recognition mark" enables the birds 
to keep track of each other through- 
out the maddest gambols in brush-lot 
or tree-top. 

In the early days of March the 
Juncoes gather now and again for a 
grand concert. The males mount 
the bush-tops and hold forth in rival 
strains, while the females lurk under 
cover and take counsel of their 
hearts. Junco's song is a sweet 
little tinkling trill, not very preten- 
tious, but tender and winsome. 
Interspersed with this is a variety of 
sipping and suckling notes, whose 
uses are hard to discern. Now and 
then, also, a forcible kissing sound 
may be heard, evidently a note of 
repulsion instead of attraction, for it is employed in the breeding season 
to frighten enemies. During the progress of the concert some dashing 
young fellow, unable fully to express his emotion in song, runs amuck, 
and goes charging about through the woodsy mazes in a fine frenzy — 
without, however, quite spilling his brains. Others catch the excitement 
and the company breaks up in a mad whirl of amorous pursuit. 

But before the songs are altogether sung out, or "life's great de- 
cision" made, the companies begin to climb the hillsides. Up, up they 
will go with the ascending season, so that Junco's year may be appro- 
priately described as mountain climbing. Now and again a pair will 
pause, marriage can no longer be deferred ; or else the coolness of a suitable 


Pholo by the A uthor 



The Oregon Juncoes 

locality betrays them into a belief that they are high enough for happi- 
ness. So we have chance nestings at Stanford University 1 or Cazadero. 2 
But the bulk of the species ascends until the upper Transition levels of 
the higher mountains are reached. A pause is made here for nesting, 
while the hardier individuals push on for the higher levels. Not im- 
possibly, nesting is conducted at two levels by the same pair of birds, 
6000-8000 in May, 8000-1 1000 in June or July. And when the last 
brood of babies is raised, the whole family goes climbing in good earnest. 
It is a heartening sight to one sitting on the crest of a radiating ridge, 
as at timberline on Shasta, to see the happy Juncoes go trouping by, 
brood after brood, for forage on the upper levels, or wherever the least 
green thing will grow. 

Juncoes are rigeopathic, or cold-loving, by the same token that 
they are photophobic. I had a curious illustration of this in an experi- 
ment conducted at the Simpson Meadows on the Middle Fork of the 
King's River (alt. 6500). A nest had been found in an unusually exposed 
situation; viz., on the level ground with only the protection of scattered 

' W. K. Fisher, Condor, Vol. VI., 1904, p. 108. 
2 Joseph Mailliard. Condor, Vol. X., 1908, p. 133. 

Taken in Inyo County 
Photo by the Author 



(Alt. 10,000). 


The Oregon Juncoes 

herbage, instead of the customary deep shade of the forest. In order, 
if possible, to catch the female brooding in full light, I cut away or tied 
down all the surrounding foliage which would cast a shadow. The sun 
was warm but not to say hot. The result, however, was that the mother 
bird flushed at the earliest provocation, and the babies, not nearly half 
grown, were left momentarily to suffer. Finally, the most forward of the 
brood (of three) made a determined effort to better his condition, and, to 
my amazement, scrambled up the side of the nest and boldly over. I 

Taken in Modoc County 



Pholo by the Author 

replaced him and stood back to photograph a possible repetition of the 
act. This was promptly forthcoming. The youngster scrambled up 
again and tumbled over the brim of the nest, and lay helplessly kicking, 
for it was unusually high above the ground. Of course I promptly took 
pity on them and provided shade. But these youngsters were still almost 
naked, and this precocious determination to attain shade or liberty, or 
both, was, I insist, most amazing. 

The variety and interest of J unco's nesting habits are scarcely 
exceeded by those of any other bird. In general, the birds appear to be 


The Oregon Juncoes 





m«^ p . kqp# 

Taken in Modoc County Photo bv the Author 


guided by some thought of seclusion or protection in their choice of nesting 
sites. Steep hillsides or little banks are, therefore, favorite places, for 
here the bird may excavate a cool grotto in the earth, and allow the 
drapery of the hillside, — mosses and running vines, to festoon and guard 
the approaches. In the foothills the upper banks of road-cuttings are 
frequently occupied, while in mountain meadows I have seen haystacks 
in whose disheveled sides the Juncoes sheltered their young. In default 
of suitable banks the birds will trust themselves to the density of vege- 
tation in unmowed orchards, weed-lots, and meadows. Brush-piles 
afford coveted shelter, as well as small patches of mountain sage, a shaded 
stretch of heather, or even an accumulation of pine needles upon the 
ground. Once I found a bird which occupied a carefully chosen fern 
arbor in the midst of a collection of whitened bones, evidently the mortal 
remains of a defunct horse. The situation was delightfully gruesome, 
and, touched no doubt with vanity, the owner sat for her portrait at 
four feet, a la Bernhardt. 

Juncoes keep very quiet during the nesting season until disturbed, 


The Oregon Juncoes 

and they are very close sitters. When nearly stepped on the bird bursts 
off, and if there are young, crawls and tumbles along the ground within a 
few feet of the intruder, displaying wings and tail in a most appealing 
manner. The tssiks of both birds are incessantly repeated and the whole 
woodside is set agog with apprehension. 

If one posts himself in a suspected locality not too near the nest, it 
is only a question of time till the solicitude of the nursing mother will 

Photo by Wright M. Pierce 


triumph over fear. One such I traced to a charming mossy bank, over- 
looking a woodland pool; but on the first occasion it took the parent bird 
exactly half an hour to go through all the feints and preliminaries before 
she ventured on the final plunge. There were half-grown babies in this 
nest, and since we were in summer camp (at Glacier, near the foot of 
Mt. Baker), I resolved to make friends of this promising family with a 
view to portraiture. 

As I sat next day watching my Juncoes, and waiting for the sun to get 
around and light up the vicinity of the nest, the call to dinner sounded. 


The Oregon Juncoes 

The mother bird, not without much misgiving and remonstrance, had just 
visited her babies, so I rose to go; but as I did so, caught sight of a stout 
garter snake, who lay watching the scene from a distance of fully twenty 
feet, a wicked gleam of intelligence in his eye. With quick suspicion of 
his purpose, I seized stones and hurled at his retreating form; but the 
ground was rough and he managed to escape into a large brush-pile. At 
table I ate hurriedly, listening the while for the faintest note of trouble. 
When it came, a quick outcry from both parents, instead of premonitory 
notes of discovery, I sprang to my feet, clutched a stick, and rushed down 
to the spring. Alas for us ! Satan had found our Eden ! The nest was 
emptied and the snake lay coiled over it in the act of swallowing one of 
the little birds. Not daring to strike, I seized him by the throat and re- 
leased the baby Junco, whose rump only had disappeared into the devour- 
ing jaws. Then with the stick I made snake's-head jelly on a rock and 
flung the loathsome reptile away. But it was all too late. One young 
bird lay drowned upon the bottom of the pool, and the other (I think 
there were only two) soon died of fright and the laceration of the hinder 
parts attendant upon ophidian deglutition. It was all so horrible! the 
malignant plan, the stealthy approach, the sudden alarm, the wanton 
destruction of the fledglings, the grief of the agonized parents, the remorse 
of the helper who came too late ! Is it any wonder that our forebears have 
pictured the arch-enemy as a serpent? 

The Sierra Junco in California deserves to be called the Sierra Club 
bird. On the annual pilgrimage of its members this famous organization 
of mountaineers move about in a perfect halo of disturbed and protesting 
Juncoes. And as often as the vacationers, two hundred strong, deploy 
for the night over a lily-sprinkled meadow, a dozen pairs of Juncoes go 
sleepless, or else abandon impossible charges. At the Vidette Camp in 
1913 the ladies showed me four cold eggs in a nest so deeply recessed in 
the bank of Bubb's Creek as to be entirely concealed from the vertical gaze. 
Buried in the ground as she was, the bird had endured the frequent 
proximity of the women passing to and from the creek, not three feet 
away, without betraying her trust, until at last one lady inadvertently 
emptied her half-drained drinking cup by a back-flip and sent the water 
square across the entrance of this hidden domicile. Thereupon its indig- 
nant mistress emerged, never to return. And of all the nests shown to 
the bird-man that season by the courtesies of a hundred pairs of eyes, 
fully three-fourths were those of Junco oreganus thiirberi. 


The Oregon Juncoes 

No. 51c Point Pinos Junco 

A. O. U. No. 5670". Junco oreganus pinosus Loomis. 

Description. — Adults: Very similar to those of J. 0. oreganus, and matching 
them fully as to rufescence of back, etc., but black of male possibly a little less intense, 
especially on throat and chest. Doubtfully different! — merely a sedentary stock 
occupying the ancient stronghold of the (sub) species oreganus, and exhibiting the two 
differential characters (really one) of a sedentary form, viz., the shorter wing and tail. 

Nesting. — Nest and eggs much as in preceding form. 

Range. — The Transitional areas of the Santa Cruz district, breeding from San 
Bruno (Ray) in San Mateo County south to Big Creek (Jenkins), Monterey County, 
irregularly east in winter at lower levels. The breeding ranges of pinosus and thurberi 
appear to inosculate deeply upon the northeast. 

Authorities. — Vigors (Fringilla hyemalis). Zoology of Captain Beechey's 
Voyage, 1839, p. 20; Loomis, Auk, vol. x., 1893, p. 47 (Point Pinos ;orig. desc.) ; ibid., Auk, 
vol. xi., 1894, p. 265, col. pi.; Kaeding, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i, 1899, p. 80 
(distr., habits, etc.) ; Beat, U. S. Dept. Agric. Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 82 
(food); Dwight, Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xxxviii., 1918, p. 291 (distr., variation, 

THE RACE pinosus, stranded upon the hills of Monterey and Santa 
Cruz counties, exemplifies a phenomenon which should be clearly under- 
stood by the student of western bird-life. If we are to give this ten- 
dency a name — we may call it chorophily (x<*>qo<;, a place, a definite 
region, cpiWo, I love). By this we mean that attachment to a given 
place or region which prevents a bird (or other animal) from forsaking its 
ancestral home. In the strictest sense the term might apply as well to 
migrants which repair to definite homes or narrow ranges both in summer 
and in winter. (For example, we have at Los Colibris a Dwarf Hermit 
Thrush who returns to us regularly in winter. The Lord knows where he 
nests, — perhaps on Vancouver Island — but he spends six months on our 
narrow acre in closer attendance than a [purely hypothetical] house cat.) 
But for the purposes of our discussion we will confine the term to such 
species or forms as are not only non-migratory, but which succeed in 
resisting the migratory impulse manifested by their congeneric and con- 
specific fellows. The Belding Sparrow, the Salt Marsh Song Sparrow, the 
Point Pinos Junco are such species. 

The case is all the more remarkable with J. o. pinosus, for the related 
forms, J. o. thurberi, couesi, and oreganus, have shifted notably within 
historic times. They are invading the Northland with rapid stride. But 
J. o. pinosus has found, long since, in the coastal regions of Monterey 
and Santa Cruz counties, the humid coolness which the species loves. 
Abundant fogs and towering redwood forests are assured blessings. 
Wherefore, pinosus will not go questing. 

There is something pathetic in this loyalty on the part of a few birds 

The Gray-headed Junco 

belonging to a species whose other members are notorious wanderers. 
There must be something very attractive about the coasts of Monterey! 
Those whose opinions coincide with that expressed by pinosus should feel 
greatly flattered. No doubt they do; and we shall look to them or to some 
gifted member of the Santa Cruz tribe to prepare a life history of the Point 
Pinos Junco which shall be worth while. All that an outsider may know, 
so far, is that the subspecies is just appreciably different in appearance. 
No differences in song or nesting or winter behavior have yet been 
described, but such doubtless exist. 

No. 52 

Gray-headed Junco 

A. O. U. No. 570b. Junco caniceps (Woodhouse). 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): Head and neck all around, chest and rump, 
neutral gray, darker above, lighter below, shading on breast and sides into dull white 
or buffy white of remaining underparts; lores and area about base of bill narrowly 
black; back walnut-brown; wings chiefly fuscous; the coverts gray; the outer web of 
scapulars tinged with brown; two outer pairs of rectrices entirely and third pair largely 
white. Bill pinkish in life (drying pale brown); irides brown; tarsus pale brown, 
feet darker. Length about 161. 3 (6.35); wing 84.6 (3.33); tail 66.6 (2.62); bill 10.9 
(.47); tarsus 20.6 (.81). Females smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; foreparts definitely gray, and back warm 
reddish brown; underparts shaded without abrupt contrast. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs not certainly dis- 
tinguishable from those of preceding species. 

General Range. — The northernmost form of an allied group which includes 
J. phaeonotus: breeds in Utah and southern Wyoming, south to northern NewMexico; 
winters at lower levels to northern Mexico and casually to southern California. 

Occurrence in California. — Three records: Pasadena, Oct. 26, 1894 (Grinnell); 
Julia, San Diego County, common, Nov. 18 to Dec. 3, 1906 (A. P. Smith); Oak Glen, 
San Bernardino Mts., March 4, 1922 (A. J. van Rossem). 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., no. ii., 1898, p. 38 (Pasadena, 
Oct. 26, 1894); Trippe, in Coues' Birds of the Northwest, 1874, p. 144 (Colorado; 
habits, song, etc.); A. P. Smith, Condor, vol. ix., 1907, p. 199 (Julian); Rockwell and 
Wetmore, Auk, vol. xxxi., 1914, p. 325, fig. (Colorado; habits, nest and eggs); Dwight, 
Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. xxxviii., 1918, p. 299, col. pi. (distr., variation, crit.); 
Dickey, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, p. 137 (San Bernardino Mts.). 

THE GRAY-HEADED JUNCO is an invader from the central 
Rocky Mountains and from the lesser ranges of Utah and Nevada. His 
mistake in wintering in California is more noticeable than that of Junco 


The Western Tree Sparrow 

hyemalis; for in doing so he forsakes the traditional southeasterly trend 
of the autumn migrations, and turns westward. Of course we warmly 
applaud such effort while we speculate upon the mysterious causes which 
lead up to it. 

The slaty gray of the foreparts in caniceps is different enough from 
thurberi's smart black to attract the attention of a novice, and the possi- 
bility of the stranger's presence gives zest to a review of every local flock 
of Juncoes in southern California. 

No. 53 

Western Tree Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 559a. Spizella arborea ochracea Brewster. 

Description. — Adults: Pileum, a malar streak, a streak behind eye, and a 
small patch on side of chest, cinnamon-rufous or hazel; superciliary stripe and re- 
maining portions of head and neck light neutral gray; throat and chest of same shade 
superficially but duller by virtue of concealed dusky; an ill-defined spot of dusky in 
center of lower chest; remaining underparts dull white, washed on sides with brownish; 
general color of upperparts light buffy grayish brown; much outcropping black on 
back, scapulars, and tertials; some rusty edging on back-feathers, scapulars, and great- 
er wing-coverts; middle and greater wing-coverts tipped with white, forming two 
conspicuous bands; flight-feathers grayish dusky margined with whitish and buffy; 
the rectrices with narrow whitish edgings. Bill blackish above, yellow tipped with 
dusky below; legs brown, feet darker; iris brown. In winter the cinnamon-rufous of 
crown is slightly veiled, especially along median area, by ashy skirtings of feathers, 
and the buff}- of upperparts inclines to strengthen. Length about 152.4 (6.00); wing 
76 (3.00); tail 68 (2.68); bill 10 (.39); tarsus 20.8 (.82). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; resembles Western Chipping Sparrow 
but much larger; white wing-bars with chestnut crown distinctive. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest: On the ground or in low 
bushes; composed of bark-strips, grasses, moss, etc., heavily lined with feathers. Eggs: 
3 to 6; pale bluish green, finely and heavily and almost uniformly marked with reddish 
brown (vinaceous russet). Av. size 19 x 14 (.75 x .55). 

Range of Spizella arborea. — Northern North America, south in winter to southern 
border states. 

Range of 5. a. ochracea. — Western North America, breeding from the Anderson 
River west to Bering Sea, and south to mountains of central British Columbia. In 
winter south through the Western States east of the Cascade-Sierra divide, south to 
Arizona and Texas, east to eastern Kansas. 

Occurrence in California. — One record: specimen taken by Captain Feilner 
at Fort Crook, Shasta County. Probably a rare winter visitor in northeastern portion 
of State. 

Authorities. — Henshaw, Rep. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1879, p. 296; Townsend, 
Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., x., 1887, p. 218; Cooper, J. C, Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 206; Grinnell, 
Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, p. 118. 

The Western Tree Sparrow 

"THE sight of the first Tree Sparrow in the fall serves perfectly to 
call up a vision of impending winter. Here are the hurrying blasts, the 
leaden skies, the piling snow-drifts, all ready to make the beholder shiver. 
But here, too, in some unburied weed patch, or thicket of rose-briars, is a 
company of Tree Sparrows, stout-hearted and cold-defying, setting up a 
merry tinkling chorus, as eloquent of good cheer as a crackling Yule-log. 
How many times has the bird-man hastened out after some cruel cold snap, 
thinking, 'Surely this 
will settle for my birds,' 
only to have his fears re- 
buked by a troop of these 
hardy Norsemen revel- 
ling in some back pas- 
ture as if they had found 
their Valhalla on this 
side the icy gates. Ho! 
brothers! here is food in 
these capsules of mus- 
tard and cockle; here is 
wine distilled from the 
rose-hips; here is shelter 
in the weedy mazes, or 
under the soft blanket 
of the snow. What ho! 
Lift the light song! Pass 
round the cup again ! 
Let mighty cheer pre- 
vail!" (Birds of Ohio). 

The claim of the 
Western Tree Sparrow 
to a place upon the Cali- 
fornia list still rests upon 
the solitary specimen 
taken by Feilner at Fort 
Crook, in Shasta Coun- 
ty, in 1879. Because of 
the milder climate of the 
Pacific Coast region, 
these hardy birds do not 
come so far south in 
winter as do their east- 
ern compatriots, and western tree sparrow 


The Western Chipping Sparrow 

they are rare even in northern Washington. At the same time, it is 
highly probable that northern California has enjoyed several unrecorded 
visitations, and a recurrence is always a lively possibility. During its 
Southland forays, the bird's food, consisting, as it does, of grass- and weed- 
seed and dried berries, is found near the ground; and so, for the season, 
the name Tree Sparrow seems inconsistent. When persistently annoyed, 
however, the flock will rise to the tree-tops in straggling fashion, and 
there either await the withdrawal of the intruder, or else make off at a 
good height. 

The song of the Tree Sparrow is sweet and tuneful, affording a 
pleasing contrast to the monotonous ditty of the Western Chipping Spar- 
row. Snatches of song may be heard, indeed, on almost any mild day in 
winter; but the spring awakening assures a more pretentious effort. A 
common form runs, Swee-ho, sweet, sweet, sweet, with notes of a most 
flattering tenderness. But we may only guess at the bird's full powers, 
for the home-making is in Alaska. 

No. 54 

Western Chipping Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 560a. Spizella passerina arizonae Coues. 

Synonyms. — Chippy. Hair-bird. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: Crown bright chestnut (auburn 
or hazel); continuation on hindhead sharply streaked with black; extreme forehead 
narrowly black and divided by white line; a white superciliary and a narrow black 
line through eye; rump neutral gray; nuchal collar (crossed centrally by black streaks) 
neutral gray shading on sides of head and neck and sides into dull white of under- 
pays; back and scapulars wood-brown, or avellaneous, heavily streaked with black; 
wings and tail fuscous, blackening on exposed tips of tertiaries and unexposed portions 
of wing-coverts; lesser coverts grayish olive to fuscous; middle and greater coverts 
tipped with white or buffy white, forming two inconspicuous bars. Bill black in highest 
plumage only; otherwise brown above and much lighter to pale below; legs light brown, 
feet darker. Adult female in spring: Much like adult male and sometimes indis- 
tinguishable, but usually chestnut of crown largely mixed with black shaft-streaks 
and brownish or buffy skirtings. Yearling females in spring are scarcely chestnut 
on crown — merely a more intense wood-brown. In fall and winter: Hazel of crown 
much admixed with black and buffy; remaining plumage softer and more blended, 
with increase of grayish brown. Immature birds are like adults in autumn, but crown 
without chestnut, — exactly like back, and sides of head, including superciliary, tinged 
with buffy. Juvenals are like immatures, but less rufescent, more grayish or flaxen, 
and are heavily streaked with dusky on breast and sides. Length of adult male 
146-152. 4 (5.75-6.00); wing 72 (2.84); tail 61 (2.41); bill 9.6 (.38); tarsus 17 (.67). Fe- 
males a little less. 


A Warm Day in the Yosemite 

The Western Chipping Sparrow is panting on her nest 
From a photograph by the Author 

The Western Chipping Sparrow 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; chestnut of crown and whitish super- 
ciliary distinctive; adult unmarked below. Young birds of the year heavily streaked 
above on a pinkish brown ground. 

Nesting. — Nest: A compact or careless structure of weed-stems, grasses and 
(most commonly and often exclusively) rootlets, heavily lined with horsehair, placed 
at moderate heights in bushes or trees, indifferently in riparian shrubbery, orchard 
trees, or evergreens. Eggs: 3 to 5, commonly 4; bluish green (pale niagara green), 
sharply and sparingly spotted and marked, chiefly in ring about larger end, with brown- 
ish black, paling variously, according to depth below surface, to deep dull lavender 
or vinaceous lilac. Av. size 17 .\ 12.7 (.67 x .50). Season: April-July; two broods. 

Taken in Fresno County 
Photo by the A uthor 


Range of Spizella passerina. — North America from southern and western Can- 
ada south to Nicaragua. 

Range of 5. p. arizonce. — Western North America. Breeds from the southern 
border of the United States, chiefly in the mountains north of the Yukon Valley and 
the Mackenzie (Fort Good Hope) east to eastern Colorado, western Manitoba, etc. 
Winters from southern California to Cape San Lucas and south over the Mexican 

Distribution in California. — Breeds locally in Upper Sonoran zone west of 
the Sierras, and almost everywhere in Transition zones up to limit of trees in Boreal. 


The Western Chipping Sparrow 


Also found attendant upon culture in valleys, even in Lower Sonoran. Occurs reg- 
ularly upon the timbered islands of the Santa Barbara group. Winters sparingly 
in the San Diego district. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza socialis), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 
2, ii., 1853, p. 265; Cooper, J. G., Orn. Calif., 1870, pp. 207-208 (habits); Belding, 
Occ. Papers, Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, pp. 155-156 (migration); Judd, Biol. Surv. Bull., 
no. 15, 1901, pp. 76-78 (part) (food) ; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 80-82 
(food); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 78 (on coastal islands). 

AN OBSCURE little fellow he is to eye, a skit done in faded browns, 
with a chestnut crown which still does not differentiate the owner from 
a withered flower-cluster of wintry creosote, nor from a fallen fir cone on 
the flanks of Shasta. We used to call him domestica, and rejoiced to think 


The Western Chipping Sparrow 

that at a given season he would make free with our lawns, or appear in the 
back yard to claim a share of the crumbs. Later the name socialis came 
into vogue, and this, too, expressed the bird's friendliness toward folks, 
rather than any gregarious tendency. Then the relentless law of priority 
inflicted the name of passerina upon us, and we have no way to record our 
appreciation of the bird's homely trustfulness. 

The naming of birds is a highly artificial process at best, and as 
often misleading as instructive. Spizella, little sparrow, is excellent; 
passerina, sparrowlike, is a silly reduplication; while 
arizonce, of the desert, is rather inept as applied to 
the Western Chipping Sparrow in California, since 
the bird appears sparingly in our deserts only in 
the winter season. In the northern interior, say 
in eastern Washington, the bird is quite 
characteristic of the sage-brush deserts, or 
desert fringes; but in California the Chip- 
ping Sparrow has three principal breeding 
associations: culture, including parks, 
orchards and lawns; river fringes, espe- 
cially of the upper levels; and evergreen 
timber. The last division requires 
further distinction, for this Sparrow 
is not a bird of the forest depths, but 
only of the parks and openings, — the 
forest borders, whether these be of 
second-growth redwood in the log- 
ged-off areas of Humboldt County, a 
yellow pine grove in the central 
Sierras, or the upper timbered levels 
lying along both sides of the Sierra 
crests. The Chipping Sparrow, 
therefore, is a bird of extreme "toler- 
ance," for at the same time it is 
enduring the high temperatures (oc- 
casionally up to no degrees) of the 
lower Sonoran orchards in Los iVnge- 
les County, the chilly sea fogs of 
humid Transition in Del Norte 
County, and the nightly frosts of the 
11,000 foot level on Mount Whitney. 
Yet for all this, there is no evidence 
of incipient change in plumage, nor 

Taken in San Diego Counly Photo by Donald R. Dickey 




The Western Chipping Sparrow 

of any tendency to split up into subspecies. The alleged paling of 
"arizonce" is a slight character at best, and it is passing strange that the 
Chipping Sparrow's plumage has not become resaturated during the 
bird's attendance upon the humid forests which stretch from Monterey 
to British Columbia, nor further bleached in winter upon the burning 
sands of the Mohave and Colorado deserts. 

Whatever the weather, Chippy returns to us about the first of April, 
posts himself on the tip of an evergreen branch, like a brave little Christ- 
mas candle, and proceeds to sputter, in the same part. Of all homely 
sounds the monotonous trill of the Western Chipping Sparrow is the most 
homely, — and the most easily forgivable. As music it scarcely ranks 
above the rattle of castanets; but the little singer pours out his soul full 
earnestly, and his ardor often leads him to sustained effort throughout 
the sultry hours when more brilliant vocalists are sulking in the shade; 
and for this we come to prize his homely ditty like the sound of plashing 

Two Chipping Sparrow songs heard in a northern locality deserve 
special mention. One likened itself in our ears to a tool being ground on a 
small emery wheel. The wheel has a rough place on its periphery which 
strikes against the tool with additional force and serves to mark a single 
revolution, but the continuous burr which underlies the accented points, or 
trill-crests, is satisfied by this comparison alone. The other effort, a pecu- 
liar buzz of varying intensity, carries forward the same idea of continuous 
sound, but the comparison changes. In this the song appears to pour 
from the tiny throat without effort, and its movement is as though an 
unseen hand controlled an electric buzz, whose activity varies with the 
amount of "juice" turned on: zzzzzzzzzzt, zzzzzzzzzzt, zzzzzzzzzzt, ZZZZZ 

In mountain camps the song of the Chipping Sparrow sometimes re- 
quires careful distinction from that of the Sierra J unco {J unco oreganus 
thurberi). Chippy's trill is never musical, but Junco's song occasionally 
emulates it in woodenness. 

Chippy's nest is a frail affair at best, although it is often elaborately 
constructed of fine twigs, rootlets, and grasses, with a plentiful lining of 
horsehair. In some instances the last-named material is employed 
exclusively. An orchard branch or a sycamore bough is a favorite situa- 
tion in the low country, a horizontal branch of fir or redwood in the wet 
country, and a bristling pine sapling undoubtedly has preference in the 
Sierras. Rose thickets are always popular, and where the bird frankly 
forsakes the wilds, ornamental shrubbery and vines are chosen. The nests 
are often so loosely related to their immediate surroundings as to give the 
impression of having been constructed elsewhere, and then moved bodily 


The Western Chipping Sparrow 

to their present sites. Some are set as loosely as feathers upon the tips 
of evergreen branches, and a heavy storm in season is sure to bring down 
a shower of Chippies' nests. 

Eggs are laid during April, May, or June, according to level. They 
are among the most familiar objects in Nature, and particular descrip- 
tion of them ought to be unnecessary. But every person who knows that 
we are interested in birds has to stop us on the street to tell about the 
"cunningest little nest, you know, with four of the cutest - — ." "Hold 
on," we say; "were the eggs blue?" "Yes." "With dots on them?" 
"Why, yes; how did you know?" 

Incubation lasts only ten days, and two broods are usually raised 
in each season. Chipping Sparrows are very devoted parents and the 
sitting female will sometimes allow herself to be taken in the hand. The 
male bird is not less sedulous in the care of the young, and he sometimes 
exercises a fatherly oversight of the first batch of babies, while his mate 
is preparing for the June crop. 

Taken in Mariposa County 
Photo by the A uthor 



The Western Chipping Sparrow 

The nest with young figured here was found on the 15th day of June 
in the Yosemite Valley. It was placed four feet up in a wild rose thicket, 
and not over five feet from the main traveled road. The day threatened 
to be an unusually warm 
one, and already at nine 
o'clock in the morning 
the mother bird was 
found standing upon the 
brim of the nest shield- 
ing her chicks, with out- 
stretched wings, from 
the sun's rays. At ten 
o'clock, when we re- 
turned with the cameras, 
the situation was worse, 
heatwise, but at that I 
had to tear away the 
cover to get enough light 
on the nest. The mother 
bird returned presently, 
and finding the heat in- 
tolerable, fluttered and 
crowded until she had 
forced the last baby out 
of the nest and down the 
stem where there was 
shade. One youngster 

got the idea too thoroughly and disappeared in the depths of the bushes, 
but the other three we succeeded in coaxing up one by one until they 
would sit decently upon the hand. They would not "look pleasant, 
please," and were decidedly relieved when the ordeal was over and they 
could bolt into the shade. They simply would not stay in the nest even 
when the sun declined. That tie was broken. The mother bird re- 
peatedly settled into the nest and made coaxing sounds, though whether 
with intention to induce a return on the part of her erring youngsters, or 
merely to deceive me, I could not tell. As she sat thus, the male parent 
lighted on the side of the nest and offered to feed, but he was promptly 
driven away by his mate with manifest reproaches for his stupidity. 
Seeing the jig was up anyway, the mother hunted up her favorite son, 
snuggled close, and settled down to a defiant nap. 

Taken in Mariposa County Photo by the Author 



The Black-chinned Sparrow 
No. 55 

Black-chinned Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 565. Spizella atrogularis (Cabanis). 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike) : Middle of back and scapulars grayish 
brown (sayal brown or wood-brown), heavily streaked with blackish (quite as in other 
Spizella:) ; region about base of bill — the face — black, shading posteriorly, save on 
chin and upper throat, where abruptly defined from the neutral gray of the remaining 
plumage; the gray darkest above, where sometimes washed with dull brownish; shading 
below toward white or grayish white of middle belly and crissum; lower tail-coverts 
white, broadly streaked with gray; wings and tail fuscous with vague edgings of brown- 
ish gray. Bill reddish brown, darkening on tip; tarsus brown, feet dusky brownish. 
Immature birds lack the black of face, and the black of the adult female — never quite 
so strong as that of the male — is probably not attained before the second season. 
Young birds are faintly streaked below. Length of adult about 146 (5.75); wing 62 
(2.45); tail 66 (2.60); bill 9.3 (.37); tarsus 18.8 (.74). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; black face against gray ground distinctive; 
gray of upperparts in abrupt contrast with saddle of streaky "sparrow color"; light 
bill; chaparral-haunting habits. 

Nesting. — Nest: A compact cup of dried grasses, lined — or not — with horse- 
hair; placed in sage or other shrub of the dwarf chaparral, often well concealed. Eggs: 
3 or 4; of two types, both light bluish green (pale niagara green), the one unmarked, 
the other sparingly spotted and marked with dull brown and brownish black. Av. 
size 16.5 x 12.7 (.65 x .50). Season: May-June; one brood. 

General Range. — "Breeds in desert and coast ranges of southern California, 
Arizona, and southern New Mexico to northern Lower California, and south over 
the Mexican tableland to Hidalgo, Puebla, Mexico; Jalisco and Michoacan; winters 
in the southern part of its breeding range and south to Cape San Lucas" (A. 0. U.). 

Distribution in California. — Breeds in the chaparral of mountain sides through- 
out the San Diego district, northwestward at least to northeastern San Luis Obispo 
County (the Wreden Ranch); and on the southeastern desert ranges north at least 
to Silver Creek in the White Mountains (May 28, 1919). Recorded casually in Mon- 
terey County (June 25, 1894, by Rollo H. Beck); and in Alameda County near Contra 
Costa line (May 27, 1899, by D. A. Cohen). Only one recorded occurrence in winter; 
San Clemente Island, Dec. 5, 1908, by C. B. Linton. 

Authorities. — Gunn, Orn. and Ool., vol. x., Feb., 1885, p. 30 (Colton); Coues, 
Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1866, p. 87 (Ft. Whipple, Ariz.; habits; crit.); Morcom, 
Bull. Ridgway Orn. Club, vol. ii., 1887, p. 49; Fisher, N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 92 
(Panamint Mts., Walker Pass, Owens Valley, etc.); Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, 
no. 7, 1912, p. 81 (s. Calif.; nesting dates, etc.); Grinnell and Swartli, L T niv. Calif. 
Pub. Zool., vol. x., 1913, p. 273 (habits, nests and eggs, song, etc.). 

TSEET chweet chweet chweet trrrrr, came from the flanking chaparral 
high up on the hillside. Never did I name a bird with more instant confi- 
dence on the basis of its song alone, than I did this one, heard at evening 
as the motor labored up the lower reaches of the San Jacinto River. Its 


t Santa Ba 

The Black-chinned Sparrow 

quality was entirely new, but its cadence was Spizelline. We declared 
camp at once, and a charming spot we found, under the live oak trees at a 
little remove across the river. We called it Black-chin Camp, of course, 
although the Black-chinned Hummers were there to dispute honors with 
atrogularis. The night dragged all too slowly with the memory of the un- 
seen singer to haunt the 
professional conscience, 
and the no less disturb- 
ing promise of early so- 
lution in the morning. 

True to all the tra- 
ditions of hospitality, 
our host called us in time 
for breakfast (although 
he would not get it for 
us). Shrill, vibrant, pen- 
etrating, with the incis- 
iveness of a whip-crack, 
but infinitely sweeter, 
comes each note, accel- 
erando, until the trill is 
reached. Here the singer 
becomes disheartened, 
and lets his melody peter 
out to an inglorious fin- 
ish. Alternating irregu- 
larly with this song is 
another which is little 
more than a simple (and altogether different) trill. This phrase begins 
with a single inspirated note, those which follow are just distinct enough 
to be separated by the ear, while the terminal portion becomes rapid and 
diminuendo, as before. This echo song, moreover, is oftenest terminated, 
after the tiniest interval, by a single cheep or tsweet of characteristic qual- 
ity. It is as though the singer had signed his name with a flourish to a 
performance which we should not otherwise have recognized. 

It must have been this alternate, or echo song, of which Grinnell 
could say: "The general impression is of a weak song. It certainly does 
not carry far; on the contrary a bird may be singing close at hand and 
give the impression of a great distance." 1 Of the major song I can only 
testify that it has extraordinary carrying power, and that I have heard 
it distinctly (the bird being meanwhile under observation by 8-powers) 

1 Grinnell-Swarth, " Birds and Mammals of San Jacinto." U. of C, Zool., Vol. 10. 1913. p. 275. 

bara County 



The Black-chinned Sparrow 

at a quarter of a mile. Once known, it can never be forgotten; and many 
a chaparral-covered hillside, which otherwise would have had no distinc- 
tion, is forever impressed on memory by the quaintly sweet brank brank 
brank brank trrrr of this modest and all too distant singer. 

The behavior of the Black-chinned Sparrow is worth recording. As 
a singer he performs conscientiously, and with an eye single to duty. He 
chooses elevated stations, a yucca stalk, the tip of the tallest chamisal, 
or, rarely, a tree. He is quite demure in manner, sitting pensive or turning 
calmly in the intervals which succeed his song. But every five or ten 
minutes, prudence enjoins that he shift his station, even though it be to 
another of equal prominence. If we approach, he will retire, singing 
distantly, or else con- 

clude the concert 

Not from him shall 
we receive any informa- 
tion as to the dainty 
nest, placed at a height 
of a foot or so, in one of 
the thickest bushes of 
the hillside. And if we 
flush the female, sitting 
tight till close approach, 
she will disappear upon 
the instant, and as like 
as not for good. As a 
confirmed oologist, I am 
inclined to resent this 
reticence, and to set it 
down to contumacy 
rather than caution. The 
three or four tiny blue- 
green eggs, with or with- 
out spots and dots of 
cinnamon or sepia, are 
annoyingly like those of 
Spizella passerina. Who 

One would like to 
see the parent bird. 
And if there were dan- 
ger of Brewer's Sparrows 

Taken in San Bernardino County Photo by Wright M. 



The Brewer Sparrow 

being present (fortunately there is very little), the situation would be 

Like so many of the chaparral- and sage-haunting species, the Black- 
chinned Sparrow colonizes loosely. Here on a hillside may be found half a 
dozen pairs, and upon the heels of this good fortune, a silence of a dozen 
miles, or forty, may ensue. The time to study Black-chinned Sparrows is 
not when you will, but when you can. 

No. 56 

Brewer's Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 562. Spizella breweri Cassin. 

Description. — Adults: Upperparts light grayish brown, grayer — nearly light 
neutral gray — on nuchal collar; brightest brown on back; everywhere (save on remiges 
and rectrices) streaked with black or dusky, narrowly on crown, more broadly on back 
and scapulars, less distinctly on rump; wing-coverts and tertials varied by edgings 
of brownish buff; flight-feathers and rectrices dark grayish brown or dusky, with some 
edging of light grayish brown; a broad pale buffy superciliary stripe, scarcely contrast- 
ing with surroundings; underparts dull whitish, tinged on sides and across breast 
by pale buffy gray. Bill pale brown, darkening on tip and along culmen; feet pale 
brown; iris brown. Young birds show more of an ochraceous element upon the wings, 
and are heavily streaked upon the breast and sides with dusk}'. Length 135 (5.30)' 
wing 62 (2.44); tail 60.5 (2.38); bill 9.6 (.38); tarsus 17.3 (.68). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; general streaked appearance; absence of 
distinguishing marks practically distinctive; sage-haunting habits. 

Nesting. — Nest: A compact cup of twigs, weed-stems, and rootlets, lined, 
if possible, with horsehair; placed in bushes, often well concealed in sage, greasewood, 
or atriplex. Eggs: 3 or 4, very rarely 5; light bluish green (light niagara green to 
pale nile blue), spotted about the larger end (sometimes confluent in ring) with rich 
reddish brown (liver-brown). Av. of 26 specimens in the M. C. O. collection, 16.6 x 12 
(.655 x .472). Season: May-July, according to elevation; usually one brood. 

General Range. — Sage-brush plains of the West, breeding from the southern 
portion of the Southwestern States north to southeastern British Columbia, and east 
to western Nebraska; south in winter through Lower California, and in Mexico to 

Distribution in California. — Breeds in high Upper Sonoran and Transition 
zones, chief!}' east of the Sierras and locally in Upper Sonoran in the great interior 
valley or elsewhere, — Fresno County (Tyler); Sespe (Peyton); Carrizo Plains (Swarth). 
Also a summer or late summer visitor and possible breeder in the Boreal zone to the 
limit of trees, — White Mountains at alt. 10,000, May 26 and 27, 1919; Warner Moun- 


The Brewer Sparrow 

tains at alt. 8500, July 8, 1912; Cottonwood Lakes (Inyo County) at alt. 11,000, 
July 10. 191 1, etc. Winters sparingly in the San Diegan district, and along the Colo- 
rado River; has occurred also in winter at Fresno (Tyler), and casually at Redwood 
City (Littlejohn). 

Authorities. — Heermann (Emberiza pallida), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 
2, ii.. 1853, p. 265; Cassin, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1856, p. 40 (desc. of breweri); 
Ridgway, Orn. 40th Parallel, 1877, p. 480 (song) ; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xxii., 1905, p. 386; 
Peyton, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 207 (nests); Tyler, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, pp. 193-195 
(nesting, habits, etc.). 

IT IS never quite fair to say that Nature produces a creature which 
harmonizes perfectly with its surroundings, for the moment we yield 
tribute of admiration to one creature, we discover amid 
the same circumstances another as nearly perfect but 
entirely different. When we consider the Sage Spar- 
row, we think that Nature cannot improve much upon 
his soft grays by way of fitness for his desert 
environment; but when we come upon the Brewer 
Sparrow, we are ready to wager that here the dame 
has done her utmost to produce a bird of non- 
committal appearance. Mere brown might have 
been conspicuous by default, but brownish, 
broken up by hazy streakings of other brownish 
or dusky — call it what you will — has given us a 
bird which, so far as plumage is concerned, may 
be said to have no mark of distinction whatever 
— just bird. 

The Sage Sparrow fits into the gray-green 
massy scheme of color harmony in the artemisia, 
while Brewer's fits into the somber, brown-and- 
streaky scheme of its twigs and branches. To 
carry out the comparison, do not look for breweri 
early in the season, when the breath of the rain 
rises from the ground and the air is astir; he is 
there, of course, but disregard him. Wait, 
rather, until the season is advanced, when the in- 
comparable sun of Yakima has filled the sage- 
brush full to overflowing, and it begins to ooze out 
heat in drowsy, indolent waves. Then listen: 
Weeeezzz, tubitubitubitubitub, the first part an in- 
spired trill, and the remainder an exquisitely modu- 
lated expirated trill in descending cadence. 

Taken in San Bernardino County 
Photo by Wright M. Pierce 



The Brewer Sparrow 

Taken in the Warner Mountains 

Photo by the Author 


Instantly one conceives a great respect for this plain dot in feathers, 
whose very existence may have passed unnoticed before. The descending 
strain of the common song has, in some individuals, all the fine shading 
heard in certain imported canaries. Pitch is conceded by infinitesimal 
gradations, whereby the singer, from some heaven of fancy, brings us 
down gently to a topmost twig of earthly attainment. Nor does the song 
in other forms lack variety. In fact, a midday chorus of Brewer Sparrows 
is a treat which makes a tramp in the sage memorable. 

The range of Brewer's Sparrow in the breeding season is nearly 
coextensive with that of Artemisia tridentata, the "sage" par excellence. 
Inasmuch as this plant has a considerable altitudinal range, the bird 
enjoys also a decided change of air. J. S. Appleton found Brewer Spar- 
rows breeding at Simi (alt. 800 feet), May 21st and 28th, 1899; while I 
took a set of four eggs on the 28th of June, 191 1, at an elevation of 8600 
feet, on the east flank of the Sierras, in Inyo County. However, an 
occurrence at a similar level (8500) on the Warner Mountains was on 
July 8th, and marked the close of the breeding season, with its attendant 


The Harris Sparrow 

emancipation from lower level duties. At the Cottonwood Lakes (alt. 
11,000) in Inyo County, the species made its "vacation" appearance 
on the ioth day of July (191 1). 

It is not impossible that the Brewer Sparrow nests twice in a season, 
once at a lower level, and again several thousand feet higher. The species 
nests in April further north, but there seem to be no breeding records 
for that month in California. 

Neither the nest nor the eggs of Brewer's Sparrow are in themselves 
certainly distinguishable from those of its congener (S. passerina ari- 
zonce) ; but its nest, in my experience, is invariably placed in a small 
bush, a sage-bush, at a height of not over one or two, or at most, three, 
feet from the ground. Records of nesting in fruit trees I distrust; but 
there is no doubt that Mr. Tyler did discover a unique and interesting 
situation near Clover, in Fresno County. 1 An isolated colony of these 
birds found an attractive summer home in a vineyard having a south 
exposure. The curious fact in this connection is that the birds chose 
for nesting sites only such vines as were dwarfed and yellowed, whether 
because of the presence of some blight or through lack of soil. Mr. 
Tyler checked up on this phenomenon for several successive years, 
and came to know the afflicted specimens as "Brewer vines." When 
the vines in this vineyard were cured, the colony deserted in favor of 
another having blighted members. 

No. 57 

Harris's Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 553. Zonotrichia querula (Nuttall). 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): Top of head, region about base of bill, 
broadly, and throat black; the black continued on chest, but broken up and scattered 
upon center and sides of breast; hinder portion of cheeks, auricular region, and sides 
of neck, pale buffy brown, or rarely plain gray; nape and dab on side of neck, chiefly 
Prout's brown; rump and upper tail-coverts plain drab; remaining upperparts "streaked- 
sparrow-color," i. e., drab heavily streaked with black and with marginings of lighter, 
more buffy, brown; wings dusky, margined with grayish or pale rusty, the middle and 
greater coverts tipped with white; tail dusky with narrow tips of white (in unworn 
plumage only); sides grayish brown or dull ochraceous, vaguely streaked with dusky; 
the sides of breast occasionally with admixture of rusty brown among black streaks; 
tibiae dusky, under tail-coverts pale ochraceous buff; remaining underparts white. 
Bill light reddish brown, lightening below; feet and legs light brown (after drying, 
darker). Immaturity is shown by reduction of blacks, the feathers of the pileum being 
tipped with white, thus presenting a scaled appearance, and those of throat admixed 

1 John G. Tyler in "The Condor," Vol. XII., Nov.. 1910, pp. 193-195. 


The Harris Sparrow 

with white. Length about 190 (7.49); wing 89 (3.51); tail 84 (3. 31); bill 13 (.52); 
tarsus 24.4 (.96). Females somewhat smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Large Sparrow size; black of face and throat distinctive; 
light bill: bush-haunting habits. Will probably be found, if at all, associating with 
the other Zonotrichias. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest (as described by Raine) : On 
ground at foot of tree; composed of grass and fine bark; lined with dry grass. Eggs: 
"Creamy white, spotted chiefly at the larger end with rusty brown and lilac" (Raine). 
Av. 22.4 x 16.8 (.88 x .66). It is noteworthy that the account referred to above, found 
in Cat. Canadian Birds, by John and James M. Macoun (Ottawa, 1909, p. 510), is the 
only one we yet possess of the nesting of this mysterious bird. 

General Range. — West central North America (the plains region north to 
Mackenzie), breeding from Saskatchewan north probably to the limit of trees, in mi- 
gration west to central Montana, east to eastern Illinois; winters from northern Kansas 
and western Missouri south to southern Texas; casual in the Pacific Coast states and 
in Ohio. 

Occurrence in California. — Three records: Hay ward, Oct. 27, 1900 (Emer- 
son); San Clemente Island, Oct. 15, 1917 (Linton); Berkeley, bird seen repeatedly 
between Dec. 25, 1912, and Feb. 11, 1913 (A. S. Allen). 

Authorities. — Emerson, Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 145 (at Hayward) ; Linton, 
Condor, vol. x., 1908, p. 84 (San Clemente Id.); Allen, A. S,, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, 
p. 116 (at Berkeley). 

IT IS ground for chuckling satisfaction on the part of Californian 
bird-lovers that all the species and subspecies of Zonotrichia, six in num- 
ber, should have registered in the Golden State. It is pure graciousness 
on the part of querula, for its summer home lies in British Columbia, east 
of the Rocky Mountain system; and to reach us it must surmount heights 
which are no part of its wonted scheme of things. Those few which do 
appear so far south and west — there are only three instances of record — 
have doubtless become involved in the moving hordes of gambeli which 
annually sweep south regardless of obstacles. 

Of the Harris Sparrow on its native heath comparatively little is 
yet known. It frequents the "land of little sticks," right to the edge of 
the Barrens, and its nests are said to be placed on the ground at the base 
of some small tree, — willow or birch. 

An observer at one of queralas way stations, in Manitoba, notes 
that its spring song consists chiefly of three whistled repetitions of the 
same note. "The performance was disappointingly short, but the general 
impression gathered was, that whoever happens to hear the full song of 
the Hooded Sparrow will know one of the sweetest of bird melodies. 
During their spring visit the Blackhoods often uttered three clear whist- 
ling notes, and on one occasion a soft blue-bird-like warble was added 
to this."i 

1 "The Birds of Manitoba." by Ernest E. Thompson; Proc. U. S. Natl. Mus., Vol. XIII. (1891). p. 598. 


The Golden-crowned Sparrow 
No. 58 

Golden-crowned Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 557. Zonotrichia coronata (Pallas). 

Description. — Adults: A broad crown-patch pyrite yellow, changing abruptly 
to ashy gray on occiput; this bounded on each side by broad stripe of silky black, 
meeting fellow on forehead; remaining upperparts grayish brown, broadly streaked 
with black on back, more or less edged with dull reddish brown (wood-brown, or sayal 
brown) on back, wing-coverts and tertials, glossed with olive on rump and tail; middle 
and greater coverts tipped with white, forming conspicuous bars; chin, throat, sides 
of head, and breast smoky gray (light smoky gray on throat to light grayish olive on 
breast), with obscure vermiculations of dusky, shading into whitish of belly; sides 
washed with buffy brown which becomes pure on flanks and crissum. Bill blackish 
above, paler below; feet pale; iris brown. Immature: Without definite head-stripe; 
crown broadly dull olive-yellow (between citrine and olive lake), clearest on forehead, 
elsewhere sharply flecked with blackish in wedge-shaped marks, giving way to grayish 
brown or dull chestnut behind, and to blackish on sides (variably according to age?); 
washes of underparts strengthened. Length of adult male about 190.5 (7.50); wing 
79 (3. 11); tail 76 (3) ; bill 12.2 (.48) ; depth at base 8 (.32) ; tarsus 24 (.95). Females 
a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; yellow of crown distinctive in any plumage. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs not well described, 
but doubtless much as in following species. 

General Range. — Pacific Coast region, breeding from central British Columbia 
north to the Kowak River in Alaska; wintering casually from Puget Sound, and regu- 
larly from central Oregon south to northern Lower California; in migrations irregularly 
eastward to Alberta and Nevada, or even Colorado; accidental in Wisconsin. 

Distribution in California. — Common in winter, but subject to great local 
variation in numbers, throughout the State but chiefly west of the Sierran divide. 
Occurs on the Santa Barbara Islands, and casually upon the deserts, — Yermo(Lamb); 
Palm Canyon, Jan. 27, 1913; a desultory lingerer in spring, — Pasadena, May 9 (Grin- 
nell) ; Shandon, May 13, 1912; Farallons, June 2, 1911. 

Authorities. — Audubon (Emberiza atricapilla), Ornith. Biography, vol. v., 1839, 
pp. 47-48; MaiUiard, J., Condor, vol. iii., 1901, pp. 78-79 (song) ; Fisher, W. K., Condor, 
vol. iii., 1901, p. 79 (song) ;Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 78-79 (food) \Bassett, 
Condor, vol. xxii., 1920, pp. 136-137, 3 figs, (song variations). 

GOLD is, of course, the proper color for a crown, and it is a rash bird 
which would flaunt any other shade of yellow in the face of our deter- 
mined generalization. Nevertheless, the "gold" of coronata s crown is not 
golden at all, but pyrite yellow, a shade produced by an admixture of 
about equal parts of yellow and black. And so far is coronata from being a 
rash bird (save for the shotgun, which is "no fair"), it will probably take 
the reader about three years to determine the correctness of my state- 
ment. For regal, though he be, this sparrow is very discreet in the matter 


The Golden-crowned Sparrow 

of public appearances, and does not cultivate the public eye. The peren- 
nial interest, therefore, of a winter company of skulking Crown Sparrows, 
chiefly nuttalli and gambeli, lies in the effort to determine whether there 
are any Golden-crowns among them. 

Zonotrichias, whether migrating or wintering, are all coquettishly 
retiring, and the first hint of danger sends them scuttling into the brush. 
If one presses up to the edge of the brush, he may hear an uncanny rust- 
ling among the leaves and branches as the birds retreat, but not a single 
note is uttered. Left to themselves, the birds become sociable, with many 
zinks, common to the genus; and if unusually merry, in the springtime, the 
Golden-crowns indulge a sweet preparatory hoo hee which reminds one 
both of the White-crowned (Z. leucophrys) and White-throated (Z. albi- 
collis) Sparrows. We expect more, but save for modifications, presently 
to be described, these tuning up notes are all that the bird has to offer; 
and Mr. Grinnell, 1 in the northern breeding home of the bird, notes only 
their "extremely sad quavering song of two syllables." 

The question of the song of this bird having been raised in the columns 
of the Condor, Mr. Joseph Mailliard replied in part as follows: 2 

"Its song, if it may be dignified by such a title, consists of three notes 
given in a descending scale with intervals of thirds, or to express it differ- 
ently, sol, mi, do. The sound is that of a very high whistle, in fact so 
high that in imitating the bird it is necessary for me to make it with the 
tongue against the roof of the mouth, the lips apart. The notes are given 
very softly and yet are penetrating. 

"The song is given when the bird is either on the top of a low bush or 
within the bush near the outside. As the two species (Z. coronata and 
Z. /. gambeli) invariably flock together during their residence in this 
neighborhood [San Geronimo, Marin Co.], and as it is very difficult to dis- 
tinguish the immature gambeli from coronata at any distance, when both 
kinds are banded together, especially when partly hidden by foliage, a 
great deal of watching was necessary to enable me to establish the identity 
of the songster. * * * 

"This song only seems to be given in certain states of the weather, 
notably before or after a rain, and is repeated again and again, often being 
taken up by other birds of the same species within call. People living 
in country towns often call this the rain-bird, and have asked me what 
bird it was that made these sounds." 

The author's notes record both the two-syllabled and the three- 
syllabled songs, the former oftenest given with rising inflection, like that of 
the eastern White-throat, the latter in descending scale, notes of marvelous 

1 "Birds of Kotzebue Sound Region." p. 51. 

2 The Condor, Vol. III., May. 1901. pp. 78, 79. 


The White-crowned Sparrow 

purity, save as the last is sometimes slurred through the suppressed emo- 
tions of a sigh. "Oh, dear me," the bird says; and because he really does 
say that, I make no apologies to Prof. W. K. Fisher, who first recorded 
the fact in the Condor. ' 

Golden-crowns have the familiar nasal tss, the keep-in-touch note 
common to so many sparrows, and they have also a high-pitched chirp, or 
tschip, neither so metallic nor so emphatic as that of leucophrys, nor so 
rich as that of the Fox Sparrows. 

As for the "rain-bird" tradition, one may remark that the bird hails 
from the rainy coasts of Alaska and is likely to feel more at home with us 
in wet weather. We have wet weather of our own, in Humboldt County, 
for example, but the reports of birds nesting in California seem to lack 
confirmation. I encountered a handsome male near the landing place 
on the Southeast Farallon, June 2, 191 1, but, seduced by the companion- 
ship of such rarities as Magnolia Warbler, Redstart, Ovenbird, Lazuli 
Bunting, and Sooty Fox Sparrow, he was in no wise accountable for his 

No. 59 

White-crowned Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 554. Zonotrichia leucophrys (Forster). 

Description. — Adult male: A broad crown-stripe of pure white, bounded by 
lateral stripes of black, which meet in front and invade lores (but not deeply) ; a short 
superciliary, involving eyelid but cut off in front by loral black, this in turn bounded 
by a post-ocular stripe of black — thus making a seven-banded pattern of alternating 
black and white for the hindhead; nape, continuous with sides of head and neck and 
anterior underparts, light neutral gray, changing to white on throat and belly, and 
to buffy brown on sides, flanks, and crissum; coloration of remaining upperparts like- 
wise neutral gray, heavily streaked upon back and scapulars with dark grayish brown 
(mars brown to vandyke brown) and some whitish, changing posteriorly to grayish 
drab in which the brown element gains in intensity; upper tail-coverts, therefore, 
buffy brown; wings and tail brownish fuscous; the flight-feathers and rectrices edged 
with pale grayish brown, the inner feathers of the greater coverts and the exposed 
outer webs of tertials edged with, reddish brown (snuff-brown to Prout's brown); 
the middle and greater coverts tipped with white, forming two fairly conspicuous 
bars; axillaries and bend of wing white. Bill cinnamon brownish, darkening on tip; 
iris brown; tarsus, pale brown; feet darker. Adult female: Much like adult male and 
often indistinguishable, but usually somewhat duller, the head-stripes tinged with 
brownish, and the whites of the head less pure; the cheeks tinged with brownish and the 
grays of the upperparts less pure, — more brownish. Immature birds: Somewhat like 
adults, but without black, and with total substitution of brownish gray for neutral 

■Vol. III., 1901, p. 79. 


The White-crowned Sparrow 

Taken at the Cottonwood Lakes, alt. 1 1 ,000 

Photo by the Author 


gray; lateral crown-stripes rich brown (dark mars brown or dark chestnut), the in- 
cluded area buffy brown; streaks of back darker; and wings with slight increase of 
whitish edgings. Young birds are recognizably similar to immatures, but the crown- 
stripes are broader, grayish brown spotted with black, and the whitish underparts 
are sharply streaked with dusky. Length of adult male, 165-177. 8 (6.50-7.00); wing 
80 (3.15); tail 75 (2.96); bill 1 1.4 (.45); tarsus 23.4 (.92). Females average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; black-and-white striping of head; white 
of throat not abruptly defined; lighter and grayer than Zonotrichia gambeli, but black 
lores absolutely distinctive. 

Nesting. — Nest: A sturdy cup of grasses, weed-stems and trash, on the ground, 
or else a bulky mass of twigs, bark and miscellany, copiously lined with fine, dead 
grasses, placed at moderate heights (1 to 3 feet up), in bushes or thickets. Eggs: 
3 to 5; pale bluish green (lichen green to palest niagara green), moderately or heavily 
sprinkled and spotted, or, rarely, mottled with brown (verona brown, or Rood's 
brown, or mars brown); markings show tendency to form cloud-cap or, more rarely, 
cumulus; ground-color sometimes practically buried under pigment. 42 Sierra-taken 
eggs in M. C. 0. collection show limits of 18.8-23.9 x 15-2-18.3 (.74-. 94 by .60-. 72) 
and average 21.3 x 16.5 (.84 x .65). Season: Ma}' 20-July 20; one or two broods. 

General Range of the Zonotrichia leucophrys group (including Z. gambeli, now 
reckoned a separate species). — North America from the limit of trees south in winter 
to the southern border states and Mexico. Breeds in the elevated and cooler regions 


The White-crowned Sparrow 

of the West from Santa Barbara County, California, north to Alaska, and in the East 
from Vermont to Labrador and southern Greenland. 

Range of Z. leucophrys. — In the breeding season occupies a discontinuous 
range consisting of the Boreal zone in some of the highest mountains of the West, 
and the eastern British Provinces from the west side of Hudson Bay southeast to 
northern New England and northeast to Greenland; the western breeding range in- 
cludes the Sierras from southern Oregon south to Tulare County, the Uintah and 
Wasatch ranges, the San Francisco Mountains in Arizona, and the Rocky Mountains 
from Wyoming south to southern New Mexico. Winters from northern Lower Cali- 
fornia, southern Kansas, and the valley of the Ohio, south to southern New Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — Breeds at timberline in the Sierras from Mt. 
Shasta south to Surretta Meadows in Tulare County (Grinnell); also in the Warner 
Mountains, and irregularly at lower altitudes, e. g., valley floor of the Yosemite, alt. 
c. 4000 feet (June 10, 1914), even down to Upper Sonoran zone, Paoha Island, Mono 
Lake (June 3, 1919). In migrations passes chiefly west of the Sierra Nevada divide, 
at least north of Los Angeles County. Not found in the State in winter. 

Authorities. — Newberry, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. vi., pt. iv., 1857, p. 87 
(part); Henshaw, Rep. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1878, p. 185 (nesting) ;Belding, Occ. Papers, 
Calif. Acad. Sci., 2, 1890, pp. 148-149 (nesting); Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 134 (range); 
Ray, Auk, vol. xx., 1903, p. 188 (nest and eggs) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., 12, 
1914, pp. 167-168; Dawson, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 28. 

Taken in Inyo County Photo by the Author 




The White-crowned Sparrow 

PURE QUALITY pertains to the White-crowned Sparrow. He is 
chieftain of his gens, or clan. His central crown-stripe is purest white, 
and the bordering bands of black are, if possible, a little blacker, certainly 
a little silkier, than those which adorn the lesser members of his race. 
Moreover, the black invades the lores, and this mark is accepted, in this 
instance at least, as conclusive evidence of superiority. 

Two special circumstances conspire to raise leucophrys to preemi- 

Taken in Inyo County 



Photo by the Author 

nence in our regard. In the first place, we do not see him in winter. 
Winter is at best a time of let-down, a time of vulgar flocking, a time 
of sordid scrambling for food. It is, therefore, a time of disillusionment 
for bird-lovers. Picture a company of our favorite film stars crowded 
together in a restaurant, a cafeteria perhaps, with only ten minutes in 
which to bolt a cup of coffee, sandwich, and a piece of pie, before the 
stage starts for Caesar's Camp in Francisquita Canyon, L. A. ! Ah, well 


The White-crowned Sparrow 

for us, no doubt, that 
the White-crowned 
Sparrow conducts his 
winter business in 
Chihuahua, beyond our 
troubled ken. 

But the thing which 
endears the chieftain to 
us most is his choice of 
the high Sierras for a 
summer home. Here is 
an expression of taste 
which meets our unqual- 
ified approval. The 
birds gather dignity 
from the mountains, and 
they grace in turn the 
wildest fastnesses, the 
snow-bound meadows, 
and the crystal brooks 
of "timberline." When 
a bird really prefers to 
wrest a living from re- 
luctant snow-drifts, to 
pay court to ladies 
beside roaring cataracts, 
or to sing lullabies from 
the vantage of storm- 
twisted pines, it is a sign 
that his heart is in the 
right place, and that all 
his actions must be 
viewed indulgently. 
Only the Rosy Finch de- 
serves a higher place in 
our regard, and he, alas! 
does not sing. 

No matter if you have 
heard the ditties of gam- 

beli or nuttalli at the lower levels a thousand times, or a million times, I 
commend to you the sweet, courageous lay of leucophrys, sung at the 
11,000 foot level. It has in it the sprightliness of springing heather, 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo by the A uthor 



The White-crowned Sparrow 

the bright, compelling cheer of sunshine battling with glaciers for im- 
prisoned waters, and a little of the wistfulness, withal, of whispering 
pines. The song is none so varied, and its cadences might seem prosy 
in the realm of Philomel. I do not know. But if I were a Lady Leuco- 
phrys, and dwelt beside a frozen mere, I should ask my lord to sing in 
just such satisfying tones. 

An examination of the song of Z. leucophrys raises the question 
whether the characteristics of bird notes are purely hereditary; or, as 

Taken in Inyo County Photo by the Author 


in the case of human speech, partly cultural, that is, derived from asso- 
ciation with others not of one's own gens. At any rate, the resemblance 
—I will not say dependence — of the song of leucophrys to that of the 
Passerella iliaca group is very suggestive. The resemblance is not 
slavish, but whether in phrasing or in tonal quality, there is much to 
hint at a blood relationship. Now and then it takes a nice discrimination 
to separate the two songs: Oh hee sween'tie chup ichin' from a White- 
crown's throat is like enough to the ree rick'it loop iteer' of the Slate- 
colored Sparrow. 


The White-crowned Sparrow 

Taken in Inyo County 

Photo by the A uthor 


Or, perhaps, and I propose this with the greatest diffidence, there 
is a tendency toward homoplasy in song. A uniform environment 
reacting upon diverse organisms tends to produce like results. Compare 
the plumage and general appearance of the Pacific Fulmar and, say, 
the California Gull. They look alike, but they hail from evolutionary 
branches of early and vast divergence. Again, the climate of the Pacific 
humid coastal region, as we know, makes for general suppression of 
song, and especially of tonal quality. Per contra, the invigorating air of 
the high Sierras may exert a uniformly stimulating influence upon two 
sparrows so different as Zonotrichia and Passerella. Be that as it may, 
these two are the authoritative interpreters of the Sierran wilderness. 

In nesting the White-crowned Sparrows usually crowd the season 
at the upper levels. There is good need for this too, for occasionally the 
season is so delayed by heavy snows that the osier patches are only 
being released in July. At such a time the birds will erect a very sturdy 
nest in the leafless branches of the willows, trusting to the belated bushes 
to provide a leafy screen before the young have hatched. So rank is 
this mountain growth, however, that if the season be a little more for- 


The Gambel Sparrow 

ward, the birds will build openly on the tops of descending branches, in 
order, apparently, to escape the smother of foliage. Again, nests will 
be placed upon the ground in the general protection of the dwarf sage, 
whose density the casual footstep oftenest avoids. 

A nest of these birds at timberline is worth examination, for it is 
a doughty castle, and a mighty resister of cold. Composed externally 
of stout willow twigs, bark, and grasses, the interior is lined with finest 
grasses, and a bit of hair, if possible. In one example before me, one 
taken at the Upper Cottonwood Lakes, July 3rd, 191 1, the nesting hollow, 
which is three inches across by two inches deep, occupies only about one- 
twentieth of the total bulk of the structure. The eggs are intended to 
be frost-proof, and are, no doubt, after incubation has begun; but I have 
seen nests deserted because the first-laid eggs were frozen. 

The most anomalous set of our experience was taken on the floor of 
the Yosemite Valley, some four thousand feet below the ordinary breeding 
level frequented by these birds. It was as though the floor of the valley 
had subsided, and the birds, loth to forsake their ancestral home, had 
gone down with it to this unconscionable depth. But the Yosemite 
floor is anomalous anyway, and the White-crowns had for company 
other cheerful exiles, such as Hermit Thrush, Hermit Warbler, and 
Lincoln Sparrow. 

No. 60 

Gambel's Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 554a. Zonotrichia gambeli gambeli (Nuttall). 

Synonyms. — Intermediate-crowned Sparrow. Intermediate Sparrow. 

Description. — Similar to Z. leucophrys, but general tone of coloration darker 
throughout, — the posterior underparts, especially, much deeper brown; the flanks 
Saccardo's umber instead of wood-brown; axillars and bend of wing pale yellow; lores, 
broadly continuous with superciliary stripe, white. Measurements averaging a little 
less: Males: wing 79 (3.12); tail 71 (2.80); bill 10.7 (.42); tarsus 22.9 (.90). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; lores not black; slightly larger and general 
coloration lighter than in Z. g. nuttalli; white crown-stripe brighter. The commonest 
winter bird in southern and interior California. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs much as in typical 

General Range of Z. g. gambeli. — Breeds from mountains of northern Mon- 
tana north between the coast mountains of British Columbia and Alaska and the 


The Gambel Sparrow 

interior plains to northern Mackenzie, and west to limit of trees in northwestern 
Alaska; winters from northern California and Utah south to Lower California and 
Mazatlan, Mexico; casually east during migrations to the Great Plains in Iowa, Kan- 
sas, etc. 

Distribution in California. — Abundant in winter in the valleys and deserts 
of southern California; in lesser numbers northward to San Francisco Bay and through- 
out the great interior valley. Excessively common, especially east of the Sierras, 
during migrations. Apparently does hot occur in the humid coastal region north of 
San Francisco Bay. 

Authorities. — Gambel, Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, i., 1S47, pp. 
50-51 (part); Henshaw, Rep. Orn. Wheeler Surv., 1876, p. 241; Ridgway, Auk, vol. vii., 
1890, p. 96 (crit.) ; Beal, Biol. Sun'. Bull., no. 34, 1910, pp. 75-77 (part) (food); Tyler, 
Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, pp. 81-82 (habits) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., 
no. 12, 1914, pp. 168-170 (spring molt); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, 
p. 77 (on coastal islands). 

EVEN as I sharpen my pencils prepared to "do" the Crown Sparrows 
this crispish, bright October morning, the saucy rascals themselves are 
besieging my studio with song. Their tuneful cohorts occupy every 
point of vantage, the fence palings, the sage clumps, the lower branches 
of the pepper tree. I am quite beset. And how shall a bird-man write 
soberly of breeding ranges or interscapular areas (very necessary to an 
understanding of leucophrys) amidst such a clatter of whistled hee hoos 
and drawling recitative! I believe they are only half in earnest, the 
courageous pretenders! A door flung open would send them madly 
scurrying for cover, I warrant. A hush, a burst of wings, and thenceforth 


Taken at Pasadena Photo bv Donald R. Dickey 



The Gambel Sparrow 

Taken at Pasadena 

nothing but dzinks and 
titters from the skulking 
host. That would 
never do. I will surren- 
der at discretion instead 
— surrender and play the 
part of Burns' chiel. 1 

Whee hee hee hee 
wheooo hee; wheeoo he — 
suddenly broken off; 
Hoo hooee; wheeoo hoo 
che wee che wee hee; chee 
oo chee chee wee chee. 
These imitations are 
very stupid, of course — 
about as expressive of 
Zonotrichian melody as 
a naked wire dummy is 
of a man. The joy of 
life, the tuneful modu- 
lations, the vocal slide, 
the clear fluting, and 
the languorous content, 
all are gone out of them. 
Suffice to say that the 
Gambel Sparrow has 
manifest advantage in 
song over his prosaic 
cousin nuttalli, while he 
fails to measure quite up 
to the clear resonances 
of leucophrys. 

It is as flocking birds 
that we know these ubiquitous Crowners best. They feed beside the 
road or in the edges of fields, stealing out from cover one by one, not 
without misgiving dzinks, until the ground is covered with them. At a 
sound, at a suspicion even, the flock rises noisily and bolts for shelter. 
Secure in the depths of weed or bush, they wait silently until danger is 
past, or if it does not pass, they begin to edge away or depart by ones 
or twos or dozens for more distant fields. It is always provoking to the 
bird-student, consciously guiltless of intent to harm, to have these prosy 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


1 "The chiel's amang them takin' notes.' 


The Gambel Sparrow 

creatures, drabs now, treat him as though he were a hawk or the bearer 
of a blunderbuss. There are a hundred birds lurking in this copse, but 
as soon as one of them knows himself discovered, he dashes off like mad, 
or as though there were a price upon his head. 

Yet these same wild savages will respond to cultivation, after a 
fashion. To secure the flock pictures shown herewith, we first built 
a shallow bathing pool of cement sunk flush with the ground, then threw 
out crumbs for bait. But Mrs. D. soon discovered their fondness for 
corn meal, and thenceforth the Crown Sparrows became regular pen- 
sioners at our door. The average daily attendance of these birds was 
in the thirties, but I have counted as high as 47 feeding at one time 
within ten feet of the kitchen door. A rank bush of achania, which at 
first afforded the birds dense cover, and to which they retreated under 
frequent alarm, soon showed such bad effects from the constant attrition 
of their tiny feet, that we were obliged to cut it back severely, and so 
destroy its immediate value as a covert. As it was, the bush was nearly 

Taken at Los Colibris 

Photo by the Author 



The Gambel Sparrow 

ruined, but the sport we had watching the antics of the sparrows amply 
repaid any such loss. 

The first to approach the feast were the young chaps, reckless 
fellows, whose loss, apparently, didn't matter so much to the community. 
Then modest mothers ventured out, believing themselves safe where 
their sons could go. Finally, when security was an established fact, 
an old male, some chieftain, brilliant in alternating plumes of black and 


■ » * 

■'■ '-Jp 

Taken at Los Colibris 


Photo by the Author 

white, strutted out. Before him the sedulous gleaners gave way, or if 
they did not move fast enough to suit his lordship, he charged viciously 
at the crowd and saw it flee in dismay. Gallantry, apparently, is a thing 
reserved for springtime. 

It would be difficult to exaggerate the abundance of Intermediate 
Crown Sparrows, at least in southern California. In most sections 
they are more abundant in winter than any other bird, and in some 
localities I am persuaded that they outnumber, excluding the House 
Finch, all other species combined. In migrations, too, they are excessive- 
ly common; and although, like the White-crowned Sparrows, they are 
destined for a romantic setting in the breeding season, an ice-bound 
park in the Selkirks, or a pine-clad lake in the Yukon, they content 
themselves with very humble surroundings en route. At the height 


Gambel Sparrow on Log 

From a photograph, Copyright 1914, by D. R. Dickey 
Taken in Pasadena 

The Nuttall Sparrow 

of the migrations the dullest stretch of sage-brush swarms with Crown 
Sparrows; and the local population of Brewer Sparrows, Desert Sparrows, 
and the like, must dread this annual inundation of hungry pilgrims. 

No. 60a Nuttall's Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 554b. Zonotrichia gambeli nuttalli Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — Formerly called Gambel's Sparrow. White-crowned Sparrow 
(name properly confined to Z. leucophrys). Crown Sparrow. 

Description. — Adults: Like preceding, but general tone of coloration some- 
what darker; streaks of back and scapulars deepest brown or blackish; general ground- 
color of upperparts light olive-gray; median crown-stripe narrower; white of central 
underparts less pure; axillars and bend of wing more strongly yellow. Bill yellowish 
with dark tip. Immatures: Correspondingly darker than those of 7.. leucophrys; the 
upperparts toned with light olive-buff; the underparts somewhat tinged with yellowish. 
Young birds: Similar to those of Z. leucophrys, but much darker, — brownish above, 
buffy below. Length of adult males, 150-170 (5.90-6.70) ; wing 75 (2.95) ; tail 72 (2.83); 
bill 11 (.43); tarsus 23.5 (.93). Females smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; black-and-white striping of crown dis- 
tinctive in range; darker than preceding; lores not black. 

Nesting. — Nest: A well wrought, deeply-cupped mass of weed-stems, grasses, 
dead ferns, moss, or any vegetable waste, carefully lined with fine grasses or horse- 
hair; placed on ground well concealed, or low in bushes. Measures outside 5-7 inches 
(mm 127-178) over all, by 3^ or 4 (mm 88.9 or 101.6) in depth; inside 2^ to 3 inches 
(mm 57.2 to 76) across, by 1^ to 2 (mm 38 to 50.8) in depth. Eggs: 3 or 4; much 
as in Z. leucophrys, but ground-color brighter, and markings both ruddier (cameo- 
brown to chocolate) and heavier, with more frequent appearance of mottling. Av. 
of 70 specimens from Humboldt County (M. C. O. Coll.) 20.7 x 16 (.815 x .62); ex- 
treme 18.5-22.4 by 14. 7-16. 5 (.73-. 88 by .58-. 65). Season: April-July; one or two 

Range of Z. g. nuttalli. — Breeds in the Pacific Coast district from Port Simpson, 
British Columbia, to Santa Barbara, California; winters occasionally on Puget Sound, 
but chiefly from central Oregon south to Santa Margarita Island, Lower California. 

Distribution in California. — Chiefly resident along the Pacific Coast, narrowly 
but regularly south of the Golden Gate, presumably to Point Conception, with an 
isolated station at Santa Barbara (Bowles), more broadly throughout the humid 
Transition area north of San Francisco Bay. The western portion of the State is 
inundated by winter visitors, but these are either confounded with local birds or lost 
to notice (in the interior and the San Diegan district) in the crowd of Gambel Spar- 
rows (Z. g. gam beli) — proportions in winter as compared with Gambel's quite vari- 

Authorities. — Nuttall (Fringilla leucophrys), Manual Orn., ed. 2, vol. i., 1840, 
P- 553 (part); Palmer, T. S., Auk, vol. ix., 1892, p. 310 (range); Ridgway, Auk, vol. xvi., 
1899, pp. 36-37 (renaming of nuttalli); Judd, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, pp. 70-72 
{looA);Bolander, Condor, vol. viii., 1906, pp. 73-74; Beal, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, 
PP- 75-/7 (part) (food); Hnbbs, Auk, vol. xxxv., 1918, pp. 321-326 (range in Calif.). 


The Nnttall Sparrow 

WHEN you enter a bit of shrub- 
bery at the edge of town in April or 
May, your intrusion is almost sure 
to be questioned by a military gen- 
tleman in a gray cloak with black- 
and-white trimmings. Your business 
may be personal, not public, but 
somehow you feel as if the authority 
of the law had been invoked, and 
that you would better be careful how 
you conduct yourself in the presence 
of this military person. Usually re- 
tiring, the Nuttall Sparrow courts 
exposure where the welfare of his 
family is in question, and a metallic 
scolding note, zink, or dzink, is made 
to do incessant service on such occa- 
sions. A thoroughly aroused pair, 
worms in beak, and crests uplifted, 
may voice their suspicions for half an 
hour from fir-tip and brush-pile, 
without once disclosing the where- 
abouts of their young. 

Nuttall's Sparrow is the familiar 
spirit of brush-lots, fence tangles, 
berry patches, and half-open situa- 
tions in general. He is among the 
last to quit the confines of the city 

before the advancing ranks of apartment houses and sky-scrapers, and he 
maintains stoutly any vantage ground of vacant lot, disordered hedge- 
row, or neglected swamplet left to him. Even Golden Gate Park boasts 
its breeding population of Nuttall Sparrows; and I have known them to 
invade Union Square in the heyday of the spring migration. With the 
local Song Sparrow he shares the honor of being the commonest sparrow in 
the northwestern coastal strip of California; and in some places, no doubt 
because of his less slavish attachment to water, nuttalli is more abundant 
than Melospiza. 

As a songster this sparrow is not a conspicuous success, although he 
works at his trade with commendable diligence. He chooses a prominent 
station, such as the topmost sprig of a redwood sapling, and holds forth at 
regular intervals in a prosy, iterative ditty, from which the slight musical 
quality vanishes with distance. Hee ho, chee wee, chee wee chee weee and 

Taken in Seattle 

Photo by the Author 



The Nuttall Sparrow 

Hee, wudge, i-wudge i-wudge i-weeee are vocalized examples. The prelim- 
inary hee ho is sometimes clear and sweet enough to prepare one's ear for 
the Vesper Sparrow's strain, but the succeeding syllables are tasteless, and 
the trill with which the effort concludes has a wooden quality which we 
may overlook in a friend, but should certainly ridicule in a stranger. No 
doubt the fogs and bracing breezes which characterize our western coasts 

^lill# v ' 




Taken in Washington Photo by the Author 


are alike discouraging to vocal effort. At that, however, there is a notice- 
able improvement in quality from north to south ; and I am sure that the 
birds of San Francisco Bay sing more sweetly than do those of Puget 
Sound. I hazard it as a sober guess that if our ears were infallible, we 
could tell within a few miles the locality from which our wintering birds 

Gambel and Nuttall Sparrows mingle more or less in winter, at least 
from San Francisco southward; and it is idle to try to separate them. 
They are jolly fellows in a crowd; and if to the general excitement of early 
springtime is added the special interest of bedtime, the noise these rascals 
can make is fairly deafening. There is always hilarious discussion of 
the merits of upper and lower berths; and when to their jostling notes — 
woods woods a woods — are added sharp dzinks from the grouches, the 
resulting babel compares favorably with Passer domesticus in Bedlam. 

The local Nuttalls are nesting in late March or early April, before 


The Nuttall Sparrow 

the northbound migrants have extricated themselves, or passed over their 
heads. First nests are likely to be placed upon or near the ground, but 
as the season advances the birds prefer the depths of low thickets, or 
saplings, or even ferns. In the southern part of the range cypress trees 
are effected, and one observer 1 records a nest thirty-five feet up in a 
cypress. Of course two or three broods are raised in a season. The 
M. C. O. has a set of three eggs taken on the 31st of October (1901) by 
C. I. Clay on Humboldt Bay. 

Taken in Humboldt County Photo by the Author 


The nests themselves are usually substantial and often beautiful 
affairs. The birds use almost any sort of material that comes to hand, — 
bark-strips, twigs, grasses, bits of paper, rags, horsehair, and rootlets; 
but good taste is almost invariably exercised. A nest before me is deco- 
rated profusely with nodding grass-stems in flower, and the effect is as 
dainty as that of a Parisian bonnet. The eggs, three or four, rarely five in 
number, are of a handsome light green or bluish green shade, and are 
heavily dotted, spotted, blotched or clouded with reddish brown. 

Young birds lack the parti-colored head-stripes of the adult, although 
the pattern is sketched in browns; and they are best identified by the 
unfailing solicitude of the parents, which attends their every movement. 
They are rather bumptious little creatures for all; a company of them 
romping about a pasture fence brings a wholesome recollection of school- 
boy days, and there are girls among them, too, for my! how they giggle! 

1 Louis Bolander, "The Condor," Vol. VIII., May, 1906, p. 74. 


The White-throated Sparrow 

No. 61 

White-throated Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 558. Zonotrichia albicollis (Gmelin). 

Synonym. — Peabody Bird. 

Description. — Adult male: Pileum black, parted by a median stripe which is 
white, or with some admixture of brownish posteriorly; a broad superciliary, yellow 
anteriorly and white posteriorly; a post-ocular streak of black; throat white, abruptly 
cut off below and bounded on sides (or not) by blackish rictal streak; malar region, 
sides of neck, chest, and sides of breast neutral gray, darkest on sides of neck, shading 
posteriorly into dull brownish buffy of sides and flanks, and whitish of central under- 
pays; remaining upperparts dull brownish gray or drab, purest on rump and upper 
tail-coverts; on the back highly varied by central black streaks and marginings of brown- 
ish red (snuff -brown to Prout's brown); the edge of wing yellow; the axillars white, 
tinged with yellow; the middle and greater coverts tipped with white, forming bars. 
Bill dusky above, paler below; irides brown; tarsi pale brown, feet a little darker. 
Adult female: Like male and not always distinguishable, but usually somewhat 
duller; the black of head admixed with brownish; the whites tinged with buffy; the 
yellow over lores paler; the cheeks darker, more brownish. Immature birds: Like 
dullest adult females, but still duller; the lateral crown-stripes more brown than black; 
the whites more deeply tinged with buffy; the supraloral yellow duller; the white of 
throat less pure and not sharply defined; the chest obscurely fine-barred with dusky. 
Length of adult male about 171. 5 (6.75); wing 75 (2.95); tail 73 (2.87); bill 11. 4 (.45); 
tarsus 23.5 (.93). Female a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size. Yellow spot over and in front of eye; 
white throat sharply outlined against gray or blackish, distinctive. 

Nesting. — Nest: Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs much as in 
Z, leucophrys; but ground-color of eggs whitish or grayish white or dull bluish white, 
instead of pale bluish green. 

General Range. — Eastern North America, breeding from Massachusetts, 
the mountains of Pennsylvania, central Wisconsin and northeastern Wyoming, north 
to Great Bear Lake, Labrador, etc.; south in winter to Florida and northeastern Mex- 
ico. Counted a straggler in Oregon, Utah, and Colorado, but may be of regular occur- 
rence in southern California. 

Occurrence in California. — A rare but probably a regular winter visitor. 
Records from fourteen localities, all of them west of the Sierran divide, have been 
assembled by Grinnell. During the author's residence in Santa Barbara, they have 
been recorded three different seasons, viz.: 1915 (in numbers), 1918-19, and 1919-20. 

Authorities. — Emerson, Zoe, vol. i., 1890, p. 45 ( Hay ward) ; Bryant, W. E., 
ibid., p. 46 (San Francisco); McGregor, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 52 
(Santa Rosa); Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., vol. ii., 1898, p. 37 (Los Angeles); 
Wythe, Condor, vol. xvii., 1915, p. 101, vol. xxiii., 1921, p. 68 (Berkeley) ;Grinnell, Pac. 
Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, pp. 117-118 (summary of records to 1915). 



The Song Sparrows 

DR. GRINNELL started out to keep a record of the California occur- 
rences of the White-throated Sparrow, but the effort has become em- 
barrassed with success; and we no longer know whether this year's first 
appearance will be the steenty-steenth or the umpty-umpth. It may be a 
ruddier back or a flash of yellow on the lores, or the white throat itself, 
clearly outlined against the surrounding dingy gray, which will first 
attract your notice. But sometimes, if you will search diligently enough 
among the assembled millions of the winter Zonotrichias, you will see a 
White-throat. Do not be too easily satisfied about that white throat 
either. Remember that the white must be sharply defined, not shading 
off imperceptibly, as in adult leucophrys or coronata. 

My own luck came so easily that I blush to record it, an adult bird 
feeding, on the 8th of December, 1915, just outside my north study win- 
dow, at a distance of eight feet. They were rather common at Santa 
Barbara that winter, but try as I might, I could not pull off a singing 
match between albicollis and coronata; and I do not know to this day 
which of them shrills with most haunting sweetness. 

In the East, where White-throat lets himself out, he is quite a famous 
singer. "In springtime the song proper is perfected, as we suppose, before 
the birds leave for the higher latitudes. It consists normally of six drawl- 
ing, mournful, whistled notes, of which the last three or four have a 
slightly tremulous quality. The initiatory note is either much lower or a 
little higher than the others, which are given on one key or else descend 
by fractional tones. The whole may be represented as, Oh dear, dear, 
de-e-ear, de-e-ear, de-ear, or Hoo, he-ew, he-ew, he-e-e-ew, he-e-ew, he-e-ew. 
Most western writers, when consulted upon this point, dutifully repeat the 
tradition, said to have originated in New England, that the bird says 
'Peabody, peabody, peabody,' and hence is properly called the Peabody 
Bird. One cannot predict what may happen further north or east, but I 
lift the voice of one crying in the wilderness that the bird does not utter 
anything remotely resembling the word Peabody while in Ohio." (Birds 
of Ohio.) 

No. 62 

Song Sparrow 

EUPHONIAS and Pyrrhuloxias and Volatinias are very beautiful, no 
doubt, but there is a little brown -streaked bird of modest mien whose 
image is conjured up by the word "home," and whose homely, honest song 


The Song Sparrows 

would bring glad tears to the eyes of any 
American wandering amid tropic delights. 
Disregarding for the nonce those subtle and 
fleeting characters of difference which oblige 
us in California to speak of the Song Spar- 
rows, let us fix our attention upon the bird 
itself, the Song Sparrow. For where is the 
bird-lover whose face does not unconsciously 
relax, or whose heart does not turn tender 

at the mere 
mention of 
this magic 
name, Song 
Sparrow ! He 
is the poet of 
common day. 
He is the 
familiar of 
childhood ; for 
knowledge of 
him comes at 
a time of life 
when one can 
poke about 
without rebuke in little cool dingles, or, 
perchance, accompany recreant water- 
courses in their perilous journeys to the sea. 
Familiar he surely is to most of us 
even though his close dependence upon 
water and cover prevents reckless flights in 
the open, after the manner of Linnets and 
Goldfinches, or the special consolation of brickbats affected by Passer 
domesticus. Although his coat is normally striped like the weedy mazes, or 
like the pattern of light on the cattails, which he oftenest inhabits, it bears 
eloquent testimony elsewhere to the power of sun or shade. On the burn- 
ing beaches of the Salton Sink our Song Sparrow is bleached to the color 
of a pale cinder, — ash with a few streaks of ochre. In the redwood forests 
of Mendocino the same bird looks like a wood-brown fragment of a 
mouldering log, streaked or blackened by rain. Everywhere he is in har- 
mony with nature, as if he knew her secrets and were admitted to her 

Water loving, as a species, throughout their American range, the 


Taken in Pasadena 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


The Song Sparrows 

Song Sparrows of California are even more notably attached to water. 
Only in the extreme Northwest, where conditions of humidity are wide- 
spread, do they surfer themselves to range above half a mile or so from 
some stream or swamp or saline marsh. A plot of their distribution in 
summer, therefore, would look like a partial blue print of our hydrographic 
system. Only a partial one, however, for Melospiza is unaccountably 
absent from considerable and well-watered areas of our State. Thus, there 
are no resident Sparrows in the Sacramento Valley; and they are 
exceedingly scarce in the western foothills of the Sierras. Even in the 
interior the bird exhibits a strong aquatic tendency. Not only will the 
bird build its nests in tussocks entirely surrounded by water, but it will 
itself plash about carelessly in shallow water; and it sometimes seizes and 
devours small minnows. This hydrophilous tendency has become espec- 
ially fixed in the saline marshes bordering upon San Francisco Bay. The 
extreme example is found in the Alameda Song Sparrow (M. m. pusillula), 
which scarcely deserts the salicornia barrens for a single hour, and which 
rears its young, as it gleans its 
living, on the brink of the 
tide channels. 

Silver-tongue is 
also a bird of the 
ground and contig- 
u o u s levels. 
When hiding he 
does not seek the 
depths of the fol- 

Taken in Pasadena Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Song Sparrows 

iage in trees, but skulks among the dead leaves on the ground, or threads 
his way through log heaps. If driven from one covert the bird dashes to 
another with an odd, jerking flight, working its tail like a pump-handle as 
though to assist progress. Ordinarily the bird is not fearful, although 
retiring in disposition. Bug-catching claims a great deal of attention, and 
the tules, at least, must be very grateful for the incessant purging of insect 
pests, especially grubs, which is contrived by this indefatigable gardener. 
The Song Sparrow is not above scratching for a living either. At this task 

he kicks with both feet, 
after the fashion ap- 
proved by Pipilo and 
others. He makes a bus- 
iness of it, too, for every 
once in a while a clod 
flies out behind as 
though it had been flung 
from a buzz-saw. 

An unending suc- 
cession of weed-seed goes 
to make up the bill-of- 
fare, and occasionally, of 
course, a little fallen 
grain. Once I sat behind 
a blind on the margin of 
a shallow lake and baited 
up the ducks with wheat 
for photographic pur- 
poses. The ducks came 
readily enough, but a 
Song Sparrow consti- 
tuted herself mistress of 
ceremonies and inter- 
fered with my plan sadly. 
The Song Sparrow hap- 
pened to know there was 
a caged monster inside 
that blind, whereas the 
larger birds merely sus- 
pected it. Every once 
in a while, therefore, the 

Taken in Santa Barbara County Photo by the Author SparrOW Came near my 



The Song Sparrows 

outcry, as though I were 
pulling her hair or some- 
thing, and the fowls scat- 
tered for their lives. 
Once the Sparrow flew 
over their heads yelling 
bloody murder! And 
that time the wheat-eat- 
ers were so scared it took 
them ten minutes to re- 
cover. The Sparrow, 
meanwhile, managed to 
secure a very comfort- 
able meal. Now wasn't 
that clever! 

It is as a songster, 
however, that we know 
this sparrow best. Sil- 
ver-tongue's melody is 
like sunshine, bountiful 
and free and ever grate- 
ful. Mounting some bush 
or upturned root, he 
greets his childish listen- 
ers with "Peace, peace, 
peace be unto you, my 
children." And that is 
his message to all the 
world, "Peace and good- 
will." Once on Puget 
Sound, we sat storm- 
bound at the mouth of 
our tent, and, mindful 
of the unused cameras, 
grumbled at the eternal 
drizzle. Whereupon the local poet flitted to a favorite perch on a stump 
hard by, and, throwing back his head, sang, with sympathetic earnestness, 
"Cheer up! Cheer up! Count your many mercies now." Of course he 
did say exactly that, and the childish emphasis he put upon the last word 
set us to laughing, my partner and me, until there was no more thought 
of complaint. 

Taken in Ventura 

Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Song Sparrows 

Even in winter the brave- 
hearted bird avails himself of the 
slightest pretext — the passing of 
clouds or a rise in temperature — to 
mount a bush and rehearse his cheer- 
ful lay. The song is not continuous, 
but it is frequently repeated through 
periods of several minutes, and is 
followed by little intervals of placid 

But no matter how gentle a 
bird's disposition may be, there is 
ample use, alack! for the note of 
warning and distrust. When, there- 
fore, the Song Sparrow's nesting 
haunts are invaded, the bird emits 
a chip or chirp, still musical, indeed, 
but very anxious. In winter, resi- 
dent birds deny themselves even this 
characteristic cry; and, except for 
the occasional outbursts of full song, 
they are limited to a high nasal tss, 
which seems to serve the purpose of 
a flocking, or recognition, call. Song 
Sparrows are not really gregarious 
birds ; nor are they even seen in close 
proximity save in mating time, but 
they like to assure themselves, never- 
theless, that a dozen of their fellows 
are within call against a time of need. 
Song Sparrows are among the 
very first to respond when the bird- 
man "screeps" like a mishandled 
nestling, in the depths of the swamp. 
If he is well hidden, the reeds are soon astir with excited quest and still 
more excited chirps of baffled inquiry. Even when the hoax has been 
discovered, the incensed house-mother will scarcely forgive, but publishes 
her discomposure to the swamp for an hour afterwards. 

Save in favored localities, such as the margins of a tule swamp, nests 
of the California Song Sparrows are not obtrusively common. "Back 
East," in a season of all around nesting, about one-fifth of the nests found 
would be those of the Song Sparrow. Not so in the West, for where 



The Song Sparrows 

cover is scarce, the bird is also; and where cover abounds, it is likely to 
be so heavy as to make discovery difficult or well-nigh impossible. Nest- 
ing begins ordinarily about April first, though in the extreme South nests 
have been recorded in February. First nests are likely to be placed low, 
either upon the ground, well covered with old vines or grasses, or else in 
a tussock of grass in a swamp. As the season advances and cover in- 
creases, any site near water is welcomed, — brush heaps, vine tangles, 
dense saplings, or even trees up to twenty feet. Incubation requires only 
twelve days and the young are ready to fly in as many more, so that a 
devoted pair is able to raise two or three and sometimes four broods in 
a season. 

At this rate we should be overrun with Song Sparrows if there were 
not so many agencies to hold the species in check. A young Song Sparrow 
is the choice morsel of everything that preys,- — cats, skunks, weasels, 
chipmunks, foxes, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Crows, Magpies, Blue-fronted 
Jays, and garter snakes. How would this motley company fare were it 
not for the annual crop of Song Sparrows? And the wonder of it is that 
the brave heart holds out and sings its song of trust and love with the 
ruins of three nests behind it and the harvest not yet past. 

Other enemies they have, no doubt, beyond our ken. On April 7th, 
1917, an M. C. O. collector took a singing male San Diego Song Sparrow 
from a low stump west of Santa Barbara. Judge of our astonishment 
to find three ticks of the common variety firmly embedded in the flesh 
of the bird's head. The largest insect was swelled to the size of a currant, 
and the three together would eventually, I should suppose, have caused 
the bird's death. 

No. 62a Yakutat Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58m. Melospiza melodia caurina Ridgway. 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike) : Like the next to be described, but larger 
and darker, the streaks of underparts and sides of breast blackish centrally, their 
edgings dark grayish brown, the white of underparts sordid, tinged with gray. Bill 
longer and slenderer. 

Nesting of Melospiza melodia. — Nest: A substantial structure of twigs, weed- 
stems, grasses, coiled bark-strips, ferns, dead leaves, etc.; lined carefully with fine 
dead grass, rootlets, or horsehair; placed indifferently in bushes or on the ground, 
or, more rarely, in crannies, excavations in stumps, or low in trees. Eggs: 3 to 6: 
in California usually 3 or 4; greenish-, grayish-, or bluish-white, spotted sparingly 
or heavily or blotched with reddish browns — types exceedingly variable, but ap- 
parently without local significance beyond the fact that those of races from arid re- 
gions tend toward paleness, and those from humid regions toward depth and intensity 
of color. Av. size of species about 21 x 15.5 (.83 x .61), but varies roughly with that 


The Song Sparrows 

of parent bird. Eggs of pusillula, for example, are notabl}' smaller than those of 
caurina, etc. Season: April (March, saltonis) —July; two or three broods. 

General Range of Melospiza melodia. — North America from Alaska and central 
eastern Canada south to southern border of Mexican plateau. 

Range of M. m. caurina. — Breeds along the coast of the St. Elias district in 
Alaska from Yakutat Bay to Lituya Bay (Ridgway); winters on the coasts and islands 
of southeastern Alaska (vicinity of Juneau: Swarth) ; and irregularly southward. 

Occurrence in California. — Two records: Eureka, Feb. 20, 1910, by C. I. 
Clay (Grinnell); and Fortuna, Humboldt County, Sept. 19, 1915, by Huey. 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, p. 174 (Eureka) ; Swarth, Univ. 
Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. vii., 1911, p. 90 (Alaska; crit.j ; Dickey, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, 
p. 65 (Fortuna, Humboldt Co.). 

AT THE OUTSET of our study of the particular races of Melospiza 
melodia we are confronted by a form which is not only strikingly different 
in appearance from any of our resident birds, but highly specialized in 
habits as well. Caurina hails from that most inhospitable coast of Alaska 
which borders the St. Elias Range. And because the major valleys are 
occupied by glaciers, and the smaller water-courses are too steep or too 
barren to afford suitable cover, the Yakutat Song Sparrow is confined to 
the narrow fringe of the sea-beaches. And because the winters here are 
more severe than elsewhere, caurina forsakes its summer home, displacing 
rufina in the northern portions of the latter's range, and straggling irregu- 
larly southward. 

The extreme southern example, and the only recorded specimen for 
California, a female (now in the M. C. O. collection), was taken February 
20, 1910, near Eureka, in Humboldt County, by C. Irvin Clay. Mr. Clay 
first saw the bird on January 17th, and noted it on four subsequent occa- 
sions previous to capture. It haunted a certain stretch of beach, and 
was so devoted to it that it would return by a circuitous route as often 
as it was crowded out of bounds; and it took care when pursued to slip 
along under cover of the driftwood, guiding its course by sundry peri- 
scopic glimpses over logs, and taking to wing only when close pressed. 
This attachment to the beach would in itself distinguish an Alaskan 
visitor; but caurina is a half larger than cleonensis, the resident form, and 
very much darker. 

No. 62b Rusty Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58ie and 581L Melospiza melodia rufina (Bonaparte). 

Synonym. — Sooty Song Sparrow (applied to northern section of species). 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike) in fresh fall plumage, and Immatures: As 
compared with interior races, pattern of upperparts and sides much blended, the 


(TV 51, 





Song Sparrow Group 

I tL.Ut MvA 

/2 size 

From vater-color fainting by Major Brooks 

■ nd 
md it to 
juiding i 

the resident form, and 

•iospiza mei 

M.m. dement*, adult female (top) 
maxillaris, adult female 
saltonis, ad. female 

cleonensis, immature male (bottom) 

The Song Sparrows 

general tone of color olive-brown, reddening slightly on pileum (where sometimes 
separated by a faint median line of grayish), upper tail-coverts, and edgings of wings 
and tail; feathers of back and scapulars blackish centrally; a superciliary line (lightest 
in front) grayish white; cheeks varied by whitish on a brown ground; below white, 
clearest on chin, lower throat, and abdomen, elsewhere, especially on sides of throat, 
chest, and sides, heavily streaked with warm brown (Prout's brown to bister), heavily 
washed on sides and flanks with ochraceous buffy; tibiae and crissum ochraceous- 
rusty with darker centers. Bill blackish above, lighter on mandible; feet dark brown- 
ish. Juvenals somewhat resemble parents, but show more "pattern" above, with 
heightened contrasts of black and rusty. They are more highly, finely, and uniformly 
streaked below with blackish, and are tinged with yellowish buff. Length about 
162.5 (6.40): wing 66 (2.60); tail 65 (2.56); bill 12.7 (.50); tarsus 17 (.67). 

Remark. — A form, .1/. m. morphna, has been described by Oberholser from west- 
ern British Columbia and Washington. Northern specimens of nifina may average 
slightly larger than those resident on Puget Sound, but the color pattern is singularly 
uniform from Cross Sound south to the upper limits of Puget Sound. The subspecies 
is probably non-migratory in the southern portion of its range; so that specimens 
taken in California in winter hail from western Alaska; so if there is a recognizable 
form morphna, there is no evidence that it invades California. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; heavy streaking of breast and sides fairly 
distinctive, save for the Fox Sparrows {Passerella iliaca group), from which it may 
be further distinguished by white superciliary line, smaller size, and more active 

Range of .1/. m. rufina. — Breeds from the coasts and islands of southeastern 
Alaska south to western Washington; winters from southern British Columbia and 
Washington south to the humid coast belt of California. 

Occurrence in California. — Regular winter visitor in the northwestern humid 
coast belt, south to San Francisco Bay; casual at Riverside (Swarth) and Claremont 

Authorities. — Audubon (Fringilla cincrea), Orn. Biog., vol. v., 1839, p. 22, 
pi. 390, fig. I; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 229 (Alaska; habits, 
nest and eggs, nomencl.); Swarth, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, p. 108 (Riverside); Kellogg, 
Condor, vol. xiii. , 191 1, p. 120 (Tower House, Shasta Co.; crit.) ; Allen, Condor, vol. 
xxii., 1920, p. 16 (migr.) ; Pierce, Condor, vol. xxii., July, 1920, p. 156. 

CALIFORNIA Song Sparrows are sedentary save in the territory 
east of the Sierras, where increased altitudes and lower temperatures 
enforce evacuation in winter. In like manner, upon the Pacific Coast 
proper a point is reached, somewhere to the north of us, where the rigors 
of winter institute a migratory impulse in the Song Sparrows. The 
reaction to this impact may be of two sorts: Either the birds, slightly 
discommoded, move a few miles southward and rest content; or else they 
may flee wildly southward until they reach some totally different environ- 
ment, and one in which they feel entirely secure. These two forms of 
compulsory movement do actually manifest themselves, and, probably, 
every gradation between. Two races of the Song Sparrow living to the 


The Song Sparrows 

Taken in Seattle 

north of us — viz., morph- 
na, whose range ex- 
tends from the Columbia 
River to southernmost 
Alaska; and r ufi n a , 
which occupies the 
southeastern coastal 
strip of Alaska north to 
Cross Sound — intergrade 
so perfectly that some 
authorities, Grinnell, for 
example, decline to sepa- 
rate them at all. But 
the final test of differ- 
ence may prove to be 
other than somatic. The 
degree of participation 
in migration may help to 
determine the difference 
between hypothetical 
morphna and rufina. All 
we know so far is that 
the Song Sparrows of 
western Washington, 
morphna, are partially 
sedentary, perhaps 
wholly so in the south- 
ern portion of their 
range; whereas rufina 
forsakes the northern 
portions of its range, — 
the Cross Sound and 
Sitka districts — out- 
right. The probabilities 
are that the migratory 
movement of morphna- 
rufina is, therefore, high- 
ly composite, that the 
southern extreme is stable, while the northern end is forced down by a 
telescoping motion which projects now one element and now another of 
the composite mass into northern California. The variable character of 
the material taken in winter in California supports this hypothesis, while 


Photo by the A uthor 


The Song Sparrows 

it tends to obscure the operation of the saturating tendency, which 
increases steadily from Puget Sound to Sitka. Personally, I have no 
question that morphna is a valid form, and that California-taken speci- 
mens hailing, let us say, from the coast of British Columbia are referable 
to morphna rather than to rufina. 

No. 62c Oregon Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58ip, part. Melospiza melodia phaea Fisher. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. rufina, but color-pattern of upperparts less 
blended, more highly developed, by reason of strengthened gray edgings and of blackish 
centers on back and inner quills. Breeding birds from the Oregon coast show closer 
affinities with rufina (or morphna) than with cleonensis. 

Range of M. m. phcea. — Breeding and partially resident along the west coast 
of Oregon and southern Washington; irregularly southward in winter. 

Occurrence in California. — A winter visitor at least in extreme northern 
portion of humid coast belt (W. K. Fisher), irregularly (?) southward through unde- 
fined area (San Mateo County, Nov. 25, 1900, Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Fisher, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, p. 36 (orig. desc; type locality, 
Gardiner, Ore.; spec, from Crescent City); Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 11, 1915, 
p. 123 (Pescadero Cr., San Mateo Co.) ; Brown, Auk, vol. xxxv., 1918, p. 350 (Placerita 
Canon, Los Angeles Co.). 

No. 62d Mendocino Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58ip, part. Melospiza melodia cleonensis McGregor. 

Description. — Quite different from preceding form by reason of emerging 
color-pattern; nearest like M. m. gouldi. General tone of upperparts and sides of head 
and neck, as determined by edgings, tawny olive or Saccardo's umber; pileum (parted 
by cream-buffy middle line), wing-coverts, and edgings of tail and wings Prout's 
brown; feathers of back, scapulars, and inner tertials black with tawny olive edgings; 
a supraloral spot white, continued as grayish superciliary line; underparts basally 
white, clear only on middle of breast; chin and throat only slightly flecked with dusky; 
sides of throat, breast, and sides of breast heavily marked with rusty or tawny olive 
streaks having black centers; flanks and crissum heavily tinged with clay-color and 
streaked with dusky. Here begins to emerge the familiar Song Sparrow type. Length 
of adult (skins) 137 (5.40); wing 60 (2.36); tail 59 (2.32); bill 11.9 (.47); tarsus 22 

Range of M. m. cleonensis (Wholly within California). — Common resident 
chiefly of fresh-water marshes in humid coast belt from Crescent City south (at least) 
to Mendocino City; "casual in autumn at Olema, Marin County" (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — McGregor, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 87 (orig. desc. ; 
Westport, Mendocino Co.); Fisher, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, p. 134 (distr. ; crit.) ; 
J. Mailliard, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 199 (habits). 

IN THIS race we begin to see the approach of "saturation," or dark- 
ening of plumage, occasioned by increasing humidity, or rather by the 


The Song Sparrows 

corresponding withdrawal of sunlight. Yet the wonder is that the Men- 
docino-Humboldt birds are not darker, for the magnificent forests of 
redwood, whose trees number their rings by centuries, ' are a living witness 
that the region has long been one of excessive rainfall. Perhaps, after all, 
Melospiza melodia is not such a "plastic" form as we had supposed. At 
any rate, we get here a vivid conception of the enormous stretches of time 
at Nature's disposal, and some idea of her patience. If a thousand years 
(at the least) are required to alter a shade so slightly that its recognition 
is still debatable, how many millenniums must have elapsed since the 
"Sooty" Song Sparrow (M. m. rufina) began to occupy the coast of Alaska ! 

No. 62e Marin Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58id, part. Melospiza melodia gouldi Baird. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. cleonensis, but less rufescent, the black element 
much stronger on feathers of back, scapulars, and exposed quills, that of pileum taking 
form of streaks alternating with browns; the streaking of underparts also more de- 
cided!}' black, often scarcely rufescent on edges. 

Range (Wholly within California). — Common resident on fresh-water marshes 
and streams immediately to the north of San Francisco Bay, chiefly in Marin and 
Sonoma counties; north coastwise to Gualala, Mendocino County, interiorly to Mt. 
Sanhedrin, Cahto, and Ukiah, east to Vacaville and Rumsey (Yolo County) (Grin- 

Authorities. — Baird, Pac. R. R. Rep., vol.ix., 1858, p.479(orig. desc. ; "Califor- 
nia") ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 267 (desc; crit.). 

No. 62f Samuel's Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. s8id, part. Melospiza melodia samuelis (Baird). 

Description. — Similar to M. m. gouldi, but black element still further strength- 
ened throughout, the streaking of breast, sides, etc., usually without trace of other 

Range (Wholly within California). — "Abundant resident on salt marshes 
along the north side of San Francisco Bay, from Larkspur, Marin County, through 
Sonoma and Napa Counties to Vallejo, Solano County; also on south side of San 
Pablo Bay, at Selby and Pinole, Contra Costa County." — Grinnell. 

Authorities. — Baird {Ammodromus samuelis), Proc. Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. vi., 
1858, p. 379 (orig. desc. ; Petaluma) ; McGregor, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i, 1899, p. 87 
(crit.) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 92 (crit.) ; Beat, U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. 
Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 84, part (food). 

'"Very long-lived but greatest age undetermined. * * * A tree 20 feet in diameter and 350 feet high 
showed an age of 1000 years. Another tree 20 feet in diameter was 1373 years old." — Sudworth, Forest Trees of the 
Pacific Slope, p. 146. 


The Song Sparrows 
No. 62g Suisun Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581s. Melospiza melodia maxillaris Grinnell. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. samnelis, but decidedly larger; bill much shorter, 
tumescent at base. Plumage shows slight reduction of blacks, and streaking of under- 
parts shows traces of rufescent bordering. As compared with M. m. heermanni, 
maxillaris shows darker coloring with broader black markings, and base of maxilla 
more swollen. Measurement of type, a male: wing 63.7 (2.51); tail 62 (2.44); bill 
12.9 (.51); depth at base 7.6 (.30); tarsus 21.8 (.86). 

Range (Wholly within California). — "Common resident of the marshes sur- 
rounding Suisun Bay, more particularly from the vicinity of the confluence of the 
Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers west to Benicia and Port Costa where abruptly 
delimited. ' ' — Grinnell. 

Authority. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 265 (Suisun; 
orig. desc). 

I HAVE never seen the Suisun Song Sparrow. I suppose I never 
shall. It is said to favor certain types resident a few miles up the river 
rather than its neighbor, samuelis, on the Sonoma shore. A closer 
attention to this fascinating subject of the subdivision of Song Sparrows 
will doubtless eventuate in a pet species for every water-hole in California ; 
and may ultimately necessitate the establishment of a chair of Com- 
parative Melospiziology at Berkeley. Heigh ho ! I wonder if the simple- 
hearted Song Sparrow, he of the silver tongue, suspects what a bother 
he is to us poor scientists! 

No. 62h Salt Marsh Song Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 581I. Melospiza melodia pusillula Ridgway. 

Synonym. — Alameda Song Sparrow. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. samuelis, but slightly smaller; spotting of 
underparts slightly more rufescent upon the margins. Ridgway, in describing this 
subspecies (Birds of N. & M.Am., vol. i., p. 370), claims the precise opposite, namely, 
that the markings of pusillula are less rufescent; but the abundant material in the 
M. V. Z. collection certainly does not sustain his contention. Immature birds are 
unique in displaying a yellowish suffusion of the underparts, which character is neces- 
sarily carried until the second autumn (since the species has but one annual molt). 
Measurements of adult males: wing 57.9 (2.28); tail 62.5 (2.46); bill 1 1.2 (.44). Fe- 
males average smaller. 

Range (Wholly within California). — Resident on or near the southern por- 
tion of San Francisco Bay, from San Francisco to West Berkeley. 

Authorities. — Ridgway, Auk, vol. xvi., 1899, p. 35 (orig. desc. ; Alameda Co.); 
McGregor, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 87 (desc; crit.) ; Grinnell, Condor, 
vol. iii., 1901, p. 92 (habits; crit.); Cohen, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 185 (nesting dates). 

THE RECOGNITION of a dwarf race, pusillula, from the marshes 
of San Francisco Bay was a clever piece of work, and the race so dis- 


The Song Sparrows 

tinguished is the more 
interesting because it 
sets at defiance one of 
the foremost canons of 
Song Sparrowdom; viz., 
that individuals shall in- 
crease in size northerly. 
Thus, the San Diego 
Song Sparrow, M. m. 
co op eri , has a wing 
length of mm 63 ; rufina 
of British Columbia, 
mm 68 ; canrina from 
Yakutat Bay, mm 72 ; 
and the giant sanaka 
from the Aleutians, mm 
85. The Aleutian Song 
Sparrow is, thus, more 
than twice as big a bird 
as ours in southern Cali- 
fornia. Pusillulas wing 
length, as given by Pro- 
fessor Robert Ridgway, 
the original describer, is 
only mm 58.4. 

Life with piisillula has 
been reduced to very 
simple terms. 'There' 
in a salt marsh, is just 
the same as 'here,' so 
where is the use of fash- 
ing one's self about quick 
transportation? No 
need ; ergo, arrested wing 
development; that is, 
shorter wings. 
That substantially uniform conditions have prevailed for ages in 
the marshes of San Francisco Bay, there can be no doubt. Today an 
intricate system of tidal arteries and capillaries supplies moisture to 
acres of salicornia, a succulent round-stemmed plant growing in rank 
profusion to a height of one or two feet; and each of these sodden acres 
harbors a legion of molluscs, nemertines and crustaceans. There is 

Taken in Santa Barbara Photo by the Author 


NOT M, in. pusillula. but M. in. cooperi IN A brackish marsh, 


Hie Song Sparrows 

nothing else to speak of — a dreary waste, of interest chiefly to Rails and 
Salt Marsh Song Sparrows. The latter haunt the oozy slopes of the 
tide-guts and snatch dainties from a salty menu, keeping a sharp eye, 
meanwhile, not to get their toes nipped by lurking crabs. Their bibs 
get pretty badly stuck up with salicornia juice and the ever generous 
octze; but brackish pools are ever handy for ablution and a chance at 
minnows besides. Then in the springtime, because the salicornia is 
really impossible, the Lord sends a little green bush for a nesting site. 
The bush must have a Latin name, but it is unknown to the deponent. 
It is ordained to be a little greener and a little taller than the salicornia, 
and if it suits the Song Sparrow, as it certainly does, we will call it the 
Salt Marsh Song Sparrow Nesting Bush (or Busha pusillulce for short, 
if our Latin friends insist). Anyhow, all one has to do during the first 
week in April is to visit every little green bush growing in the San Fran- 
cisco marshes, and gather Salt Marsh Song Sparrows' eggs, or "infor- 
mation," according to the state of his development. The nests are there, 
and the information easy — also uniform. The eggs are, of course, 
indistinguishable from those of other forms; but the nests are unique, in 
that they are composed of plastic or sodden strands of some sort of marsh 
waste which, upon drying, forms a sturdy and uncommonly durable 

No. 62i Santa Cruz Song Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 58id, part. Melospiza melodia santaecrucis Grinnell. 

Description. — Most like the next to be described, but smaller. Also similar 
to M. m. pusillula, but much larger; the juvenal but not the immature (final autumnal) 
plumage suffused with buffy yellow; the contrast in this regard between two adjacent 
"races" of one species, and those existing continuously within sight of each other, 
gives food for reflection. Measurements of males (orig. desc): wing 61.2 (2.41); 
tail 67.5 (2.66); bill 11. 4 (.45). Females smaller. 

Range (Wholly in California). — Resident chiefly on fresh-water marshes and 
along streams in the Santa Cruz district, from San Francisco south to the Sur River 
in Monterey County, east to include the Santa Clara valley, and north to Berkeley, 
south interiorly to Shandon and Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County (where 
shading into M. m. cooperi). 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 92 (orig. desc; Palo Alto); 
ibid., Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. II, 1915, p. 125 (range; crit.). 

No. 62j San Diego Song Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 581m. Melospiza melodia cooperi Ridgway. 

Description. — Adults {sexes alike) and Immatures: Above and on sides mingled 
olive-gray, olive-buff, rusty red, and black, the olive-gray element strongest anteriorlv. 
the olive-buff posteriorly, the black element existing centrally on feathers, sharpest 
on pileum, broadest on back, scapulars, and exposed portions of tertials, the rusty 
element, as Prout's brown, bordering feathers of pileum, exposed portion of greater 


The Song Sparrows 

wing-coverts, and outer edging of tertials, as dull cinnamon, on exposed edges of flight- 
feathers and rectrices; underparts basally white, clearest on chin, throat, and middle 
of breast; sides of throat, chest, sides, flanks, and posterior portions strongly tinged 

Taken in San Diego Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


with buffy or pinkish buff, and heavily streaked with black or blackish, more or less 
tinged and bordered with rusty; pattern of head obscurely 12-radial, by reason of crown 
parted by gray median line, white "eyebrows" (supraloral region, continued as gray 


The Song Sparrows 

superciliary), dusky lores and cheek (the latter mingled with whitish), buffy malar 
stripe, blackish submaxillary stripes, and white chin. Juvenals: Somewhat like 
adults, but olive-gray of upperparts wanting; margining of feathers chiefly pale clay- 
color; underparts suffused with pale ochraceous buffy; the black streaks much narrower. 
Bill blackish above, lighter below; feet and tarsi light brown. Measurements, adult 
male (after Grinnell) : wing 62.7 (2.47); tail 71.4 (2.81); bill 1 1.9 (.27). Females 
average smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; the 12-radial pattern of head, with striped 
appearance above serves to distinguish from birds of the Passerella group. Somewhat 
like the Lincoln Sparrow {Melospiza lincolni), but longer and more coarsely patterned — 
the streaks below much broader and tending to confluence on sides of throat. 

Range. — Resident in the San Diego district, broadly defined, from southern 
San Luis Obispo County and the Cuyama valley south to San Quentin, Lower Cali- 
fornia, east to the desert divides, and even invading both the Mohave (Victorville, 
Yermo) and Colorado deserts (mouth of Palm Canyon) (Grinnell and Swarth). 

Authorities. — Cooper {Melospiza heermanni, part), Orn. Cal., 1870, p. 212; 
Fisher, N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 100; Ridgway, Auk, vol. xvi, 1899, p. 35 (orig. 
desc. ; San Diego); Myers, Condor, vol. xii., 1910, p. 165 (method of feeding young); 
Willett, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 84 (distr. ; nesting dates) ; Grinnell and 
Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. x., 1913, p. 279 (crit.). 

No. 62k San Clemente Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 5811. Melospiza melodia clementae C. H. Townsend. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. cooperi, but much paler; the olive-gray element 
of the upperparts greatly increased, the blacks reduced, and reds faded; streaks on 
underparts finer, the buffy suffusion much reduced, the remainder more pinkish. 
Size (after Ridgway): wing 64.8 (2.55); tail 64 (2.52); culmen 12.2 (.48); tarsus 21.8 

Range (Wholly within California). — Common resident on San Clemente 
Island; also apparently the resident bird of San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands. 

Authorities.- — Cooper {Melospiza heermanni, part), Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., 
vol. iv., 1870, p. 78); Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. xiii., 1890, p. 139 (San 
Clemente Id.; orig. desc); Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., no. 1, 1897, p. 18 (habits; 
song); Grinnell and Daggett, Auk, vol. xx., 1903, p. 34 (crit.); Howell, Pac. Coast 
Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 81 (distr.; syn., etc.). 

No. 621 Santa Barbara Island Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 58ih. Melospiza melodia graminea C. H. Townsend. 

Description. — Very similar to M. m. clementce, but somewhat smaller: wing 
60.2 (2.37); tail 56.1 (2.21); culmen 12.2 (.48); tarsus 21.3 (.84). 

Range (Wholly within California). — "Common resident on Santa Barbara 
Island; less numerous and of more local occurrence on Santa Cruz Island." — Grinnell. 

Authorities. — Cooper {Melospiza heermanni, part), Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., 
vol. iv., 1870, p. 78; Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. xiii., 1890, p. 139 (Santa 
Barbara Id.; orig. desc); Grinnell, Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., no. I, 1897, p. 6 (nests 
and eggs; habits); J. Mailliard, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 44 (Santa 
Cruz Id.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 80 (distr., syn., etc.). 


The Song Sparrows 


jjpT- 4 

» - 

Taken in Santa Barbara Photo by the Author 


that these short-winged birds 
of comparatively limited 
powers of flight should have 
become differentiated on the 
islands of the Santa Barbara 
group. There is no apparent 
reason, however, why the 
smaller form, graminea, 
should be found on the small- 
est and the largest islands, 
Santa Barbara and Santa 
Cruz, widely separated as 
they are; or why this form 
should interrupt the range of 
clementae, which is ascribed 
to San Miguel and Santa 
Rosa as well as to San Cle- 
mente Island. The prob- 
ability is that the resem- 
blances found are adventi- 
tious, and that the stocks on 
San Clemente and San 
Miguel are of a degree of 
separation as ancient as 
that obtaining between either 
and its more immediate 
neighbors. It is a pretty 
problem, and we cannot pre- 
tend to be on the way toward 
a solution. 

No. 62m Heermann's Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581c. Melospiza melodia heermanni Baird. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. cooperi, but slightly grayer, especially on sides 
of neck; the streaking of underparts more extensively bordered or suffused with rusty; 
the buffy suffusion of streaked areas reduced or wanting except posteriorly. Very 
slightly larger. 

Range (Wholly within California). — Resident along streams and over flooded 
lands of the Tulare depression, from about the latitude of Fresno south to Ft. Tejon, 


The Song Sparrows 

and east well into the Sierra foothills, intergrading indeterminably with mailliardi 
on the north; may retire partially and irregularly south in winter, but probably not 
to Nevada. 

Authorities. — Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 478 (Tejon 
Valley; orig. desc); Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 266 (distr.; 
crit.) ; ibid., Condor, vol. xiii., 1911, p. no (distr., habits, etc.);Beal, U. S. Dept. Agric, 
Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 84 (food); Swarth, Condor, vol. xiii, 191 1, pp. 161, 
163 (distr.). 

HEERM ANN'S Song Sparrow is characteristically, though not 
exclusively, a dweller in cattails. The flooded areas tributary to the 
San Joaquin River afford abundant cover of this special sort, and Melo- 
spiza is as much a bird of the reeds as is Agelaius or Botaurus. It is 
always good fun to bury one's self in the heart of the reeds, then turn 
loose the distress notes known as "screeping," the master call of the 
winged wild. Song Sparrows are the first to respond. From one to 
a dozen will gather within a minute, peeping, prying, dashing, searching, 
anxious for the welfare of their little ones, or merely curious as to the 
source of the strange noise. And always they scold — that, at least, 
is safe — tswewp, squib, or tsirb. The note is as definite as a dinner bell; 
but no human lips can pronounce it. Frowsy females stop to upbraid 
the stranger, although undelivered packages of worms muffle their 
voices (goop, goop, is neither dignified nor intimidating) ; less ruffled 
fathers grasp a cattail firmly in both feet, and speculate intently upon 
the intruder's identity and intentions. The sound of infantile slaughter 
seems to proceed from those lips kissing a hand ; but no slaughter results. 
Perhaps he is calling the cows — or perhaps he is not quite right in the 
head. It is evidently a false alarm, and we might as well go back to 
bug-catching. And so the little people of the green forest steal away 
again, disappointed or amused, according to their wont. 

No. 62n Mailliard's Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581c, part. Melospiza melodia mailliardi Grinnell. 

Synonym. — Modesto Song Sparrow. 

Description. — Very similar to M. m. heermanni, but slightly darker, com- 
parable to M. m. maxillaris in this respect. Proportions of bill as in heermanni. A 
very "light" form which no one but a "speciation specialist" could discern. 

Range (Wholly within California). — "Common resident in the vicinity of 
the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, Stanislaus County, and thence 
north at least to Tracy Lake, San Joaquin County." — Grinnell. 

Authority. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. vii., 191 1, p. 197 (near 
Modesto; orig. desc); ibid., Condor, vol. xiii., 1911, p. no (distr.). 


The Song Sparrows 

No. 62o Merrill's Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581k. Melospiza melodia merrilli Brewster. 

Description. — Similar to M. m. fallax (next to be described), but darker 
and much more rufescent, intermediate toward the coastal types. Prevailing tone 
of upperparts grayish olive, changing to olive-gray anteriorly, the black element much 
subdued; the rufous element strong on pileum and wing-and-tail-skirtings; streaks of 
underparts heavy and broad, chiefly rusty, but with some dusky centering; flanks 
and crissum washed with pale clay-color. 

Range of M. m. merrilli. — "Northwestern United States. Breeds from Fort 
Sherman, Idaho, west and south through Washington and Oregon east of the Cascades 
to Shasta County, California; winters south to Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Sonora." 
— A. O. U. Committee. 

Occurrence in California. — Winter visitor to northern California east of the 
humid coastal belt, irregularly southward over area not clearly determined. One 
record from Mohave Desert (Victorville, by J. Mailliard and J. Grinnell). Said to 
breed in Shasta County (Ridgway). 

Authorities. — McGregor (Melospiza melodia ingersolli), Bull. Cooper Orn. 
Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 35 (Battle Creek, Shasta Co.); Ridgway, Birds N. and Mid. 
Am., vol. i., 1901, p. 361 (crit. com. upon Calif, spec). 

No. 62p Rocky Mountain Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581a, part; No. 581b, part. Melospiza melodia fallax (Baird). 

Description. — Somewhat similar to M. m. cooperi, but much lighter, more 
grayish, the black element much reduced, confined to centers of feathers on pileum 
and in jugular streak; the rufous of wing-edgings, etc., lighter; the streaks of under- 
parts chiefly rusty; the 12-radial pattern of head usually more sharply defined. 

Range of M. m. fallax. — The breeding range of fallax presumably bounds that 
of merrilli and fisherella upon the eastward, and so includes the Rocky Mountains 
in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana, south to northern New Mexico; winters 
south to western Texas, northern Mexico, and southern California. 

Occurrence in California. — Imperfectly made out, but occurs at least sparingly 
in winter in southeastern and southern portions of State, probably west to Santa 

Authorities. — Oberholser, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., xxiv., io,n,p. 252 (nomencl.); 
Grinnell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. II, 1915, p. 127 (status in Calif.); Saunders, Pac. 
Coast Avifauna, no. 14, 1921, p. 129, fig. 29 (Mont.; habits, nest and eggs, etc). 

No. 62q Modoc Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581b, part. Melospiza melodia fisherella Oberholser. 

Description. — Said by its describer to differ from M. m. fallax in its darker 
upperparts, more blackish brown streaks of under surface, heavier bill, and shorter 
wing. There is undoubtedly justice in this claim, especially as regards specimens 
from the extreme western part of the assigned range, viz., the Siskiyou district. Never- 
theless, the change is so slight and so gradual that it is a pity to obscure the fact of 
the close relationship existing between the breeding birds of interior northern Cali- 
fornia and the Rocky Mountains by a difference in nomenclature. 


The Song Sparrows 

Range of M. m. fisherella. — Breeds in the plateau region of northeastern Cali- 
fornia, northern Nevada, and southeastern Oregon; winters south at least to the 
Colorado Desert. 

Distribution in California. — Breeds regularly in the Modoc region of north- 
eastern California, west to Sisson (or wherever merrilli may be supposed to take its 
place), southward east of the Sierran divide through Owens Valley to Lone Pine and 
Ash Creek; winters commonly on the southeastern deserts and in the Colorado River 

Authorities. — Fisher, N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 1893, p. 99 (Owens Valley); 
H. C. Bryant, Condor, vol. xiii., 191 1, p. 204 (food); Oberholser, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., 
vol. xxiv., 191 1, p. 251 (Honey Lake, near Milford, Calif.; orig. desc.) ; Mailliard, 
Condor, vol. xxi., 1919, p. 75 (nest and eggs). 

THIS LARGE, pale form from the northeastern portion of the 
State is typical of those northern interior varieties, merrilli, fallax, 
and the rest, which by reason of the more severe winters overtaking their 
breeding ranges, are obliged to shift southward each autumn. Their 
winter ranges are as yet imperfectly made out, but fisherella and fallax 
are likely to occur at that season almost anywhere in the southern portion 
of the State, and especially in the vicinity of water-holes upon the Mohave 
and Colorado deserts, or in the valley of the Colorado River. In such 
situations they are easily distinguishable from the resident saltonis by 
their darker plumage. Elsewhere, that is, west of the Sierro-San-San 
Mountain system, they are distinguishable from resident races by their 
large size, by their lighter, browner plumage, and more blended pattern. 
A hardier, darker bird, merrilli, invades the northern portion of the 
State in winter, but to a degree still problematical. 

The Modoc Song Sparrow on his native heath differs in behavior 
by no appreciable quality from his less travelled fellows; but one fancies 
that he is more modest and reticent in his winter home. 

On the 17th of June, 1912, I was hunting through the willows which 
line the east shore of Goose Lake, in Modoc County. The east boundary 
of the patch was formed by a narrow-gauge railroad of recent construc- 
tion. Hard by the site of an abandoned construction camp I most 
unexpectedly flushed a Modoc Song Sparrow from a massive paper- 
wasp nest, which sat in a stark, naked willow about five feet up. The 
Sparrow's nest, of rather flimsy construction, had been sunk deeply 
into the fragile, papery structure on one side; and the exterior construc- 
tion on that side was shielded and harmonized by a plentiful supply 
of scraps from a newspaper printed in modern Greek. The bird must 
have been moved, I think, rather by patriotism than by a taste for the 
classics, for an exposed paragraph mentions John Bull, Champ Clark, 
KANSAS (whose emphatic royalty everyone concedes), and Uncle 
Sam. These proper names are mercifully Anglicized (or Romanized), 


The Song Sparrows 

but the next line contains reference to Tacpr, who, as presidential incum- 
bent had evidently been received into full communion by the patriotic 
Greeks. This exhibit of Vespa-Graeca-Melospizine architecture, to- 
gether with the five eggs which it contained, now reposes in the collection 
of the Museum of Comparative Oology, and it constitutes one of her 
proudest trophies. 

No. 62r Salton Sink Song Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 581a, part. Melospiza melodia saltonis Grinnell. 

Description. — A bleached race, retaining only the barest outlines of the familiar 
Song Sparrow pattern: the black element nearly suppressed, appearing only on exposed 
portions of tertials; general tone of upperparts smoke-gray; the rufous element both 
above and below lighter and brighter brown (nearest sayal brown); the whites of 
underparts clearer and more extended. Juvenal birds share the bleached appearance 
of their parents, and are very slightly streaked, often only upon chest and back. Meas- 
urements of type, an adult male (after Grinnell): wing 58.8 (2.315); tail 67.2 (2.646); 
culmen 10.5 (.41); tarsus 20.7 (.815). 

Range of M. m. saltonis. — Resident in Lower Sonoran zone from southern 
Nevada and southwestern Utah south to southeastern Arizona, southeastern Cali- 
fornia, northeastern Lower California, and Sonora. 

Distribution in California. — Resident in the Colorado Valley tributary to 
Salton Sink, in the Imperial Valley, and along the valley of the Colorado; casual on 
the Mohave Desert (Oro Grande, Feb. 17, 18, 1918, by Wright M. Pierce). 

Authorities. — Coues {Melospiza fallax), Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1866, 
p. 88 (Colo. Valley; s. Calif.); Cooper, Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 215 (Colo. Valley) ; Grinnell, 
Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 268 (Mecca; orig. desc); ibid., vol. xii., 1914, 
p. 174 (Colo. R.; habits, crit.). 

NATLIRE has played another of her practical jokes, and this time 
the victim is one of our beloved Song Sparrows. Snaring him with the 
lure of one of those cattail patches, which somehow manage to survive both 
in the Salton Sink and along the overflow lagoons of the Colorado River, 
she has soaked our friend with her eternal sunshine until he is bleached 
out almost beyond recognition. The blacks of a normal Song Sparrow's 
plumage have been reduced almost to the vanishing point, the browns 
are faded to palest tawny, and the grays are browned and blended. 
One is irresistibly moved to call him "Sandy"; and the discovery that 
this desert rat can chirp and sing and covet and wive with the lustiest 
provokes one, somehow, to disrespectful mirth. 

Dr. Grinnell notes 1 that this sparrow is characteristic of the arrow- 
weed association in the Colorado River Valley, and that it is almost 
as fond of the young willows. The annual floods of this river, which 
occur in May and early June, defer the nesting of the sparrow accordingly; 

1 "An Account of the Mammals and Bird? of the Lower Colorado Valley." U. of C. Pub. in Zool., 1914, p. 17. 

The Song Sparro- 




Lincoln's Sparrow 

About 54 1'fe s i ze 




normal S 


^7/a/i /S/roe/f£~ 

The Lincoln Sparrows 

and the nests, when they are built, are placed well above the mud of 
last year's high-water mark. In the vicinity of the Salton Sea, nesting 
occurs in March, and February nests in the same region are a strong 

Comparison of an extended series of Song Sparrows' eggs in the 
collections of the M. C. 0. shows the eggs of M. m. saltonis to be brighter 
as to ground and decidedly lighter as to spotting than those of the eastern 
Song Sparrow. The difference, though unmistakable, is very much 
less than exists between the birds themselves; and one hesitates to affirm 
any bleaching action in the case of the eggs. 

No. 63 

Lincoln's Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 583. Melospiza lincolni lincolni (Audubon). 

Synonym. — Lincoln's Song Sparrow. 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike): Above grayish olive, sharply streaked 
with black, the streaks broadest on back and scapulars; the feathers of pileum bor- 
dered with rusty and olive-gray; exposed edgings of wings and tail pale cinnamo- 
meous; pattern of head obscurely 12-rayed; below, throat and belly white, the former 
never quite immaculate, but with small arrow-shaped black marks; sides of head and 
neck and remaining underparts, including a well-defined band across chest, creamy 
buff, everywhere marked by elongated and sharply-defined black streaks; occasionally 
a dusky spot on center of breast. Bill blackish above, lighter below; feet and tarsi 
light brownish. Juvenals: Much like adult, but more heavily streaked and with 
buffy duller, more diffused. Adults measure: length about 146. 1 (5.75) ; wing 63 (2.48) 
tail 53.6 (2.1 1); bill 10.2 (.40). 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; bears general resemblance to Song Sparrow 
from which it is distinguished by sharply-defined buffy chest-band, and by narrower 
sharper streaks of breast and sides. 

Nesting. — Nest: On the ground or in tussock of swamp, rarely low in bushes 
a cup of twisted grasses, well concealed. Eggs: 4 or 5; pale bluish green, spotted 
and blotched, uniformly or in cloud-cap or wreath, with reddish brown (burnt umber). 
Av. of 5 eggs from Mono County (M. C. O.) : 19.3 x 13.97 (-7° x .55). Av. of 5 eggs 
from Salt Lake Co., Utah: 16.5 x 13.7 (.65 x .54). Season: June; one brood. 

Range of Melospiza lincolni. — North America. 

Range of M. I. lincolni. — As above, except northwest coast district in Alaska. 
Breeds in Boreal zone, from limit of trees in Alaska and British Columbia south to 
northern Minnesota, northern New York, etc., and in the Sierra-Cascade and Rock}' 
Mountain systems south to southern California and New Mexico; winters from southern 
California, Oklahoma, and the Gulf States south to Guatemala. 

Distribution in California. — Breeds in mountain meadows of the Lower 
Boreal zone in the higher ranges throughout the State. Recorded from the San 
Jacintos, the San Bernardinos, the Sierras (including Shasta), the Warners, the Trini- 


The Lincoln Sparrows 

ties, the Yolla Bollies, and associated ranges. Winters in southern California, north 
at least to the San Joaquin Valley, and on the islands. 

Authorities. — Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 482 (Ft. Tejon, 
etc.); Heermann (Peuccea lincolnii), Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. x., 1859, p. 49; Judd, 
U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, p. 86 (food); Grinnell, Univ. Calif. 
Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1908, p. 98 (habits; crit.); Pierce, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 34 (San 
Bernardino Mts. ; desc. nest and eggs.) 

No. 63a Forbush's Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 583a. Melospiza lincolni gracilis (Kittlitz). 

Description. — Closely resembles the foregoing form, but alleged to be darker, 
more broadly marked with black above and below; upper plumage more olivaceous. 

Nesting. — Does not breed in California. Nest and eggs probably indistinguish- 
able from those of preceding race. 

Range of M. 1. gracilis. — Breeds in Northwest — west coast district in Alaska 
from Prince William Sound south (at least) to Sitka; winters south to southern portion 
of Lower California. 

Occurrence in California. — Winters at lower levels, commonly in the north- 
west humid coast district, more sparingly southwest of the Sierras, and upon the deserts 
to the Mexican line. Range imperfectly distinguished from that of M. I. lincolni. 

Authorities. — McGregor (Melospiza lincolni striata), Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, 
1, 1899, p. 35 (Calif, localities) ; Grinnell, Auk, vol. xxi., 1904, p. 274 (syn., meas., crit.); 
Oberholser, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xix., 1906, p. 42 (nomencl.); Grinnell, Univ. 
Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 23J (Alaska; habits, nest, etc.). 

WITH the possible exception of the Nelson Sparrow (Ammospiza c. 
nelsoni), Melospiza lincolni is the shyest of Californian finches, — shyest, 
that is, in winter, when all but birds of the sedentary species are treading 
on strange ground, and feel the need of acting circumspectly. Although 
so inconspicuously dressed that it could well afford to rely upon its 
protective coloration, the winter Lincoln skulks and freezes, hides behind 
plant stems, or at a word dives into the depths of the thickest cover. 
The bird seems to possess an almost uncanny consciousness of the human 
eye ,and it begins to evade upon the instant of recognition, as though struck 
by the beam of a burning-glass. Once, in the valley of the Colorado 
River, I caught sight of a Lincoln Sparrow in a naked mesquite tree some 
twenty feet away. Instead of flying, the bird became instantly motion- 
less, "froze" to a rigidity never before witnessed in a Passerine bird. 
Its conduct puzzled me, so that I advanced, retreated, and circled half 
way around it several times, but the bird never moved a muscle, save to 
bat an eyelid, slowly and painfully. Altogether it behaved like a fore- 
doomed victim whose arch enemy, the Sharp-shin (Accipiter velox), 
has his deadly eye upon it. And forty years of acquaintance with the 
Lincoln Song Sparrow in winter and on migrations will scarcely yield 


The Lincoln Sparrows 

Taken in Yosemite 
Photo by the Author 



The Lincoln Sparrows 

Taken in Yosemite 

one more than fleeting glimpses, baffling disappearances, or strained 
moments of maddening unnaturalness. 

Quite different is the story of the Lincoln Sparrow in his summer 
home, an emerald meadow in the Sierras, or a lush-bound cienaga in one 
of the southern ranges. There he bursts upon you in a torrent of music, 
a flood which leaves you fairly gasping. This little, slinking, bird-afraid- 
of-his-shadow gets all at once the courage of mighty convictions, when 
he has the mountain to back him; and though he still skulks and evades, 
it is henceforth rather as a modest hero shunning the plaudits of an 

unrestrained admi- 
ration . 

The song of the Lin- 
coln Sparrow is of a 
distinctly musical order, 
being gushing, viva- 
cious, and wren-like in 
quality, rather than lisp- 
ing and wooden, as are 
so many of our sparrow 
songs. Indeed, the bird 
shows a much stronger 
relationship in song to 
the Purple Finch than 
it does to its immediate 
congeners, the Song 
Sparrows. The principal 
strain is gurgling, 
rolling, and spon- 
taneous, and the bird 
has ever the trick of 
adding two or three in- 
consequential notes at 
the end of his ditty, 
quite in approved Purple 
Finch fashion. Linkup, 
tinkup perly werly willie 
willie weeee (dim.) says 
one; Riggle, jiggle, eet 
eet eet eer oor, another. 
Che willy willy willy che 
quill; Lee lee lee quilly 
willy willy, and other 


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The Lincoln Sparrows 

such, come with full force and fresh- 
ness at a hundred yards to the 
listeners of the trail around Bluff 
Lake in the San Bernardinos, or at 
Camp Ahwahnee in the Yosemite. 
Indeed, how could any creature, 
however trivial, gaze upon the sub- 
limities unfolded along the hallowed 
reaches of the Merced without burst- 
ing into song! Be that as it may, I 
shall never recall the vision of Yo- 
semite Falls, as seen from the road 
just below the village, without 
hearing the wild music of the Lincoln 
Song Sparrows sounding like a 
pibroch above the solemn thunders 
of this majesty. And if one set out 
to collect a photographic series of 
favorite haunts of the Lincoln Spar- 
row, he would have a muster roll of 
California's finest: Tahquitz Ridge, 
the Simpson Meadows, the Yo- 
semite, the eastern flank of the 
Warners, Sisson, and Mt. Shasta — these are a few of the trysting 
places of lincolni within the author's experience. And these are but 
a drop in the bucket as compared with the uncharted multitude of 
beauty spots which the careful taste of lincolni has honored. 

Nests of the Lincoln Sparrow are hidden at the base of bush clumps 
or grass tussocks, in the depths of the local swamp. The female slips off as 
unobtrusively as a mouse, and threads the mazes in swift pedal retreat be- 
fore taking to wing. The youngsters, too, according to Mr. Aretas 
Saunders 1 move over the ground with astonishing proficiency before ever 
they are able to fly. 

After the young have quitted the nest the solicitude of the parents 
becomes very manifest. The birds follow one about with soft little chips 
of remonstrance, and they are very jealous of avian intruders. The 
scolding note has nothing of the sharpness exhibited by the Song Sparrow 
(M. melodia), nor of the asperity of the J unco, although it most resembles 
that of the latter in its residual quality, as in the frequency of its utter- 
ance. The bird occasionally erects its crown feathers in inquiry or 
excitement, as do Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and others. 

Once, in a more northern swamp, on the flanks of Mt. Rainier, I had 


'"The Condor," Vol. XII., Nov., 1910. p. 198. 


The Lincoln Sparrows 

opportunity to compare lincolni and melodia (morphna) at short range. 
Singularly enough, the jealous Lincoln, who had just furiously evicted a 
Yellow Warbler from the home nesting tree, allowed the Song Sparrow to 
sit unchallenged at a foot's remove. Lincolni was not only the smaller 
bird, but it was more lightly colored, and it had a sharp-cut streakiness 
of plumage which does not characterize melodia. A comparison of many 
examples, however, showed the similarity of head pattern between the 


Bernardino County 


Photo by Wright M. Pierce 

two sparrows to be very noticeable, while the buffy tinge of the Lincoln's 
breast would appear to be one of its least constant marks. 

The claims to recognition of an alleged subspecies, M. I. striata 
Brewster, are not at all impressive. Granting the validity of the meager 
characters claimed, as between breeding specimens from Alaska and those 
of our own mountains, the attempt to distinguish winter specimens breaks 
down utterly ; and you may report either lincolni or striata from Berkeley 
or San Diego, according to the state of your digestion or the prevailing 
fashion in eyelashes. If the latter are worn drooping this year, you 
pretend to see more streaks; that's all. 


The Lincoln Sparr 

riy en?,: bus Lin 


d a sharp-cut strea 

■'.'■■ tweei 

Lincoln's Cathedral 

A Nesting Haunt of the Lincoln Song Sparrow, in the Yoscmite Valley 
From a photograph by the Author 


stant me. 

e not at all imprej 

: Uasi - 



Irooping this year, you 

The Fox Sparrows 

No. 64 

Swamp Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 584. Melospiza georgiana (Latham). 

Synonym. — Swamp Song Sparrow. 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike): Crown hazel; exposed edges of wings and 
tail (strongest on greater wing-coverts) hazel, paling to cinnamomeous; remaining 
upper plumage black, bordered by brownish buff}' or olivaceous, the blacks strongest 
on forehead, occiput, upper back, and scapulars; the cervix invaded by gray, contin- 
uous with sides of neck and breast; a clear gray superciliary stripe bordering the bay; 
chin and throat and breast, centrally, white; the remaining under plumage heavily 
washed with brownish gray, changing to brownish buffy on flanks and crissal region. 
Bill dark above, lighter below; feet and tarsi light brown. Immature birds, even in 
the second year (?), lack the hazel crown, having black with rusty edgings instead, 
and are much more strongly brownish below and on sides. Adult males measure: 
length about 142.2 (5.60) ; wing 62.5 (2.46); tail 59.2 (2.33); bill 11.7 (.46); tarsus 
21.6 (.85). Females are smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; a Song-Sparrow-like bird, unmarked below; 
chestnut crown of adult with swamp-loving habits distinctive. 

General Range. — North America, chiefly east of the Great Plains. Breeds 
from west central Alberta, central Keewatin, and Newfoundland south irregularly 
to West Virginia, central Ohio, and northern Missouri; winters from about its southern 
breeding range south to the Gulf and into Mexico. Accidental in Colorado, Utah, 
Arizona, and now California. 

Occurrence in California. — One specimen taken Nov. 1, 1921, near Keeler, 
Inyo County, by Mrs. May Canfield and Laurence M. Huey, now in the Dickey- 
Collection (J 1797). 

Authority. — Dickey, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, p. 136 (Keeler, Inyo Co.). 

ISN'T this splendid! Think of coming two thousand miles from 
home just to be enrolled in the California Society, Ltd ! Well ; some of 
the rest of us have done as much, and they didn't shoot us for it — yet. 
It was rather a mistake, though — no; of course I don't mean that. I 
mean it was a mistake for this little bird to suppose that we needed 
Song Sparrows in California. Why, we already have twenty varieties 
on our hands; and if we needed more, Dr. Grinnell could attend to it. 
Birdie, I guess you got what was coming to you — "J 1797"! 

No. 65 

Fox Sparrow 

No. 65 Fox-colored Sparrow 

A. O. L T . No. 585. Passerella iliaca iliaca (Merrem). 

Synonym. — Eastern Fox Sparrow. 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): In general hazel brown, mingled with slaty 
gray and olivaceous above, and sharply outlined against white ground upon under- 


The Fox Sparrows 

parts, the rufous element clearest, cinnamon-rufous, on upper tail-coverts and tail; 
also nearly pure upon auriculars, sides of throat, and spotting of chest; deepening 
upon sides, where present in broad streaks having dusky centers, and upon back where 
broadly margined with olivaceous gray; wings chiefly russet, with dusky brown cen- 
tering of feathers; edge of wing and extreme tips of median and greater coverts whitish; 
crown, cervix, and sides of neck slaty gray (light mouse-gray or olivaceous gray), 
tipped more or less, especially upon crown, with rufous, and showing tendency to 
streaking; rump olivaceous gray; underparts white, immaculate on abdomen, chin, 
and lower throat, crossed on upper throat with an irregular chain of rufous spots, 
marked boldly on chest with rufous, and across breast and often along sides of breast 
with sharp sagittate marks of dusky; a touch of white on either side of the head above 
the lores persisting throughout the species. Bill (drying) reddish horn-color above, 
lighter below; feet (drying) light brown. Specimens differ chiefly in the strength and 
diffusion of the olivaceous gray element of the upperparts. Length 165.1-184.15 
(6.50-7.25); wing 88.5 (3.48); tail 71.7 (2.82); culmen 11.6 (.46); depth of bill 9.4 
(■37); width at base 8.2 (.32); tarsus 24.2 (.95). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; distinguishable from all other sparrows 
by the generous streaking of underparts and sides, and from all other subspecies 
by the brightness of its reds. 

Nesting of Passerella iliaca. — Nest: A bulky structure composed externally 
of coarse twigs, and bark-strips, with leaves or moss, internally of fine grasses or even fur, 
feathers, etc.; placed low or at moderate heights in bushes, thickets, saplings, etc., 
or even upon the ground without attempt at concealment. Eggs: 3 or 4 in the South; 
4 or 5 in the North; rounded ovate; pale niagara green or greenish gray, spotted, 
sometimes uniformly and heavily, or else sparingly, or blotched or cloud-capped 
(rarely, if ever, wreathed), with reddish brown (burnt umber or cameo-brown to deep 
chocolate). Av. size 22.35 x I ^>-5 (-88 x .65). Extremes 20.3-25.4 by 15. 5-17. 8 (.80- 
1.00 by .61-. 70). Season: May-July; two broods. While the material available 
does not justify an attempt to define subspecific distinctions in the eggs of Fox Spar- 
rows, there is a rough correlation in size between the eggs and the parent birds, and a 
tendency toward brighter as well as heavier coloring in the case of the Alaskan coastal 

Range of Passerella iliaca. — North America, but chiefly western, breeding north 
of the United States and in the mountains of the West; wintering south to the Gulf 
States and southern California. 

Range of P. i. iliaca. — Breeds in the Boreal zones of Canada and northern Alaska, 
except the southwestern portion, from the limit of trees south to northern Manitoba and 
the Magdalen Islands; winters in the eastern United States from about Latitude 40 
south to the Gulf, and in the West casually upon the southern coast of Alaska south to 

Occurrence in California. — Rare or casual midwinter visitant; reported from 
widely scattered localities, chiefly southern. 

Authorities. — Coues, Birds of the Northwest, 1874, p. 161 ("Accidental in 
California, spec, in Mus. S. I."); Henshaw, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, vol. iii., 1878, p. 7 
(crit.); Nelson, Rep. Nat. Hist. Coll. Alaska, 1887, p. 195 (habits, song, nest and 
eggs, etc.); W. E. Bryant, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., 2nd ser., vol. ii., 1889, p. 90 (Poway, 
San Diego Co.); Judd, U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 15, 1901, p. 87 (food); 
Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 114, figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., 
desc, crit.). 


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The Fox Span 



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A Selection of Fox Sparrows 

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The Fox Sparrows 

No. 65a Alberta Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585a, part. Passerella iliaca altivagans Riley. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. iliaca, but darker and duller, the pattern of the 
upper plumage almost completely blended; hence, upper tail-coverts and exposed 
surfaces of folded tail and wings russet; remaining upperparts, including pileum and 
sides of neck, mingled olive-brown and slaty; spotting of underparts and streaking 
of sides broader, more copious (invading lower throat), and darker, sepia. Mandible 
yellow, darkening on tip. Measurements: wing 81 (3.19); tail 76 (2.99); bill 10.6 
(.42); depth of bill 9.4 (.37); width 7.9 (.31); tarsus 23.1 (.91). 

Range of P. i. altivagans. — Breeding in central Alberta in an ill-defined area 
lying between the range of iliaca upon the northeast and schistacea upon the west and 

Occurrence in California. — "Rare winter visitant to the northeastern section 
of the State, casually south to Los Angeles County." — (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Riley, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxiv., 191 1, p. 235 (orig. 
desc, type locality Moose Branch of Smoky R., Alberta; spec, from Fort Crook, 
Shasta Co., Calif.) ; Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 119, figs, (occur- 
rence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65b Shumagin Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585a. Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis (Gmelin). 

Description. — Somewhat similar to P. i. iliaca, but much darker and pattern 
completely blended; spotting of underparts much heavier and darker, brown. In 
particular: Upperparts, including pileum, sides of neck, and sides of breast, olive- 
brown, becoming more rufescent, cinnamon-brown on upper tail-coverts and exposed 
upper surfaces of wings and tail; underparts white, heavily and broadly streaked with 
dark brown (Prout's brown or mummy-brown to sepia). The spots invade the chin, 
but are sparse upon chin, lower throat, and abdomen. Measurements: wing 83.6 
(3.29); tail 76.2 (3.00); culmen 12 (.47); depth 10 (.39); width 8.7 (.34); tarsus 25.2 

Range of P. i. unalaschcensis. — Breeding in the Alaska peninsula, Unalaska, 
and the Shumagin Islands; south in winter through western California to San Diego 

Distribution in California. — Imperfectly determined, but occurs in winter 
in widely scattered localities west of the Sierras, chiefly southerly. 

Authorities. — Osgood, N. Am. Fauna, no. 24, 1904, p. 76 (crit.; unalaschcensis 
and iliaca regarded as specifically distinct); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 
1920, p. 127, figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65c Kadiak Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585f, part. Passerella iliaca insularis Ridgway. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. unalaschcensis, but slightly darker and more 
rufescent throughout, and with heavier spotting below. Size scarcely different. 

Range of P. i. insularis. — Breeding range central upon Kadiak Islands (line of 
demarcation from sinuosa upon the north undefined); wintering south to southern 


The Fox Sparrows 

Occurrence in California. — "Fairly common winter visitant south through 
the interior west of the Sierras, and chiefly east and south of the humid coast belt, 
to the San Diegan district and the Santa Barbara Islands." — (Grinnell). 

Authorities. — Oberholser, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. xxii., 1900, p. 232 
(Santa Catalina Id.); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 132, figs, 
(occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65d Valdez Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585!, part. Passerella iliaca sinuosa Grinnell. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. insularis, but still darker (as compared with 
unalaschcensis) and less rufescent. 

Range of P. i. sinuosa. — Breeding range central upon the islands and shores 
of Prince William Sound, Alaska; wintering south to southern California. 

Occurrence in California. — Winter resident, apparently well distributed, but 
no records from southeastern portion of State. 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1910, p. 405 (orig. 
desc, type locality Knight Id., Prince Win. Sd., Alaska; habits, nest and eggs, crit.; 
Calif, in winter) ; Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 135, figs, (occurrence 
in Calif., distr., desc, crit.); Mailliard, Condor, vol. xxiii., 1921, p. 180 (migr. in Calif.). 

No. 65e Yakutat Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585^ part. Passerella iliaca annectens Ridgway. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. sinuosa, but still darker, although more rufescent; 
increase of spotting on underparts tends to coalescence on sides and flanks and across 
chest. Also similar to P. i. townsendi, but less rufescent; a little smaller every way. 

Range of P. i. annectens. — Coast of Alaska, breeding centrally about Yakutat 
Bay, but also south to Cross Sound; winters south to California. 

Occurrence in California. — Common winter resident, chiefly confined to the 
humid coast belt, but also east to Placer County (Adams) and San Diego County 

Authorities. — Vigors, Ornithology, in the Zoology of Captain Beechey's 
Voyage, 1839, p. 19 (desc. of a fox sparrow [Fringilla meruloides] from Monterey that 
has been argued to be the same as the bird now called Passerella iliaca annectens) ; 
Grinnell, Condor, vol. iv., 1902, p. 44 (crit.); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 
1920, p. 140, figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.); Allen, Condor, vol. xxii., 
1920, p. 16 (return of a bird to the same winter home). 

No. 65f Townsend's Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585g. Passerella iliaca townsendi (Audubon). 

Description. — Similar to P. i. annectens, but more rufescent. Also similar 
to P. i. fuliginosa, but lighter and redder. In particular: Above and on sides reddish 
brown, bister, brightening (Prout's brown) on upper tail-coverts and exposed surfaces 
of wings and tail; underparts white but heavily and broadly streaked with bister, 
the streaking often involving the entire throat and abdomen. Smaller: wing 78.6 
(3.09); tail 71.4 (2.81); culmen 11.6 (.456); depth at base 9.1 (.358); width 7.6 (.30); 
tarsus 25 (.98). 


The Fox Sparrows 

Range of P. i. townsendi. — Southeastern Alaska; breeds on the coasts and islands 
from Cross Sound south to Dixon entrance; winters south to Monterey, California. 

Occurrence in California. — Winter resident in the northwestern humid coast 
strip, south to Pacific Grove. 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1909, p. 232 (Alaska; 
habits, nest and eggs, etc.); Willett, Auk, vol. xxxii., 1915, p. 305 (Alaska; desc. nests, 
dates of nesting) ; Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 144, figs, (occurrence 
in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65g Sooty Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585c Passerella iliaca fuliginosa Ridgway. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. townsendi, but plumage much darker and less 
rufescent; also averaging larger. In this form nearly all semblance of distinction in 
the streaking of the underparts has been lost. The bird is scarcely "sooty," but it is 
of a very dark and nearly uniform brown. Larger: wing 82 (3.23); tail 76.1 (2.99); 
culmen 11.9 (.47); depth of bill at base 10.6 (.417), width 8 (.315); tarsus 26 (1.02). 

Range of P. i. fuliginosa. — "Northwest coast strip. Breeds on the coast of 
British Columbia, Vancouver Island, and northwestern Washington; winters south 
along the coast to San Francisco, California" (A. 0. U.). 

Occurrence in California. — Sparingly resident through the humid coast belt 
south to San Francisco. 

Authority. — Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 149, figs, 
(occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

THE 'LIBERTY of difference' is the most fascinating aspect of 
bird-life, as it is one of the most engaging qualities in our fellow-men. 
How beings of like origin may become different under the altered circum- 
stances of life, and the certainty that they will change under the varying 
impact of experience, this it is which gives zest to research and which 
makes bird study a reflex of life itself. The tendency to vary is one 
of the fundamental and familiar qualities of life. Species, genera, 
families, orders, — all are the result of progressively divergent movements 
of variation. But if the outcome in the manifold diversity of the living 
is agreeable to us, the beginnings of difference must exert a tenfold 
fascination. The detection of these beginnings is, indeed, the flattering 
evidence of our own progress. Just as Millet could recognize twenty- 
two shades of green where a layman saw only two, so the specialist in 
animal variation sees a world of related beauty, a realm of historical 
order, where the layman sees only vague confusion, or a dull array of 
uncomprehended names. 

For practical purposes there is only one Fox Sparrow. Pages might 
be written about the Fox Sparrow, pages alike true of birds from Anti- 
costi or the Yukon or Kadiak or the San Jacinto Mountains, — pages in 
which no sense of difference should be allowed to intrude itself upon the 


The Fox Sparrows 

lay mind. Yet to the student the outstanding joy of acquaintance with 
the Fox Sparrow is the recognition of differences. Fox Sparrows from 
Kadiak Island are different from Fox Sparrows in the Warner Mountains. 
How? and why? Well, that would take a volume to tell; and the best 
half of the facts would still have to be guessed at. All we can do is 
to outline or summarize. 

The extremes of difference manifested within the ranks of the 
"species" Passerella iliaca would undoubtedly be sufficient to justify 
separation into distinct species, provided no intermediate specimens, 
no "missing links," or intergrades, existed. But these do exist in un- 
broken perfection, and we have, instead of, say, three separable species of 
Fox Sparrows, a group of ten or a dozen (sixteen according to Mr. Swarth) 
incipient species, each exhibiting certain tendencies or directions of 
growth, and each entitled to some sort of distinctive recognition, yet 
each surrounded by an aura of intergrades, an assemblage of "transitional 
forms," every individual of which is just as well entitled to consideration, 
to recognition, to description, as are those arbitrarily chosen by us for 
distinctive attention. Hence, again, the species Passerella iliaca is one, 

Taken in Berkeley Photo by Amelia S. Allen 



and will continue to be such unless and until the Fox Sparrow population 
of some intervening area drops out and so isolates a remoter group. 

The exceeding complexity of the problem which confronts the student 
in the discussion of the monotypic genus Passerella may be summarized 


The Fox Sparrows 

in the statement that all 
known geographical races 
of this highly plastic 
species winter, at least cas- 
ually, in California. This 
includes (by seven ex- 
amples and many 
intermediates) the 
most highly differenti- 
ated type, iliaca iliaca, 
normally restricted in 
winter to the eastern 
United States east of 
the Rocky Mountains. 
The problem is also of 
peculiar interest to the 
Calif ornian, not alone 
because of the present 
hospitality enjoyed by 
this widely distributed 
species, but because of 
ancient tenure. The 

Fox Sparrow not improbably originated here; or if not, it is at least 
certain that the species found in California its chief asylum before the 
oncoming of the great Ice Age. When the crisis was past, the birds 
pressed close upon the ice monster's retreating heels. But they did 
not forget California. Every winter they steal back like jolly gray 
ghosts, and occupy the fastnesses of riverside thickets, of young ever- 
greens, and of hillside chaparral, in such numbers that the mind is stag- 
gered with the realization. 

Let us pause a moment upon the last thought. Of the total area 
of California let us say that one-tenth is exactly suited to the require- 
ments of the Fox Sparrows in winter. Upon any acre of this area one 
may call up, by "screeping" diligently, from one to ten birds which 
may be counted. Fully half the birds fail to answer, or, responding, 
are yet too shy to enroll themselves, their presence being indicated 
by distant tsooks, or movement of bushes. Very vague, of course, 
this method; but from it I gather that there are present on a winter's 
day in California anywhere from twenty million to two hundred million 
Fox Sparrows. We are each of us, man, woman and child, entitled 
to the exclusive care of, or reciprocal interest in, from five to fifty Fox 
Sparrows ! 

Taken in Washington Photo by the Author 



The Fox Sparrows 

It is one thing, however, to discover our ownership and quite another 
to collect our dues of opportunity for inspection, or exhibition of dis- 
tinctive traits. The Fox Sparrows in winter are bafflingly modest. 


: Carroll Islet 


Photo by the Author 

Their colors blend so perfectly with the leaf-strewn ground and the 
dingy stems of the under chaparral, or else with the leaf-mold and rotting 
logs of the northern under forest, that search with the eyes alone is 
useless. Except for the circumstance of screeping (which is the bird- 
man's trick, and "no fair" in a discussion of averages), meetings with 
Fox Sparrows are rare or casual. But if you are much out-of-doors the 
time will come, while you are footing it softly along some woodland 
path, that a demure brown bird will hop out in front of you and look 
unconcernedly for tid-bits before your very eyes. The bird is a little 
larger than a Song Sparrow, but you will require a second glance to note 
that the colors of the upperparts are smoothly blended, that the head 
lacks the vague stripiness of Melospiza, and that the underparts are 
spotted instead of streaked. Or, it may be, that you chance upon 


The Fox Sparrows 

him as he is busily scratching among the fallen alder leaves. Scratching 
is hardly the word, though, for the bird leaps forward and executes an 
extravagant double kick backward, landing invariably at the edge of 
the cleared space. Here, without a moment's delay, he proceeds to 
glean busily, whereas you rather expected him to pause at the end of 
his stunt, like the acrobat, awaiting the conventional burst of applause. 
If you must needs pursue the path, he hops back into the thicket and 
the show is over for that day, or, perchance, for the novice, for that 

It is by diligent screeping, however, that one may summon the 
Fox Sparrow population for registration and review. One chooses a 
humble station, partly screened, and kisses the back of the hand, in 
simulation of a young bird's distress cry. There is a rustle in the thicket, 

Taken on Carroll Islet 

Photo by the Author 


the sound of bird-feet on branches faintly creaking, and of impinging 
twigs. Presently there is a faint tsook of inquiry, and a form emerges 
ten feet away, quiet, demure, attentive. Another and another appears 


The Fox Sparrows 

at different levels and looks mild inquiry. You are inspected critically 
from all sides, but interest soon gives way to boredom. Napoo, says 
one bird with a chuckle, and prepares to move away. Frantically 
the bird-man renews his screeping. The birds are a trifle puzzled, 
but this is not the first of nature's mysteries which they have had to 
pass up, and almost before one knows it the curious crowd has melted 
away, and silence reigns again in the chaparral. It is rather humorous 
and rather pitiful, for, honestly, this is about all there is to it — our 
entertainment of a hundred million guests! 

When it is remembered that our own Fox Sparrows nest only at 
the higher levels, 6000, 8000, 10,000 feet, we may be pardoned for following 
these retreating hosts northward on some vacation trip, to British Co- 
lumbia or Alaska. We shall begin to overtake them first at sea-level, 
on the islands of Puget Sound or along the Olympic Coast of Washington. 
We are tantalized, as the tent pegs are being driven on a mossy level 
just above the beach line, by certain sprightly songs bursting out now 
here and now there from the copse. 

We labor under a sense of avian surveillance as we gather fuel 
from the beach, but the songs are too joyous and limpid to make precise 
connections with anything in previous experience. It is not till the 
cool of the evening, when we seek the spring, back in the depths of the 
thicket, that we come upon a fair bird-maiden slyly regaling herself 
upon a luscious salmon-berry, flushed to the wine-red of perfection, 
while three of her suitors peal invitations to separate bowers in the 
neighboring tangles. She flees guiltily on detection, but the secret is 
out; we know now where these shy wood nymphs keep themselves in 

The male bird is sometimes emboldened by the moment of song to 
venture into the tops of willows or alders, but even here he hugs the screen 
of leaves and is ready in a trice to dive into the more familiar element 
of bushes. Once under cover of the protecting salal, or among the 
crowding ferns, the Fox Sparrows are excelled by none in their ability 
to get about with a minimum of disturbance; and the longest journeys, 
such as are made necessary in the time of clamoring young, appear to 
be made by slipping and sliding through the maze of intersecting stems. 
The song is varied and vivacious; but, save for the opening notes, is 
neither very strong nor very brilliant. The opening phrase, however, 
Pewit, hen, comes as a tiny bugle call into which is distilled the essence 
of all dank hollows, of all rustling leaves, of all murmuring tides, and 
of all free-blowing breezes. It is the authentic voice of the little 


The Fox Sparrozos 

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not till 

Slate-colored Sparrow at Nest 

From a photograph, copyright 1909. by W . L. Davison 

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l aken near bpohane, fraihington 

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The Fox Sparrows 

No. 65h Slate-colored Fox Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 585c, part. Passerella iliaca schistacea Baird. 

Description. — Somewhat similar to P. i. iliaca, but rufous spots somewhat smaller, 
with tail both proportionately and absolutely longer — nearly equal to wing; rufous 
element in plumage greatly reduced, persistent only on upper tail-coverts, wings, 
and tail; pattern of upper plumage entirely blended; streaking of underparts about 
equal in quantity, but dusky or slightly brownish instead of red. In particular: 
Color of upperparts brownish gray, clearest, nearly mouse-gray on crown and sides 
of neck, of specimens in worn (breeding) plumage; more rufescent, dull cinnamon- 
brown, on upper tail-coverts and exposed surfaces of wings and tail; below white, 
sharply streaked, especially on chest and sides, with sagittate spots of dark brown 
or dusky; streaks tend to confluence on sides of throat; those of the sides are pro- 
longed and enlarged posteriorly. Bill slightly smaller and darker and feet darker 
than in iliaca. Measures: wing 80 (3.15); tail 77.6 (3.05); culmen 10. 9 (.43); depth 
of bill at base 9.5 (.37), width 8.1 (.32); tarsus 22.7 (.89). 

Range of P. i. schistacea. — As now defined, breeds in the Rocky Mountain dis- 
trict from central Colorado north into the interior of British Columbia, and west 
over the high Columbian plateau into Oregon and Washington; "winters south to 
southwestern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and east to Kansas" (A. O. U.). 

Occurrence in California. — Scattered records of occurrence in fall and winter 
in interior and. southern California await differentiation from those attributable to 
P. i. fulva. 

Authorities. — Belding, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. i., 1879, p. 418 (Murphys, 
Calaveras Co.); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, p. 85 (Fresno; occurrence, 
habits); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 152, figs, (occurrence in 
Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

IT IS an awkward expedient introducing for separate treatment 
a Fox Sparrow race whose physical distinctions do not entitle it to any 
such prominence; but the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow not only enjoys a 
more extended breeding range than any other form (save iliaca proper) 
but it establishes the perfect bridge of connection between our specialized 
thick-billed types, which are strictly resident in California, and the 
remoter coastal and interior forms. It is, therefore, an extensive neighbor 
of ours, though not a resident bird. The precise area of its intergra- 
dation with megarhyncha is still undetermined, but theoretically it 
lies along the eastern slopes of the Cascades. Like the megarhyncha 
type, again, schistacea is confined to high Transition, but the altitude 
of this zone rapidly decreases as we go northward beyond the limits 
of the State; so that the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow comes into contact 
with civilization to a degree unrealized by any other member of this 

And a very civil bird he is, too. Seen in the half light of early 
morning, nothing in its pose or appearance would ever induce the student 
to bestow a second glance upon the evident Song Sparrow, were it not 
for the sweet and powerful challenge which pours from his earnest beak. 


The Fox Sparrows 

Oree, rickit, loopiteer, it says, with varied cadence and minor change 
which give evidence of no mean ability. There is something so forth- 
right and winsome about this modest bird that the listener promptly 

Taken in Washington 



Photo by the Author 


The Fox Sparrows 

surrenders "at discretion," and begins to ask eager questions of his 
dainty captor. 

As might be expected, the home life of this Quaker poet is idyllic. 
In a certain aspen grove of the North a nest was located early in June; 
and this, rather unusually, had been placed upon the ground instead of 
being concealed in a bush. The nest was marked by its proximity to the 
base of a small tree, but it stood so high, with overflowing skirts, and 
without pretense of concealment, that it was plainly visible, with all 
its contents, two rods away. 

The female was brooding, but upon our approach she slipped quietly 
off and left her three callow young to the tender mercies of the bird-man 
and his big glass eye, set at four feet, while she began searching for food 
upon the ground a yard or two away. 

The male bird appeared once upon a bush some twenty feet away, 
making no hostile demonstration but beaming, rather, a hearty con- 
fidence, as who should say, "Well, I see you are getting along nicely at 
home; that's right, enjoy yourselves, and I'll finish up this bit of hoeing 
before supper." 

The mother bird, meanwhile, was uttering no complaint of the 
strange presence, preferring instead to glean food industriously from 
under the carpet of green leaves. Soon she returned, hopping up daintily. 
Standing upon the elevated brim of her nest she carefully surveyed her 
brood without proffer of food, as though merely to assure herself of 
their welfare. I "snapped" and she retreated, not hastily, as though 
frightened, but quietly as matter of reasonable prudence. Again and 
again, during the hour I had her under fire, she returned to her brood. 
Each time she retired before the mild roar of the curtain shutter, never 
hastily or nervously, but deliberately and demurely. Thrice she fed her 
brood, thrusting her beak, which bore no external signs of food, deep 
down into the upturned gullets of the three children. Thrice she at- 
tempted to brood her babes, and very handsome and very motherly she 
looked, with fluffed feathers and mildly inquisitive eye; but the necessary 
movement following an exposure sent her away for a season. 

When absent, she neither moped nor scolded, but discreetly set 
about scratching for food, always within a range of ten or fifteen feet of 
the nest. At such times she would look up trustfully and unabashed. 
Upon the return she never flew, and there was nothing to advise the 
waiting camerist of her approach, save the rustle of leaves as she came 
hop, hopping, until she stood upon the familiar brim. 

The opportunities for picture-making were simply unlimited, save 
for the weakness of the leaf-diluted light. Seldom have I been stirred 
to such admiration as in the case of this gentle mother schistacea. So 


The Fox Sparrows 

demure, so even-tempered, and so kindly a bird-person, with such a 
preserving air of gentle breeding, I have not often seen. It was an hour 
to be long remembered. 

No. 65i Warner Mountains Fox Sparrow 

A. 0. U. No. 585c, part. Passerella iliaca fulva Swarth. 

Description. — Very similar to P. i. schistacea, but bill larger and differently 
shaped, with notable increase of basal dimensions: culmen 12. 1 (.476); depth of bill 
at base 1 1. 1 (.437), width at base 9.5 (.374); tail longer than wing, 82.2 (3.236), as 
against 80 (3. 15); other dimensions about as in schistacea. 

Range of P. i. fulva. — As at present defined is wholly included within the limits 
of California. Breeds in the Warner Mountains, Modoc County. Winter range 
not yet defined, but a specimen (M. C. O. coll.) taken at Santa Barbara, Jan. 11, 
1913, is referred by Swarth to this form. 

Authorities. — Swarth, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxxi., 1918, p. 162 (Sugar 
Hill, Modoc Co.; orig. desc); Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 158, figs, 
(occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.); Bendire {Passerella iliaca schistacea, part), 
Auk, vol. vi., 1889, p. 113 (eastern Oregon; nest and eggs, habits, etc.). 

No. 65j Thick-billed Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585c, part. Passerella iliaca megarhyncha Baird. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. fulva, but browner, amounting to an olivaceous 
cast over upper plumage; bill much stouter, intermediate in this regard, as in brownness 
of plumage, between fulva and brevicanda. 

Range of P. i. megarhyncha. — Breeding range undefined; may prove to be the 
breeding bird of the Cascade system in Oregon and Washington, or at least of the south- 
ern portion of that system. Winters commonly in the San Diegan district north at 
least to Fort Tejon, Kern County, and west to Santa Barbara (M. C. O. coll.). 

Authorities. — Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 490 (Passerella 
schistacea, part); idem, p. 925 (Passerella megarhynchus, Ft. Tejon, orig. desc.) ; Swarth, 
Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 161, figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, 

No. 65k Yolla Bolly Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585c, part. Passerella iliaca brevicauda Mailliard. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. megarhyncha, but darker and browner with fur- 
ther increase of bill dimensions, comparable in this regard to P. i. stephensi, from which, 
however, it differs markedly in color-pattern and in shape of bill, which is constricted 
distally. Measurements: wing 83 (3.27); tail 84 (3.31); culmen 13.3 (.52), depth 
14. 1 (.55), width at base 11. 8 (.465); tarsus 23.8 (.937). 

Range (Possibly wholly included within California). — Breeds in the northern 
interior and coastal ranges (the Trinities, Yolla Bollies, etc.) of California; winters 
from Marin County south (at least) to Santa Barbara. 

Authorities. — Oberholser (Passerella iliaca stephensi), Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., 
vol. xxii., 1900, p. 233; /. Mailliard, Condor, vol. iv., 1912, p. 63; ibid., vol. xx., 1918, 
p. 138 (South Yolla Bolly Mt.; orig. desc); ibid., vol. xxiii., 1921, p. 178 (migr.); 
Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 165, figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., 
desc, crit.). 


The Fox Sparrows 

No. 651 White Mountains Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585c, part. Passerella iliaca canescens Swarth. 

Description. — "From schistacea, canescens may be differentiated by its de- 
cidedly more grayish coloration. This is strikingly apparent when freshly molted 
birds of the two subspecies are compared, and it is also evident in the juvenal plumage. 
In worn midsummer birds these color differences naturally are obscured" (Swarth). 
A dubious candidate for nomenclatural recognition, albeit the tendency toward gray- 
ness does undoubtedly exist. 

Range of P. i. canescens. — Breeds in the White Mountains of California (and 
presumably in Nevada). Winter range undefined, but specimens taken at Blythe 
on the Colorado River, and at Mt. Wilson, Los Angeles County, referred to this form 
by Swarth, the original describer. 

Authorities. — Fisher {Passerella iliaca schistacea), N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 
1893, p. 102 (White Mts.); Swarth, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxxi., 1918, p. 163 
(White Mts.; orig. desc); Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 169, figs, (occurrence 
in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65m Mono Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585b, part. Passerella iliaca monoensis Grinnell & Storer. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. schistacea, but slightly grayer and with much 
stouter bill — comparable in this regard to P. i. fulva, which is a much browner bird. 

Remarks. — Monoensis is possibly the "lightest" of the recognizable forms of 
P. iliaca. Bearing in mind that a name is a mere tag, a bit of intellectual furniture 
attached to, or "wished on" a group of natural objects, we must constantly strive to 
free ourselves from the groundless notion that neighboring groups so tagged are of 
equal value. The Fox Sparrows found along the eastern flanks of the Sierras have 
somewhat smaller bills than those found further west. This tendency has been traced 
as far south as Kearsarge Pass, but it appears to find its strongest expression about 
Mono Lake. The affinities of monoensis are with mariposce, and it probably does not 
deserve nomenclatural distinction from it. 

Range of P. i. monoensis (Wholly included within the State). — Breeds in 
high Transition in the Mono Lake region. Winter range unknown. 

Authorities. — Grinnell and Storer, Condor, vol. xix., 1917, p. 165 (Mono 
Lake P. O. ; orig. desc); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 170, figs, 
(occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.). 

No. 65n Yosemite Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585b, part. Passerella iliaca mariposae Swarth. 

Description. — Similar to P. i. monoensis, but bill slightly larger: length of bill 
12.7 (.50); depth at base 12.4 (.488); width 10.6 (.417). General tone of upperparts 
in worn (breeding) plumage brownish gray (nearest chaetura drab, Ridgway) ; spotting 
of underparts dusky, not rufescent. 

Range of P. i. mariposce (Wholly included within California). — "As shown 
by specimens at hand, occurs in summer from the vicinity of Mount Shasta south 
along the Sierra Nevada, on the west slope at least as far as the Yosemite region, 
on the east slope to Kearsarge Pass" (Swarth). Winter range undefined, although 


The Fox Sparrows 

there are examples from the San Diego district (e. g., Santa Barbara, Oct. 31, 1913 
— M. C. 0. coll.). 

Authorities. — Cooper (Passerella megarhynchus, part?), Orn. Calif., 1870, 
p. 222 (Sierra Nevada); Ingersoll, Condor, vol. xv., 1913, p. 84 (destruction of nests 
and eggs) \Swarth, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash., vol. xxxi., 1918, p. 161 (Chinquapin, Yosemite 
Park; orig. desc); Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 173, figs, (occurrence in 
Calif. ; distr., desc, crit.) ; /. Mailliard, Condor, vol. xxi., 1919, p. 76 (desc. nests, habits, 
etc.);/. W. Mailliard, Condor, vol. xxiii., 1921, p. 73 (desc. nests, habits, etc.). 

Taken in 
Mono County 
Photo by the 

THE "SPECIATION specialists" are having a gay time just now 
with our Fox Sparrows. The latest authority, H. S. Swarth, of Berkeley, 
triumphantly announces that "the total number of recognizable sub- 
species of Passeretta iliaca is now sixteen; and all of these occur at some 
season within the State." Sacre bleu! how is a plain citizen to make his 
way in such a maze of quiddities! And all of these alleged varieties are 
migratory, so that John Henry on his weekly bird-hike has sixteen guesses 
for every bird he sees. Verily, ornithology has ceased to be an exact 
science. Oh, of course the evidence is indisputable. I do not dispute it. 
But, also, it is quite certain that my left eye differs by definable niceties 
from its mate; and that the distal reticulations on the wings of a colony 
of flies hatched on the north side of the barn are appreciably smaller 
than the corresponding surfaces from a colony reared in the pigpen. 
Very good ! but what of it? The recognition of subspecies has become too 

subtle a game for the 
laity to follow. Let us 
speak of Fox Sparrows; 
and since we may not be 
sure what we have at 
any other season, let us 
speak of them in nesting 

"Gentle, urbane, and 
ubiquitous" were three 
adjectives applied by the 
author's note-book to the 
Fox Sparrows studied near 
Mammoth Camp, June 7th 
to July 7th, 1919. But 
though these birds were dom- 
inant in mixed pine and fir 
forests lying between the 
8000 and 9000 foot level, they 
were not to be won by 



The Fox Sparrows 


pleasant words into any betrayal of nesting secrets. Our camp was 
pitched in a little grove of pines surrounded by abundant buck brush 
(Ceanothus cordatus) mingled with a hardy species of wild currant and 
overlooked, in turn, by scattering firs. Every morning we heard the 
cheery peewit wheeo and the jumble of syllables with which the male 
quickly checks his emotions. There were three or four pairs about. 
They visited our camp daily for crumbs, and we saw them gather nesting 
material, sometimes at our very feet. But though we searched every 
sapling and thrashed about in the brush for hours, we saw never a trace 
of a nest in that vicinity. The birds were baffling, maddening, spookish 
— and urbane always. 

At a lower level we had better, or at least different, luck. Over 
a stretch which parallel creeks had rendered liable to flood, we found a 
virtual colony of these crafty innocents. The bottom here was over- 
shadowed by towering firs, but also half covered by quaking asp saplings, 
each broken-backed from the insufferable weight of winter snows. In 
these twisted knots of vegetable agony, or else upon prostrate or half 
recumbent masses of willow stems, the "Thick-bills" (megarhyncha or 


The Fox Sparrows 

monoensis or mammoihensis, ad gust.) had built laborious nests. On 
June nth we found ourselves between seasons, with much evidence of 
care for first broods and some symptoms of renewed interest in courtship 
and nest-building. Of two nests we did find containing young, one 
was placed six feet high in a dead fir sapling set in deep shadow. The 
owner, a confiding lady clad in deepest earth-brown raiment, came and 
went without the slightest regard for our presence. The other nest 
was lodged on a bunch of recumbent stems a foot or more above the 
ground. This spot was exposed to the full rays of the sun at midday, 
and the female divided her time between efforts to decoy the stranger 
with the great glass eye, and determined broodings, or shadings, of the 
panting young. The male, meanwhile, hopped about me with friendly 
curiosity, or else tried the air with song. As to any misfortune befalling 
the children, why that was plainly impossible — between gentlemen. 
At a later time in the same season we found nine nests, building or 
ready for eggs — the second brood. But on the 5th of July every nest 

Taken in Mono County Photo by the Author 



The Fox Sparrows 

stood empty, save one which had a punctured egg. Nucifraga Colum- 
biana, he of the black heart and the raucous voice, had passed that way. 
In Nutcracker parlance, these trustful sparrows were no doubt rated 
"easy guys," but I wonder! Oh, if there be a Paradise for the lesser live 
things, I am sure that Clark's Crow will be cast into outer darkness. 

Later experiences in the Mammoth section showed Yosemite for 
Mono, or Mammotho, or whichever one of the sweet sixteen o' Fox 
Sparrows Mr. Swarth allows us here) Fox Sparrows nesting commonly 
in every sort of cover at the lower forest levels, — buck brush, manzanita, 
pine or fir saplings, half-dead willow clumps, and especially on the knees 
of broken-down aspens. Threes are the usual complement of eggs, but 
fours mark a favorable season; and one has to be on the lookout that the 
set is not adulterated by the presence of an egg of the Nevada Cowbird. 

The breeding ranges of the White-crowned Sparrow {Zonotrichia 
leucophrys) and the local Passerella overlap considerably, and at certain 
sections of contact between these two species, similarity of setting has 
wrought for uniformity of product. This has been carried so far in a cer- 
tain swamp at the 8000-foot level near Mammoth, that the nests of the two 
species are indistinguishable either in material, workmanship, or placing, 
save as identified by the proprietary actions of the birds themselves. 
I know of no other such instance in nature. 

Taken in the San Bernardino Mountains Photo by Wright M. Pierce 



The Fox Sparrows 





No. 65o Stephens's Fox Sparrow 

A. O. U. No. 585c!. Passerella iliaca stephensi Anthony. 
^f Description. — Similar to P. i. mariposee in coloration, but size averaging 
slightly larger and bill at maximum of development, relatively enormous. Measures: 
wing 83.4 (3.28); tail 86 (3.386); culmen 14.8 (.58); depth at base 14.3 (.56); width 
12.2 (.48). 

Range of P. i. stephensi. — Breeds in the higher mountains of southern Cali- 
fornia from about Latitude 36 in the Sierras. Winter range unknown, presumably 
the mountains of Lower California. 

Authorities. — Morcom {Passerella iliaca megarhyncha), Bull. Ridgway Orn. 
Club, no. 2, 1887, p. 50 (San Bernardino Mts., breeding); Anthony, Auk, vol. xii., 
!895, p. 348 (San Jacinto Mts.; orig. desc); Grinnell, Auk, vol. xxii., 1905, p. 388 
(Mt. Pinos; habits, meas., crit. ); Swarth, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xxi., 1920, p. 176, 
figs, (occurrence in Calif., distr., desc, crit.); Pierce, Condor, vol. xxiii., 1921, p. 80, 
figs. (desc. and photos of nests and eggs). 


The Fox Sparrows 


of the mandibles is one 
of the most familiar lines 
of development in spar- 
rows, the world over. 
Just why it should so 
conspicuously affect the 
Californian races of the 
wide-spread Fox Spar- 
row group, we are not 
quite prepared to say; 
but it is probably be- 
cause of the larger pro- 
portion which nuts and 
the sturdier seeds bear 
in their bill of fare. De- 
velopment in this regard 
is fairly rapid, too, so 
that we may not learn 
from this character alone 
whether the megarhyn- 
cha and stephensi types 
are derived from a 
northern stock, or 
whether they simply 
went on growing after 
their fellows emigrated 
to cooler northern 
climes. Be that as it 
may, it is certain that 
southern California has 
given its sparrow children 
harder nuts to crack and 
tougher twigs to weave 

into nests — and has presented them, as a consequence, with bigger bills. 
For P. i. stephensi, of the southern mountains, is preeminent in this regard, 
having a bill fifty per cent thicker than that of P. i. fulva, upon our north- 
ern border. There are those who are inconsiderate enough to hint that 
certain other institutions in southern California are characterized by big 
bills. Perhaps the proprietors of these establishments would do well to 
place caged examples of Stephens's Fox Sparrow in their lobbies by way of 
justification, and answer to grumbling guests, "Que voulez vous? C'est 
le climat. Voila tout." <-, 

Taken in San Bernardino Mountain 

Photo by Wright M. 


The Green-tailed Towhee 

No. 66 

Green-tailed Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 592.1. Oberholseria chlorura (Audubon). 
Synonyms. — Green-tailed Finch. Blanding's Finch. 

Description. — Adults (sexes alike): Crown and occiput rich chestnut; fore- 
head blackish gray, with whitish loral spot on each side; cheeks mingled gray and 
white; a short malar streak white, and a narrow, sharply defined sub-malar streak 
dark gray; remaining upperparts olive-gray, tinged more or less with bright olive- 
green. Wings and tail with brighter greenish edgings (pyrite yellow to warbler green) ; 
bend of wing, axillars, and under coverts yellow; chin and throat white, sharply de- 
fined and with convex posterior outline; sides of head and neck and remaining under- 
pays neutral gray, clearing to white on abdomen, tinged with buffy or brownish on 
sides, flanks, and crissum; under tail-coverts clear cream-buff. Bill blackish above, 
paler below; legs brown, toes darker; irides cinnamon. Immature birds are brown 
above, tinged with greenish and streaked with dusky, but with wings and tail much 
as in adult. Nestlings show greenish on wings alone, and are otherwise finely streaked 
above and below. Length of adult about 190.5-203 (7.50-8.00); wing 80 (3.15); 
tail 84 (3-30); bill 12.7 (.50); tarsus 24 (.94). 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; chestnut crown, white throat; greenish 
coloration of upperparts, especially tail and wings. 

Nesting. — Nest: Low in bushes, especially sage (Artemisia tridentata), often 
well concealed; a bulky affair of twigs, weed-stems, pine-needles, etc.; lined with root- 
lets, grasses, or, rarely, horsehair. Eggs: 3 or 4; palest bluish or grayish white, 
finely and almost uniformly sprinkled or spotted with light reddish brown (terra cotta 
and testaceous to walnut-brown) and (concealed) purplish gray. Av. size 20.8 x 15.5 
(.82 x .61). Season: May-July; two broods. 

General Range. — Western United States and northern Mexico; breeding from 
central Oregon and south central Montana to western Texas and southern California; 
wintering from southern portion of its breeding range south to Cape San Lucas and 

Distribution in California. — Summer resident in high Transition, chiefly 
east of the Sierran divide, from the Warner Mountains south to the desert ranges 
and the San Jacinto Mountains. Also breeds, northwesterly, at least to Sissons 
(July 16, 1916), and southwesterly to Mt. Pinos (Grinnell), and south centrally along 
the western slopes of the Sierras. Abundant during migrations easterly; and recorded 
variously in the northern coastal ranges. Has occurred in winter in the San Diegan 

Authorities. — Heermann (Embernagra Blandingiana) , Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. 
Phila., ser. 2, ii., 1853, p. 265) ; Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. v., 1908, p. 103 
(San Bernardino Mts. ; nesting habits, etc.); H. C. Bryant, Condor, vol. xiii., 191 1, pp. 
203, 204 (food); Willelt, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 7, 1912, p. 87 (s. Calif.; occurrence, 
nesting dates, etc.); Ingersoll, Condor, vol. x\\, 1913, p. 84 (destruction of nests). 

IT SEEMS absurd to call this bird a Towhee at all. To appearance 
it is, rather, an overgrown Warbler, or a cross, say, between a Yellow- 


[woT belie' 

The Green-tailed T 


i . 

Green-tailed Towhee 

i - 

About Y 2 life size 
From u-tiler-cuUr painting by Mtijor Hi nuks 

oncealed ■ . 2 


o Cape Sa 3 and 


Lh ci 

K irance 


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The Green-tailed Towhee 


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.*, *:'.-:^ 

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Taken in the Warner Mountains 


Photo by the A uthor 

breasted Chat and a Chipping Sparrow. Its crown is sparrow-red ; 
the white throat, sharply outlined against a background of gray, is 
typically sparrow-like; but the wings and tail, of authentic "warbler 
green," lead us to expect at least an Icterian vivacity, and in this, for- 
tunately, we shall not be disappointed. Oberholseria is the familiar spirit 
of the high-lying sage. Active, persuasive, incessant, yet discreet withal, 
the presence of the Green-tailed Towhee imparts to the visitor of the 
Sierran slopes the same sense of mystery, of evasiveness, and of com- 
petent surveillance with which the Western Chat holds his willow bottoms 
or his mesquite thickets in vassal expectancy. In several trips to the 
Sierra Nevadas and the Warners, I have learned to recognize this bird in 
many roles and disguises, but it was ten years before I had penetrated 
the secret of his domestic economies, or had succeeded in reducing his 
wayward irruption to any prosaic order. 

The key to Oberholseria 's presence, as well as Towheeness, is primarily 
vocal. The commonest note heard in the upland sage or lupine associ- 
ation is a dainty mewing. This will be uttered, as likely as not, under 
inspection, mew-mewew-mew-mew whee, — a little plaintive, but friendly 


The Green-tailed Towhee 

and inviting enough. Of song the bird possesses a surprising repertory. 
There is something dashing and wren-like about his more familiar ditties, 
and also something faintly reminiscent of the Vesper Sparrow (Pocecetes 
gramineus). Meay, tsit sit sit sit reminds me of orthodox Pipilo, and 
Ah fewgee weeee pilly willy willy will carry one right back to Pipilo ery- 
throphthalmus — or will, that is, when one gets over the surprise of the 
opening notes, which in the case of two birds heard at Goose Lake were 
strikingly like those of the Eastern Phoebe {Sayornis phoebe) . The Green- 
tailed Towhee, I suspect, 
also, of being a bit of a 
mimic as well as a wag. 
One vivacious outburst 
from the chaparral hard 
by our Goose Lake 
camp sounded at first 
like a White-crowned 
Sparrow at his best ; then 
it shifted to a wild med- 
ley in which I recognized 
not only the call of the 
Red-shafted Flicker, 
but certain phrases of 
the Western Lark Spar- 
row. Mind, I am not 
absolutely sure it was 
the Towhee, but he 
mewed a moment later, 
and he was my only sus- 
pect. In singing, the 
bird takes a very modest 
position on the side of a 
sage bush, and while he 
is not especially wary in 
these circumstances, it 
is hard to get a clear 
view of colors so exqui- 
sitely blended. 

The secrets of this 
bird's nesting lie in the 
fact that it uniformly 
selects dense cover, how- 
ever prosaic, the heart 

Taken in San Bernardino Mountains Photo by Wright M. Pierce 



The Green-tailed Towhee 

of a sage-bush or a greasewood clump, or, it may be, a stand of buck- 
brush, and that the bird almost invariably glides off upon approach, 
in silence and with an evasive rapidity which baffles the eye of all but 
the most expert. Having been shown my bird's nest in the heart of 
a low-lying sage (Artemisia tridentata) I retired for half an hour, then 
returned rapidly with senses on the alert. At six feet a something de- 
tached itself from the marked bush and scuttled away for a distance 
of 30 feet, all in perfectly plain view, but so almost instantaneously as 
to leave only a faint flare of color. After that, silence. Except for 
those telltale eggs I might have been persuaded that only a lizard had 
shot away into the desert's depths. 

The nests themselves are rather insipid affairs, sturdy enough 
as to the bowl proper, but lacking coherence or finish as to wall con- 
struction. The closely crowding twigs of the parent bush are evidently 
expected to do duty for walls. Occasional nests rest upon the ground, 
but most of them are raised a foot or so above it. The eggs, finely 
dotted with prosy brown, are inconspicuous enough at best. Once, 
in the open sage west of Convict Creek, I flushed a Pacific Nighthawk, 
but not being able to find her eggs quickly, I cast about for a suitable 
twig to tag for a return trial. Cotton in hand I bent low and fumbled 
with a denuded flower-spike of a greasewood, saw another a foot away 
which reached a little higher, so turned and tied to it. Returning, an 
hour later, I hunted in vain for the Nighthawk's eggs, and finally stooped 
to retrieve the cotton marker. A rustle and a gleam and the Green-tail 
flushed from under the very twig which I had first handled. I had 
peered down into a nest with four eggs, unseeing, with my hand not over 
ten inches away. 

By the time one has wrestled for six or eight seasons with this same 
combination of impudence, tunefulness, artfulness, and furtiveness, the 
Green-tailed Towhee comes to bulk large in the scheme of things. He 
or she is a most unforgettable bird-person. 

In spite of the striking superficial differences which exist between 
the Green-tailed Towhee and those members of the genus Pipilo with 
which we in the United States happen to be acquainted, it is altogether 
probable that the bird should be restored to a place in a larger group. 
As Ridgway has pointed out, 1 chlorura possesses no color character not 
found in at least one other member of the genus Pipilo; and the very fact 
that this bird has these characters in common with the others would 
seem to designate it as the typical and central member of the genus, 
rather than an aberrant form. The separation, moreover, fails to take 
account of the striking similarity in the birds' songs; and it altogether 

1 Auk, Vol. VII., 1890. pp. 193-194. 


The Spotted Towhees 

overlooks the emphatic testimony of the egg, although the fundamental 
value of such evidence has been repeatedly pointed out in these pages. 
Egg-wise and voice-wise, "Oberholseria" chlorura and Pipilo maculatus are 
much more nearly related than, say, P. maculatus and P. fuscus or cris- 
salis. Shall we call it Pipilo chlorura? 

No. 67 

Spotted Towhee 

No. 67a San Diego Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588d. Pipilo maculatus megalonyx Baird. 

Synonyms. — Spurred Towhee. San Diego Spotted Towhee. 

Description. — Adult male in spring and summer: Head and neck all around 
and breast gloss}' black, the black of remaining upperparts dulling posteriorly, es- 
pecially upon rump and remiges; the scapulars heavily marked with longitudinal spots 
of white, included or else occupying entire outer web of feathers; median and greater 
wing-coverts tipped with white, with touches also on outer web of primaries midway, 
and on tertials near tip. Outer pair of rectrices narrowly margined and broadly tipped 
with white; succeeding pair less broadly tipped; third pair with included sub-apical 
spot; underparts centrally pure white, the sides and flanks tawny, the tips of posterior 
flank-feathers tawny, the anal region and under tail-coverts lighter, ochraceous; the 
line of demarcation from abdomen sometimes touched with black; tibia black, with 
more or less white tips; axillars whitish; wing-linings mingled blackish, white, and 
pale tawny. Irides red; bill black; feet and tarsi dark brown. Fall and winter speci- 
mens have feathers of upperparts slightly washed or tipped with pale tawny, especially 
upon rump. Female in spring: Similar to male, but duller, the black veiled with 
olivaceous gray, the ground-color strongest on throat and chest and persisting centrally 
on pileum and notaeum; the white tips of scapulars, rectrices, etc., more restricted; 
the tibiae dusky. Immature birds present a highly streaked appearance, not un- 
suggestive of a female Redwing (Agelaius phceniceus): Upperparts blackish, mar- 
gined with cinnamon-buff, the ochraceous element becoming almost clear, cinnamon- 
brown, on head and hind-neck; the white spotting of adult much restricted; under- 
parts mingled blackish, whitish, and cinnamon-buff, the white element strengthening 
on abdomen, the ochraceous prevailing on flanks and crissum; the throat, chest, and 
sides of breast finely streaked. The comparison of one of these juvenals with that of 
the Brown Towhee (P. crissalis) is highly instructive, and points clearly to a common 
ancestry. Length of males about 201.6 (8.00); av. of 10 M. V. Z. specimens (after 
Swarth): wing 84.6 (3.33); tail 96.4 (3.795); bill 27.2 (1.07); tarsus 27.2 (1.07); hind 
toe and claw 21.3 (.84). 

Recognition Marks for Pipilo maculatus. — Black, white, and tawny colora- 
tion distinctive. As compared with the easterly races of maculatus, megalonyx shows 
clearer black upon the back and restriction of white spotting. 

Nesting. — Nest: Placed on the ground, or, rarely, very low in bushes, and 

The Spotted Towhees 

usually sunk deeply in loose leaf-waste or trash; composed of grasses, bark-strips, 
dried leaves, lined with fine grasses. Eggs: 3 or 4; white or palest bluish, grayish, 
or pinkish, finely and heavily and oftenest uniformly sprinkled or spotted with reddish 
brown (cameo-brown to liver-brown). In more heavily marked specimens the color 
tends to coalesce in a cloud cap. Av. of 13 specimens in M. C. O. coll.: 23 x 17.3 
(.905 x .68). Season: May, June; one or two broods. 

Range of Pipilo maculatus. — Western North America from British Columbia 
and southern Saskatchewan to Guatemala. 

Range of P. m. megalonyx. — Resident in the Pacific Coast district of southern 
California and northern Lower California, north along coast to San Luis Obispo County, 
east to southern Sierras (northern Kern County). Also Santa Cruz Island and (pre- 
sumably) Santa Rosa. 

Authorities. — Gambel {Pipilo arcticus), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., vol. i.. 
1847, p. 54 (?) (California) ; Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 515 (Ft. 
Tejon; orig. desc); Swarth, Condor, vol. vii., 1905, p. 171, fig., map (distr.; crit.); ibid., 
vol. xv., 1913, p. 167, fig., map (distr.; crit.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, 
p. 85 (Santa Cruz Id.). 

No. 67b San Clemen te Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588c. Pipilo maculatus clementae Grinnell. 

Description. — "General size slightly greater than in megalonyx: bill and feet 
appreciably larger. Coloration grayer than in megalonyx; black areas in the male 
duller and less intense; rump and lower back more or less mixed with grayish" (Swarth). 

Range of P. m. clementae (Wholly within California). — San Clemente and 
Santa Catalina islands; resident. 

Authorities. — Cooper {Pipilo megalonyx), Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 242, part 
(San Clemente and Santa Catalina Ids,.); Grinnell, Auk, vol. xiv., 1897, p. 294 (San 
Clemente Id.; orig. desc); Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., no. 1, 1897, p. 19 (habits, notes, 
etc.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 1917, p. 85 (distr., habits, etc.). 

No. 67c San Francisco Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588b. Pipilo maculatus falcifer McGregor. 

Description. — Similar to P. m. megalonyx, but averaging slightly smaller; 
white spotting more restricted; hind toe and claw weaker. 

Range of P. m. falcifer. — Resident in the humid coast strip from Monterey 
County north to and perhaps beyond the northern boundary of California. 

Authorities. — Townsend {Pipilo maculatus oregonus), Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., 
vol. x., 1887, p. 220 (Humboldt Co.); Cohen, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, 
p. 61 (nesting habits, at Alameda); McGregor, Condor, vol. ii., 1900, p. 43 (Palo Alto; 
orig. desc.) ; .BeaZ, U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 86, part (food in 
Calif.); Swarth, Condor, vol. xv., 1913, p. 175, fig., map (crit., range, etc.). 

No. 67d Oregon Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588b. Pipilo maculatus oregonus Bell. 

Description. — Similar to P. m. megalonyx but darker every way. White 
spotting on scapulars, etc., much rectricted; outermost pair of rectrices not edged 
with white. 


The Spotted Towhees 

Range of P. m. oregonus. — The Northwest Pacific Coast district, broadly, 
from Oregon to British Columbia. 

Occurrence in California. — Accidental; one record: San Clemente Island, 
Dec. 4, 1908, by C. B. Linton. 

Authorities. — Linton, Condor, vol. xi., 1909, p. 194 (San Clemente Id., one spec, 
Dec. 4, 1908); Swarth, Condor, vol. xv., 1913, p. 172 (crit.). 

No. 67e Sacramento Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588b, part. Pipilo maculatus falcinellus Swarth. 

Description. — Similar to P. m. mcgalonyx, but white markings more extended; 
rump more olivaceous or grayer; foot weaker, with smaller hind claw. 

Range of P. m. falcinellus. — Resident in the great interior valley and, broadly, 
throughout the Sierras (south at least to southern Tulare County), eastern slopes of 
northern coast ranges, and thence north indefinitely beyond the northern boundary 
line of California. 

Authorities. — Ridgway (Pipilo erythrophtlialmus oregonus), Bull. Essex Inst., 
vol. vi., 1874, p. 171 (Sacramento); Barlow, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 173 (habits, 
nests and eggs) ; Swarth, Condor, vol. xv., 1913, p. 172, fig., map (orig. desc. ; Marysville 
Buttes, type locality; distr. ; crit.); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, p. 86 
(San Joaquin Valley; habits). 

No. 67f Nevada Spotted Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588a, part. Pipilo maculatus curtatus Grinnell. 

Synonyms. — Spurred Towhee. Mountain Towhee. 

Description. — Similar to P. m. megalonyx, but black of upperparts less pure 
grayer; white markings notably increased and carried clear across the back; tawny 
of sides, etc., paler and more restricted; apical white spots of 3rd pair of rectrices more 
extended; hind claw notably weaker. 

Range of P. m. curtatus. — Summer resident throughout an undefined area of 
the Great Basin region, including at least northern Nevada, northeastern California, 
and eastern Oregon; also (probably) the Upper Sonoran and arid Transition zones of 
eastern Washington and western Idaho north into British Columbia. Winter range 
undefined, but includes at least portions of the lower Colorado Valley. 

Occurrence in California. — Breeds in the Warner Mountains of Modoc 
County; winters at Colorado River points. 

Authorities. — Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. vii., 191 1, p. 310 (Colorado 
R.); ibid., vol. xii., 1914, p. 177 (Colorado R. ; habits; crit.); Swarth, Condor, vol. xv., 
1913, p. 167, fig., map (distr. in Calif.; crit.). 

No. 67g Mountain Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 588a, part. Pipilo maculatus montanus Swarth. 

Synonym. — Arizona Spotted Towhee. 

Description. — Similar to P. in. megalonyx, but paler every way; back and rump 
with admixture of gray; white markings more extended and diffuse; apical spotting 
of tail more extended; hind claw weaker. 


The Spotted Towhees 

Range of P. m. montanus. — The southern Rocky Mountain region from Wyoming 
south to Tamaulipas, Mexico, and west south of the Great Basin to the desert ranges 
of eastern California. 

Distribution in California. — Known only from the Panamint Mountains, 
in Inyo County, where breeding. 

Authorities. — Fisher (Pipilo maculatus megalonyx), N. Am. Fauna, no. 7, 
1893, p. 102, part (Panamint Mts.) ; Grinnell, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 87 (Panamint 
Mts.; crit.). 


THE SPOTTED Towhee bulks large in the economy of the under- 
world. He is, in fact, its acknowledged prince; not, of course, in the 
Mephistophelian sense, but as the undoubted aristocrat among those 
humble folk who skulk under dark ferns, thread marvelous mazes of 
interlacing sticks and stalks, sort over the leafy wastage of the careless 
trees, and understand the foundations of things generally. To really get 
Master Towhee's point of view, one must be willing to creep on hands 
and knees among the bristling stems of mountain lilac and chamise 
of a southern mesa, or else go belly-wise through the rootage and cast- 
off duffle of a northern forest. It is a wonderful world the serpent 
sees (albeit a mussy one), a basic, essential world, where all flesh meets 


The Spotted Towhees 

you on a common level. If dinner be the quest, here is a table always 
spread. Help yourself, for "self-service" is the inflexible rule, and "hors 
d'onvres" the exception. Under a fragment of a tree's cast-off garment 
lies a grub in wriggling invitation ; and here where weeds of two genera- 
tions have cast their bones, a spider, not adroit enough by half, has con- 
cealed a hamper full of toothsome eggs. Dinner is from six to six (and 
again from six to six for the night shift), and the full belly is to the indus- 
trious. Towhee is thoroughly at home here, and scratching for food is his 
job. This he pursues not by the methodical clutch and scrape of the old 
hen, but by a succession of backward kicks, executed with spirit by both 
feet at once, and assisted by a compensatory flash of the wings. By this 
method not only lurking insects but fallen seeds of a hundred sorts are 

brought quickly to light, and these the bird swiftly 


But we started to speak of Towhee's pre- 
eminence, not of his dining. His chieftainship 

1 i 

Taken in Pasadena 


Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


n/4 San Diego Towhee 

From a photograph by Donald R. Dickey 
Taken in the Ojai 

The Spotted Towhees 

is due in part, no doubt, to a certain fatherly alertness manifested on behalf 
of the clan. No sound or movement, whether hostile or friendly, escapes 
his notice. If the birdman's entrance into the local bird setting be accom- 
plished with a becoming modesty, he presently hears a mild, questioning 
voice, me ay? or me ayuh? But if the man is unduly offensive, he hears 
instantly an indignant marie, marie, which sends the clan scattering. But 
when the bird-watcher glimpses the chief's costume, the secret of his 
ascendancy is out. Fine feathers still do make fine birds. Black-and- 
white and earth red, picked out here and there with white spots, "macu- 
lations," make an impressive uniform, and one to which we all yield 
cheerful respect. But the marvel is how anything so spick and span can 
emerge from such a chaos; or how beauty can maintain itself in constant 
association with bugs and slugs and the innumerable horribilia of the 
Kingdom of Underfoot. 

Truth to tell, "Beauty" emerges from concealment as rarely as pos- 
sible. It is modesty again which gives the teasing fillip to our curiosity, 
and the elusiveness which makes itself ipso facto an object of perpetual 
friendly quest. Only at mating time does the Spotted Towhee throw 
caution to the winds. Then he mounts a sapling and drones away by the 
hour. The song is perhaps best described as a musical churr, a thing of 
slight beauty, and of interest merely for its variety and for the sprightly 
animation of the performer. By "variety" one uncovers the most fas- 
cinating problem in connection with the Spotted Towhee, the problem 
of geographical song variation. For the song of the individual Towhee 
is inflexible, always the same, or at least self-consistent. But as one 
travels from place to place in the West, he notes emphatic differences in 
the songs of the Spotted Towhees, and he soon comes to believe that 
these are locally constant, that there is in each locality a definite prevail- 
ing type, or cadence, of song, and that this is significant for geographical 
variation within the species. 

Now the existence of races — that is, of geographical variations, as 
indicated by constant differences in shade of plumage, extent of white 
spotting, size of feet, etc. — is so well known within this species, that one 
has to apologize for ignoring its distinctions in a popular treatment. 
Suffice to say, by way of such apology, that these distinctions have been 
enormously over-stressed, and that no layman with an hour's instruction 
could hope to tell whether a given specimen of one of California's five 
races came from San Diego, Alturas, or Humboldt County (indeed the 
experts are still scrapping about it). But distinctions of song, in no 
wise correlated, apparently, with those of hue or claw-length, do exist, 
and it is a fascinating exercise for the travelled student to distinguish 
them. Thus, northern birds say, wheeeee or tsweee, in the dullest imagin- 


The Spotted Towhees 

able kind of a way. And, in general, the song is a simple, rapid itera- 
tion, a churr. Yet in Owens Valley near Lone Pine, I heard putzee 
putzee putzee, and again from another throat a strange ventriloquial con- 
tortion, hamx hamx ham(a)x. Not once in that section did I hear the 
familiar wheeze, or churr; and the songs were all those of foreigners. In 

Taken in Modoc Connlv 


Photo by the Author 

the Yosemite Valley we heard a peculiar, lengthy, aspirated preface, 
hoorip z' z' z' \ and this came in precisely similar accents from individuals a 
mile apart. 

The "liberty of difference" pertains, also, as certainly, to the ordi- 
nary scolding, or keep-in-touch note, marie. This varies by shades too 
subtle to describe; but the clear marie of Washington birds has shaded 
off in the case of P. m. montanus of southern Arizona (the Patagonia 
Mountains, to be explicit) to a blurred murr. Similarly the drawling 
meay, or meayuh of P. m. oregonus has become meow yaaar in Santa Cruz 


The Abert Towhee 

County, and unmistakable meow yeaow on Santa Cruz Island. The last- 
named note is so precisely that of the Green-tailed Towhee (Oberholseria 
chlorura) that I reached my reluctant conclusion only after searching and 
repeated investigation. 

Towhee's humble manner of life enables it to conduct its domestic 
operations by stealth. It is only by accident that one discovers the nest, 
deep set in the leafy covering of the ground, or flushes the close-sitting 
bird. On April 19th, 1915, on Santa Cruz Island, in a willow "bottom," 
well shaded, and buried in heavy grass, I caught a glimpse of a black rat 
shooting along the ground under a brush clump eight feet ahead. I had, 
fortunately, seen "black rats" before, so I checked my steps instantly, 
stooped and grasped firmly a dead branch which lay imbedded in the 
grass at my feet. Wrenching this loose, three dainty eggs were disclosed, 
in a sunken basket of coiled bark-strips and grasses — three eggs and a 
system of runways by which the brooding bird could glide off under cover 
for a considerable distance before emerging to view. There had not been 
a sound of protest at first, but when they saw the game was up, the Tow- 
nees confessed ownership vehemently enough. Sympathetic neighbors 
dropped in — notably, a Hutton Vireo, which sat on a twig six feet over- 
head and called me a bad man. But the affair was soon hushed up, and a 
week or so later there were, no doubt, three more treasures buried under 
the grass. 

No. 68 

Abert Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 592. Pipilo aberti Baird. 

Synonym. — Desert Towhee. 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): General color cinnamon-gray. Above drab, 
shading on sides to grayish cinnamon of underparts; red element of throat and chest 
more intense, nearly fawn-color, palest (avellaneous) on breast, reintensifying pos- 
teriorly; crissum mikado brown; face narrowly dull blackish, the color scattering and 
passing out in flecks, especially upon throat. Bill grayish brown; tarsi light brown: 
feet darker. Young: Like adults, but breast faintly streaked with dusky. Length 
about 215.9-228.6 (8.50-9.00); wing 79 (3.10); tail 88.9 (3.50); bill 14 (.55); tarsus 26.6 
(1.05). Females smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; almost uniform drab coloration; paler 
above and ruddier below than Pipilo crissalis; face narrowly dusky. 

Nesting. — Nest: A deep, well-made cup of twigs, grasses, weed-stems, and 
trash; neatly lined with fine grasses or horsehair; placed at moderate heights in bushes 


The Abert Towhee 

or trees. Eggs: 3 or 4; pale bluish green (much paler than pale niagara green), 
marked sharply and sparingly, often curiously, and chiefly at the larger end, with black 
or deep brownish black, rarely with subdued shell-markings of purplish gray. The 
markings sometimes group into a wreath of interwoven hieroglyphics, and the eggs 
are at such times, or indeed at all times, roughly comparable to those of the Agelaius 
Redwings. Av. of 80 southern Arizonian specimens in the M. C. O. coll.: 24.2 x 18 
(•955 x -7 1 )- Extremes 21.6-26.9 by 17-18. 8 (.85-1.06 by .67-. 74). 

General Range. — Chiefly resident in Lower Sonoran zone from the Colorado 
Desert, southern Nevada and southwestern Utah, south through Arizona to south- 
western Mexico. May wander a little farther south in winter. 

Distribution in California. — Common resident in the valley of the Colorado 
River, Imperial Valley, and the Colorado Desert west to Whitewater and Palm Springs. 

Authorities. — Baird, Rep. Pac. R. R. Surv., vol. ix., 1858, p. 516 (Fort Yuma); 
Cooper, Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 244 (Colorado Valley; habits, nests and eggs) ; Brewster, 
Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, vol. vii., 1882, p. 198 (s. Ariz.; habits; desc. nests, eggs and 
young) ; Gilman, Condor, vol. v., 1903, p. 12 (w. Colorado Desert; nests and eggs); 
Grinnell, Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool., vol. xii., 1914, p. 177 (Colorado R.; habits, crit.). 

ORNITHOLOGY, it cannot be too often repeated, is not an exact science. Tax- 
onomy, the science of classification, aims at exactness, but its symbols are, after all, only 
records of opinion. Bird names, however diligently Latinized, are only pegs driven at 
irregular intervals along memory's wall, pegs upon which we may conveniently hang 
bundles of collective experience. These thought bundles, or observations, are called 
facts, and they pertain to, or are derived from, individual birds having certain points 
of resemblance, or certain characteristics in common. These rows of thought pegs are 
called family, genus, species, and subspecies, solely according to the nature and degree 
of resemblance between individuals which we choose to regard. And of all these 
ranks, or orders, or rows of pegs, the most familiar, the most useful, the best under- 
stood, and for that very reason the least accurate, is the species row. Beneath each 
peg of this row we paste a label called a scientific name, which must be dutifully re- 
peated every time an individual bird is mentioned, and upon the peg itself we hang 
all the similarities which we may discover between two or more individuals not other- 
wise defined (that is, whose origin, or distribution, or actual blood relationship, is 
unknown to us). 

I have said these name pegs are driven at irregular intervals. They should be if 
they expressed the facts of nature as we find them. The distance between the pegs is 
precisely the interesting point in any comparison of species. These distances vary 
enormously, but our practical realization of this fact is always being hindered or frus- 
trated by a practical, or rather an impertinent, consideration which pertains to the 
mechanism of our science. The assignment of two or more names to two or more 
pegs tends in itself to prescribe the distance between those pegs. That distance is the 
space separating two names on the printed page. For economy's sake, names are 
printed in close succession, and for the sake of appearance they are separated by regular 
intervals. We tend, thus, to a uniformity of peg-spacing upon memory's wall, and so to 
a sense of uniform value-distances separating the species themselves. Yet nothing 
could be further from the facts. In truth, this artificial, constricted spacing of our 





'.->' - 


The Abert Toxvhee 

or d 




- and 



Abert's Towhee 

Male about % hie size 

From a water-color fainting by Major Allan Brooks 



ing hi ■ 

ii.'eni. consideration which 
e nam 

The Abert Towhee 

species concepts is one of 
the most pernicious influ- 
ences in science. We can- 
not avoid it altogether, 
but we can face it out and 
persistently discredit it. 
Thus it is that the mere 
assignment of names 
breaks up and artificially 
spaces out certain groups 
of bird species whose differ- 
ences, though constant, 
are almost infinitesimal; 
and it contracts and ren- 
ders inoperative the value- 
distances which separate 
certain other species whose 
names, if we were consist- 
ent, could not be printed 
on the same page, or even 
in the same book. 

As a practical illus- 
tration of all this I would 
cite the case of the genus 
Pipilo. Regarding for 
the present only those rep- 
resentatives of the genus 
which occur above the 
Mexican border, and dropping for the moment sub-specific 
terminations, we have five species to deal with : Pipilo 
maculatus, P. erythrophthalmus, P. fuscus, P. aberti, and 
P. crissalis. The mere enumeration of these species names gives each one dignity and 
value, a place among its fellows. Whatever the facts may be, naming terms coordi- 
nates them. It gives them equal value to our human apprehension. And though 
we spend the rest of our lifetime specializing on the genus Pipilo, we shall never be 
able to shake off this initial presumption that Pipilo aberti is as distinct, as different, 
as important, as P. maculatus. Yet if we regard evolutionary distance, or what I 
have called value distance (for evolution proceeds in different stocks at very 
different rates), we shall find the three members of the Pipilo fuscus-aberti-crissalis 
group, the Brown Towhees, as close together as three contiguous Earths; while the 
members of the Pipilo maculatus group would figure as a constellation of Neptunes. In 
other words, a printed list of the names of members of the genus Pipilo is as inexpressive 
of the value distances which actually separate them, as would be a printed catalog of 
the names of the planets to one who had never heard of the solar system. 

Taken in Riverside County 
Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



The Abert Towhee 

AS COMPARED with our more familiar Brown Towhee (P. crissalis), 
Pipilo aberti is a somewhat smaller bird, paler above, more warmly, and 
especially more diffusely "cinnamomeous" below. The distinctions 
apply, however, only to birds in the hand, for Pipilo aberti in the bush is 
one of the shyest of our western birds. Whether it is because of the 
comparative thinness of cover in his desert home, or whether it is because 
of an especial toothsomeness which the owls and hawks have discovered 
in aberti 's flesh, the bird will not reveal itself to any but the most casual 
glance, even when its nest is threatened. Not even that mocking wood- 
sprite, the Western Chat, knows how to be so evasive. Our knowledge of 
Pipilo aberti, therefore, is chiefly confined to its notes and "song," and to 
its nests and eggs, endlessly encountered. 

The creaking note of Abert 's Towhee is a good deal more of a feature 
of the local desert chorus than is that of P. crissalis in its haunts. While 
never varying in general character, it is susceptible of great modification 
of duration and intensity. It serves every purpose, therefore, from the 
mild overtures of amiable companionship to the fiercest challenge of 
rivalry, rasped out with an intensity to compel attention at a hundred 
yards. In any case, it seems more metallic and resonant than that of 
P. crissalis. The "chip" note of protest is, likewise, crissalis-\ike, but it 
is milder and more musical. 

The only time an Abert Towhee would think of questioning your 
presence is after the discovery of its nest, three or four feet high in a 
bush of "all thorns," or else cunningly concealed in the thickened leaf- 
age of a decapitated stump of mesquite. The female has slipped off 
unseen; but if you linger for an unseemly time, the "chips" increase in fre- 
quency, and you become aware presently of an anxious pair of brown 
ghosts who are circling round and round you in the shrubbery. An 
occasional glimpse discovers the female in the lead, and the male following 
her about like an importunate puppy. 

Although they nest twice in each season, Abert Towhees are not very 
prolific, both because of their many enemies, and of the fact that the 
set rarely exceeds three, and not always two, in number. The eggs are 
pale bluish green, "bird-egg green," one might say, as to ground, and the 
sparse spotting of purplish black suggests Icterine or Agelaiine affinities. 
Occasionally, the ground-color goes to pure white, and then the resem- 
blance to a Scott Oriole's egg is irresistible. 

A typical nest of this Towhee is a bulky assemblage of weed-stems, 
dead vines, bark-strips, green leaves; and, interiorly, coiled bark, dried 
grasses, and horsehair. Bark is a favorite material, and I have seen 
nests which contained nothing else. Occasionally, the taste inclines to 
green grass, and the superstructure may be composed of green, or recently 


The Brown Towhees 

dried, grass or leaves of a single sort. A nest which I hold in my hand is 
based on abundant leafage of a very prickly plant, and the lining is of 
macerated weed-bark. Indeed, the unfailing variety of material used by 
these birds gives zest to continued inspections, burglarious or otherwise, 
conducted in the equally unfailing absence of the owners. By their works 
ye shall know them. 

No. 69 

Brown Towhee 

No. 69 California Brown Towhee. 

A. O. U. No. 591. i. Pipilo crissalis crissalis (Vigors). 

Synonyms. — Brown-bird. Drab. Bush-bird. Backyard-bird. 

Description. — Adult (sexes alike): Above olive-brown, shading through drab 
on sides and flanks and across chest; ruddier on head and neck all around, darkest 
(bister) on crown; throat roughly bounded by a series of dusky spots, sayal brown 
to ochraceous tawny, or else spotted throughout with dusky; breast paling centrally 
to buffy; sides and flanks increasingly tawny-tinged; crissum and lower tail-coverts 
abruptly pure tawny or amber-brown. Bill browner above, lighter below; tarsi light 
brown; feet darker. Young birds resemble parents, but show less contrast and are 
finely streaked with dusky on throat, breast, and sides. Length 228.6-254 (9.00- 
10.00); wing 99 (3.90); tail no (4.33); bill 15.8 (.62); tarsus 27.7 (1.09). Female a 
little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Towhee size; drab coloration; throat and crissum red- 
dish brown. The only bird with which it could be confused even by the novice is the 
California Thrasher, which is larger, longer, and has a long, curved bill. 

Nesting. — Nest: A bulky but well-made cup of weed-stems, grasses, and dried 
vegetable miscellany; carefully lined with fine grasses or horsehair; placed at moderate 
heights in bushes or trees. Diameter inside 76.2-88.9 (3.00-3.50); depth 38-50.8 
(1.50-2.00). Eggs: 3 or 4; much as in preceding species and not distinguishable 
from them, although perhaps with a stronger tendency toward subdued shell-markings, 
and the release of the concealed red of the "black" pigment. Av. of 10 eggs from 
Boonville (Mendocino County): 24 x 18.3 (.95 x .72). Av. of 17 eggs from Santa Bar- 
bara: 24.9 x l8(.98x.7l). Extremes: 22-26.7 by 16. 8-19 (.87-1.05 by .66-. 75). Season: 
April-July; two broods. 

Range of Pipilo crissalis. — Pacific Coast district from southern Oregon to 
northern Lower California. 

Range of P. c. crissalis (Wholly within California). — Resident in the humid 
coast strip, narrowly defined, from Humboldt Count)- to northern San Luis Obispo 
County (Paso Robles). 


The Brown Towhees 




The Brown Towhees 

Authorities. — Vigors (Fringilla crissalis), Zool. Voy. "Blossom," 1839, p. 19 
(Monterey; orig. desc.) ; Brewster, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, vol. iv., 1879, p. 41 (desc. 
young) ; Beat, U. S. Dept. Agric, Biol. Surv. Bull., no. 34, 1910, p. 89, part (food); 
Swarth, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 117, fig., map (distr., desc, crit.) ; Oberholser, Condor, 
vol. xxi., 1919, p. 210 (crit.); Hunt, Condor, vol. xxiv., 1922, p. 193 (song). 

No. 69a Northern Brown Towhee 

A. O. U. No. 591. 1, part. Pipilo crissalis carolae McGregor. 

Description. — "Closely related to P. f. crissalis, but distinguished by grayer 
and more uniform color of upper parts, much paler throat patch and slightly longer 
tail" (orig. desc). Very dubious. 

Range of P. c. carolce. — Resident in Upper Sonoran zone interiorly in northern 
California and southwestern Oregon. 

Distribution in California. — Common resident locally in Upper and Lower 
Sonoran zones west of the Sierras, from the Tehachipe divide north to the northern 
boundary. The subspecies thus occupies the western slopes of the Sierras, the great 
interior valley and the eastern slopes and semi-arid areas of the coast ranges, from the 
latitude of Tulare Lake north. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Pipilo fuscus), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 
2, ii., 1852, 267; McGregor, Bull. Cooper Orn. Club, vol. i., 1899, p. 11 (Battle Creek, 
n. Calif.; orig. desc); Tyler, Pac Coast Avifauna, no. 9, 1913, p. 86 (Fresno; habits, 
nests and eggs); Swarth, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 117, fig., map (distr. in Calif., desc, 

No. 69b Anthony's Brown Towhee 

A. 0. U. No. 591.1a. Pipilo crissalis senicula Anthony. 

Description. — "Differing from crissalis in smaller size, much less rusty on 
lower parts, upper parts darker and lower more grayish" (orig. desc). A very 
"light" form. 

Range of P. c. senicula. — Resident in the southern Pacific Coast districts, 
broadly, from San Luis Obispo County, California, south to (at least) Latitude 29. 
Lower California. Casual east of the desert divides: Palm Springs (Gilman), Mo- 
rongo Pass (Stephens). This form intergrades with crissalis on the north, but is 
probably distinct from carolce, from which it may prove to be separated by the southern 
end of the Tulare basin. 

Authorities. — Cooper (Pipilo fuscus), Orn. Calif., 1870, p. 245, part; Anthony, 
Auk, vol. xii., 1895, pp. in, 141 (San Fernando, Lower Calif.; orig. desc.) ; Grinnell, 
Pasadena Acad. Sci. Pub., no. 2, 1898, p. 40 (s. Calif.; occurrence, nesting dates, etc.); 
Dickey, Condor, vol. xviii., 1916, p. 93, figs, (habits; photos of birds, nests and eggs); 
Swarth, Condor, vol. xx., 1918, p. 120, figs., map (distr., desc, crit.). 

FAMILIAR objects, whatever their worth, come to be dear to us 
through association. There is, honestly, no particular reason why we 
should be fond of this prosy creature, save that he is always around. In 
appearance, the bird is a bit awkward, slovenly, and uncouth; or at least, 
we are obliged to see him oftenest in every-day duds, and he seems to 


The Brown Towhees 

have no company manners. And for color — never was a more hopeless 
drab. But surely the bird must have some redeeming qualities. He 
sings, perhaps? Not at all; his efforts at song are a farce, a standing joke 
— though he is himself entirely devoid of humor. He is, to be sure, a 
gleaner of crumbs and odds and ends, but so are the ants; and the bird's 
presence in a garden is far from being an unmixed blessing. Really, there 
is no reason why one should espouse the cause of this local ash-man. Yet 
I suppose there are few Californians who would willingly spare the homely, 
matter-of-fact presence of this bird under foot. Brown Towhees are just 
birds — the same way most of us are just folks. 

Truth to tell, the sober color of our hero does match very well the 
universal dryness of the under scrub, during the long rest period which 
Californian vegetation indulges (and which dutiful Californians pretend 
to like). When other birds, therefore, have forsaken the mesa and have 
gone to higher, greener levels, the Towhee feels no need of change. He 
has come into his own. Trusting to his brown coat, he moves about fear- 
lessly in the open, and is much more active than Thrasher or Wren-Tit 
dares to be, away from cover. Wren-Tit is, doubtless, the first bird to 
respond to the screeping call of the birdman, but if the Wren-Tit is not on 
hand, the Brown Towhee is sure to be. His name is legion, and some one 
of him marks the downsitting and the uprising of every human in western 

or southern 

Brown Tow- 
hee is the typi- 
cal Hans when 
he gets with 
other birds. 
When he is 
with the 
Crown Spar- 
rows, as he 
often does, or 
tries to, he 
apes all their 
motions of 
fright or 
flight, but he 
does it so awk- 
wardly and ex- 

Taken at Los Colibris 

Photo by the A ulhor 


The Brown Towhees 

poses himself in such yokel fashion, according to their 
standards, that the crowd is jeering at him before he has 
re-joined it in the shelter of the bush. Save for the afflic- 
tions of the noble passion, the Towhees get along well 
enough with their own kind. There is likely to be 
amiable twittering — good-natured banter, it would seem 
— whenever they meet; and nothing could be more sug- 
gestive of homely joys than the sight of a wedded pair 
taking "the kids" out for an airing of a Sunday after- 
noon. The excursion, perhaps, is conducted through the 
garden. Bugs and worms are not overlooked. Fallen 
seeds are seized and bolted outright, or else shelled 
deftly with that curious nibbling motion which always 
looks babyish or affected in these large-beaked 
birds. Fresh herbage is sampled freely, too freely, 
perhaps, as we shall learn presently. Whatever the 
parents do the children imitate in grateful obedience; 
but there are baby hours whiled in the leafy shade, 
when they are more prone to snatch up what father 
or mother has uncovered by energetic backward 
kicks, than to rustle (quite literally) for themselves. 

The predilection of these birds for young plant growth 
is very marked ; and there is no gainsaying the mischief they 
do in early spring to tender peas and lettuce. Mr. Tyler has 
remarked, 1 "The Towhees are big good-natured fellows, in no 
way injurious to man's interests." I should like to see him 
argue this point (without weapons, of course) with a certain 
good neighbor of mine who raises "garden sass" for the mar- 
ket. Having had occasion to replant early peas myself, I have 
learned to cover the tender shoots with brush or mosquito 
netting for the first two weeks of their growth. The Towhee 
also comes in strong on the fruit harvest. Plums, apricots, 
early peaches, and grapes — these he will munch as innocently 
as an urchin. And why not? He was here first; and if you insist upon 
using his ground for growing fruit instead of bugs and weed-seed, you 
must expect to pay ground rent. Cheer up ! 

The presence and movements of the Brown Towhee are published 
from time to time by a metallic chip, which is quite the most familiar of 
vocal sounds. This chip is the ordinary keep-in-touch note, and it must 
also do duty for warning, for challenge, for exhortation, and other pur- 
poses which, in a sphere of action somewhat removed, necessitates the use 

1 Pacific Coast Avifauna, No. 9, p. 86. 


Taken at Los Colibris 
Photo by the Author 


The Brown Towhees 


of 450,000 vocabulary en- 
tries. Saddest of all, this 
overworked note must do 
duty for song. For this pur- 
pose it is furbished up a bit, 
brightened, intensified, and 
aspirated, till it sounds like a 
sibilant squeak. The singer 
mounts a bush or tree-top, or 
the comb of a roof, and with 
uttermost ardor delivers him- 
self of such sentiments as 
these, tsick tsick tsick 
tsick tsick. Listen! O ye 
Muses, and pause, Satyrs, in 
your mad gambols. Orpheus 
will smite the lyre again: 
Tsick tsick tsick tsick 
tsick. He is dead in earnest, 
too, this country Jake turned 
minstrel. As he concludes, 
his body quivers and his tail 
beats flail-like with his un- 
wonted exertion. And one 
good lady (she of the endless 
regurgitations) likens this 
song to "the tinkle of a 
silver bell"! 

The male bird is a mas- 
terful lover, and he will vin- 
Great fights ensue, and not a 
These encounters characterize 
be a recrudescence of hostile 
activities in late summer as well. Perhaps the young blades are asserting 
themselves. Such a fight occurred in our yard in the early morning of 
August 28th (191 1). Whether it was a contest between old males, or 
merely young fellows trying out their strength, I could not determine. 
At any rate, there was intermittent onset of long duration, and as often 
as the duellists set to, they were accompanied, or mobbed, by four others, 
all squeaking at once at the top of their voices. The squeaks in this case 
were something dynamic. They were shrieking squeaks; and six birds 
squeaking in concert made a fine hubbub — quite too much for that last 


Taken in Pasadena Photo by Donald R. Dickey 


dicate his claims against all comers, 
few in which bodily injury is done, 
early springtime, but there seems to 

The Brown Towhees 

coveted hour of slumber. The feud seemed implacable; and I witnessed 
an attack an hour later, all to the accompaniment of admiring, or pro- 
testing, squeaks. 

This pugnacity of the Brown Towhee has led to one strange length. 
Other birds there are who will fight their shadows in the window panes — 
Goldfinches, Linnets and Mockingbirds; but their passion is short-lived. 
The Towhee adopts "shadow boxing" as a profession. It becomes a 
religion, a something dearer-than-meat-and-drink, an obsession. The 
occurrence is common enough, but the best report of it is, perhaps, that 
given by Mr. Donald R. Dickey, 1 whose friend, General Penney, of 
Nordhoff, was besieged by one of these pugilistic visitors. The trouble 
in this instance began in the 
late winter (of 1913-14) when 
the mating season had scarce- 
ly begun. "Perched on the 
sill, the bird would eye his re- 
flection, and then set sys- 
tematically to work to kill 
that supposed rival, with all 
the ire and intolerance of a 
rutting mouse. The tactics 
varied somewhat, but on the 
whole the bird firmly be- 
lieved that victory lay in the 
frequency of his attacks, 
rather than in their violence, 
so that the blows of his beak 
rained on the pane with all 
the persistence of water drip- 
ping on a tin porch roof after 
an Eastern thaw. Each blow 
was, of course, met squarely 
by the shadowed beak of his 
opponent; each retreat was 
mimicked by the shadow; 
each unusually furious on- 
slaught was countered in 
equal force. Sometimes they 
rested as though by mutual 
consent — the bird and his 
sparring partner — but pres- 
ently SOme turn Of the bird's Taken in San Diego Photo by Donald R. Dickey 



1 "The Shadow Boxing of Pipilo," The Condor, Vol. XVIII., 1916, p. 9, 

The Brown Towhees 

head would find an answering challenge in the glass, and he would fly 
at it again. Hour after hour this continued, until the bird was com- 
pletely exhausted, or until the light changed and the reflection vanished. 

"This continued day after day and week after week with scarcely an 
interruption, and became a positive nuisance. As time went on and his 
attacks netted him nothing, Pipilo worked himself into greater and greater 
frenzy until blood specks from his beak often covered the lower part of the 
pane. The small head feathers, loosened in the fracas, would stick to 
these blood spots and necessitate frequent window washing, in addition to 
the 'damnable iteration' of his tap, tap, tapping at the pane. Nothing 
was done about it, however, and it continued as an almost daily perform- 
ance until early summer. Then, with the close of the breeding season, 
the bird stopped of his own accord." 

Nests of Pipilo crissalis are usually placed at moderate heights in 
shrubbery or trees. The birds often exhibit considerable skill in construc- 
tion, and some of their nests, especially of those whose builders do not 
have access to the miscellaneous waste of civilization, are models of 
beauty. The eggs, usually three in number in the southern portion of the 
bird's range, four or even five northerly, are pale blue (really, pale niagara 
green), handsomely though sparingly marked and short-scrawled with 
purplish black. They resemble, thus, to a striking degree, the eggs of 
certain blackbirds (A gelatines) . The female, elsewhere so confiding, is 
singularly shy in and about the nest, and does not pose well for the pho- 
tographer. The bird figured here had built in a lantana bush hard against 
a window. By dint, therefore, of darkening the room, her confidence was 
sufficiently Avon to permit of portraiture at long range. Nesting is the 
main business of life, and the Towhees take theirs quite seriously. At 
least two broods are raised each season, and five or six months of each 
year are given over to the activities attendant upon or anticipatory of 
chick-raising. For all this, the birds fall easy prey to prowlers, and the 
ranks of the species never seem to be unduly swelled, as is often the case, 
for example, with the Linnet (Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis). 


The Lazuli Bunting 

No. 70 

Lazuli Bunting 

A. O. U. No. 599. Passerina amoena (Say). 

Synonym. — Lazuli Finch. 

Description. — Adult male: Head and neck all around light blue (cendre blue 
or light cerulean blue to cerulean blue); this color carried over upperparts, but pure 
only on rump, elsewhere appearing as sub-skirting of feathers; middle coverts broadly 
and greater coverts narrowly tipped with white; wings and tail otherwise black; some 
skirting of ochraceous on back, scapulars, and tertials; lores black; chest ochraceous 
tawny, sharplj' defined from blue above, but shading gradually into white of remaining 
underparts; sides and flanks with outcropping bluish dusky. Bill black above, pale 
bluish below; feet brownish dusky; iris brown. Adult female: Above grayish brown 
or brownish buffy, the color of male recalled by dull greenish blue of crown, rump, 
and upper tail-coverts, and by skirtings of wing- and tail-feathers; middle and greater 
coverts tipped with light buffy; underparts washed with ochraceous buffy, most strongly 
on chest and sides, fading to whitish on belly and under tail-coverts. Young birds 
resemble the female but lack the greenish blue tinge, and are usually more or less 
streaked below on chest and sides. Length of adult male: I33-3-I39-7 (5.25-5.50); 
wing 73 (2.87); tail 55 (2.17); bill 10 (.40); tarsus 17 (.67). Female smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; color pattern of male distinctive; female 
not so easy — in general, distinguishable by a softness and uniformity of the grayish 
browns, by the ochraceous of chest, and by at least some hint of greenish blue above. 

Nesting. — Nest: A rather coarsely woven basket of dried grasses, especially 
their leafy portions; lined with finer grasses or horsehair; and lashed firmly to sup- 
porting stalks of weeds, or settled in forks of bushes, in thickets or tangles; rarely 
low in trees (live oaks). Eggs: 3 or 4; rounded ovate to elongate ovate; very pale 
bluish green, immaculate or, very rarely, speckled with blackish. Av. of 16 eggs in 
M. C. O., 18.3 x 13.5 (.72 x .53). Season: May— July; one or two broods. 

General Range. — Breeds in Transition and Upper Sonoran zones throughout 
the western states and in the southern portion of the western provinces of Canada, 
east to North Dakota and Texas; winters in Lower California and in Mexico, south 
to the valley of Mexico. 

Distribution in California. — Of general occurrence as a breeder in the Upper 
Sonoran and Transition zones throughout the State; apparently indifferent to mois- 
ture, but keeps to brushy margins of springs and streams in semi-arid Sonoran terri- 
tory. Occurs more widely during migrations at lower levels. No winter records. 

Authorities. — Heermann (Spiza amaena), Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., ser. 2, 
ii., 1853, p. 266;Barlow, Condor, vol. iii., 1901, p. 174 (Fyffe; nest and eggs); Carpenter, 
Condor, vol. ix., 1907, p. 199 (nest and abnormal eggs); Tyler, Pac. Coast Avifauna, 
no. 9, 1913, p. 89 (Fresno; habits, nesting, etc.); Howell, Pac. Coast Avifauna, no. 12, 
1917, p. 87 (Santa Barbara Ids.). 

ONE can scarcely believe his eyes as this jewel flashes from a thicket, 
crosses a space of common air, and disappears again all in a trice. Either 
there has been some optical illusion, or Nature has grown unco careless to 


The Lazuli Bunting 

fling her turquoises about in such fashion. We must investigate. Upon 
arrival, in late April or early May, and before the return of his dun-colored 
mate, the male Lazuli is quite conscious of his prominence in the land- 
scape. He avoids notice and goes bounding away if closely pressed; but 
love soon makes him bold, and he will pursue the object of his affections 
into the very thicket where you stand. Then, while the female lurks 
timidly within, he mounts a spray and yields an outburst of music, pierc- 
ing and earnest, if not too sweet. We see that his blue is deep azure, or 
turquoise, rather than that of the lapis lazuli from which he is named. 
The red of his breast is nearly that of the Robin's, while the pure white of 
the remaining underparts completes a patriotic study in red, white and 
blue. The female shows something of the color pattern of her mate, with 
the important exception that dull brown supplants the royal blue of head 
and back. After all, then, they are fitted for separate spheres: she to 
skulk and hide and escape the hostile eye in the discharge of her maternal 
duties; he to lose himself against the blue of heaven, as he sings reassur- 
ingly from a tree-top, or sends down notes of warning upon the approach 
of danger. 

The song of the Lazuli Bunting is a rambling warble, not unlike that 
of the Indigo Bunting (P. cyanea), but somewhat less energetic. Its brief 
course rises and falls in short cadences and ends with a hasty jumble of 
unfinished notes, as though the singer were out of breath. Moreover, the 
bird does not take his task very seriously, and he does not burden the mid- 
day air with incessant song, as does his tireless cousin. 

While in camp on the southern shore of Clear Lake, in June, 1916 
(the year of the big freeze in that section), my attention was intrigued 
by an early morning singer who lisped out only a monotonous string of 
squeaky notes. The quality and cadence were warbler-like, but there 
was no such warbler called for by the books. So I followed the elusive 
thing through the mazes of the frost-bitten oaks for half an hour. Tsweek 
tsweek tsweek tsweek tsweek tsweek, was all he said, although with some 
variation of inflection or emphasis. When at last I had the little rascal 
pinned against the sky, down sun, I found not a recreant Geothlypis, 
but a Lazuli Bunting, a male in very low plumage, and so, presumably, 
a yearling. 

During the year of 1912, the year of the great warbler wave, we had 
Lazuli Buntings in great numbers. In the course of a fifty mile drive 
along the Santa Barbara coast we saw hundreds, or thousands, of them. 
It was not a matter of scattering individuals, either, for they appeared 
in squads and platoons wherever the wayside weeds gave shelter. Arrived 
at our own demesne, it was again Lazuli Buntings. The tall grass of a 
neighbor's yard seemed especially attractive to them; and once when a 


ssia aiil p\f MBr^lErnal bne 3 !tM 

The Lazuli Bu 

... her tui 
arrival, in !. 


igate. I 

n of his dun-coi 

the land- 


■ ■ 


if hi ■ 

g upon t 1 oach 

in lb 

Lazuli Bunting tsty jumbl 

Male and female, about 7/9 life size ' 

i in. 

a June, 
attention was in trig 

ig of 

r-like. but there 

-<;> I followed the 

fitten oaks for half an hour. T 

k, was all h although ith ^ome 

When at la iscal 


, ■ 
course of a fifi 


of a 
h hen a /?r* 

The Lazuli Bunting 

struggling auto made explosive comment upon our hill, a perfect cascade 
of brightly plumaged birds, all males, boiled up from the ground. 

The secret of Lazuli Bunting's nesting — at least in southern Cali- 
fornia — may be told all in a breath — Artemisia heterophylla! There you 
have it! Search the clumps of this broad-leafed sage, or "mugwort," 
as it grows to a height of three or four feet along the banks of streams, 
or upon half-shaded hillsides, and you will be astonished at the harvest 
of "Lazzes" it will yield. In a sea- 
son's desultory nesting, that of 1920, 
at Santa Barbara, I found nineteen 
occupied nests of the Lazuli Bunt- 
ing. Of these, fourteen were in pure 
stands of A. heterophylla; two in 
mixed stands; two in poison oak; 
and one in a blackberry tangle. The 
nest, a rather bulky but often tidy 
affair, of bark-strips, hemp, and 
dried grasses, lined with fine grass or 
horsehair, is lashed to the upright 
clustering stems of the mugwort ; or, 
more rarely, and in mixed cover, is 
supported from below by transverse 
stalks and vines. The female slips 
off quietly, often unnoticed, and the 
passerby would not suspect the pres- 
ence of a nest; but a loitering oolo- 
gist soon elicits an anxious twisp, or 
twissup from the skulking bird. If 
he does not heed that warning, the 
female will presently summon her 
mate, and both birds will berate him 
soundly. Amcena means pleasant, 
but you could hardly expect an anx- 
ious mother to practice the amenities 
while a brute of a man is fingering 
her babies-to-be and speculating upon their possible degree of freshness. 
The male, on the other hand, soon tires of saying unpleasant things, and 
will try your heart with a bit of a song instead. 

Taken in Santa Barbara 

Photo by the Author 


41 T 

The Beautiful Bunting 

No. 71 

Beautiful Bunting 

A. O. U. No. 6ooc. Passerina versicolor pulchra Ridgway. 

Synonyms. — Varied Bunting. Western Varied Bunting. 

Description (of versicolor, after Ridgway). — Adult male in summer: Lores and 
frontlet black; chin blackish; forehead, forecrown, supra-auriculars, lower hind-neck, 
rump, and upper tail-coverts light purplish blue (mauve to campanula blue or flax 
flower blue); the malar and auricular regions and lesser wing-coverts similar but 
darker; hind-crown, occiput, and cervix, with a touch on either eyelid, vermilion red; 
back dusky purplish red, the scapulars more bluish or purplish; throat and chest 
maroon purplish, clearing, redder, on throat; remaining underparts dusky purple, 
becoming grayer on flanks; wings dusky with grayish blue and purplish edgings; tail 
blackish edged with dull blue. Bill black above, lighter, horn-color, below; feet and 
tarsi brownish black. Adult male in winter: Bright colors more or less obscured by 
grayish brown tips of feathers. Adult female in summer: "Above grayish brown 
(hair-brown), more or less strongly tinged with olive (occasionally tinged with dull 
light grayish blue), passing into light glaucous or bluish gray on rump and upper tail- 
coverts; tail bluish dusky, the rectrices edged with glaucous-bluish; middle and greater 
wing-coverts indistinctly tipped with paler grayish brown, and primaries and ad- 
joining secondaries edged with pale glaucous gray or bluish; underparts dull whitish 
on throat, abdomen, and tips of under tail-coverts; elsewhere pale grayish brown, 
deepest on chest." Length (skins of adult male): 127 (5.00); wing 67 (2.64); tail 
53.3 (2.10); bill 10.2 (.40); tarsus 17.8 (.70). Females slightly smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Warbler size; variegated plumage with contrasting blues 
and red distinctive for male; female much more difficult, — a grayish brown and bluish 
gray bird. 

Remarks. — Ridgway, in his Birds of N. and M. America, Part I, 1901, p. 592, 
abandons the claim of a western subspecies, pulchra, which he had advanced in 1887 
(Manual of N. A. Birds, p. 448), after commenting on the minor differences shown by 
specimens from Lower California, and the intermediate character of specimens from 
western Mexico. We shall either have to follow him or else define the intermediate 
form, which is evidently that of Arizona also. 

Nesting. — Not known to breed in California. Nest and eggs much as in pre- 
ceding species. 

Range of Passerina versicolor. — Southern border of the United States and Mexico. 

Range of P. v. pulchra. — The alleged western form found in "southern Arizona", 
northwestern Mexico, and discontinuously (?) in southern Lower California. 

Occurrence in California. — One occurrence, as below, at Blythe, February, 

Authorities. — Daggett, Condor, vol. xvi., 1914, p. 260 (Blythe, on the Colorado 
R.); Grayson, Mem. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. ii., 1874, p. 276 (habits, song, etc.). 

THE BEALITIFLiL Bunting is a Mexican species which upon two 
occasions has been caught trespassing in the States. On July 14, 1884, 
Mr. Frank Stephens took a specimen, an adult female, at Crittenden, near 


The Blue Grosbeaks 

the Santa Rita Mountains, in Arizona. And on February 8th or 9th, 
1914, Dr. J. A. Hornung, of Los Angeles, took specimens at Blyth, River- 
side County, California. During the course of several days Dr. Hornung 
saw as many as fifteen or twenty of these birds feeding on roadside weeds 
bordering a cotton field. These two appearances are manifestly an 
insufficient basis for any hypothesis, and we can only agree with Grinnell 
in calling the Beautiful Bunting a casual visitant. 

Mexico having been a terra horrenda for many years past, we needs 
must wait till the mask of the bandit is laid aside, and scientific explorers 
are no longer scalped or held for ransom. Would you, then, know more 
of the Beautiful Bunting? Then take your place among the Watchful 

No. 72 

Blue Grosbeak 

No. 72a Arizona Blue Grosbeak 

A. O. U. No. 597a, part. Guiraca caerulea Iazula (Lesson). 

Synonym. — Western Blue Grosbeak. 

Description. — Adult male in breeding plumage: In general, violet-blue (dark, 
soft blue-violet), blackening around base of bill (broadly on lores) and on back, with 
irruptions of black on breast, lightening (soft blue-violet) on crown and rump (where 
"light soft blue- violet") ; the feathers of underparts and back (even in highest plumage, 
but in lessening degree with advance of season) irregularly tipped with cinnamon- 
rufous on back and major edging of wing, and on chest, broadly; with white or, casually, 
with rufous on remaining underparts, especially abdomen and crissum. Median, 
wing-coverts entirely russet; rectrices and remiges black, narrowly edged with blue, 
the four outermost rectrices narrowly white-tipped. Bill dark bluish, black above, 
lightening below; feet and tarsi brownish black. Adult female: Very different; 
chiefly brownish gray (tawny olive to buffy brown) above, paler (cinnamon-buff to 
pinkish buff) below; blue of male irregularly irruptive, in flecks and patches on breast 
and flanks, and on head, especially the cheeks; rump tinged with bluish; median and 
greater wing-coverts bordered with dull rufous (pinkish cinnamon), forming two in- 
conspicuous bars; the breast and sides also sometimes faintly streaked with dusky. 
Young birds resemble the adult female, with increase of the ochraceous element. 
Length of adult male (skins): 165 (6.50); wing 86 (3.386); tail 66 (2.60); bill 16 (.63); 
tarsus 20.6 (.81). Females are a little smaller. 

Recognition Marks. — Sparrow size; violet-blue of male distinctive. Female 
and young dull brownish with only faint outcroppings of blue, — best known by size 
and tumid beak. 

Nesting of Guiraca cczrulea. — Nest: Placed in bria