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Full text of "Birds that hunt and are hunted : life histories of one hundred and seventy birds of prey, game birds and water-fowls"

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{Ill lllllllllllllll 

feventx Birds of Prey 

Game Bir." * '^ ' -' 










%.. J 

J-2 Life size. 







G. O. SHIELDS (Coquina) 






Copyright, 1898, by 

Colored plates copyrighted, 1B97, i8g8, by 


Chicago, 111. 


Introduction by G. O. Shields 

Preface .... 

List of Colored Plates . 

Part I. Water Birds . 
Diving Birds . 
Tile Grebes 
Ttie Loons 
Aul<s, Murres, Puffins, etc. 

Long-winged Swimmers 
Jaegers and Skuas . 
Gulls .... 
Terns, or Sea Swallows . 

Tube-nosed Swimmers . 
Shearwaters . 
Petrels .... 

Fully Webbed Swimmers 

Plate-billed Swimmers . 

Mergansers, or Fishing Ducks 
River and Pond Ducks . 
Sea and Bay Ducks 
Geese .... 
Swans .... 















Table of Contents 


Part II. 

Wading Birds 147 

Herons and their Allies . 




Wood Ibises and Storks . 


Herons and Bitterns 


Marsh Birds .... 








Coots .... 


Shore Birds .... 




Avocets and Stilts . 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. . 


Plovers .... 

• 2jJ7 

Surf Birds and Turnstones 

• 249 


. 251 

Part III. 

Gallinaceous Game Birds 

Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 
Turkeys .... 

Columbine Birds . 

Pigeons and Doves . 

• 255 
. 261 
. 286 

. 291 
. 294 

Part IV. 

Birds of Prey .... 
Vultures .... 
Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 
Barn Owls 
Horned and Hoot Owls . 

. 304 
. 309 

• 337 


• •«••• 

• 353 


Bird life is disappearing from the United States and Canada 
at so alarming a rate 1 sometimes feel it is wrong, at this day 
and age of the world, to encourage the hunting and shooting of 
birds of any kind: Mr. W. T. Hornaday, the Director of the New 
York Zoological Society, has recently collected and compiled 
statistics from more that thirty states, showing that the decrease 
of birds within the past fifteen years has averaged over forty per 
cent. At this rate another twenty years would witness the total 
extermination of many birds in this country. Several species 
have already become extinct, and others are rapidly approaching 
the danger line. Conspicuous among these are the wild turkey 
and the pinnated grouse, two of the noblest birds on the con- 
tinent. Several species of water-fowl are also growing scarce. 

Not only are game birds pursued and killed, in season and out 
of season, under the name of sport and for market, but the song 
birds, plumage birds, water-fowl, and many innocent birds of 
prey are hunted, from the Everglades to the Arctic Circle, for the 
barbaric purpose of decorating women's hats. The extent of this 
traffic is simply appalling. Some of the plumes of tropical and 
semi-tropical birds sell at as high a price as fifteen dollars an ounce. 
No wonder the cupidity of ignorant and heartless market hunters 
is tempted by such prices to pursue and kill the last one of these 
birds. It seems incredible that any woman in this enlightened 
and refined age, when sentiment against cruelty to animals is 
strong in human nature, could be induced to wear an ornament 
that has cost the life of so beautiful a creature as an egret, a 
scarlet tanager, or a Baltimore oriole. What beauty can there be 
in so clumsy a head decoration as an owl or a gull ? Yet we see 
women whose nature would revolt at the thought or the sight 
of cruelty to a horse or a dog, wearing the wings, plumes, and 
heads, if not the entire carcasses of these birds. Not only is the 
life of the bird sacrificed, whose plumage is to be thus worn, but 
in thousands of instances the victim is the mother bird, and a 
brood of young is left to starve to death in consequence of her 
cruel taking off. Is it not time to check this ruthless destruction 
of bird life by the enactment and enforcement of proper laws ? 


A great crusade against bird slaughter is sweeping over the 
country. Thousands of progressive educators have inaugurated 
courses of nature study in the schools, which include object 
lessons in bird life. Bird protective associations are being formed 
everywhere. The League of American Sportsmen is doing a 
noble work in this direction. It is waging a relentless war on 
men who kill game birds out of the legal season, or song birds 
at any time. This organization stands for the highest type of 
men who hunt, and it is laboring to educate the other kind up to 
its standard. The surest way to promote this sentiment of bird 
protection is to induce our people to study the birds. Nearly 
every man, woman, and child who becomes intimately acquainted 
with them learns to love and to respect them for their incalculable 
benefits to mankind. The reading of such a book as this is a step 
in the right direction. The next step should lead the reader into 
the fields, the woods, and by the waters. 

1 have read the manuscript of this book carefully. It shows 
the most patient and industrious research, and it is safe to say no 
work of its class has been issued in modern times that contains 
so much valuable information, presented with such felicity and 
charm. The author avoids technicalities, and writes for the lay- 
man as well as for the naturalist. While the volume caters in a 
great measure to sportsmen, yet it is the hope of the author and 
the editor that they may learn to hunt more and more each year 
without guns; for all true sportsmen are lovers of nature. The 
time has come when the camera may and should, to a great 
extent, take the place of the gun. Several enthusiasts have 
demonstrated that beautiful pictures of wild birds may be made 
without taking their lives. How much more delight must a true 
sportsman feel in the possession of a photograph of a beautiful 
bird which still lives than in the mounted skin of one he has 
killed ! A few trophies of this latter class are all right, and may 
be reasonably and properly sought by anyone; but the time has 
passed when the man can be commended who persists in killing 
every bird he can find, either for sport, for meat, or for the sake 
of preserving the skins. 

The colored plates in this book are true to nature, and must 
prove of great educational value. By their aid alone any bird 
illustrated may be readily identified. 

G. O. Shields. 


The point of view from which this book and "Bird Neigh- 
bors" were written is that of a bird-lover who believes that per- 
sonal, friendly acquaintance with the live birds, as distinguished 
from the technical study of the anatomy of dead ones, must be 
general before the people will care enough about them to rein- 
force the law with unstrained mercy. To really know the birds 
in their home life, how marvelously clever they are, and how 
positively dependent agriculture is upon their ministrations, can- 
not but increase our respect for them to such a point that wilful 
injury becomes impossible. 

In Audubon's day flocks of wild pigeons, so dense that they 
darkened the sky, were a common sight; whereas now, for the 
lack of proper legislation in former years, and quite as much be- 
cause good laws now existing are not enforced, this exquisite 
bird is almost extinct, like the great auk which was also seen by 
Audubon in colonies numbering tens of thousands. Many other 
birds are following in their wake. 

England and Germany have excellent laws protecting the 
birds there in summer, only for the Italians to eat during the win- 
ter migration. And it is equally useless to have good game and 
other bird laws in a country like ours, unless they are reinforced 
in every state by public sentiment against the wanton destruction 
of bird life for any purpose whatsoever. 

This altruism has a solid foundation in economic facts. It is 
estimated that the farmers of Pennsylvania lost over four millions 
of dollars one year through the ravages of field mice, because a 
wholesale slaughtering of owls had been ignorantly encouraged 
by rewards the year before. Nature adjusts her balances so wisely 
that we cannot afford to tamper with them. 

It is a special pleasure to acknowledge indebtedness to Mr. 
G. O. Shields. To his efforts, as president of the League of 
American Sportsmen and as editor of Recreation, is due no small 
measure of the revulsion against ruthless slaughter that has long 

masqueraded under the disguise of sport. True sportsmen, 
wortiiy of the name, are to be reckoned among the birds' friends, 
and are doing effective work to help restore those happy hunting 
grounds which, only a few generations ago, were the envy of the 

Neltje Blanchan. 



Passenger Pigeon — Frontispiece 

PiED-Bii.LED Grebe lo 

Loon 14 

Brunnich's Murre 22 

Herring Gull 40 

Common Tern 50 

Black Tern 58 

Wilson's Stormy Petrel 68 

Red-breasted Merganser 88 

Mallard Duck 94 

Black Duck 98 

Bald-pate Duck 100 

Green-winged Teal 104 

Pin-tail Duck 110 

Wood Duck 112 

Canvasback Duck 116 

Golden-eye Duck 122 

Canada Goose 138 

Least Bittern 158 

Great Blue Heron 162 

Black-crowned Night Heron 168 

SoRA Rail 180 

Purple Gallinule 184 

Coot or Mud Hen 188 


List of Colored Plates 






Wilson's or Jack Snipe . 


Pectoral Sandpiper or Grass Snipe 


Least Sandpiper .... 




Bartramian Sandpiper or Upland Plove 



Golden Plover .... 


Semipalmated or Ring Plover 


Bob White 


Dusky or Blue Grouse . 


Ruffed Grouse .... 


Prairie Hen 


Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse . 


Wild Turkey 


Turkey Vulture .... 


Marsh Hawk 


Red-shouldered Hawk . 


Sparrow Hawk .... 




Saw Whet Owl .... 


Screech Owl 


Great Horned Owl 


Snowy Owl 




Whither, 'midst falling dew, 
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, 
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue 

Thy solitary way ? 

Vainly the fowler's eye 
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong, 
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky. 

Thy figure floats along. 

Seek'st thou the plashy brink 
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide, 
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink 

On the chafed ocean side? 

There is a Power whose care 
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast. 
The desert and illimitable air. 

Lone wandering, but not lost. 

All day thy wings have fann'd, 
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere, 
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land, 

Though the dark night is near. 

And soon that toil shall end ; 
Soon shalt thou find a summer home and rest, 
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend 

Soon o'er thy sheltered nest. 

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven 
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart, 
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given, 

And shall not soon depart. 

He who, from zone to zone. 
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight. 
In the long way that 1 must tread alone, 

Will lead my steps aright. 

William Cullen Bryant. 








(Order Pygopodes) 

The birds of this order, whose Latin name refers to their sit- 
ting posture when on Lind, represent the highest development in 
the art of swimming and diving, being the nearest lineal de- 
scendants of the reptiles, the ancestors of all birds, evolutionists 
tell us. The American Ornithologists' Union has classified these 
divers into three distinct families. 


(Family PodicipidceJ 

Grebes, although similar to the loons in general structure and 
economy, have peculiarly lobed and flattened-out toes connected 
by webs that are their chief characteristic. In the breeding sea- 
son several species wear ornamental head-dresses, colored crests 
or ruffs that disappear in the winter months. Plumage, which is 
thick, compact, and waterproof, has a smooth, satiny texture, es- 
pecially on the under parts. Wings, though short, are powerful, 
and enable the grebes to migrate long distances; but they are not 
used in swimming under water, as is often asserted. The mar- 
velous rapidity with which grebes dive and swim must be credited 
to the feet alone. No birds are more thoroughly at home in the 
water and more helpless on land than they. By keeping only the 
nostrils above the surface they are able to remain under water a 
surprising length of time, which trick, with many other clever 
natatorial feats, have earned for them such titles as " Hell Diver," 
" Water Witch," and "Spirit Duck." On shore the birds rest up- 
right, or nearly so, owing to the position of their legs, which are 


Diving Birds 

set far back near the rudimentary tail that serves as a prop to help 
support the top-heavy, awkward body. 

Holboell's Grebe 

Horned Grebe 

Pied-billed Grebe or Dabchick 


(Family Urinatoridce) 

Loons, while as famous divers and swimmers as the grebes, 
are not quite so helpless on land, for they use both bill and wings 
to assist them over the ground during the nesting season, almost 
the only time thev visit it. They dive literally like a flash, the shot 
from a rifle reaching the spot sometimes a second after the loon has 
disappeared into the depths of the lake, where it seems to sink like 
a mass of lead. It can swim several fathoms under water; also, 
just below the surface with only its nostrils exposed, and pro- 
gressing by the help of the feet alone. The sexes are alike. 
They are large, heavy birds, broad and flat of body, with dark 
backs spotted with white, and light under parts. Owing to the 
position of their legs at the back of their bodies, the loons stand in 
an upright position when on land. The voice is extremely loud, 
harsh, and penetrating. 

Common Loon 

Black-throated Loon 

Red-throated Loon 

Auks, Murres, Puffins 

(Family Alcidce) 

Unlike either the grebes or the loons, these diving birds are 
strictly maritime, passing the greater part of their lives upon the 
open sea and visiting the coast chiefly to nest. Enormous colonies 
of them appropriate long stretches of rocky cliffs at the far north 
at the breeding season, and return to the same spot generation 
after generation. In spite of their short wings, which are mere 
flippers, several species fly surprisingly well, although the great 
auk owed its extinction chiefly to a lack of wing-power. Under 
water the birds of this family do use their wings to assist in the 


Diving Birds 

pursuit offish and other sea-food, which grebes and loons do not, 
many ornithologists to the contrary notwithstanding. On land 
the bird moves with a shuffling motion, laboriously and with the 
underparts often dragging over the ground. Agreeing in general 
aspects, the birds of this family differ greatly in the form of the 
bill in almost every species. This feature often takes on odd 
shapes during the nesting season, soft parts growing out of the 
original bill, then hardening into a horny substance, showing 
numerous ridges and furrows, and sometimes becoming brilliantly 
colored, only to fade away or drop off bit by bit as winter ap- 

Puffin or Sea Parrot 

Black Guillemot 

Briinnich's Murre 

Common Murre 

Californian Murre 

Razor-billed Auk 

Dovekie or Sea Dove 


(Family Podicipidce) 

Holboell's Grebe 

(Colymbus holhoellii) 

Called also: RED-NECKED GREBE 

Length — About 19 inches. Largest of the common grebes. 

Male and Female — In summer: Upper parts dusky; top of head, 
small crest, and nape of neck glossy black; throat and cheeks 
ashy; neck rich chestnut red, changing gradually over the 
smooth, satiny breast to silvery white or gray dappled under 
parts; sides also show chestnut tinge. /// iinnter : Crests 
scarcely perceptible; upper parts blackish brown; ashy tint 
of cheeks and throat replaced by pure white; under parts 
ashy, the mottling less conspicuous than in summer. Red 
of neck replaced by variable shades of reddish brown, from 
quite dark to nearly white. Elongated toes furnished with 
broad lobes of skin. 

Young — Upper parts blackish ; neck and sides grayish ; throat and 
under parts silvery white. Head marked with stripes. 

Range — Interior of North America from Great Slave Lake to South 
Carolina and Nebraska. Breeds from Minnesota northward, 
and migrates southward in winter. 

Season — Irregular migrant and winter visitor. 

The American, red-necked grebe, a larger variety of the 
European species, keeps so closely within the lines of family 
traditions that a description of it might very well serve as a com- 
posite portrait of its clan. Six members of this cosmopolitan 
family, numbering in all about thirty species, are found in North 
America; the others are distributed over the lakes and rivers of 
all parts of the world that are neither excessively hot nor cold. 

On the border of some reedy pond or sluggish stream, in a 
floating mass of water-soaked, decaying vegetation that serves as 
a nest, the red-necked grebe emerges from its dull white egg and 


instantly takes to water. Cradled on the water, nourished by 
the wild grain, vegetable matter, small fish, tadpoles, and insects 
the water supplies, sleeping while afloat, diving to pursue fish 
and escape danger, spending, in fact, its entire time in or about 
the water, the grebe appears to be more truly a water-fowl than 
any of our birds. On land, where it almost never ventures, it is 
ungainly and uncomfortable; in the water it is marvelously 
graceful and expert at swimming and diving; quick as a flash to 
drop out of sight, like a mass of lead, when danger threatens, and 
clever enough to remain under water while striking out for a safe 
harbor, with only its nostrils exposed above the surface. Ordi- 
narily it makes a leap forward and a plunge head downward with 
its body in the air for its deep dives. The oily character of its 
plumage makes it impervious to moisture. Swimming is an art 
all grebes acquire the day they are hatched, but their more remark- 
able diving feats are mastered gradually. Far up north, where 
the nesting is done, one may see a mother bird floating about 
among the sedges with from two to five fledglings on her back, 
where they rest from their first natatorial efforts. By a twist of 
her neck she is able to thrust food down their gaping beaks with- 
out losing her balance or theirs. The male bird keeps within 
call, for grebes are devoted lovers and parents. 

It is only in winter that we may meet with these birds in the 
United States, where their habits undergo slight changes. Here 
they are quite as apt to be seen near the sea picking up small fish 
and mollusks in the estuaries, as in the inland ponds and streams. 
During the migrations they are seen to fly rapidly, in spite of their 
short wings and heavy bodies, and with their heads and feet 
stretched so far apart that a grebe resembles nothing more than a 
flying projectile. 

Horned Grebe 

(Colymbtis auritus) 


Length — 14 inches. 

Male and Female — In Slimmer: Prominent yellowish brown crests 
resembling horns; cheeks chestnut; rest of head with puffy 
black feathers; back and wings blackish brown with a few 


whitish feathers in wings; front of neck, upper breast, and 
sides chestnut; lower breast and underneath, white. In 
winter: Lacking feathered head-dress; upper parts grayish 
black; under parts silvery white, sometimes washed with 
gray on the throat and breast. Elongated toes are furnished 
with broad lobes of skin. 

Youtig — Like adults in winter plumage, but with heads distinctly 

Range— ¥rom Northern United States northward to fur countries 
in breeding season; migrating in winter to Gulf States. 

Season — Plentiful during migrations in spring and autumn. Win- 
ter resident. 

The ludicrous-looking head-dress worn by this grebe in the 
nesting season at the far north has quite disappeared by the time 
we see it in the United States; and so the bird that only a few 
months before was conspicuously different from any other, is often 
confounded with the pied-billed grebe, which accounts for the 
similarity of their popular names. As the bird flies it is some- 
times also mistaken for a duck; but a grebe may always be dis- 
tinguished by its habit of thrusting its head and feet to thef;irthest 
opposite extremes when in the air. No birds are more expert in 
water than these. When alarmed they sink suddenly like lead, and 
from the depth to which they appear to go is derived at least one of 
their many suggestive names. Or, they may leap forward and 
plunge downward; but in any case they protect themselves by 
diving rather than by flight, and the maddening cleverness of 
their disappearance, which can be indefinitely prolonged owing 
to their habit of swimming with only the nostrils exposed above 
the surface, makes it simply impossible to locate them again on 
the lake. 

On land, however, the grebes are all but helpless. Standing 
erect, and keeping their balance by the help of a rudimentary tail, 
they look almost as uncomfortable as fish out of water, which the 
evolutionists would have us believe the group of diving birds 
very nearly are. When the young ones are taken from a nest 
and placed on land they move with the help of their wings as if 
crawling on "all fours," very much as a reptile might; and the 
eggs from which they have just emerged are ellipsoidal — i. e., 
elongated and with both ends pointed alike, another reptilian 
characteristic, it is thought. But oology is far from an exact 
science. As young alligators, for example, crawl on their 

•:d billed grebe. 


mother's back to rest, so the young grebes may often be seen. 
With :m underthriist from the mother's wing, which answers 
every purpose of a spring-board, the fledglings are precipitated 
into the water, and so acquire very early in life the art of diving, 
which in this family reaches its most perfect development. For 
a while, however, the young try to escape danger by hiding in 
the rushes of the lake, stream, or salt-water inlet, rather than by 

Grebes are not maritime birds. Their preference is for slow- 
moving waters, especially at the nesting season, since their nests 
are floating ones, and their food consists of small fish, moilusks, 
newts, and grain, such as the motionless inland waters abundantly 
afford. In winter, when we see the birds near our coasts, they 
usually feed on small fish alone. Unhappily the plumage of this 
and other grebes is in demand by inilliners and furriers, to supply 
imaginary wants of unthinking women. 

Pied-billed Grebe 

( Poiiilvmbns podiceps) 


Length — 14 inches. Smallest of the grebes. 

Male and Female — /// summer: Upper parts dusky, grayish brown ; 
wings varied with ashy and white; throat black; upper 
breast, sides of throat, and sides of body yellowish brown, 
irregularly and indistinctly mottled or barred with blackish 
and washed with yellowish brown ; lower breast and under- 
neath glossy white. A few bristling feathers on head, but no 
horns. Bill spotted with dusky and blue (pied-billed) and 
crossed with a black band. Toes elongated and with broad 
lobes of skin. //; tviiitcr: Similar to summer plumage, ex- 
cept that throat is white and the black band on bill is 

Young — Like adults in winter. Heads beautifully striped with 
black, white, and yellowish brown. 

Range — British provinces and United States and southward to 
Brazil, Argentine Republic, including the West Indies and 
Bermuda, breeding almost throughout its range. 


Season — Common migrant in spring and fall. Winters from New 
Jersey and southern Illinois southward. 

The most abundant species of the fjimily in the eastern United 
States, particularly near the Atlantic, the pied-billed grebes are 
far from being maritime birds notwithstanding. Salt water that 
finds its way into the fresh-water lagoons of the Gulf States, or 
the estuaries of our northern rivers, is as briny as they care to 
taste; and although so commonly met with near the sea, they are 
still more common in the rivers, lakes, and ponds inland, where 
tall reeds and sedges line the shores and form their ideal hunting 
and nesting grounds. The grebes and loons are not edible, nor 
are they classed as game birds by true sportsmen ; nevertheless 
this bird is often hunted, although the sportsman finds it a wary 
victim, for there is no bird in the world more difficult to shoot 
than a "water-witch." One instant it will be swimming 
around the lake apparently unconcerned about the intruder; 
the next instant, and before aim can be taken, it will have 
dropped to unknown depths, but presumably to the infernal re- 
gions, the sportsman thinks, as he rests meditatively upon his 
gun, waiting for the grebe to reappear in the neighborhood, which 
it never dreams of doing. It will swim swiftly under water to a 
safe distance from danger; then, by keeping only its nostrils ex- 
posed to the air, will float along just under the surface and leave 
its would-be assassin completely mystified as to its whereabouts 
— a trick the very fledglings practice. It is amazing how long a 
grebe can remain submerged. In pursuing fish, which form its 
staple diet; in diving to escape danger, to feed, to loosen water- 
weeds for the construction of its nest, among its other concerns 
below the surface, it has been missed under water for five minutes, 
and not at all short of breath on its return above at the end of that 
time. Fresh-water mollusks, newts, winged insects, vegetable 
matter, including seeds of wild grain and some grasses, vary the 
bird's fish diet. 

Ungainly and ill at ease on land, in fact, almost helpless 
there, a grebe rarely ventures out of the water either to sleep or to 
nest. The young rest on their mother's back after their first swim- 
ming lessons that are begun the hour they are hatched; but they 
quickly become wonderfully expert and independent of every- 
thing except water: that is their proper element. Nevertheless 
they can fly with speed and grace, though with much working 


of their short wings and stretching of their short bodies, from 
which their heads project as far as may be at one end and their 
great lobed feet at the other. 

The nest of all grebes is an odd affair, one of the curiosities 
of bird architecture. A few blades of "saw grass" may or may 
not serve as anchor to the tloating mass of water-weeds pulled 
from the bottom of the lake and held together by mud and moss. 
The structure resembles nothing so much as a mud pancake ris- 
ing two or three inches above the water, though, like an iceberg, 
only about one-eighth of it shows above the surface. A grebe's 
nest is often two or three feet in depth. In a shallow depression, 
from fourtoten, though usually five, soiled, brownish-white eggs 
are laid, and concealed by a mass of wet muck whenever the. 
mother leaves her incubating duties. At night she sits on the 
nest, and for some hours each day; but at other times the water- 
soaked, muck-covered cradle, with the help of the sun, steams 
the contents into life. 



(Family urinatoridcB) 


(Urinator imber) 



Length — 31 to 36 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Upper parts glossy black, showing 
iridescent violet and green tints. Back and wings spotted 
and barred with white; white spaces on the neck marking off 
black bands, and sides of breast streaked with white. Breast 
and underneath white. Bill stout, straight, sharply pointed, 
and yellowish green. Legs, which are placed at rear of body, 
are short, buried and feathered to heel joint. Tail short, 
but well formed. Feet black and webbed. //; winter and 
immature specimens: Upper parts blackish and feathers 
margined with grayish, not spotted with white. Under- 
neath white ; throat sometimes has grayish wash. 

Range — Northern part of northern hemisphere. in North 
America breeds from the Northern United States to Arctic 
Circle, and winters from the southern limit of its breeding 
range to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Season — A wandering winter resident. Most common in the mi- 
grations from September to May. 

This largest and handsomest of the diving birds, as it is the 
most disagreeably voiced, comes down to our latitude in winter, 
when its favorite inland lakes at the north begin to freeze 
over and the fish to fail, and wanders about far from the haunts 
of men along the seacoast or by the fresh waterways. Cau- 
tious, shy, fond of solitude, it shifts about from place to place 
discouraging our acquaintance. By the time it reaches the United 
States — for the majority nest farther north — it has exchanged its 
rich, velvety black and white wedding garment for a more dingy 
suit, in which the immature specimens are also dressed. With 



Strong, direct flight small companies of loons may be seen high 
overhead migrating southward to escape the ice that locks up 
their food; or a solitary bird, some fine morning in September, 
may cause us to look up to where a long-drawn, melancholy, 
uncanny scream seems to rend the very clouds. Nuttall speaks 
of the "sad and wolfish call which like a dismal echo seems 
slowly to invade the ear, and rising as it proceeds, dies away in 
the air. This boding sound to mariners, supposed to be indica- 
tive of a storm, may be heard sometimes two or three miles 
when the bird itself is invisible, or reduced almost to a speck in 
the distance." But the loon has also a soft and rather pleasing 
cry, to which doubtless Longfellow referred in his " Birds of Pas- 
sage," when he wrote of 

. . " The loon that /aKf,4j and flies 
Down to those reflected skies." 

Not SO aquatic as the grebes, perhaps the loons are quite 
as remarkable divers and swimmers. The cartridge of the 
modern breech-loader gives no warning of a coming shot, as 
the old-fashioned flint-lock did ; nevertheless, the loon, which 
is therefore literally quicker than a flash at diving, disappears 
nine times out of ten before the shot reaches the spot where 
the bird had been floating with apparent unconcern only a 
second before. As its flesh is dark, tough, and unpalatable, the 
sportsman loses nothing of value except his temper. Sometimes 
young loons are eaten in camps where better meat is scarce, and 
are even offered in large city markets where it isn't. 

In spring when the ice has broken up, a pair of loons retire to 
the shores of some lonely inland lake or river, and here on the 
ground they build a rude nest in a slight depression near enough 
to the water to glide off into it without touching their feet to the 
sand. In June two grayish olive-brown eggs, spotted with um- 
ber brown, are hatched. The young are frequently seen on land 
as they go waddling about from pond to pond. After the nesting 
season the parents separate and undergo a moult which some- 
times leaves so few feathers on their bodies that they are unable 
to rise in the air. When on land they are at any time almost 
helpless and exceedingly awkward, using their wings and bill to 
assist their clumsy feet. 


Loons ' 

The Black-throated Loon (Urinator arciicus), a more north- 
ern species than the preceding, reaches only the Canadian border 
of the United States in winter. It may be distinguished from the 
common loon by its smaller size, twenty-seven inches, and by 
its gray feathers on the top of the head and the nape of the neck, 
though in winter plumage even this slight difference of feathers 
is lacking. 

Red-throated Loon 

(Urinator himme) 


Length — 25 inches. 

3fale and Female — In summer: Crown and upper parts dull brown- 
ish black, with a greenish wash and profusely marked with 
white oval spots and streaks. Underneath white. Bluish 
gray on forehead, chin, upper throat, and sides of head. A 
triangular mark of chestnut red on fore neck. Bill black. 
Tail narrowly tipped with white. In winter and immature 
specimens: Similar to the common loon in winter, except 
that the back is spotted with white. 

Range — Throughout northern parts of northern hemisphere; mi- 
grating southward in winter nearly across the United States. 

Season — Winter visitor or resident. 

It is not an easy matter at a little distance to distinguish this 
loon from the great northern diver, for the young of the year, 
which are most abundant migrants in the United States, lack the 
chestnut-red triangle on the throat, which is the bird's chief mark 
of identification. Its smaller size is apparent only at close range. 
In habits these loons are almost identical; and although their 
name, used metaphorically, has come to imply a simpleton or 
crazy fellow, no one who has studied them, and certainly no one 
who has ever tried to shoot one, can call them stupid. It is only 
on land, where they are almost never seen, that they even 
look so. 

Audubon found the red-throated loons nesting on the coast 
of Labrador, near small fresh-water lakes, in June. The young 
are able to fly by August, and in September can join the older mi- 
grants in their southern flight. In England these loons follow the 



movements of the sprats, on which they feed; hence one of their 
common names by which our Canadian cousins often call them. 
Fishermen sometimes bring one of these divers that has been 
gorging on the imprisoned fish, to shore in their nets. For a 
fuller account of the bird's habits, see the common loon. 



(Family Alcidir) 


(Fratercula arctica) 



Length — 13 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts blackish; browner on the head 
and front of neck. Sides of the head and throat white; some- 
times grayish. Nape of neck has narrow grayish collar. 
Breast and underneath white. Feet less broadly webbed 
than a loon's. Bill heavy and resembling a parrot's. In 
nesting season bill assumes odd shapes, showing ridges and 
furrows, an outgrowth of soft parts that have hardened and 
taken on bright tints. A horny spine over eye. Colored 
rosette at corner of mouth. 

Range — Coasts and islands of the North Atlantic, nesting on the 
North American coast from the Bay of Fundy northward. 
South in winter to Long Island, and casually beyond. 

Season — 'Winter visitor. 

Few Americans have seen this curious-looking bird outside 
the glass cases of museums; nevertheless numbers of them strag- 
gle down the Atlantic coast as far as Long Island every winter, 
from the countless myriads that nest in the rocky cliffs around the 
Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. Unlike either grebes 
or loons, puffins are gregarious, especially at the nesting season. 
In April great numbers begin to assemble in localities to which 
they return year after year, and select crevices in the rocks or bur- 
row deep holes like a rabbit, to receive the solitary egg that is the 
object of so much solicitude two months later. Both male and 
female work at excavating the tunnel and at feeding their one 
offspring, which has an appetite for fish and other sea-food large 
enough for a more numerous family. By the end of August the 


Auks, Murres, Pufifins 

entire colony breaks up and follows the exodus of fish, completely 
deserting their nesting grounds, where any young ones that may 
be hatched late are left to be preyed upon by hawks and ravens. 
"Notwithstanding this apparent neglect of their young at this 
time, when every other instinct is merged in the desire and neces- 
sity of migration," wrote Nuttall, "no bird is more attentive to 
them in general, since they will suffer themselves to be taken by 
the hand and use every endeavor to save and screen their young, 
biting not only their antagonist, but, when laid hold of by the 
wings, inflicting bites on themselves, as if actuated by the agonies 
of despair; and when released, instead of flying away, they 
hurry again into the burrow." A hand thrust in after one may 
dragthe angry parent, that has fastened its beak upon a finger, to 
the mouth of the tunnel; but a certain fisherman off the coast of 
Nova Scotia, who lost a piece of solid fiesh in this experiment, 
now gives advice freely against it. 

The beak that is able to inflict so serious an injury is this 
bird's chief characteristic. It looks as if it had been bought at a 
toyshop for some reveller in masquerade ; but the puffin wears it 
only when engaged in the most serious business of life, for it is 
the wedding garment donned by both contracting parties. It 
is about as long as the head, as high as it is long, having flat 
sides that show numerous ridges or furrows from the fact that 
each represents new growth of soft matter that finally hardens 
into horn as the nesting season approaches, only to disappear bit 
by bit until nine pieces have been moulted or shed, very much as 
a deer casts its antlers. The white pelican drops its "centre- 
board " in a similar manner. In the puffins there is also a moult 
of the excrescenses upon the eyelids, and a shrivelling of the col- 
ored rosette at the corner of the mouth, peculiarities first scientif- 
ically noted by L. Bereau about twenty years ago. The change 
of plumage after moult is scarcely perceptible. 

On land the bird walks upright, awkwardly shuffling along 
on the full length of its legs and feet. It is an accomplished 
swimmer and diver, like the grebes and loons, although, unlike 
them, it uses its wings under water. When a strong gale is 
blowing off the coast, the puffins seek shelter in the crevices of 
the rocks or their tunnels in the sand; but some that were over- 
taken by it on the open sea, unable to weather it, are sometimes 
found washed ashore dead after a violent storm. Mr. Brewster, 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

who made a special study of these birds in the Gulf of St. Law- 
rence, writes: "The first report of our guns brought dozens 
tumbling from their nests. Their manner of descending from 
the higher portions of the cliff was peculiar. Launching into the 
air with heads depressed and wings held stiffly at a sharp angle 
above their backs, they would shoot down like meteors, check- 
ing their speed by an upward turn just before reaching the water. 
In a few minutes scores had collected about us. They were per- 
fectly silent and very tame, passing and repassing over and by us, 
often coming within ten or fifteen yards. On such occasions 
their flight has a curious resemblance to that of a woodcock, but 
when coming in from the fishing grounds they skim close to the 
waves and the wings are moved more in the manner of those of 
a duck." 

Black Guillemot 

(Cepphus grylle) 

Called also: SEA PIGEON 

Length — i ; inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Prevailing color sooty black, with 
greenish tints above and lighter below. Large white patch on 
upper wings, and white ends of wing feathers, leave a black 
bar across the wings, sometimes apparently, though not 
really, absent; wing linings white. Bill and claws black; 
mouth and feet vermilion or pinkish. In winter : Wings 
and tail black, with white patch on wings; back, hind neck, 
and head black or gray variegated with white. Under parts 

Young — Upper parts like adults in winter, except that the under 
parts are mottled with black. Nestlings are covered with 
blackish-brown down. Feet and legs blackish. 

Jiange — Breeds from Maine to Newfoundland and beyond; mi- 
grates south in winter, regularly to Cape Cod, more rarely to 
Long Island, and casually as far as Philadelphia. 

Small companies of sea pigeons, made up of two or three 
pairs that keep well together, may be seen almost grazing along 
the surfiice of the sea off our northern States and the Canadian 
coast, following a straight line at the base of the cliffs while 
keeping a sharp lookout for the small fish, shrimps, baby crabs, 
and marine insects they pick up on the way. Suddenly one of 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

the birds dives after a fish, pursues, overtakes, and swallows it, 
then rejoins its mate with little loss of time; for these sea pigeons 
use their wings under water as well as above it, and so are able to 
reappear above the surface at surprising distances from the point 
where they went down. They are truly marine birds; never 
met with inland, and rarely on the shore itself, except at the 
nesting season. Large companies nest in the crevices and fis- 
sures of cliffs and rocky promontories, heaping up little piles of 
pebbles that act as drains for rainwater or melting snow under 
the eggs. Incubation takes place in June or July, according to 
the latitude. Two or three sea-green or whitish eggs, irregu- 
larly spotted and blotched with blackish brown, and with pur- 
plish shell-markings, make up a clutch. 

In the diary kept on W\t Jeaiinette, De Long recorded meeting 
with black guillemots in latitude 7?°, swimming about in the open 
spaces between the ice-floes early in May; and Greely ate their 
eggs off the shores of Northern Greenland in July. Both explor- 
ers mentioned the presence of fox tracks in the neighborhood of 
the guillemots, proving that this arch enemy pursues them even 
into the desolation of the Arctic Circle. One of the first lessons 
taught the young birds is to hurl themselves from the jutting 
rocks to escape the fox that is forever threatening their lives in 
the eyries, and to dive into the sea that orotects and feeds them. 

Brunnich's Murre 

(Uria lomvia) 


Length — 16.50 inches. 

Male and Female — Sooty black above, brownest on front of neck. 
Breast and underneath, white. White tips to secondaries 
form an obscure band. Greenish base to the upper half of 
bill, which is rounded outward over the lower half Bill 
short, stout, wide, and deep. 

Range — Coasts and islands of the North Atlantic and eastern Arc- 
tic Oceans. South to the lakes of Northern New York and 
the coast of New Jersey. Nests from the Gulf of St. Law- 
rence northward. 

Season — Winter visitor in United States. 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

" The bird cliffs on Arveprins Island (Northern Greenland) 
deserve a passing notice, not for Arctic travellers, but for the gen- 
eral reader," writes General Greely in "Three Years of Arctic 

" For over a thousand feet out of the sea these cliffs rise per- 
pendicularly, broken only by narrow ledges, in general inaccessi- 
ble to man or other enemy, which afford certain kinds of sea 
fowl secure and convenient breeding places. On the face of 
these sea-ledges of Arveprins Island, Briinnich's guillemots, or 
loons, (sic) gather in the breeding season, not by thousands, but 
by tens of thousands. Each lays but a single gray egg, speckled 
with brown; yet so numerous are the birds, that every available 
spot is covered with eggs. The surprising part is that each bird 
knows its own egg, although there is no nest and it rests on the 
bare rock. Occasional quarrels over an egg generally result in a 
score of others being rolled into the sea. 

"The clumsy, short-winged birds fall an easy prey to the 
sportsman, provided the cliffs are not too high, but many fall on 
lower inaccessible ledges, and so uselessly perish. A single shot 
brings out thousands on the wing, and the unpleasant cackling, 
which is continuous when undisturbed, becomes a deafening 
clamor when they are hunted. 

"The eggs are very palatable. The flesh is excellent — to 
my taste the best flavored of any Arctic sea fowl; but, to avoid 
the slightly train-oil taste, it is necessary to keep the bird to ripen, 
and to carefully skin it before cooking." Later on, the starving 
survivors in the camp near Cape Sabine owed the prolonging of 
their wretched existence from day to day largely to these very 

When these murres come down from the far north to visit 
us in winter they keep so well out from land that none of our 
ornithologists seem to have made a very close study of them. 
Like other birds of the order to which they belong, they dive sud- 
denly out of sight when approached, and by the help of wings 
and feet swim under water for incredible distances. 

The Common Murre or Guillemot (Uria troile), so called, is 
certainly less common in the United States than the preceding 
species. Massachusetts appears to be its southern limit. In 
winter, when we see it here, it can be distinguished from 


% Life-size. 

Auks, Murres, Puffins 

BriJnnich's murre only by its bill, which is half an inch longer. 
Some specimens show a white ring or "eye-glass" around the 
eye and a white stripe behind it; but doubt exists as to whether 
such specimens are not a separate species. Much study has still 
to be given to this group of birds before the differences of opin- 
ion held by the leading ornithologists concerning them will be 
settled satisfactorily to all. The habits of the three murres men- 
tioned here are identical so far as they are known. Penguin and 
foolish guillemot are titles sometimes given to the common 
murre; but to add to popular confusion, they are just as frequently 
applied to Briinnich's murre. 

The Californian murre, the Western representative of these 
species, differs from them neither in plumage nor habits, it is said. 
It breeds abundantly from Behring's Sea to California, and the na- 
tives of Alaska depend upon its eggs for food. They were 
among the first dainties sold to the Klondike miners. 

Razor-billed Auk 

( Alca torda) 

Called also : TINKER 

Length — 16. SO inches. 

Male and Female — /;; summer : Upper parts sooty black; browner 
on fore neck. A conspicuous white line from eye to bill; 
breast, narrow line on wing, wing-linings, and underneath, 
white. Bill, which is about as long as head, and black, has 
horny shield on tip and is crossed by sunken white band. 
Tail upturned. In winter: Similar to summer plumage, ex- 
cept that it is duller and the sides and front of neck are 
white. Bill lacks horny shield. White line on bill, sometimes 
lacking on winter birds and always on immature specimens. 

Range— '' Coasis and islands of the North Atlantic; south in win- 
ter on the North American coast, casually to North Carolina. 
Breeding from Eastern Maine northward." A. O. U. 

Season — Winter visitor. 

Audubon, who followed these birds to their nesting haunts 
in Labrador and the Bay of Fundy, found the bodies of thousands 
Strewn on the shores, where, after their eggs had been taken by 
boat loads for food, and the fine, warm feathers of their breasts 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

had been torn off for clothing, they were left to decay. In Nova 
Scotia he met three men who made a business of egg-hunting. 
They began operations by trampling on all the eggs they found 
laid, relying on the well-known habit of the auk and its relatives 
that lay but a single egg, to replace it should it be destroyed. 
Thus they made sure of fresh eggs only. In the course of si.\ 
weeks they had collected thirty thousand dozen, worth about two 
thousand dollars. As this wholesale destruction of our gregarious 
marine birds has been going on for a century at least, is it not 
surprising that they are not all extinct, like the great auk ? 

Without wings to help them escape from the voyagers and 
fishermen who pursued them on sea and ashore, the great auks, 
that in Nuttall's day were still breeding in enormous colonies in 
Greenland, dwindled to a single specimen "found dead in the 
vicinity of St. Augustine, Labrador, in November, 1870," which, 
although in poor condition, was sold for two hundred dollars to 
a European buyer. The Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia 
Academy, Cambridge Museum, and Vassar College own one 
specimen each, the only ones in this country, so far as known. 

The moral from the story of the great auk that the razor- 
billed species and its short-winged relatives should take to heart, 
obviously, is to keep their wings from degenerating into useless 
appendages, by constant exercise. They certainly are strong 
flyers in their present evolutionary stage, and, by constantly flap- 
ping their stiffened wings just above the level of the sea, are usually 
able to escape pursuit, if not in the air then by diving through the 
crest of a wave and still using their wings as a fish would its fins, 
to assist their flight under water. Though they move awkwardly 
on land, so awkwardly as to suggest the possible derivation of 
the adverb from their name, they still move rapidly enough to es- 
cape with their life in a fair race. When cornered, the hand that 
attempts to seize them receives a bite that sometimes takes the 
flesh from the bone— such a bite as the sea parrot gives. 

In the nesting grounds, where enormous numbers of these 
razor-billed auks have congregated from times unknown, the 
females may be seen crouching along the eggs, not across them, 
in long, seriate ranks, where tier after tier of cliffs rise from 
the water's edge to several hundred feet above the sea. Where 
there is no attempt at a nest, and each buffy and brown speckled 
egg looks just like the thousands of others lying loosely about 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

in the rocky crevices, it is amazing how each bird can tell its 
own. The male birds are kept busy during incubation bringing 
small fish in their bills to their sitting mates or relieving them 
on the eggs while the females go a-fishing. For a short time 
only the young birds are fed by regurgitation; then small fish are 
laid before them for them to help themselves, and presently they 
go tumbling off the jutting rocks into the sea to dive and hunt in- 
dependently. Particularly at the nesting season these razor-bills 
utter a peculiar grunt or groan; but the stragglers from the great 
tlocks that reach our coast in winter are almost silent. 


(/illc alle) 


Length — 8. 50 inches. 

Male and Female — In Summer : Upper parts, including head and 
neck all around, glossy black; shoulders and other wing 
feathers tipped with white and forming two distinct patches. 
Lower breast and underneath white. A few white touches 
about eyes. Wings long for this family. Body squat, 
owing to small, weak feet. Wing linings dusky. In winter: 
Resembling summer plumage, except that the black upper 
parts become sooty and the white of lower breast extends 
upward to the bill, almost encircling the neck. Sometimes 
the white parts are washed with grayish and the birds have 
gray collar on nape. 

Young — Like adults in winter, but their upper parts are duller. 

Range — From the farthest north in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, 
south to Long Island, and occasionally so far as Virginia. 

Season — Winter visitor. 

In the chapter entitled " The End^by Death and by Rescue," 
in his "Three Years of Arctic Service," General Greely, after tell- 
ing how the wretched men at Cape Sabine were reduced to eating 
their sealskin boots and were apparently in the last extremitv, 
goes on to describe how Long, one of the hunters of the expedi- 
tion, one awful day succeeded in shooting four of these little 
dovekies, two king-ducks, and a large guillemot. But the current 
swept away all the birds except one dovekie! " I ordered the 


Auks, Murres, Puffins 

dovekie to be issued to the hunters who can barely walk," writes 
the starving commander; "but . . . one man begged with tears 
for his twelfth, which was given him with everybody's contempt." 
When the twelfth part of a little bird that a man can easily cover 
with his hand causes a scene like this, can the imagination picture 
the harrowing misery of the actual situation ? 

And yet where man and nearly every other living creature 
perishes, the little auk pursues its happy way, floating about in 
the open water, left even in that Arctic desolation by the drifting 
ice floes, and diving into its icy depths after the shrimps that 
Greely's party collected at such frightful cost. 

Far within the Arctic Circle great colonies nest after the 
fashion of their tribe, in the jutting cliffs that overhang the sea. 
One pale, bluish-white egg, laid on the bare rock, is all that nature 
requires of these birds to carry on the species, whose chief pro- 
tection lies in their being able to live beyond the reach of men, to 
escape pursuit by diving and rapid swimming under water, and 
to fly in the teeth of a gale that would mean death to a puffin. 
With so many means of self-preservation at their disposal, there 
is no need of a large family to keep up the balance that nature 

These neat little birds, whose form alone suggests a dove, 
are by no means the lackadaisical creatures their name seems to 
imply. They are self-reliant, for they are chiefly solitary birds 
that straggle down our coast in winter. They are wonderfully 
quick of motion in their chosen element, and although they have 
a peculiar foshion of splashing along the surface of the water, as 
if unable to fly, they certainly are in no immediate danger of be- 
coming extinct from the loss of wings through disuse, like the 
great auk. A little sea dove that once flew across the bow of 
an ocean steamer in the North Atlantic in an instant became a 
mere speck in the bleak wintry sky, and the next second van- 
ished utterly. 








(Order Longipennes) 

Birds of this order may be recognized among the webbed- 
footed birds by their long, pointed wings that reach beyond the 
base of the tail, and in many instances beyond the end of it. 
They do not hold themselves erect when ashore, as -the grebes, 
loons, and auks do, but are able to keep a horizontal position be- 
cause their legs are placed nearly, if not perfectly, under the centre 
of equilibrium. Bills of variable forms, sharply pointed and fre- 
quently hooked like a hawk's. Four toes, three of them in 
front, flat and webbed; a very small rudimentary great toe 
(hallux) elevated above the foot at the back. 

Jaegers and Skuas 
(Family Stercorariidce) 

End of upper half of bill is more or less swollen and rounded 
over the tip of lower mandible. Upper parts of plumage, and 
sometimes all. sooty, brownish black, frequently with irregular 
bars. Middle feathers of square tail are longest. The name 
jaeger, meaning hunter, might be freely translated into pirate; for 
these creatures of spirited, vigorous flight delight in pursuing 
smaller gulls and terns to rob them of their fish, like the marine 
birds of prey that they are. Jaegers and skuas are birds of the 
seacoast or large bodies of inland water, and wander extensively 
except at the nesting season in the far North. 

Parasitic Jaeger. 

Pomarine Jaeger. 

Long-tailed Jaeger. 

Long-winged Swimmers 

Gulls and Terns 

(Family Laridce) 

The Gulls 

(Subfamily Larince) 

Bills of moderate length, the upper mandible not swollen at 
the tip like the jaegers, but curved over the end of the lower 
mandible. Wings long, broad, strong and pointed, though their 
flight is less graceful than a tern's. Tail feathers usually of about 
equal length. Sexes alike, but the plumage, in which white, 
brown, black, and pearl-blue predominate, varies greatly with 
age and season. In flight the bill points forward, not downward 
like a tern's. Gulls pick their food from the surface of the sea 
or shore, whereas terns plunge for theirs. Gulls are the better 
swimmers, and pass the greater part of their lives at sea, coming 
to shore chiefly to nest in large colonies. 

Kittiwake Gull. 

Glaucous Gull, or Burgomaster. 

Iceland Gull. 

Great Black-backed Gull. 

Herring Gull. 

Ring-billed Gull. 

Laughing Gull. 

Bonaparte's Gull. 


(Subfamily Sterince) 

Small birds of the coast rather than the open sea. Bill 
straight, not hooked, and sharply pointed. Outer tail feathers 
longer than the middle ones; tails usually very deeply forked. 
Legs placed farther back than a gull's, and form of body more 
slender and trim. Great length and sharpness of wing give a 
dash to their flight that the gull's lacks. Bill held point down- 
ward, like a mosquito's, when tern is searching for food. Plu- 
mage scarcely differs in the sexes, but it varies greatly with the 
season and age. Usually the top of head is black; in the rest of 
the plumage pearl grays, browns, and white predominate. Tails 


Long-winged Swimmers 

generally long and forked, so that in aspect, as in flight, the birds 
suggest their name of sea swallow. 

Marsh Tern. 

Royal Tern. 

Wilson's Tern, or Common Tern. 

Roseate Tern. 

Arctic Tern. 

Least Tern. 

Black Tern. 


(Family Rynchopidce) 

Only one species of skimmer inhabits the Western Hemi- 
sphere. These birds have extraordinary bills, thin, and resembling 
the blade of a knife, with lower half much longer than the upper 
mandible, and used to skim food from the surface of the water 
and to open shells. Wings exceedingly long; flight more meas- 
ured and sweeping than a tern's. 

Black Skimmer, or Scissor Bill. 



(Family Stercorariidce) 

Parasitic Jaeger 

( Stercorarius parasiticus) 


Length — 17. 20 inches. 

Male and Female — Light stage: Top of head and cheeks brown, 
nearly black; back, wings, and tail slaty brown, which be- 
comes reddish brown on sides )f breast and flanks. Sides 
of head, back of neck, and sometimes entire neck and throat 
yellowish. Under parts white. Wings moderately long, 
strong and pointed. Middle feathers of tail longest. Black 
tip of upper half of slate-colored bill is swollen and rounded 
over end of lower mandible like a hawk's. Feet black. 
Dark stage : Plumage dark slaty brown, darker on top of 
head, very slightly lighter on under parts. Immature speci- 
mens, which seem to be most abundant off our coasts, 
show sooty slate plumage; bordered, tipped, or barred 
with buffy, rufous, or brownish black, giving the bird a mot- 
tled appearance. Plumage extremely variable with age and 

Range — Nests in Barren Grounds, Greenland, and other high 
northern districts; migrates southward along the Atlantic 
and Pacific coasts and through the Great Lakes, wintering 
from New York, California, and the Middle States to Brazil. 

Season — October to June. Winter visitor. 

This dusky pirate, strong of wing and marvelously skilful 
and alert in its flight, uses its superior powers chiefly to harass 
and prey upon smaller birds. Lashing the air with its long tail, 
and with wide wing stretchings and powerful strokes, the 
jaeger comes bearing down on a kittiwake gull that holds a 



dripping tish ready for a Lontenipialed dinner. To dart away 
from its tormentor, that darts, too, even more suddenly ; to outrace 
the jaeger, although freighted with the fish, are tried resorts that 
the little gull must tinally despair of when the inevitable moment 
arrives that the coveted fish has to be dropped for the pirate to 
snatch up and bear away in triumph. 

Other gulls than the kittiw.ike suffer from this ocean prowler; 
their young and eggs are eaten, their food is taken out of their 
very mouths. As they live so largely on the results of other 
birds' efforts, the jaegers deserve to be branded as parasites, 
which all the group are. Indeed, these birds that the English call 
skuas, differ very little, if any, in habits. While all spend the 
summer far north, the parasitic jaeger has really less claim to the 
title of Arctic jaeger than either the pomarine or the long-tailed 
species, which go within the Arctic Circle to nest. On an open 
moor or tundra, in a slight depression of the ground, a rude nest 
is scantily lined with grass, moss, or leaves. Sometimes this nest 
is near the margin of the sea or lake, sometimes on an ocean 
island and laid among the rocks. It contains from two to four — 
usually two — light olive-brown eggs that are frequently tinged 
with greenish and scrawled over with chocolate markings most 
plentiful at the larger end, where they may run together and form 
a blotch. 

By the end of September the jaegers begin their southerly 
migration, reaching Long Island in October, regularly, and quite 
as regularly leaving early in June. During the winter they play 
the role of sea scavengers when they are not robbing the gulls, 
that will actually disgorge a meal already safely stowed away 
rather than submit to the harassing, petty tortures of these pirates. 
Jaegers constantly pick up carrion and other rubbish cast up by 
the sea or thrown overboard from a passing ship, for nothing in 
the line of food, however putrid it may be, seems to miss the 
mark of their rapacious appetites, as their Latin name, stercora- 
rius, a scavenger, indicates. On land they always seek choicer 
food, garnered by their own effort — berries, insects, eggs, little 
birds, and mammals. 

The best trait the jaegers have is their uncommon cour- 
age. Nothing that attacks their home or young is too large or 
fierce for them to dash at fearlessly; and by persistent teasing 
and harassing, for the want of formidable weapons of defense, 



they will eventually get the better of their antagonist, though it 
be a sea eagle. 

The Pomarine Jaeger — a contraction of pomatorhine, mean- 
ing flap-nosed — (Stercorarius pomariniis) may be distinguished 
from the parasitic jaeger by its larger size, twenty-two inches; 
by the rounded ends of its central tail feathers, which project about 
three inches beyond the others; and finally by its darker, almost 
black, upper parts, although the plumage during the dark and 
the light phases of these birds is so nearly the same that when 
seen on the wing it is impossible to tell one species from another. 
Professor Newton, of Cambridge University, has noted that the 
long, central tail feathers of the pomarine jaeger have their shafts 
twisted toward the tip, so that in flight the lower surfaces of their 
webs are pressed together vertically, giving the bird the appear- 
ance of having a disk attached to its tail. This species is also 
called the pomarine hawk-gull. 

It is not known whether the Long-tailed Jaeger, or BufTon's 
Skua, as they call it in England (Stercorarius longicaiuiiis), 
undergoes the remarkable changes of plumage that its relatives in- 
dulge in or not, for its range is more northerly than that of any of 
the jaegers, and when it migrates south of the Arctic Circle, to our 
coasts, it is wearing feathers most confusingly like those of the 
parasitic jaeger in its light phase. Indeed, the young of these 
two species cannot be distinguished except by measuring their 
bills, when it is found that the long-tailed jaeger has the shorter 

The distinguishing mark of the adults of this species is the 
length of the central tail feathers, narrow and pointed, that pro- 
ject about seven inches beyond the others; but immature speci- 
mens lack even this mark. The description of the habits of the 
parasitic jaeger applies equally well to all of the three freebooters 



(Family LaridceJ 

(Subfamily Larince) 

(Rissa tridactyla) 

Length — 16 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Deep pearl gray mantle over back 
and wings. Head, neck, tail, and under parts pure white. 
Ends of outer wing feathers — primaries — black, tipped with 
white. Tips of tail quills black. Hind toe very small, a 
mere knob, and without a claw. Bill light yellow. Feet 
webbed and black. In winter: Similar to summer plumage, 
but that the mantle is a darker gray and extends to back of 
neck. Dark spot about the eye. 

Range — Arctic regions, south \p. eastern North America in winter 
to the Great Lakes and the coast of Virginia. Breeds from 
Magdalen Islands northward. 

Season — Autumn and winter visitor in the Middle States. Com- 
mon north of them all winter. 

It is the larger herring gull that we see in such numbers in 
our harbors and following in the path of vessels along our coast; 
but the watchful eye may often pick out a few kittiwakes in the 
loose flocks, and north of Rhode Island meet with a company of 
them apart from others of their kin. Skimming gracefully along 
the surface of the water, soaring, floating in mid-air, swooping 
for a morsel in the trough of the waves, then with a few strong 
wing strokes rejoining their fellows as they play at cross-tag 
in the sky, the gulls fascinate the eyes and beguile many a 
weary hour at sea. 

Along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, on the craggy cliffs of 
Greenland, and beyond, large colonies of kittiwakes nest on the 



ledges of rock barely scattered over with grass, moss, and sea- 
weed to form a rude nest, or else directly on the sand in the midst 
of a little heap of "drift" cast high up on the beach. Three or 
four eggs, varying from buffy to grayish brown, and marked with 
chocolate, are often taken from a nest by the natives, who, with 
the jaegers and the sea eagles that also devour the young, are the 
kittiwakes' worst enemies. Fearlessly breasting a gale on the open 
ocean, sleeping with head under wing while riding the waves, 
the gull is far more at home at sea than ashore, and soon leaves 
the nest to begin its roving life at sea. 

Their service to man, aside from the gulls' aesthetic value, is in 
devouring refuse that would otherwise wash ashore and pollute 
the air. This is the gull that the jaegers, those dusky pirates of the 
high seas, most persecute by taking away its fish and other 
food to save themselves the trouble of hunting in the legitimate 

Glaucous Gull 

(Larus glaucus) 


Length — 28 to 32 inches. 

Male and Female — /;/ summer: Mantle over wings and back, 
light pearl gray ; all other parts pure white. Large, strong, 
wide bill which is chrome yellow, with orange red spot at 
the angle. Legs and feet pale pink or yellowish pink. 
In winter: Light streaks of pale brownish gray on head and 
back of neck ; otherwise plumage same as summer. Im- 
mature birds are wholly white, with flesh-colored bills hav- 
ing black tips. Females are smaller than males. 

Range — Northern and Arctic Oceans around the world; in North 
America from Long Island and the Great Lakes in winter, to 
Labrador and northward in the nesting season. 

Season — Irregular winter visitor. 

This very large gull, whose protective coloring indicates that 
the snow and ice of the circum-polar regions are its habitual 
surroundings, occasionally struggles down our coasts and to the 
Great Lakes in loose flocks in winter, but leaves none too good 
a character behind it on its departure in the early spring. General 
Greely met enormous numbers of burgomasters in the dreary 
desolation of ice at the fiir north ; and Frederick Schwatka tells 



of great nesting colonies in the cliffs overhanging the upper 
waters of the Yukon, where the sound of the rushing torrent was 
drowned by their harsh uproar as they wheeled about in dense 
clouds high above his head. The nest, which is a very slight 
affair of seaweed, moss, or grass, contains two or three stone- 
colored eggs, although sometimes pale olive-brown ones are 
found, spotted and marked with chocolate and ashy gray. 
Many nests are also made directly on the ground. 

What is reprehensible in this bird's habits is its tyranny 
over smaller, weaker gulls and other birds that it hunts down 
like a pirate to rob of their food while they carry it across the 
waves or to their nest, where the villain still pursues them and 
devours their young. Quite in keeping with such unholiness 
is the burgomaster's harsh cry, variously written kiih-lak' and 
ctit-Ieek', that it raises incessantly when hungry, and that therefore 
must be particularly unpleasant to the kittiwakes, guillemots, and 
other conspicuous victims of its rapacious appetite. 'When its 
hunger is appeased, however, by fish, small birds, crow-berries, 
carrion, and morsels floating on the sea, this gull is said to be 
inactive and silent; and certainly the starving hunters in the 
Greely expedition found it sadly shy. 

The Iceland Gull (Lanis lencoptertis) looks like a small 
edition of the burgomaster, its length being about twenty-five 
inches; but its plumage is identical with that of the larger bird. 

Great Black-backed Gull 

(Larus marinus) 


Length — 29 to 30 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Mantle over back and wings 
dark slaty brown, almost black ; wing feathers tipped 
with white; rest of plumage white. Bill yellow, red at 
the angle. Feet and legs pinkish. In winter: Similar to 
summer dress except that the white head and neck are 
streaked with grayish. Immature birds are mottled brown 
and white, the perfect plumage described above not being 
attained until the fourth year. 

Range — Coasts of North Atlantic. Nests from Nova Scotia north- 



ward. Migrates in winter sometimes to South Carolina and 
Virginia, but regularly to Long Island and the Great Lakes. 
-Seawn— September to April. 

The black-back shares the distinction with the burgomaster 
of being not only one of the largest, most powerful representa- 
tives of its family, but one of the most tyrannical and greedy. 
So optimistic a bird-lover as Audubon said that it is as much the 
tyrant of the sea fowl as the eagle is of the land birds. Like the 
eagle again, it is exceedingly shy of men and inaccessible. " By 
far the wariest bird that I have ever met," writes Brewster. This 
same careful observer reports that he noted four distinct cries : 
"a braying Ha-lia-ha. a deep keow, keow, a short barking note, 
and a long-drawn groan, very loud and decidedly impressive," 
when he studied it in the island of Anticosti. 

Soaring high in the air in great spirals, with majestic grace 
and power, the saddle-back still keeps a watchful eye on what 
is passing in the world below, and, quick as a hawk, will come 
swooping down to pounce upon some smaller gull or other bird 
that has just secured a fish by patient toil, to suck the eggs in a 
nest left for the moment unguarded, or eat the young eider-ducks 
and willow grouse for which it seems to have a special fondness; 
though nothing either young and tender, old and tough, fresh or 
carrion, goes amiss of its rapacious maw. It is a sea scavenger 
of more than ordinary capacity, and when faithfully playing in 
this role it lays us under obligation to speak well of it. Certainly 
the gulls and other sea fowl that eat refuse contribute much to 
the healthfulness of our coasts. 

Before the onslaughts of this black-backed freebooter almost 
all the tribe of sea fowl quail ; and yet, like every other tyrant, it 
is itself most cowardly, for it will desert even its own young 
rather than be approached by man, who visits the sins of the 
father upon the children by pickling them for food when they are 
not taken in the egg for boiling. 

Usually the nest is built with hundreds or even thousands of 
others on some inaccessible cliff overhanging the sea; or it may 
be on an island, or on the dunes near the beach, in which latter 
case it is the merest depression in the turf lined with grass and 
seaweed. Two or three — usually three — clay-colored or buff eggs, 
rather evenly and boldly spotted with chocolate brown, make a 



dutch. After the nesting season these gulls migrate farther south- 
ward than the glaucous gulls, not because they are incapable of 
withstanding the most intense cold, but because the fish supply 
is of course greater in the open waters of our coast. With ma- 
jestic grace they skim along the waves, revealing the dark slate- 
colored mantle covering their backs like a pall, for which they 
must bear the gruesome name of "Coffin Carrier." 

American Herring Gull 

(Larus argentatus smitbsonianus) 

Called also: WINTER GULL 

Length. — 24 to 25 inches. 

Afale and Female — In summer: Mantle over back and wings 
deep pearl gray, also known as "gull blue ; " head, tail, and 
under parts white. Outer feathers of wings chiefly black, 
with rounded white spots near the tips. Bill bright yellow. 
Feet and legs flesh-colored, hi winter : Similar to summer 
plumage, but with grayish streaks or blotches about the head 
and neck. Bill less bright. 

Young — Upper parts dull ashy brown ; head and neck marked 
with buff, and back and wings margined and marked with 
the same color ; outer feathers of wings brov/nish black, 
lacking round white spots ; black or brownish tail feathers 
gradually fade to white. 

Range — Nests from Minnesota and New England northward, 
especially about the St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, Newfound- 
land, and Labrador. Winters from Bay of Fundy to West 
Indies and Lower California. 

Season — Winter resident. Common from November until March. 

As the English sparrow is to the land birds, so is the herring 
gull to the sea fowl — overwhelmingly predominant during the 
winter in the Great Lakes and larger waterways of the interior, 
just as it is about the docks of our harbors, along our coasts, and 
very far out at sea; for trustworthy captains declare the same 
birds follow their ships from port to port across the ocean. 

Occasionally at low tide one may meet with a few herring 
gulls on the sand flats of the beach, feeding on the smaller shell 
fish half buried there. It is Audubon, the unimpeachable, who 
relates how these birds, that he so carefully studied in Labrador 



one summer, break open the shells to extract the moUusks, by 
carrying them up in the air, then dropping them on the rocks. 
"We saw one that had met with a very hard mussel," he 
writes, ' ' take it up three times in succession before it succeeded in 
breaking it ; and 1 was much pleased to see the bird let it fall 
each succeeding time from a greater height than before." 

Again, one may see a flock of herring gulls "bedded" on 
the water floating about to rest. All manner of boats pass close 
beside such a tired company in New York harbor without dis- 
turbing it; for these gulls, unlike the glaucous and black-backed 
species, show little fear of man or his inventions. 

But it is high in air, sailing on motionless wings in the wake 
of an ocean steamer, that one mentally pictures the herring gull. 
Apparently the loose flock, floating idly about, have no thought 
beyond the pure sport. Suddenly one bird drops like a shot 
to the water's surface, spatters about with much wing-flap- 
ping and struggle of feet, then, rising again with a small fish or 
morsel of refuse in its grasp, leads off from a greedy horde of 
envious companions in hot pursuit that likely as not will over- 
haul him and rob him of his dinner. Dining abundantly and 
often, rather than flying about for idle pleasure, is the gull's real 
business of life. 

With all their exquisite poetry of motion, it must be owned 
that these birds have also numerous prosaic qualities, exercised 
in their capacity of scavengers. Rapacious feeders, tyrannical 
to smaller birds that they can rob of their prey, and possessed of 
insatiable appetites for any food, whether fresh or putrid, that 
comes in their reach, the gulls alternately fascinate by their grace 
and animation in the marine picture, and repel by the coarseness 
of their instincts. However, it is churlish to find fault with the 
scavengers that help so largely in keeping our beaches free from 
putrifying rubbish. Doubtless the birds themselves, as their 
name implies, would prefer herrings were they always available. 

Unlike the other gulls, this one, where it has been persist- 
ently robbed, sometimes nests in trees, and, adapting its archi- 
tecture to the exigencies of the situation, constructs a compactly 
built and bulky home, often fifty feet from the ground, and 
preferably in a fir or other evergreen. Ordinarily a coarse, loose 
mat of moss, grasses, and seaweed is laid directly on the ground 
or on a rocky cliff near the sea. Two or three grayish olive 







A k S 


brown, sometimes whitish, eggs, spotted, blotched, and scrawled 
with brown, are laid in June. In the nesting grounds the her- 
ring gulls are shy of men and fierce in defending their mates and 
young, to whom they are especially devoted. Akak, hnkak they 
scream or bark at the intruder, making a din that is fairly deaf- 

Before the summer is ended the baby gulls will have learned 
to breast a gale, sleep with head tucked under wing when 
rocked on the cradle of the deep, and follow a ship for the ref- 
use thrown overboard, like any veteran. They are the grayish 
brown birds which one can readily pick out in a flock of adults 
when they migrate to our coasts in winter. 

Ring-billed Gull 

(Larus delawarensisj 

Length — 18.50 to 19.75 inches. 

Male and Female — Mantle over back and wings light pearl color, 
rest of plumage white except in winter, when the head and 
nape are spotted, not streaked, with grayish brown. Wings 
have "first primary black, with a white spot near the tip, 
the base of the inner half of the inner web pearl gray ; on the 
third to sixth primaries the black decreases rapidly and each 
one is tipped with white." (Chapman.) Bill light greenish 
yellow, chrome at the tip, and encircled with a broad band of 
black. Legs and feet dusky bluish green. Immature birds 
are mottled white and dusky, the dark tint varied with pale 
buff prevailing on the upper parts, the white below. Tail 
is dusky, tipped with white and pale gray at the base. 

Range — Distributed over North America, nests from Great 
Lakes and New England northward, especially in the St. 
Lawrence region, the Bay of Fundy, and Newfoundland; 
more common in the interior than on the seacoast; winters 
south of New England to Cuba and Central America. 

Season — Common winter visitor. 

"On the whole the commonest species, both coastwise and 
in the interior," says Dr. Elliott Coues. Certainly around the 
salt lakes of the plains and in limited areas elsewhere in the 
west it is most abundant, and at many points along the Atlantic 
coast ; but off the shores of the Middle and the Southern, if not 
also of the New England States, it is the herring gull that 



seems to predominate, except here and there, as at Washing- 
ton, for example, where the ring-billed species is locally very 
common indeed. From Illinois to the Mexican Gulf is also a 
favorite winter resort. 

It is not an easy matter to tell one of these two commonest 
species from the other, unless they are seen together, when the 
larger size of the herring gull and the black band around the 
bill of the ring-billed gull are at once apparent. These birds 
fraternize as readily as they bully and rob their smaller relations 
or each other when hunger makes them desperate. One rarely 
sees a gull alone: usually a loose flock soars and floats high in 
the air, apparently idle, but in reality keeping their marvelously 
sharp eyes on the constant lookout for a morsel of food in the 
waters below. In the nesting grounds countless numbers oc- 
cupy the same cliffs, and large companies keep well together 
during the migrations. 

Inasmuch as most of the characteristics of the ring-billed 
gull belong also to the herring gull, the reader is referred to the 
longer account of the latter bird to save repetition. When liv- 
ing inland the ring-billed gull, beside eating everything that its 
larger kin devour with such rapacity, catches insects both on the 
ground and on the wing. A trick at which it is past-master is 
to follow a school of fish up the river, then, when a fish leaps 
from the water after a passing insect, swoop down like a flash 
and bear away fish, bug, and all. 

Laughing Gull 
(Lams atricilla) 


Length — 16 to 17 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Head covered with a dark slate 
brown, almost black, hood, extending farther on throat than 
on nape, which is pure white like the breast, tail, and under 
parts. Mantle over back and wings dark, pearl gray. 
Wings have long feathers, black, the inner primaries with 
small white tips. Bill dark reddish, brighter at the end. 
Eyelids red on edge. Legs and feet dusky red. Breast some- 
times suffused with delicate blush pink. In winter : Similar 
to summer plumage, except that the head has lost its hood, 



being white mixed with biaci<ish. Under parts white with- 
out a tinge of rose. Bill and feet duller. 

Young — Light ashy brown feathers, margined with whitish on 
the upper parts ; forehead and under parts white, sometimes 
clouded with dark gray ; tail dark pearl gray with broad 
band of blackish brown across end ; primaries black. 

Range — "Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, north 
to Maine and Nova Scotia ; south in winter through West 
Indies, Mexico (both coasts), Central America, and northern 
South America (Atlantic side), to the Lower Amazon." 
A. O. U. 

Season — Summer resident, and visitor throughout the year. 

No bird that must lift up its voice to drown the bowlings of 
the gale and the pounding, dashing surf in an ocean storm 
might be expected to have a soft, musical call; and the gulls, that 
pass the greater part of their lives at sea, must therefore depend 
upon squalls, screams, barks, and shrill, high notes that carry 
long distances, to report news back and forth to members of the 
loose flocks that hunt together above the crest of the waves. The 
laughing gull, however, utters a coarse scream in a clear, high 
tone, like the syllables oh-hah-liah-ah-ah-hah-hah-h-a-a-a-a-ah, 
long drawn out toward the end and particularly at the last meas- 
ure, that differs from every other bird note, "sounding like the 
odd and excited laughter of an Indian squaw," says Langille, " and 
giving marked propriety to the name of the bird." All gulls chat- 
ter among themselves, the noise rising sometimes to a deafening 
clamor when they are disturbed in their nesting grounds; but 
the laughing gull, in addition to its long-drawn, clear note on a 
high key, " sounding not unlike the more excited call-note of the 
domestic goose," suddenly bursts out, to the ears of superstitious 
sailors, into the laugh that seems malign and uncanny. 

A more southern species than any commonly seen off our 
shores, the laughing gull nests from Texas and Florida to 
Maine, though it is not a bird of the interior, as the ring-billed 
species is, nor so pelagic as the herring gull. It delights in reedy, 
bush-grown salt marshes that yield a rich menu of small mol- 
lusks, spawn of the king crab and other crustaceans, insects, 
worms, and refuse cast up by the tide. In such a place it also 
nests in large colonies, forming with its body a slight depression 
in the sand that is scantily lined with grasses and weeds from 
the beach, and concealed by a tussock of grasses. Three to five 



eggs, varying from olive to greenish gray or dull white, pro- 
fusely marked with chocolate brown, are not so rare a find for 
the collector as the eggs of most other gulls that nest in the ex- 
treme north, where only the hardy explorers in search of the 
North Pole count .themselves more fortunate sometimes to find a 
square meal of gulls' eggs. 

Formerly these laughing gulls were exceedingly abundant 
all along our coasts. Nantucket was a favorite nesting resort, 
so were the marshes of Long Island and New Jersey; but unhap- 
pily a fashion for wearing gulls' wings in women's hats arose, 
and though only the wings were used, as one woman naively 
protested when charged with complicity in their slaughter, the 
birds have been all but exterminated at the north. In southern 
waters they are, happily, common still, and will be again at the 
north when the beneficent bird laws shall have had time to 

Bonaparte's Gull 

(Larus Philadelphia) 

Called also: ROSY GULL 

Length — 14 inches. 

Male and Female — In sjnnmer: Head and throat deep sooty slate, 
the hood not extending over nape or sides of neck, which 
are white like the under parts and tail. Mantle over back 
and wings pearl gray. Wings white and pearl gray. Pri- 
maries of wings marked with black and white. Bill black. 
Legs and feet coral red. In nesting plumage only, the white 
under parts are suffused with rosy pink. /;/ winter: Similar, 
except that the birds lack the dark hood, only the back and 
sides of the head washed with grayish; white on top. 

Young — Grayish washings on top of head, nape, and ears; mantle 
over back and wings varying from brownish gray to pearl 
gray; upper half of wings grayish brown; secondaries 
pearly gray; primaries, or longest feathers, at the end much 
marked with black; white tail has black band a short 
distance from end, leaving a white edge showing. Under- 
neath, white. 

Range — From the Gulf of Mexico to Manitoba and beyond in the 
interior; Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Nests north of United 

Season — Common spring and autumn migrant. A few winter 


This exquisite little gull, whose darting, skimming flight sug- 
gests that of the sea swallow, flies swallow-fashion over the 
ploughed fields of the interior to gather larvae and insects, as well 
as over the ocean to pick up hits of animal food, either fresh or 
putrid, that float within range of its keen, nervous glance. Jerking 
its head now this way and now that, suddenly it turns in its 
graceful flight to swoop backward upon some particle passed 
a second before. Nothing it craves for food seems to escape 
either the eyes or the bill of this tireless little scavenger. In 
sudden freaks of flight, in agility and lightness of motion, it is 
conspicuous in a family noted for grace on the wing. 

A front view of Bonaparte's gull, as it approaches with its 
long pointed wings outspread, would give one the impression 
that it is a black-headed white bird, until, darting suddenly, its 
pearly mantle is revealed. It is peculiarly dainty whichever way 
you look at it. 

In the author's note book are constant memoranda of seeing 
these little gulls hunting in couples through the surf on the 
Florida coast one March. Mr. Bradford Torrey records the same 
observation, but adds, "that may have been nothing more than 
a coincidence." Is it not probable that these gulls, like all their 
kin, in their devotion to their mates, were already paired and 
migrating toward their nesting grounds for to the north ? While 
the birds hunted along the Florida shore they kept up a plaintive, 
shrill, but rather feeble cry, that was almost a whistle, to each 
other; and if one was delayed a moment by dipping into the 
trough of the wave for some floating morsel, it would nervously 
hurry after its mate as if unwilling to lose a second of its com- 
pany. In the autumn migrations, however, these "surf gulls," 
as Mr. Torrey calls them, are seen in large flocks along our coasts, 
and inland, too, where there is no surf for a thousand miles. 

The nest, which is built north of the United States, is placed 
sometimes in trees, sometimes in stumps, or in bushes, the rude 
cradle of sticks, lined with grasses, containing three or four 
grayish olive eggs, spotted with brown, chiefly at the larger end. 
Such a clutch is a rare find for the collector, few scientists, even, 
having seen the Bonaparte gulls at home. Charles Bonaparte, 
Prince of Canino, might have left us a complete life history of 
his namesake, had not European politics cut short his happy and 
profitable visit in America. 



(Subfamily Sternince) 

Marsh Tern 

(Gelochelidon tiilotica) 


Letigth — 13 to IS inches. 

Male and Female — Top and back of head glossy, greenish black ; 
neck all around, and under parts, white; mantle over back 
and wings, pearl gray; bill and feet black, the former rather 
short and stout for this family; wings exceedingly long and 
sharp, each primary surpassing the next fully an inch in 
length. Tail white, grayish in the centre, and only slightly 
forked. In winter plumage similar to the above, except that 
the top of head is white, only a blackish space in front of 
eyes; grayish about the ears. 

Range — "Nearly cosmopolitan ; in North America chiefly along the 
Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, breeding north 
to southern New Jersey, and wandering casually to Long 
Island and Massachusetts; in winter both coasts of Mexico 
and Central America, and south to Brazil." A. O. U. 

Season — Summer visitor. Summer resident south of Delaware. 

A very common species, indeed, off the coasts of our south- 
ern States, this tern, which one can distinguish from its relatives 
by its heavy black bill and harsh voice, appears at least as far 
north as Long Island every summer, and occasionally a straggler 
reaches Maine. While allied very closely to the gulls, that come 
out of the far north in the winter to visit us, the terns reverse 
the order and come out of the south in summer. 

All manner of beautiful curves and evolutions, sudden darts 
and dives distinguish the flight of terns, which in grace and airi- 
ness of motion no bird can surpass ; but this gull-billed tern is 
particularly alert and swallow-like, owing to its fondness for 



insects which must be pursued and caught in mid-air. Fish it 
by no means despises, only it depends almost never for food 
upon diving through the water to capture them, as others of its 
kin do, and almost entirely upon aerial plunges after insects. For 
this reason it haunts marsh lands and darts and skims above the 
tall reeds and sedges, also the home of winged battles, moths, 
spiders, and aquatic insects, dividing its time between the wav- 
ing plants and the water waves that comb the beach. It is never 
found far out at sea, as the gulls are, though rarely far from it. 

Like the black tern, it is not a beach-nester, but resorts in 
companies to its hunting grounds in the marshes, and breaks 
down some of the reeds and grasses to form what by courtesy 
only could be termed a nest. Three to five buffy white eggs, 
marked with umber brown and blackish, especially around the 
larger end, are usual; but all terns' eggs are exceedingly varia- 
ble. Once Anglica was the specific name of the gull-billed 
tern; but because our English cousins liked the eggs for food, 
and used the wings for millinery purposes, the bird is now de- 
plorably rare in England. 

" It utters a variety of notes, " says Mr. Chamberlain, "the 
most common being represented by the syllables kay-wek, kay- 
wek. One note is described as a laugh, and is said to sound 
like hay, hay, hay." 

Royal Tern 

(Sterna maxima) 


Length— \% to 20 inches. 

Male and Female — Top and back of head glossy, greenish black, 
the feathers lengthened into a crest; mantle over back and 
wings light pearl color; back of neck, tail, and under parts 
white; inner part of long wing feathers (except at tip) 
white ; outer part of primaries and tip, slate color. Feet black. 
Bill, which is long and pointed, is coral or orange red. Tail 
long and forked. After the nesting season and in winter, 
the top of head is simply streaked with black and white, 
and the bill grows paler. 

Range — Warmer parts of North America on east and west coasts, 
rarely so far north as New England and the Great Lakes. 

Season — Summer visitor. Resident in Virginia, and southward. 



It is the larger Caspian tern, measuring from twenty to 
twenty-three inches, and not the royal tern, that deserves to be 
called maxima, however imposing the size of the latter bird may 
be, thanks to its elongated tail; but unless these two birds may 
be compared side by side in life — a dim possibility — it is quite 
hopeless for the novice to try to tell which tern is before him. 

Off the Gulf shore, especially in Texas, Louisiana, and 
Florida, where great numbers live, this handsome bird exer- 
cises its royal prerogative by robbing the fish out of the 
pouch of the pelican, that is no match, in its slow flight, 
for this dashing monarch of the air. But if sometimes 
tyrannical, or perhaps only mischievous, it is also an indus- 
trious hunter; and with its sharp eyes fastened on the water, 
and its bill pointed downward, mosquito fashion, it skims 
along above the waves, making sudden evolutions upward, 
then even more sudden, reckless dashes directly downward, 
and under the water, to clutch its finny prey. With much flap- 
ping of its long, pointed wings as it reappears in an instant 
above the surface, it mounts with labored effort into the air 
again, and is off on its eager, buoyant flight. There is great 
joyousness about the terns a-wing; dashing, rollicking, aerial 
sprites they are, that the Florida tourists may sometimes see 
tossing a fish into the air just for the fun of catching it again, or 
dropping it for another member of the happy company to catch 
and toss again in genuine play. It would even seem that they 
must have a sense of humor, a very late appearing gift in the 
evolution of every race, scientists teach; and so this lower form 
of birds certainly cannot possess it, however much they may 
appear to. 

While the terns take life easily at all times, nursery duties 
rest with special lightness. The royal species makes no attempt 
to form a nest, but drops from one to four rather small, grayish 
white eggs marked with chocolate, directly on the sand of the 
beach, or at the edge or a marshy lagoon. As the sun's rays 
furnish most of the heat necessary for incubation, the mother 
bird confines her sitting chiefly to her natural bedtime. 



Common Tern 

(Sterna hirundo) 


Length — 14 to IS inches. 

Male and Female — /;; summer: Whole top of head velvety black, 
tinged with greenish and extending to the lower level of 
the eyes and onto the nape of neck. Mantle over back 
and wings pearl gray. Throat white, but breast and under- 
neath a lighter shade of gray, the characteristic that chiefly 
distinguishes it from Forster's tern, which is pure white on 
its under parts. Inner border of inner web of outer primaries 
white, except at the tip. Tail white, the outer webs of the 
outer feathers pearl gray. Tail forked and moderately elon- 
gated, but the folded wings reach one or two inches beyond 
it. Legs and feet orange red. Bill, which is as long as head, 
is bright coral about two-thirds of its length, a black space 
separating it from the extreme tip, which is yellow. In 
winter: Similar to summer plumage, except that the front 
part of head and under parts are pure white; also that the 
bill becomes mostly black. Young birds similar to adults in 
winter, but with brownish wash or mottles on the back, 
with slaty shoulders and shorter tail. 

Range — "In North America, chiefly east of the plains, breeding 
from the Arctic coast, somewhat irregularly, to Florida, 
Texas, and Arizona, and wintering northward to Virginia; 
also coast of Lower California." A. O. U. 

Season — Summer resident. May to October. 

Ironically must this particularly beautiful, graceful sea swal- 
low now be called the common tern, for common it scarcely has 
been, except in the dry-goods stores, since its sharply pointed 
wings, and often its entire body also, were thought by the milli- 
ners to give style to women's hats. Great boxes full of distorted 
terns, their bills at impossible angles, their wings and tails bunched 
together, sicken the bird-lover who strolls through the large city 
shops on "opening day." Countless thousands of these birds 
must have been slaughtered to supply the demand of thoughtless 
women in the last twenty years; and although the egret has had 
its turn of persecution, and that in an especially cruel way, the 
fashion for wearing terns, either entire or in sections, continues 
4 49 


with a hopeless pertinacity that no other mode of hat trimming 
seems wholly to divert. Chicken feathers, arranged to imitate 
them, are necessarily accepted as substitutes more and more, how- 

Through the efforts of Mr. Mackay, of Nantucket, the terns 
are at last protected on a number of low, sandy islands adjacent 
to his home, where nesting colonies had resorted from the earliest 
recollection until they were all but exterminated by the com- 
panies of men and boys who sailed over from the mainland to 
collect plumage and the delicately flavored eggs. Muskegat and 
Penekese Islands, off the extreme southeastern end of Massachu- 
setts — the latter made famous by Agassiz — and Gull Island, off the 
Long Island coast, the only nesting grounds left these sea swal- 
lows in the north, are now guarded by paid keepers, who see to 
it that no unfriendly visitor sets foot on the shores until the downy 
chicks are able to fly in September. It was mainly through the 
efforts of Mr. William Dutcherthat the terns were taken under the 
protection of the A. O. U., theLinnsean Society, and the A. S. P. 
C. A., at Gull Island. In May the terns begin to arrive from the 
south, having apparently mated on the journey. Little or no 
part of the honeymoon is spent in making a nest, as any little 
accumulation of drift, or the bare sand itself, will answer the 
purpose of these shiftless merry-makers that no responsibilities 
can depress nor persecution harden. Lightness and grace of 
flight, as well as of heart, are their certain characteristics. Before 
family cares divert them, in June, how particularly lively, dashing, 
impetuous, exultant, free, and full of spirit they are! A sail across 
to the terns' nesting grounds is recommended to those summer 
visitors who sit about on the piazzas complaining of ennui at 
Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Shelter Island. 

As a boat approaches a nesting colony on one of the few 
low, sandy islands where one may be still found, a canopy or 
cloud of birds spreads overhead — a surging mass of excited 
creatures, darting, diving in a maze without plan or direction, 
like a flurry of huge snowflakes through the summer sky. The 
air fairly vibrates with the sharp, rasping notes of alarm uttered 
in a mighty chorus of complaint, very different from the almost 
musical call, half melancholy, half piping, that the birds con- 
tinually utter when undisturbed. If the visit be made to the 
island in June, the upper beach, above the reach of tide, will be 




') < 



scattered over here and there with clutches of eggs that so closely 
imitate the speckled sand, one is apt to step on them unawares. 
Only the slightest depression, lined with a wisp of grass or bit 
of seaweed, is made in pretense of a nest; and as the gay moth- 
ers leave the work of incubating chiefly to the sun, confining 
themselves only at night or during storms, the visitor may be for- 
given if the sound of a crushed shell under foot is his first intima- 
tion of a nest among the dried seaweed or beach grass among the 
rocks. It was Audubon who said there were never more than 
three eggs in a nest; but Mr. Parkhurst, at least, has found four. 

Should the visitor reach the island in July, he will find great 
numbers of downy young chicks running about, but quite depend- 
ent on their parents for grasshoppers, beetles, small fish, and 
smaller insects that are the approved diet for young terns. The 
young are tame as chickens; but the old birds at this time are 
especially bold and resentful of intrusion. Darting down to a 
clamoring chick, a parent thrusts a morsel down its throat with- 
out alighting, and is off again for more, and still more. Later 
the food is simply dropped for the fiedglings to help themselves. 
Still later, little broods are led to the ocean's edge, sand shoals, or 
the marshes, to hunt on their own account; and by September, 
old and young congregate in great groups to follow the move- 
ment of the blue fish, that pursue the very small fish, "shiners," 
that they also feed on. 

But whether flirting, nesting, hunting, or flying at leisure, 
there is a refreshing joyousness about the tern that makes it a 
delight to watch. In the very excess of good spirits one will 
plunge beneath the water after a little fish, then mounting into 
the air again, it will deliberately drop it from its bill for another 
tern to dash after, and the new possessor will toss it to still 
another member of the jolly flock, and so keep up the game until 
the fish is finally swallowed. It has been suggested that terns go 
through this performance to kill the fish, as a cat plays with a 
mouse; but it is only occasionally they play the game of catch 
and toss, and when all the company seem to be in the mood for 
the fun. 

Another beautiful sight is the pose of a tern just before 
alighting, when, with long, pointed wings held for a moment 
high above its back, they flutter like the wings of a butterfly. 
But then it would be difficult to name a posture of this graceful 



bird that is not beautiful, unless we except the act of scratching 
its head with one foot while on the wing; and this is, perhaps, 
more amusing than lovely. This sea swallow also has the 
accomplishment of opening and shutting its tail like a fan, so that 
one moment it will look like a single pointed feather, and the 
next it may be narrowly forked or widely stretched into an open 
triangle. While flying, the birds are exceedingly watchful, jerk- 
ing their heads now this way, now that, with nervous quickness, 
all the time keeping their "bill pointing straight downward, 
which makes them look curiously like colossal mosquitoes," to 
quote Dr. Coues's fomous comparison. By the middle of Octo- 
ber the terns migrate southward from the New England and 
Long Island waters to enjoy the perpetual summer, of which 
they seem to be a natural exponent. 

Roseate Tern 

(Sterna dotigalli) 

Called aho: PARADISE TERN 

Length — 14.50 to 15.50 inches. 

Male a7id Female — In summer: Mantle over back and wings deli- 
cate pearl color, lighter and fading to white on the tail, which 
is exceedingly long and deeply forked. Feathers on crown, 
which reaches to the eyes and the back of neck, are black and 
long. Under parts white, tinted with rose color. Long, slen- 
der black bill, reddish at the base and yellow at the tip. 
Feet and legs yellowish red. /;; zvinter: Under parts pure 
white, having lost the rose tint; forehead and cheeks white. 
Crown becomes brownish black, mixed with white; some 
brownish feathers on wings; pearl gray tail, without extreme 
elongation or forking. 

Range — Temperate and warm parts of Atlantic coast, nesting 
as far north as New England; most abundant, however, 
south of New Jersey. Winters south of United States. 

Season — Comparatively rare summer resident at the north, but 

Closely associated with the common tern in their nesting 
colonies on Gull and Muskegat Islands, described in the preced- 
ing biography, this most exquisite member of all the family may 
be distinguished from its companions by the very long and 



sharply pointed tail feathers, and the lovely rose-colored flush 
it wears on its breast as a sort of wedding garment. This tint 
is all too transitory, however; family cares fade it to white; 
death utterly destroys it, though it sometimes changes to a sal- 
mon shade as the lifeless body cools, before disappearing forever. 
Comparatively short of wing, the roseate tern cannot be said to 
lose any of the buoyancy and grace of flight, the dash and ecstasy 
that give to the movements of all the tribe their peculiar fasci- 

It has been said that these birds' eggs are paler than those 
of the common terns, which are very variable, ranging from 
olive gray or olive brownish gray to (more rarely) whitish or 
buff, heavily marked with chocolate; but though they may aver- 
age paler, many are identical with those just described ; and as 
the birds nest in precisely the same manner, on the same beach, 
not even an expert could correctly name the egg every time with- 
out seeing the adult bird that laid it identify its own. 

A single harsh note, each, rises above the din made by the 
common terns, and at once identifies the voice of the roseate 
species. It would be unfair to attribute the melancholy, unpleas- 
ing quality of the terns' voices to their dispositions, which we 
have every reason to suppose are particularly joyous and amia- 
ble. This bird also appears less excitable; but in all other par- 
ticulars than those already noted the common and the roseate terns 
share the characteristics described in the preceding account, to 
which the reader is referred. It is a gratification to know that at 
the close of the first season, when the tern colony had been pro- 
tected at Gull Island, Mr. Dutcher could report an increase of 
from one thousand to fifteen hundred birds, virtually an increase 
of one half the total number in one year. 

With the four species of tern that nest in the neighborhood 
of New York and New England, the Arctic Tern {Sterna para- 
discea) has nearly all characteristics in common, and the few pe- 
culiarities that differentiate it from the common tern are quickly 
learned. While these birds are similar in color, the Arctic tern 
"differs in having less gray on the shaft part of the inner web of 
the outer primaries, in having the tail somewhat longer, the tarsi 
and bill shorter; while the latter, in the adult, is generally without a 
black tip." (Chapman.) Its voice is shriller, with a rising inflec- 



tion at the end, and resembling the squeal of a pig; but it also 
has a short, harsh note that can scarcely be distinguished from 
the roseate tern's cry. 

In habits the Arctic tern is said to have the doubtful peculiarity 
of being more bold in defense of its young than any of its kin; 
first in war, most fierce in attack, and the last to leave an intruder. 
At Muskegat Island, where great colonies of terns regularly nest 
and are protected under the wing of the law (see page 50) it is 
usually the Arctic tern that dashes frantically downward into the 
very face of the visitor who dares to inspect its eggs. These are of 
a darker ground and more heavily marked than those of the com- 
mon tern. Mr. Chamberlain says these terns "may be seen sit- 
ting on a rock or stump, watching for their prey in kingfisher 
fashion. They fioat buoyantly on the surface, but rarely dive be- 
neath the water." Their nesting range is from Massachusetts 
to the Arctic regions; and they winter southward only to Vir- 
ginia and California. 

Least Tern 

(Sterna antillartim) 


Length — 9 inches. 

Male and Fe7nale — In Slimmer: Glossy greenish black capon head, 
with narrow white crescent on forehead, and extending over 
the eyes. Cheeks black. Mantle over back, wings, and tail, 
pearl gray. A few outer wing feathers, black. Under parts 
satiny white. Bill, about as long as head, is yellow, tipped 
with black. Feet and legs, orange. Tail moderately forked. 
In winter: Top of head white, with black shaft lines on 
feathers. Mantle darker than in summer; a band of grayish 
black along upper wing, and most of the primaries black. 
Feet paler; bill black. 

Range — Northern parts of South America, up the Pacific coast to 
California, and the Atlantic to Labrador; also on the larger 
bodies of water inland. Nests locally throughout its range. 
Winters south of United States. 

Season — Irregular migrant and summer visitor. 

Any of the thirteen species of terns that we may call ours is 
easily the superior of this little bird in size; but in grace and 



buoyancy of flight, in dasli and impetuosity, it certainly owns 
no master among its own accomplished kin, and suggests the 
movements of the swallow alone among the land birds. Skim- 
ming just above the marshes near the sea or inland waters, 
as any swallow might, to feed upon the dragon-flies and other 
winged insects that dart in and out of the sedges, this little tern 
flashes its silvery breast in the sunlight, swallow fashion, and 
appears to have the "sandals of lightning on its feet" and "soft 
wings swift as thought " sung of by Shelley. 

Off the shores of the low, sandy islands on the extreme 
southeastern coast of IVlassachusetts, where these terns nest regu- 
larly, though in sadly decreased numbers, they may be seen in 
company with the common tern, the roseate and the Arctic 
species, that also make their summer home there, as the joyous 
birds hunt in loose flocks together above the waves. There can 
be no difficulty in picking out the dainty, elegant little figure 
that floats and skims in mid-air, with bill pointing downward 
as if it were a lance to spearsome tiny fish swimming in the ocean 

Hovering for an instant on widely outstretched wings, like 
a miniature hawk, the next instant it has suddenly plunged after 
its prey, to reappear with it in its bill, since its feet are too 
webbed and weak to carry anything; and, if the season be mid- 
summer, it will doubtless head straight for its nest on the sand, 
to drop its spoils in the midst of a brood of three or four very 
tame young fledglings. In Minnesota, Dakota, and other inland 
states, both old and young birds feed almost entirely on insects. 

All terns keep so closely within the lines of family traditions 
that a description of one member answers for each, with a few 
minor changes; and the reader is referred to the life history of 
the common tern for fuller particulars of the least species, to 
avoid constant repetition. Although this little bird nests directly 
on the sand, leaving the greater part of its incubating duties to 
the sun, as other terns do, its eggs may be easily distinguished, 
which is not true of the others, because of their smaller size and 
buffy white, brittle shells that are often wreathed with chocolate 
markings around the larger end, the rest of the egg being plain. 

Some one has described the bird's voice as "a. sharp squeak, 
much like the cry of a very young pig." 



Black Tern 

( Hydrochelidon nigra surinamensis) 

Called also : SHORT-TAILED TERN 

Length — 9. so to 10 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Head, neck all around, and under 
parts jet black, except the under tail coverts, which are 
white. Back, wings, and tail slate color. In whiter: Very 
different: forehead, sides of head, nape, and under parts 
white; under wing coverts only, ashy gray; back of the 
head mixed black and white; mantle over back, wings, and 
tail, deep pearl gray. Many feathers with white edges. In 
the process of molt, head and under parts show black and 
white patches. Immature specimens resemble the winter 
birds, except that their upper parts are more or less mixed 
with brownish, and their sides washed with grayish. 

Range — North America at large, in the interior and along the 
coasts, but most abundant inland; nests from Kansas and 
Illinois northward, but not on the Atlantic coast. 

Season — Irregular migrant on the Atlantic coast from Prince 
Edward's Island southward. Common summer resident 
inland. May to August or September. 

Although eastern people rarely see this dusky member of 
a tribe they are wont to think of as having particularly deli- 
cate pearl and white plumage, it is the most abundant species in 
the west, and indeed the only one of the entire order of long- 
winged swimmers that commonly nests far away from the sea 
in the United States. Early in May it arrives in large flocks that 
have gathered on the way from Brazil and Chile to nest in the 
Middle States, west of the Alleghanies, and northward. A large 
colony takes up its residence in the fresh-water marshes and 
reedy sloughs so abundant in southern Illinois and elsewhere in 
the middle west; and although the birds have apparently mated 
during the migration, if not before, there are many flirtations 
and petty jealousies exhibited before family cares banish all non- 
sense in June., Not that the bird makes any effort to construct a 
nest, in which case it could hardly be a tern at all, so easy-going 
are all the family in this respect; nor that it is depressed by long, 
patient sittings on the eggs, for the incubating is, for the most 
part, left to the sun, when it shines; but all terns are devoted 



parents, however emancipated they are from much of the par- 
ental drudgery. Sometimes the eggs are laid directly on the wet, 
boggy ground; others in a saucer-shaped structure of decayed 
reeds and other vegetation, often wet and floating about in the 
slough; and again they have been found in better constructed, 
more compact cradles, resting on the flat foundation of the 
home of the water rat. The eggs are two or three, grayish 
olive brown, sometimes very pale and clean, marked with spots 
and splashes of many sizes, but chiefly large and bold masses 
that have a tendency to encircle the larger end. 

To visit a marsh when several hundred of these aquatic 
nests keep the cloud of dusky little parents in a state of panic, is 
to become deaf and dazed by the terrific din of harsh, screaming 
cries uttered by the little black birds that encircle one's head, 
menacing, darting, yet doing nothing worse than needlessly tor- 
menting themselves. Retreat to a good point of vantage to 
watch the colony, and it quickly regains its lost confidence to the 
point of ignoring your presence; and the jolly company skim, 
soar, hover on outstretched wings, then dart in and out in a path- 
less maze that fascinates the sight. The flight is exquisite, swift, 
graceful, buoyant, and apparently without the slightest effort. 
Occasionally a bird will descend from the aerial game, and, check- 
ing its flight above its nest, poise for an instant on quivering 
wings, held high above its back, as if it spurned the earth. 

Doubtless the diet of insects, which must be pursued and 
captured on the wing in many cases, cultivates much of the dash 
and impetuosity so characteristic of this tern. Fish appear to form 
no part of its bill of fare. It may " frequently be seen dashing 
about in a zig-zag manner," writes Thompson in his " Birds of 
Manitoba," and "so swiftly the eye can offer no explanation 
of its motive until ... a large dragon-fly is seen hang- 
ing from its bill." Beetles, grasshoppers, and aquatic insects of 
many kinds encourage other extraordinary feats of flight. Mr. 
Thompson tells of meeting these birds far out on the dry, open 
plains, scouring the country for food at a distance of miles from 
its nesting ground. John Burroughs once had brought to him, to 
identify, a sooty tern, a near relative of the black species, that a 
farmer had picked up exhausted and emaciated in his meadow, 
fully one hundred and fifty miles from the sea, and at least two 
thousand miles from the Florida Keys, the bird's chosen habitat. 



It had starved to death, he says, "ruined by too much wing. 
Another Icarus. Its great power of flight had made it bold and 
venturesome, and had carried it so far out of its range that it 
starved before it could return." 

By the end of July the young black terns have sufficiently 
developed to join the flocks of adults that even thus early show 
the restlessness called forth by the instinct for migration. In 
August migration commences in earnest; and when we see the 
birds east of the Alleghanies, they are usually on their journey 
south, the only time they show a preference for the Atlantic 



(Family Rynchopidce) 

Black Skimmer 

(Ryncbops nigra) 


Length — 16 to 20 inches. 

Male and Female — Crown of head, back of neck, and all upper 
parts, glossy black; forehead, sides of head and neck, and 
under parts white, the latter suffused with cream or pale 
rose in the nuptial season. Lining of wings black. Broad 
patch on wing, the tips of the secondaries, white; also the 
outer tail feathers, while the inner ones are brownish. 
Lower half of bill, measuring from 3. so to 4.50 inches, is 
about one inch larger than upper half Basal half of bill car- 
mine; the rest black. Bill rounded at the ends, and com- 
pressed like the blade of a knife. Feet carmine, with black 

Range — " Warmer parts of America, north on the Atlantic coast to 
New Jersey, and casually to the Bay of Fundy." A. O. U. 

Season — May to September. Summer resident so far north as 
New Jersey; a transient summer visitor beyond. 

Closely related as the skimmers are to both gulls and terns, 
it is small wonder the three species constituting this distinct 
family should be honored by a separate classification on account 
of the extraordinary bill that is their chief characteristic. ' ' Among 
the singular bills of birds that frequently excite our wonder," says 
Dr. Coues, "that of the skimmers is one of the most anomalous. 
The under mandible is much longer than the upper, compressed 
like a knife-blade; its end is obtuse; its sides come abruptly 
together and are completely soldered; the upper edge is as sharp 
as the under, and fits a groove in the upper mandible; the jaw- 



bone, viewed apart, looks like a short-handled pitchfork. The 
upper mandible is also compressed, but less so, nor is it so 
obtuse at the end; its substance is nearly hollow . . . and 
it is freely movable by means of an elastic hinge at the forehead." 

But curious as the bill is when one examines a museum 
specimen, it becomes vastly more interesting to watch in active 
use on the Atlantic. The black skimmer, the only one that visits 
our continent, happily keeps close enough to shore when hunting 
for the small fish, shrimps, and mollusks that high tide brings near, 
for us to observe its operations. With leisurely, graceful flight, 
though with frequent flapping of its very long wings, the bird 
floats and balances just over the water, and as it progresses over 
a promising shoal teeming with living food, suddenly the lower 
half of the bladelike bill drops down just below the surface of the 
water, and with increased velocity of flight the bird literally 
"plows the main," as Mr. Chapman has said, and receives a 
rich harvest through the gaping entrance. Thus cutting under or 
grazing the surface, with the fore part of its body inclined down- 
ward, the skimmer follows the plow into the likeliest feeding 
grounds, which are the estuaries of rivers, sandy shoals, inlets of 
creeks, the salt marshes, and around the floating "drift" of the 
beaches. Though strictly maritime, it never ventures out on 
mid-ocean like the gulls and petrels. From Atlantic City, Cape 
May, and southward to Florida, the skimmer is an uncommon 
though likely enough sight to cause a genuine sensation when 
discovered at work. It is also credited with using its bill as a 
sort of oyster knife to open mollusks. 

Flocks of skimmers come out of the tropics in May, and, 
like the terns, choose a sandy shore for their nesting colony, and, 
like the terns again, construct no proper nest for the three or four 
buffy white, chocolate-marked eggs that are dropped on the sand, 
high up on the beach, among the drift and shells. Incubating 
duties rest lightly with the skimmers, also, while the sun shines 
with generating warmth, so that the natural bedtime of the 
mother is all the confinement she endures unless the weather be 
stormy. In September the young birds are able to migrate long 
distances, although for several weeks after they are hatched they 
must be fed and tended by their parents; the only use they have 
for their wings during June and July, apparently, being to stretch 
them while basking in the sun on the beach. The voice of the 



skimmer, like that of the tern, is never so harsh and strident as 
during the nesting season. 

It seems odd that birds so long and strong of wing as these 
should hug the coast so closely and not venture out on the open 
seas, until we consider the nature of their food and the proba- 
bility of starvation in deep waters. 






Shearwaters and Petrels 

(Order Tubinares) 

The albatrosses, fulmars, shearwaters, and petrels, that com- 
prise this order of water-birds, live far out on the ocean, touch- 
ing land only to nest, and are unsurpassed in powers of flight, 
owing to the constant exercise of their long, strong, pointed 
wings. None of our American sportsmen can wail, with Cole- 
ridge's Ancient Mariner, that he "shot the albatross," for the sev- 
eral species that comprise its family (DiotnedeidcB) confine them- 
selves to the southern hemisphere. The wandering albatross, the 
largest of all sea birds, with a wing expanse of from twelve to 
fourteen feet, and "Mother Carey's' chickens," the little petrels 
that travellers on the north Atlantic frequently see, represent the 
two extremes of size among the pelagic birds. 

The plumage of birds of this order is compact and oily, 
to resist water, and differs neither in the sexes, nor at different 
seasons, so far as is known. Sooty black, grays, and white 
predominate. The peculiarity of nostrils, tubular in form, and 
nearly always horizontal, divide the birds into a distinct order. 

Shearwaters and Petrels 

(Family ProcellariidcB) 

"Mother Carey's Chickens" may be distinguished by their 
small size, slight, elegant form, and graceful, airy, flickering flight, 
as contrasted with the strong, swift flying of the larger shear- 
waters that often sail with no visible motion of the pinions. 
Birds of the open sea, feeding on animal substances, particularly 
the fatty ones, they mav sometimes be noticed in flocks, picking 
up the refuse thrown overboard from the ship's kitchen, on the 
ocean highway, like the more common herring gull. They seem 

4 65 

Tube-nosed Swimmers 

to be ever on the wing, though their webbed feet indicate that 
they must be good swimmers when they choose. Hardly any 
birds are less known than all these ocean roamers and their kin 
that come to land only to nest. The nest and eggs of the com- 
mon shearwater, that wanders over the whole Atlantic from 
Greenland to Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, that sailors 
often see in flocks of thousands, have yet to be discovered. 
Petrels burrow holes in the ground like bank swallows. 

Greater Shearwater. 

Wilson's Stormy Petrel. 

Leach's Petrel. 



(Family Procellariidct) 

Greater Shearwater 

fPuffiinis major) 


Length — iq to 20 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dark grayish brown. The feath- 
ers, except when old, edged with lighter brown; the wings 
and tail darkest ; lightest shade on neck ; the white feathers 
of the fore neck abruptly marked off from the dark feathers 
of the crown and nape. Under parts white, shaded with 
brownish gray on sides; under tail coverts ashy gray; upper 
coverts mostly white. Wings long and pointed. Bill, which 
is dark horn color, is about as long as head, and has a strong 
hook at the end. Legs and feet yellowish pink orllesh color. 

Range — Over the entire Atlantic Ocean, from Cape Horn and 
Cape of Good Hope to Arctic Circle. 

Season — Irregular visitor to our coast; abundant far off it in 

Off the banks of Newfoundland and southward, passengers 
on the ocean liners sometimes see immense flocks of these birds, 
smaller than gulls, though larger than pigeons, flying close over 
the waves, in a direct course, with strong wing beats, then float- 
ing often half a mile with no perceptible motion of the wings. 
The stronger the gale blows, the more does the shearwater seem 
to revel in it; for as the waves are lifted high enough to curl over 
in a thin sheet, allowing the light to strike through, the tiny fish 
are plainly revealed, and quick as thought the bird dives through 
the combing crest to snap up its prey. Any small particles of 
animal food cast up by the troubled waters are snatched at with 
spirit, while with uninterrupted flight the shearwater sweeps 


Sheanvaters and Petrels 

over the waves in wide curves, now deep in the trough, now 
high above the great swells breaking into foam; but always with 
"its long, narrow wings set stiffly at right angles with the 
body," to quote Brewster. Sir T. Browne, who was the first to 
speak of this bird or its immediate kin, wrote a quaint account 
of it which is still preserved in the British Museum. "It 
is a Sea-fowl," he says, "which fishermen observe to resort to 
their vessels in some numbers, swimming fsicj swiftly too and 
fro, backward, forward and about them, and doth, as it were, 
radere aquam, shear the water, from whence, perhaps, it had its 
name." No doubt the venerable ornithologist meant to say skim- 
ming instead of swimming, for the shearwater almost never 
rests on the water, except, as is supposed, after dark, to sleep. 
So characteristic is this constant roving on the wing, that the 
Turks around the Bosphorus, where these birds have penetrated, 
think they must be animated by condemned human souls; hence 
the name Ames damnees given the poor innocents by the French. 
Indeed, all we know about these birds is from hasty glances as they 
sweep by us at sea; for, although common immediately off our 
coast in winter, they are never seen to alight on it; and as for 
either the bird's nest, eggs, and fledglings, they are still abso- 
lutely unknown to scientists. A species that is abundant oflf 
Australia burrows a hole in the ground near the shore and 
deposits one pure white egg at the end of the tunnel, just as 
many petrels do; and it is reasonable to suppose the greater 
shearwater makes a similar nest. Some white eggs received 
from Greenland are thought to belong to this species. 

Wilson's Stormy Petrel 

(Oceanites oceancins) 


Length — 7 inches. Very long wings, with an extent of 16 inches, 
give appearance of greater size. 

Male and Female — Upper parts, wings, and tail sooty black; paler 
underneath, and grayish on wing coverts. The upper tail 
coverts and frequently the sides of rump and base of tail, 
white. Bill and feet black. Legs very long, and webs of 
toes mostly yellow. Tail square and even. 

Range — Atlantic Ocean, North and South America, nesting in 



73 Life-size. 

Shearwaters and Petrels 

southern seas (Kerguelen Island) in February; afterward 
migrating northward. 
Season — Common summer visitor off the coast of the United 

This is the little petrel most commonly seen off the coast of 
the United States in summer, silently flitting hither and thither 
with a company of its fellows like a lot of butterflies in their 
airy, hovering flight. Owing to the spread of their long wings 
they appear much larger than they really are, for in actual size the 
birds are only a tritle longer than the English sparrow, and look 
like the barn swallow; yet these tiny atoms of the air spend their 
"life on the ocean wave," and have "their home on the rolling 


" O'er the deep ! o'er the deep ! 
Where the whale and the shark and the swordfish sleep — 
Outflying the blast and the driving rain," 

like the stormy petrel of the east Atlantic (Procellaria pela- 
gica), an even smaller species, which doubtless was the bird 
" Barry Cornwall " had in mind when he wrote his famous verses. 

Those who go down to the sea in ships are familiar with the 
petrels that gather in flocks in the wake of the vessel, coursing 
over the waves, now down in the trough, now up above the crest 
that threatens to break over their tiny heads; half leaping along 
a wave, half flying as their distended feet strike the water, and 
they bound upward again; darting swallow-fashion and skim- 
ming along the surface, or flitting like a butterfly above the 
refuse thrown overboard from the ship's galley. " But the most 
singular peculiarity of this bird, " to quote Wilson, for whom it 
was named, "is its faculty of standing, and even running, on the 
surface of the water, which it performs with apparent facility. 
When any greasy matter is thrown overboard, these birds instantly 
collect around it, and face to windward, with their long wings 
expanded, and their webbed feet patting the water, which the 
lightness of their bodies and the action of the wind on their wings 
enable them to do with ease. In calm weather they perform the 
same manoeuvre by keeping their wings just so much in action 
as to prevent their feet from sinking below the surface." It is 
this appearance of walking on the waves, like the Apostle Peter, 
that has caused his name to be applied to them. 

Particles of animal matter, particularly anything fat or oily, 


Shearwaters and Petrels 

are what the petrels are searching for when they follow a ship; 
and seeing any such they quickly settle down to enjoy it, then 
rising again, soon overtake a vessel under steam. Their wing 
power is marvellous, yet when a gale is blowing in full blast 
at sea, these little birds are often blown far inland; the capped 
petrel, for example, that has its proper home in Guadeloupe, in 
the West Indies, having been found in the interior of New York 
state after a prolonged "sou'easter." The petrels swim little, if 
any, though their webbed feet are so admirably adapted for swim- 
ming, which might be a greater protection to them than flying 
when the storms blow. The lighthouses attract many to their 
death on the stern New England coast. 

As night approaches the birds show signs of weariness from 
the perpetual exercise; for not only have they kept pace with a 
steamer through the day, but they have made innumerable ex- 
cursions far from the ship, and played from side to side with a 
flock of companions at hide-and-go-seek or cross-tag until the 
eye tires of watching them. But by the time it is dark the last 
one of the merry little hunters has settled down upon the waves, 
with head tucked under wing, to rest until dawn while " rocked 
in the cradle of the deep " ; yet it is apparently the very same 
flock of birds that are busily looking for breakfast the next morn- 
ing in the wake of the ship, which they must have overtaken 
with the wings of Mercury. 

It would seem these innocent sea-rovers might escape 
persecution at the hands of man; but an English globe-trotter 
tells of seeing not only sailors, but passengers, too, who ordi- 
narily feel only camaraderie for other fellow travellers on a 
lonely vessel, shoot these tiny waifs hovering about the ship, 
to break the tediousness of a long voyage. With the guilty con- 
sciences such sailors must have, it is small wonder the petrel is a 
bird of ill omen to them. They claim it is a harbinger of storms, 
like its large relative the albatross; and it might easily be, for it 
delights in rough weather that brings an abundance of food to the 
surface. All the gruesome superstitions which sailors have clus- 
tered around the birds of this entire family, in fact, were woven 
by Coleridge into his " Rime of the Ancient Mariner." 

According to Brunnich, the Faro Islanders draw a wick 
through the body of the petrel, that is oily from the eating of 
much fat, and burn the poor thing as a lamp. 


Shearwaters and Petrels 

Among the many senseless stories sailors tell of tlie petrel is 
that it never goes ashore to nest, but carries its solitary egg under 
its wing until hatched. But the members of the Transit of Venus 
expedition in the Southern Ocean, several years ago, discovered 
a large colony of these birds nesting on Kergulen Island. Here- 
tofore, ornithologists, misled by Audubon, had confounded the 
nest of Wilson's with that of Leach's petrel. Nests containing 
one white egg each were found in the crevices of rock during 
January and February. In the latter month the author has seen 
the birds in great numbers off the Azores, but, unhappily, not on 
them, for the steamer did not stop there; however, it is not un- 
likely they nest on these islands, which would seem a convenient 
rallying place for the birds from the African coast and those that 
course along the Western Atlantic from Labrador to Patagonia. 
The young birds are fed by that disgusting process known as 
regurgitation, that is, raising the food from the stomachs by the 
parents, which Nuttall says sounds like the cluttering of frogs. 
Baskett writes in his "Story of the Birds" : "The baby petrel 
revels in the delights of a cod-liver-oil diet from the start." 

Ordinarily quite silent birds, these petrels sometimes call out 
weef, weef, or a low twittering chirp that might be written pe- 
np. But it is near its nest that a bird is most noisy ; and until 
very recently the home life of this common petrel was absolutely 

Leach's, the White-rumped, or the Forked-tailed Petrel, as it is 
variously known (Oceandroma leucorhoa) was the bird carefully 
studied by Audubon, but confused by him with Wilson's petrel, 
in which mistake many ornithologists followed him. In size and 
plumage the birds are almost identical, but the forked tail of 
Leach's petrel is its distinguishing mark. The outer tail feathers 
are fully a half inch longer than the middle pair, making the bird 
look more swallow-like even than Wilson's. 

Leach's petrels, while quite as common on the Pacific coast 
as on the Atlantic, have their chief nesting sites in the Bay of 
Fundy, while a few nest off the coast of Maine; for it is a more 
northern species than Wilson's, Virginia and California being its 
southern boundaries. Nevertheless it is by no means so com- 
mon off the coast of New England and the Middle States, except 
around the lighthouses, as Wilson's petrel, that must migrate 


Shearwaters and Petrels 

thousands of miles from the Southern Ocean to pass its summer 
with us. 

Audubon noted that these petrels were seldom seen about 
their nesting sites during the day, but seemed to have some 
nocturnal proclivities ; for they approached the shore after dark, 
and flew around like so many bats in the twilight, all the while 
uttering a wild, plaintive cry. But Chamberlain claims that one of 
the birds, usually the male, sits on its egg all day while its mate 
is out foraging at sea. "When handled," he says, "these birds 
emit from mouth and nostrils a small quantity of oil-like fluid of 
a reddish color and pungent, musk-like odor. The air at the 
nesting site is strongly impregnated with this odor, and it guides 
a searcher to the nest." Sailors have dubbed them with numer- 
ous vile names on account of this peculiar means of defense. 

A few bits of sticks and grasses laid at the end of a tunnel 
burrowed in the ground, at the top of an ocean cliff, very much 
as the bank swallow constructs its nest, make the only home 
these sea-rovers know. Such a tunnel contains one egg, about 
an inch to an inch and a half long, and marked, chiefly around the 
larger end, with small reddish-brown spots. In most respects 
Leach's petrel is identical with Wilson's, and the reader is there- 
fore referred to the fuller account of that bird. 





(Order Steganapodes) 

Birds of this order belong chiefly to tropical or sub-tropical 
countries, and include the tropic birds, gannets, darters, cor- 
morants, pelicans, and man-o'-war birds, representatives of each 
of these seven families at least touching our southern coast line, 
although only the cormorant is common enough north of the 
southern states to come within the scope of this book. The 
characteristic that separates these birds into a distinct order is the 
complete webbing of all the toes; the hallux, or great toe, which 
in many water-birds is either rudimentary, elevated, or discon- 
nected from the other webbed toes, is in these species flat and 
fully webbed like the rest, a characteristic no other birds have. 


(Family Phalacrocoracidm) 

More than half of all the birds of the order of fully webbed 
swimmers are cormorants; found in all parts of the world; but of 
these we have only one, commonly found in the United States 
around bodies of fresh water inland as well as off the Atlantic 
coast. Cormorants nest in great colonies and are gregarious at 
all times. The Chinese have turned their abnormal appetite for 
fish to good account, by partly domesticating their common 
species, putting a tight collar around the bird's throat to prevent 
it from swallowing its prey, and then sending it forth to hunt for 
its master. 

Birds of this family are strong fliers, and although they keep 
rather close to the water when fishing, often pursuing their game 
below the surface, they fly high in serried ranks, a few birds deep, 
but in a long line, during the migrations. 


Totipalmate, or Fully Webbed Swimmers 

The hooked bill that helps hold a slippery fish secure; the 
iridescent black and brown plumage, which is the same in both 
sexes; and certain special featherings of a temporary character 
that are worn during the nesting season only, are among the 
most noticeable characteristics of this family. 
Double-crested Cormorant. 



(Family Phalacrocoraa'da'J 

Double-Crested Cormorant 

(Phalacrocorax dilophiis) 

Called also : SHAG 

Length — 30 to 32 inches. 

Alale and Female — Head, neck, lower back, and under parts glossy, 
iridescent black, with greenish reflections; back and wings 
light grayish brown, each feather edged with black. A tuft 
of long, thin black feathers either side of the head, extending 
from above the eyes to the nape of neck. Birds of the 
interior show some white feathers among the black ones, 
while Pacitlc coast specimens, it is said by Chamberlain, 
wear wholly white wedding plumes. Wedge-shaped black 
tail, six inches long, is composed of twelve stiff feathers. 
Bill longer than head, and hooked at end. Naked space 
around the eye; base of bill and under throat orange. Legs 
and feet black; all four toes connected by webs. Winter 
birds lack the plumes on sides of head, and show more 
brownish tints in plumage. 

Range — North America, nesting from the Great Lakes, Minne- 
sota, Dakota, and Nova Scotia northward; wintering in our 
southern States south of Illinois and Virginia. 

Season — Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, except where 
noted above. 

Which of the cormorants it was that the Greeks called phala- 
crocorax, or bald raven, and is responsible for the unpronounce- 
able name borne by the family to this day, is not now certain; but 
of the thirty species named by scientists, we are at least sure it 
was not the double-crested cormorant which is peculiar to 
America. Some of the Latin peoples, thinking the bird sug- 
gests by its plumage and its voracious appetite a marine crow 
(corvus marinus), have given it various titles from which the 



English tongue has corrupted first corvorant, then cormorant, 
whose significance we do not always remember. 

Long, serried ranks of double-crested cormorants come fly- 
ing northward from the Gulf states in April, and pass along the 
Atlantic shores so high overhead that the amateur observer 
guesses they are large ducks from their habit of flight, not being 
able to distinguish their plumage, in the interior of the United 
States, as well as on the coast, they make frequent breaks in the 
long migration to their northern nesting grounds, when, if we 
are fortunate enough, we may watch their interesting hunting 
habits. Flying low, or just above the surface of the water, 
the cormorant, suddenly catching sight of a fish, dives straight 
after it; darts under water like a flash; pursues and captures the 
victim, though to do it, it must sometimes stay for a long time 
submerged; then reappears with the fish held tightly in its 
hooked beak, from which there is no escape. Before the prize is 
swallowed it is first tossed in the air, then as it descends head 
downward it lands in the sack or dilatable skin of the cormo- 
rant's throat, there to remain in evidence from without until, 
partly digested, it passes on to the lower part of the bird's 
stomach. After its voracious appetite has been appeased, the 
cormorant appears moody and glum. 

On the shores of inland waters, particularly, the cormorant 
often seeks a distended branch of some tree overhanging the lake 
or river, to sit there, a sombre, meditative figure, only intent on 
thefish below. In "Paradise Lost," after likening Satan to a wolf 
preying upon lambs in the sheepfold, Milton continues with 
another simile : 

" Thence up he flew, and on the tree of life, 
The middle tree, and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a cormorant : yet not true life 
Thereby regained, but sat devising death 
To them who lived." 

In Milton's day it was royal sport to go a-fishing with half- 
domesticated, trained cormorants. A strap was fastened around 
the bird's throat tight enough to keep it from swallowing its 
legitimate prey, but loose enough for it to take a full breath. 
Then it was released to furnish amusement for the royal company 
assembled on the shore as it darted like an arrow through the 
clear waters, hunted the fish out of their holes, pursued, cap- 



tured them, and brought them squirming to its master's feet. 
A few English noblemen still divert themselves with this medi- 
aeval pastime, according to Professor Alfred Newton of Cam- 
bridge University; and it is still in vogue among the Chinese 
fishermen, who find the skill of the cormorants more profitable 
than their own. Happily these birds are well cushioned with air 
spaces just under the skin to break the shock when they dive 
from a height and strike the water. The gluttony of a cormorant 
has passed into a proverb. It will continue to hunt every fish in 
sight, day after day, for its equally greedy masters, that only whet 
the birds ravenous appetite from time to time, by removing its 
collar and allowing it to swallow an unenvied prize. 

In some parts of the United States, but chiefly in the Bay of 
Fundy and beyond, the double-crested cormorants retire to nest 
in large companies on the ledges of cliffs along the sea, or in low 
bushes or bushy trees inland. The nest consists of a mass of 
sticks and sea-weed, and both it and its vicinity look as if they 
had been spattered over with whitewash, owing to the bird's 
unclean habits. When the four or six eggs are first laid, they 
are covered over with a rough, chalky deposit that is easily rubbed 
off, showing a bluish-green shell beneath. The young, that are 
hatched blind, have not even down to cover their inky-black 
skin. It takes fully two years to perfect the beautiful iridescent 
black plumage worn by adults. For a time the nestlings are 
fed with food brought up from their parents' stomachs; and so 
active is the cormorant's digestion that a fish caught by one is 
said to have reached a stage fit for baby food between the time the 
bird catches it in the water and transports it in its stomach to its 
adjacent nest. On shore these birds rest in an almost upright 
position, because their legs are set far back on their bodies, which 
also necessitates using the stiff tail as a prop. Doubtless this 
tail, that is used also as a rudder or paddle, adds to the cormo- 
rant's extraordinary facility in swimming under water. 



Mergansers, or Fishing Ducks 

River and Pond Ducks 

Sea and Bay Ducks 





(Order Anseres) 


(Family Atiatidce) 

Five subfamilies, numbering about two hundred species, 
constitute tiiis large family of water fowl that in itself forms a 
well-defined order. They are the mergansers, river ducks, sea 
ducks, geese, and swans. All these birds have the margins of 
the beak (rostrum) furnished with lamels, or plates, tooth-like 
projections, fluted ridges or gutters along its sides; but the sub- 
families are so well defined that their peculiarities would best be 
noted separately. 

Mergansers, or Fishing Ducks 

(Subfamily Mergince) 

Let the young housekeeper avoid any ducks with long, nar- 
row, rounded, hooked, and saw-toothed bills; for the shelldrakes, 
or sawbills, as the mergansers are also called, have rank, unpala- 
table flesh, owing to their diet of fish, which are pursued and 
captured under water in the manner practiced by loons, cormo- 
rants, and other birds low in the evolutionary scale. Mergan- 
sers live in fresh as well as salt water. 

American Merganser or Goosander. 

Red-breasted Merganser. 

Hooded Merganser. 

Plate-billed Swimmers 


River and Pond Ducks 

(Subfamily Anatince) 

The hind toe of these ducks is without a flap, or lobe, and 
the front of the foot is furnished with transverse scales, which 
are the two features of these birds which have led scientists to 
separate them into a distinct subfamily. But to even the un- 
trained eye other peculiarities are also noticeable. The feet of these 
ducks are smaller than those of the sea-ducks, the toes and their 
webs naturally not being so highly developed, owing to the calmer 
waters on which they live; although some few species do associ- 
ate with their sea-loving kin. They do not dive to pursue food like 
the mergansers and sea ducks, but nibble at the aquatic plants they 
live among, and dabble with their bills on the surface of the water 
for particles of animal matter; or, with head immersed and tail in 
air, probe the bottom of shallow waters for small mollusks, crus- 
taceans, and roots of plants. Their bill acts as a sieve or strainer. 
From the more dainty character of their food, their flesh is superior. 
These drakes undergo a double moult; generally the sexes are 
distinct in color; the young resemble the female; but the wing- 
markings, in which a brilliant speculum is usually conspicuous, 
are the same in both sexes. When the males are not polyga- 
mous, they devote themselves to one mate, leaving the entire 
care of the young, however, to her. The speed of these ducks 
on the wing has been estimated anywhere from one hundred to 
a hundred and sixty miles an hour. 

Mallard Duck. 

Black or Dusky Duck. 

Gadwall, or Gray Duck. 

Baldpate, or Widgeon. 

Green-winged Teal. 

Blue-winged Teal. 



Wood Duck. 

Sea and Bay Ducks 

(Subfamily Fuligulina;) 

The lobe, or web, hanging free on the hind toe is the charac- 
teristic looked for by scientists to separate these birds from the 


Plate-billed Swimmers 

preceding group, the transverse scales on the front of the foot 
being common to both subfamilies. The toes and webs of these 
sea ducks are noticeably larger than those of the river ducks, 
owing to their greater exercise; and the feet are also placed a 
little farther back, which increases their facility in diving and 
swimming. Several of the species associate with the river 
ducks in still waters, the subfamily not being so exclusively 
maritime as its name would imply. Indeed, there seem to be 
notable exceptions to almost every general rule that might be 
applied to it except the one that relates to the formation of the toes. 
It is often said that the flesh of sea ducks, that feed more on 
mollusks, crustaceans, and other marine food, although not on 
fish, and less upon grain and other vegetable matter, is coarser, 
less palatable, and even sometimes inedible; but what of the can- 
vasback duck, that peerless delicacy of the epicure ? 

Red-headed Duck. 


Greater Scaup Duck, or Broadbill. 

Lesser Scaup, or Creek Broadbill. 

Ring-necked Duck. 

Golden-eye, or Whistler. 

Barrow's Golden-eye. 

Buffle-head, or Butter-ball. 

Old Squaw, or South Southerly. 

Harlequin Duck. 

American Eider Duck. 

King Eider. 

American Scoter, or Black Coot, 

White-winged Scoter. 

Surf Scoter. 

Ruddy Duck. 


(Subfamily Anserince) 

Cheeks, or lores, completely feathered where the swans are 
naked ; tarsus, or lower part of leg, generally longer than the 
middle toe without the nail; scales on its front rounded: these 
are the purely scientific distinctions of the birds of this sub- 
family. Neck is midway in length between that of the ducks 


Plate-billed Swimmers 

and of the swans. Body is not so flat as the duck's and more 
elevated on the longer legs. Geese, that spend far more time on 
land, walk better than ducks, and depend altogether on a vege- 
table diet. When we see them tipping, with head immersed in 
the water and tail in air, they are probing the bottom for roots 
and seeds of plants, not for water insects or mollusks. In com- 
mon with swans they resent intrusion by hissing with out- 
stretched necks and by striking with the wings. When wounded 
on the water, a goose dives; then, with only its bill exposed 
above the surface, strikes out for land, where it evidently feels 
more at home. The sexes are generally alike in plumage, which 
undergoes only one moult a year; and both parents attend to the 
young as no self-respecting drake would do. A wedge-shaped 
flock of migrating geese, with an old gander in the lead at the 
point of the V, old sportsmen say, is a familiar sight in the spring 
and autumn skies, that echo with the honk, Jionk, or noisy cack- 
lings, coming from the distended necks of the travellers. 

White-fronted Goose. 

Snow Goose. 

Lesser Snow Goose. 

Canada, or Wild Goose. 


Black Brant. 


(Subfamily Cygnirue) 

Bare skin between the eye and bill is the scientific mark of 
distinction between swans and geese; many other points of dif- 
ference are too well known to mention. Swans feed on small 
mollusks in addition to vegetable matter which they secure by 
"tipping" or by simply immersing their long, graceful necks. 
They migrate in V-shaped flocks like the geese, and often utter 
loud, trumpeting notes unlike the noisy gabble of both geese 
and ducks. Plumage of sexes alike. 

Whistling Swan. 
Trumpeter Swan. 



(Subfamily MergincvJ 

American Merganser 

(Merganser americanus) 


Length — 2} to 27 inches. 

Male — Head, which is slightly crested, and upper neck, glossy 
greenish black; hind neck, breast, and markings on wings, 
white; underneath delicately tinted with salmon buff. Back 
black, fading to ashy gray on the lower part and tail. Wings 
largely white; tips of the coverts white, forming a mirror, 
and banded with black. Bill toothed and red, or nearly so, 
and with black hook, and nostrils near the middle. 

Female and Young — Smaller than male; head and upper neck red- 
dish brown ; rest of upper parts and tail ashy gray ; breast and 
underneath white. 

Range — North America generally, nesting from Minnesota north- 
ward, and wintering from New England, Illinois, and Kansas 
southward to southern States. 

Season — Winter resident from November to April. 

A surprising number of popular names have attached them- 
selves to this large, handsome swimmer that studiously avoids 
populated regions and the sight of man; that no sportsman 
would, or, indeed could, eat; that eludes pursuit by some very 
remarkable diving and swimming feats, and therefore enjoys 
popularity in names alone. Its preferences are for remote water- 
ways at the north, where its family life is spent, only a few nests 
being reported this side of the Canadian border; but when a hard 
crust of ice locks up their fish, frogs, mollusks, and other aquatic 
animal food, small companies of six or eight mergansers migrate 



to our lakes, rivers, and the ocean shore to hunt there until 
spring. Salt and fresh water are equally enjoyed. 

Feeding appears to be the chief object in life of this glutton- 
ous bird that often swallows a fish too large to descend entire 
into the stomach, and must remain in the distended throat until 
digested piecemeal. Its saw-like bill for holding slippery prey, 
and rough tongue covered with incurved projections like a cat's, 
doubtless help speed the process of digestion, which is so rapid 
as to keep the bird in a constant state of hunger, and drive it to 
desperate rashness to secure its dinner. It will plunge beneath a 
rushing torrent after a fish, or dive to great depths to secure it, 
swimming under water with long and splendidly powerful, dex- 
terous strokes that soon overtake the fish in its own element. 
These feats, with the sudden dropping out of sight practiced so 
artfully by the loons, make a merganser an exceedingly difficult 
mark for the sportsman to hit; and its muscular, tough, rank 
flesh offers no reward for his efforts. Usually these birds depend 
upon the water to escape danger; but when disturbed in a shallow 
fishing ground, a flock seems to run along the water for a few 
yards, patting it with their strongly webbed feet, then rising to 
windward, they head off in straight, strong, and rapid flight, 
toward distant shelter. 

The adult male in his nuptial dress is a conspicuously beauti- 
ful fellow, with his dark, glossy green head, rich salmon-col- 
ored breast, and black and white wings, set off by a black back. 
But this attire is not worn until maturity, in the second year; and 
in the intervening time, as well as after the nesting season is over, 
he looks much like his mate and their young. Birds whose upper 
parts show the grayish brown that predominates when we see 
them in winter are called "dun divers" in many sections. It is 
the male bird in spring plumage that the taxidermist mounts to 
decorate the walls of dining-rooms and shooting lodges. 

Mergansers build a nest of leaves, grasses, and moss, lined 
with down from their breasts, in a hole of a tree or cliff, where 
from six to ten creamy-buff eggs are laid in June, and tended 
exclusively by the mother, even after they have evolved into 
fluffy ducklings. At this time the drake is undergoing a thorough 



Red-breasted Merganser 

(Merganser Serrator) 


Length — 22 to 24 inches. 

Ma/e — Head and throat greenish blaclc; more greenish above, and 
with long, pointed crest over top of head and nape; white 
collar around neck; sides of lower neck and the upper breast 
cinnamon red, with black streaks; lower breast, underneath, 
and the greater part of wings white; other feathers black. 
Back black ; lower back and sides finely barred with black and 
white; a white patch of feathers, with black border, in front 
of wings, and two black bars across them. Bill long, saw- 
toothed, red, curved at end, and with nostrils near the base; 
eyes red; legs and toes reddish orange. 

Female and Young — Similar to the American merganser. Head, 
neck, and crest dull, rusty brown; dark ashy on back and tail; 
throat and under parts white, shaded with gray along sides; 
white of wing restricted to a patch (mirror or speculum); no 
peculiar feathers in front of wing. 

Range — United States generally; nests from Illinois and Maine 
northward to Arctic regions; winters south of its nesting 
limits to Cuba. 

Season — Winter resident and visitor; October to April. 

Swift currents of water, deep pools where the fish hide, 
and foaming cataracts where they leap, invite the red-breasted 
merganser, as they do its larger American relative; for both birds 
have insatiable appetites, happily united with marvelous swim- 
ming and diving powers that must be constantly exercised in 
pursuit of their finny prey. Fish they must and will have, in 
addition to frogs, little lizards, mollusks, and small shell fish ; and 
for such a diet this fishing duck forsakes its northern nesting 
grounds in winter, when ice locks its larder, to hunt in the open 
waters, salt or fresh, of the United States. Cold has no terror 
for these hardy creatures; they swim as nimbly in the icy water 
of the St. Lawrence as in the rivers of Cuba, and disappear 
under an ice cake with no less readiness than they do under lily- 
pads. Food is their chief desire; and rather than let a six-inch 
fish go, any merganser would choke in its efforts to bolt it. 



Their appetite is so voracious that often some of their food must 
be disgorged from their distended crops before the birds are able 
to rise from the water. An almost exclusive fish diet, with the 
constant exercise they must keep up to secure it, makes their 
flesh so rank and tough that no sportsman thinks of shooting 
the mergansers for food; and by sudden, skilful dives the birds 
are as difficult to kill as the true "water witches." Only the 
youngest, most inexperienced housekeeper thinks of buying any 
saw-billed duck in market; the serrated edges indicating that 
the bill is used as a fish chopper, and fish food never makes flesh 
that is acceptable to a fastidious palate. 

In the United States, at least, the red-breasted mergansers 
are far more abundant than the preceding species, which they 
very closely resemble after the nuptial dress has been laid aside 
for the brown and gray winter plumage. Males may be distin- 
guished by the color of their breasts at any time ; but the females 
and young of both species are most bewilderingly similar at a 
little distance. The position of the nostril, near the centre of the 
American merganser's bill, and near the base of the red-breasted 
species, is the positive clew to identity. The latter bird's croak is 
another aid. All mergansers look as if they needed to have their 
hair brushed. 

While the construction of the nest of these sometimes con- 
fused relatives is the same, the red-breasted merganser makes its 
cradle directly on the ground, among rocks or bushes, but never 
far from water, it is the female that bears all the burden of 
hatching the creamy buff eggs — six to twelve— and of feeding 
and training the young brood; her gorgeous, selfish mate dis- 
creetly withdrawing from her neighborhood when nursery duties 
commence. But the long-suffering mother bird is a perfect pat- 
tern of all the domestic virtues. "I paddled after a brood one 
hot summer's day," says Chamberlain, "and though several 
times they were almost within reach of my landing net, they 
eluded every effort to capture them. Throughout the chase the 
mother kept close to the young birds, and several times swam 
across the bow of the canoe in her efforts to draw my attention 
from the brood and to offer herself as a sacrifice for their escape." 



Hooded Merganser 

(Lophodytes ciicullatus) 



Length — 17 to 19 inches. 

y>/a/^— Handsome semicircular black crest with fan shaped patch 
of white on each side of greenish black head; upper parts 
black, changing to brown on lower back; lower fore neck, 
wing linings, and underneath white, finely waved with 
brownish red, and dusky on sides. Two crescent shaped 
bands of black on sides of breast. A white speculum or 
mirror on wing, crossed by two black bars. Bill bluish 
black, with nostrils in basal half; eyes yellow. 

Female — Smaller; dark ashy brown above, minutely barred with 
black; more restricted and reddish brown crest, lacking the 
white fan; under parts white; sides grayish brown. 

Young — Similar to female, but without crest; no black and white 
bars before wing; wings scarcely showing the white mirror. 

Jiange — North America; nests throughout its range; winters in 
southern United States, also in Cuba and Mexico. 

Season — Chiefly a winter resident and visitor south of the Great 
Lakes and New England. 

Unlike the two larger mergansers that delight in rushing 
torrents and in making daring plunges beneath them, this 
strikingly beautiful "water pheasant," as it is sometimes called, 
chooses still waters, quiet lakes and mill-ponds for a more leisurely 
hunt after small fish, mollusks, and water insects, adding to this 
menu roots of aquatic plants, seeds, and grain. It is claimed that 
this variation in the fish diet, and the consequent lack of harden- 
ing of the muscles, make the merganser's flesh edible; and in spite 
of its saw-toothed bill, the certain index of rank, fishy flesh, epi- 
cures insist that this is an excellent table duck; but in just what 
state of rawness it is most delicious, who but an epicure may say ? 

"It seems an undue strain on the imagination, not to say 
palate, to claim that any of the fish-eating ducks are edible," says 
Mr. Shields. ' ' Men who kill everything they can find in the woods, 
in the fields, or on the water, say all mergansers, coots and grebes 
are good if properly cooked. When asked what this proper 
method of cooking is, they say the birds should first be par- 



boiled through two or three waters; that they should then be 
well baked, stewed, fricassed, or broiled, and flavored with 
rashers of bacon and onions, potatoes, etc. This means, then, 
that the bird should be so treated as to rob it of all its original 
quality, and to reduce it to a condition simply of meat. A 
hawk, an owl, a cayote, a catfish, a German carp, or even a 
dogfish may be made edible by such treatment. If a bird or 
a fish is not fit to eat without all this manipulation and seasoning, 
it is not an edible animal in the first place. Then why kill it ? " 

Like the wood duck, golden-eye, bufflehead, and its imme- 
diate kin, the hooded merganser goes into a hollow tree or stump 
to build a nest of grasses, leaves, and moss, lined with down from 
the mother's breast, and lays from eight to ten buffy white eggs. 
Now is the time that the handsome male disports himself at 
leisure, and at a distance, while the patient little mother keeps 
the eggs warm, feeds the yellowish nestlings, carries them to the 
lake one by one in her bill, as a cat carries its kittens; teaches 
them to swim, dive, and gather their own food, and to fly by 
midsummer; defends them with her life, if need be; and wel- 
comes home the lazy, cavalier father when the drudgeries are 
ended and the young are fully able to join the migrating flocks 
that begin to gather in the Hudson Bay region in September. It 
is she who ought to wear the white halo around her head instead 
of the drake. 

Sportsmen often find small companies of hooded mergan- 
zers in the same lake with mallard, black, wood, and other ducks 
that, like them, delight in woody, well-watered interior districts. 
Mr. Frank Chapman found them in small ponds in the hum- 
mocks of Florida; and the author first made their acquaintance on 
a poultry stand in the French market in New Orleans. 



(Subfamily Atiatimr) 

Mallard Duck 

{Anas boschas) 


Length — 2) inches. 

Male— Head and neck glossy green with white ring like a collar 
defining the dividing line from the rich chestnut breast; un- 
derneath grayish white, finely marked with waving black 
lines; back dark grayish brown, shading to black on lower 
back and tail. Four black upper feathers of tail curve back- 
ward; rest of tail white, black below. Speculum or wing- 
bar rich purple with green reflections and bordered by black 
and white. Bill greenish yellow with gutters on the side. 

Fetnale — Plumage generally dark brown varied with buff; breast 
and underneath buff, mottled with grayish brown; wings 
marked like male's. 

Range — Nests rarely from Indiana and Iowa and chiefly from 
Labrador northward; winters from Chesapeake Bay and 
Kansas southward to Central America. Rare in New Eng- 

Season — Winter resident in southern states; a transient visitor 
or migrant, during the winter months, at the north. 

Small, grassy ponds, slow-moving streams, sloughs, and 
the labyrinths of lakes and rivers that are thickly grown 
with wild rice and rushes, such as abound in the interior 
of the United States and Canada, make the ideal resort of the 
mallards, or, indeed, of most ducks dear to the sportsman's heart. 
Here large companies gather in August and September when the 
ripened grain invites them to the feast they most enjoy, flying at 
dusk or by night in wedge-shaped battalions from their resting- 
grounds at the far north, to remain until the ice locks up their 
food and they must shift their home farther south. In Illinois, 


River and Pond Ducks 

Minnesota, Iowa, and Indiana, they are among the first ducks to 
arrive and the last to leave with the hardy scaups or bluebills. 
And in sheltered localities a few sometimes winter, just as a few 
break through traditions and nest in secluded spots in the same 
states; but from Kansas and the Chesapeake country southward, 
they may be positively relied upon until the time arrives for the 
spring migration, however more abundant they may be in the 
interior than along our coast. Let no one imagine that because 
some ducks are classified in the books as " river and pond," and 
others as "sea and bay ducks," they are not often found in the 
same places. It is the lobed hind toe of the latter group that 
really differentiates them, and not always their habitats. 

Well concealed in the tall sedges that literally drop food into 
their gaping mouths, the mallards feed silently upon the ripe 
grain and seeds, dabbling on the surfoce of the water or, suddenly 
tipping tail upward and stretching head downward in the shallow 
waters, probe the muddy bottom for the small mollusks, fish, 
worms, rootlets, and vegetable matter they delight in. When a 
good mouthful has been taken in the bill is closed tight, thus 
forcing out through the gutters along the sides, that act as strainers, 
the mud and water that were taken in with the food. Ripe corn 
that has dropped in the fields is a favorite cereal. Fish and ani- 
mal substances form a small fraction of the mallards' diet; they 
are very near to being vegetarians, the fact that makes their flesh 
so delicious. 

" In the spring and fall the Kankakee region of Illinois and 
Indiana is one of the finest grounds for mallards, teal, wood- 
duck and geese, to be found in the United States," says Maurice 
Thompson. " 1 need not say to the sportsman that the mallard 
is the king's own duck for the table. The canvasback does not 
surpass it. 1 have shot corn-fed mallards whose flesh was as 
sweet as that of a young quail, and at the same time as choice as 
that of the woodcock." 

Instead of becoming indolent and moody after a plentiful 
dinner, these ducks are uncommonly lively. They jabber among 
themselves, spatter the water freely, half fly, half run along the 
surface of the lake, and are positively playful so long as the leader 
of the sport, that is on the constant lookout, gives no sign of 
warning. One might think they were mad, but often their frantic 
antics indicate that insects are troubling them, and all their splut- 


River and Pond Ducks 

teilng and diving is done to get rid of the pests. Mallards dive 
and swim under water also to escape danger, but rarely to 
collect food. During the day they make many bold excursions 
to the centre of the lake and explore the inlets and indentations 
of the shore. On the first quack of alarm, however, up bounds 
the entire flock and, rising obliquely to a good height, their stif- 
fened wings whistling through the wind, off they fly at a speed 
no locomotive can match. Perhaps the reason for most misses 
of the amateur hunter is his inability to conceive the rate at 
which ducks move, and so to hold far enough ahead of the 
bird he has selected. Mallards waste no time sailing, but after 
climbing the sky on throbbing wings they continue to flap them 
constantly. Before alighting it is their habit to wheel round and 
round a feeding-ground to assure themselves no danger lurks 
in ambush. They are conspicuous sufferers from the duck- 
hawk, whose marvelous flight so far excels even theirs that es- 
cape is hopeless in a long race unless the duck should be flying 
over water, into which a sudden plunge and a long swim under 
the surface to a sheltered corner in the sedges, frees it from the 
persecutor that lives by tearing the flesh from the breasts of hun- 
dreds of such victims every year. 

Wary as these ducks are, they are also eminently inquisitive, 
or the painted, wooden decoys of dingy little females, gay ban- 
dana handkerchiefs fluttering from poles, that are used in 
the south to excite their curiosity, and other time-honored tricks 
of sportsmen would never have been crowned with success. 
The mallards are also exceedingly shy, and feel at greatest ease 
and liberty when the dusk of evening and dawn covers their 
feeding-grounds and conceals their flight that is often suspected 
solely by the whistling of their wings through the darkness over- 
head. Their loud quack, quack, exactly like that of the domestic 
duck, resounds cheerfully in the spring and autumn migrations. 

To see the endearments and little gallantries the handsome 
drake bestows on his mate in spring, no one would sus- 
pect him of total indifference to her later. Waterton and other 
writers claim that the wild mallard is not only strictly monoga- 
mous, but remains paired for life. Perhaps polygamy cannot be 
fairly charged against him, however suspicious his indifference 
to his mate and ducklings appears. Many ornithologists claim 
that he is positively unable to help his mate and young, owing 


River and Pond Ducks 

to the extra molt his plumage undergoes at the end of June, 
when he actually loses the power of flight for a time and does 
not regain his beautiful full plumage until the autumn. But cer- 
tainly the character of the domesticated mallard must have sadly 
deteriorated, if this is so, for in the barn-yard, at least, he is a 
veritable Mormon. 

In a nest lined with down from her breast, and made of hay, 
leaves, or any material that can be scraped together on the ground, 
near the water or in a bushy field back from it, the mother con- 
fines herself for twenty-eight days. It is then her gay cavalier 
goes off to his club, or its equivalent, with other like-minded 
pleasure-seekers, while she bears the full burden of the house- 
hold. Very seldom does she leave the pale bluish or greenish 
gray eggs — six to a dozen — to get food and a brief swim in the 
lake ; and she is careful to pull the down coverlet well over the 
eggs to retain their heat during her outings. As her incubating 
duties near their end, she usually does not stir from the nest at 
all. There are some few records of nests made in trees. If the 
nest is near the water, on the ground, the young ones instantly 
make for it when they leave the shell; but being unable to walk 
well at first, the overworked mother must carry them to it in her 
bill, it is said, if the nest is far back on a bank. Many pathetic 
stories are in circulation, showing the mother's total self-forgetful- 
ness and voluntary offering of her own life to protect the downy 
brood. Water-rats and large pike, that eat her babies when they 
make their earliest dives, are the worst enemies she has to fear 
until they are able to fly, some six weeks or more after hatching, 
and the duck-hawk finds them easy prey. 

The mallard is by far the most important species we have, 
as it is the most plentiful, the most widely distributed, and the 
best known, being the ancestor of the common domestic duck ; 
and although many of its habits have undergone a change in the 
poultry-yards, others may still be profitably studied there by 
those unable to reach the inaccessible sloughs, bayous, and 
lagoons where the wild ducks hide. 


River and Pond Ducks 

Black Duck 

{Anas obscura) 


Length — 22 to 2} inches; same size as the mallard. 

Male and Female — Resembling the female mallard, but darker and 
without white anywhere except on the wing Imings; violet 
blue patch or speculum on wings bordered by black — a fine 
white line on that of male only. General plumage dusky 
brown, not black, lighter underneath than on upper parts, the 
feathers edged with rusty brown. Top of head rich, dark 
ashy brown, slightly streaked with buff; sides of head and 
throat pale buff, thickly streaked with black. Female paler 
yellow. Bill greenish. Feet red. 

Range — " Eastern North America, west to the Mississippi Valley, 
north to Labrador, breeding southward to the northern parts 
of the United States."— A. "O. U. 

Season — Resident in the United States, where it nests; also winter 
resident, from September to May; most abundant in spring 
and autumn migrations. 

In New England and along the Atlantic States, where the 
mallard is scarce, the black duck (which is not black but a 
dusky brown), replaces it in the salt-creeks and marshes as well 
as on the inland rivers, lakes, and ponds; and even the sea itself 
is sometimes sought as an asylum from the gunners. Not all 
river and pond ducks confine themselves to the habitats laid 
down for them in the books. Black ducks, when persistently 
hunted, frequently spend their days on the ocean, returning to 
their favorite lakes and marshes under cover of darkness — for 
they are exceedingly shy and wary — to feed upon the seeds of 
sedges, corn in the farmer's fields, the roots and foliage of aquatic 
plants, and other vegetable diet, which is responsible for the 
delicious quality of their flesh, so eagerly sought after. 

Brush-houses thatched with sedges, that are set up in the 
duck's feeding-grounds by hunters, may not be distinguished 
from the growing plants in the twilight or early dawn ; wooden 
decoys easily deceive the inquisitive birds ; live domestic ducks 
tied by the leg to the shore, though apparently free to swim at 
large, lure the wild ones near the gunners in ambush, and numer- 
ous other devices, long in vogue among men who spare them- 
selves the fiUigue of walking through the sedges to flush their 


River and Pond Ducks 

victims, help pile the poultry stalls of our city markets just as 
soon as the law allows in autumn. In the early spring, when 
the law is still "open" and should be closed, housekeepers find 
eggs already well formed in this and other game birds brought to 
their kitchens. Of all the wild fowl that enter the United States, 
this duck, it is said, possesses the greatest economic value, which 
should be a sufficient reason, if no higher motive prompted, to 
give it the fullest protection. While the nesting season is from 
the last of April to the early part of June, the birds have mated 
many weeks before. They are the spring laws that need serious 
going over by our legislators. 

So closely resembling the mallard in habits that an account 
of them need not be repeated here, the black duck is not so com- 
mon in the interior nor in the south, for it was the Florida duck 
that early ornithologists confounded with this species, which, 
they claimed, had the phenomenal nesting range extending from 
Labrador to the Gulf. Illinois and New Jersey are as far south as 
its nests have been found. The black duck, that seems to have 
a more hardy constitution than many of its kin, stays around our 
larger ponds long after the ice has formed, and where springs 
keep open pools, it is not infrequently met with all through a 
mild winter. 


(Anas strepera) 

Called also: GRAY DUCK 

Length — 20 to 22 inches. 

Male — Upper parts have general appearance of brownish gray, 
waved and marked with crescent-shaped white and blackish 
bars. Top of head streaked with black or reddish brown; 
sides of head and neck pale buff brown, mottled with 
darker; lower neck and breast black or very dark gray, each 
feather marked with white and resembling scales ; grayish 
and white underneath, minutely lined with gray waves; 
lower back dusky, changing to black on tail coverts; space 
under tail black. Wings chestnut brown, gray, and black, 
with white patch framed in velvety black and chestnut. 
Wing-linings white. Bill lead color. Feet orange. 

Female — Smaller than male and darker. Head and throat like 
male's; back dark grayish brown, the feathers edged with 







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River and Pond Ducks 

bufF; breast and sides buff, thickly spotted with blacl<, 
but the female throughout lacks the beautiful waves, scales, 
and crescent-shaped marks that adorn her mate. Under- 
neath, including under tail-coverts and wing-linings, white. 
Little or no chestnut on wings ; speculum or wing-patch 
white and gray. Bill dusky, blotched with orange, imma- 
ture birds resemble the mother. 

Ra7ige — Cosmopolitan; nests in North America, from the middle 
states northward to the fur countries, but chiefly within 
United States limits. Most abundant in Mississippi Valley 
region and west; also northward to the Saskatchewan. 

Season — Winter resident south of Virginia and southern Illinois; 
winter visitor, most abundant in spring and autumn migra- 
tions, north of Washington. 

This beautiful species, first discovered by Wilson, on the 
shores of Seneca Lake, New York, keeps close by fresh water, 
showing no liking whatever for the sea as the black duck does. 
In the Atlantic states the gadwall is rare, except as a migratory 
visitor inland, while in the sloughs of the Mississippi Valley, 
Florida, and the Gulf states, it is abundant in favored spots that 
other ducks frequent when the wild rice and field-corn ripen, and 
that local sportsmen also revel in. The gadwall's flesh is par- 
ticularly fine; its mixed diet of grain and small aquatic animal 
food imparting a gamy flavor to it that epicures appreciate. 

As this duck is very shy and full of fear, it dozes most of its 
time away when the sun is high, securely hidden in the tall 
sedges that line the marshy lake or quiet stream ; and emerging 
at twilight to feed, to disport itself with its companions, to lift 
up its voice in happy bubblings and quacks, to fly from lake to 
lake in wedge-shaped companies, it pursues, under cover of par- 
tial or even total darkness, the round of pleasures and duties cus- 
tomary among all the duck tribe. In nesting and other habits as 
well, the gadwall so closely resembles the mallard that a de- 
scription of them would be merely a repetition. Even its voice 
is very like the mallard's, although the quack is more frequently 
repeated; but Gesner must have discovered some unusually 
shrill, high-pitched notes in it when he added strepera to the 
bird's name. 


Rivei and Pond Ducks 


{Anas americana) 


Length — 18 to 20 inches. 

Male — Crown of head white or buff; sides of head, from the eye 
to the nape, have broad band of glossy green, more or 
less sprinkled with black; cheeks and throat buff, marked 
with fme lines and bars of black; upper breast and sides light 
reddish, violet brown (vinaceous), each feather with grayish 
edge forming bars across breast. More grayish sides are 
finely waved with black; lower parts and wing-linings 
white; black under tail. Back grayish brown, more or less 
tinged with the same color as breast, and finely marked with 
black. Wings have glossy green patch bordered by velvety 
black. Bill grayish blue with black tip. Feet and legs 

Female — Smaller. Head and throat white or cream, finely barred 
with black and without green bands; darker above; upper 
breast and sides pale violet, reddish brown washed with 
grayish, interrupted with whitish or gray bars. Wings like 
male's, though the speculum may be indistinct and gray re- 
place the white; back grayish brown, the feathers barred 
with buff. 

Range — North America; nests regularly from Minnesota north- 
ward, and casually as far as Texas, but not on the Atlantic 
coast. Winters in the United States, from southern states 
to the Gulf; also in Guatemala, Cuba, and northern South 

Season — Spring and autumn visitor, and winter resident, October 
to April. 

The baldpates, keeping just in advance of the teeth of winter 
with the large army of other ducks that come flying out of the 
north in wedge-shaped battalions when the first ice begins to 
form, break their long journey to the Gulf states and the tropics 
by a prolonged feast in the wild rice, sedges, and celery in north- 
ern waters, both inland and along the coast. A warm reception 
of hot shot usually awaits them all along the line, for when celery- 
fed or fattened on rice their flesh can scarcely be distinguished 
from that of the canvasback duck, and sportsmen and pot-hunters 
exhaust all known devices to lure them within gun-range. The 
gentleman hidden behind "blinds" on the "duck-shores" of 


River and Pond Ducks 

Maryland and the sloughs of the interior, and with a flock 
of wooden decoys floating near by; or the nefarious marl<et- 
sunner in his "sinl< boat," and with a dazzling reflector behind 
the naphtha lamp on the front of his scow, bag by fair means 
and foul immense numbers of baldpates every season ; yet so 
prolific is the bird, and so widely distributed over this continent, 
that there still remain widgeons to shoot. That is the fact one 
must marvel at when one gazes on the results of a single 
night's slaughtering in the Chesapeake country. The pot hunter 
who uses a reflector to fascinate the flocks of ducks that, bedded 
for the night, swim blindly up to the sides of the boat, moving 
silently among them, often kills from twenty to thirty at a shot. 
True sportsmen must soon awaken to the necessity for stopping 
this wholesale murdering of our finest game birds. 

IVhew, li'hew, whew — " a shrilly feeble whistle, precisely such 
as the young puddle duck of the barnyard makes in his earliest 
vocal efforts " — announces the coming of a flock of baldpates 
high overhead. Audubon heard them say "sweet, sweet," as if 
piped by a flute or hautboy. In spite of their marvelously swift 
flight, estimated from one hundred to one hundred and twenty 
miles an hour, their stiffened wings constantly beating the air 
that whistles by them, they are, nevertheless, often overtaken on 
the wing by the duck hawk, their worst enemy next to man. 
Diving and swimming under water are their only resorts when 
this villain attacks them. 

But when living an undisturbed life, the widgeons greatly 
prefer that other ducks, notably the canvasbacks, should do their 
diving for them. Around the Chesapeake, where great flocks of 
wild ducks congregate to feed on the wild celery, the wid- 
geons show a not disinterested sociability, for they kindly permit 
their friends to make the plunges down into the celery beds, 
loosen the tender roots, and bring a succulent dinner to the 
surface; then rob them immediately on their reappearance. 
Such piracy keeps the ducks in a state of restless excitement, 
which is further induced by the whistling of the widgeons' wings 
in their confused manner of flight in and around the feeding- 
grounds. Here they wheel about in the air; splash and splutter 
the water; stand up in it and work their wings; half run, half fly 
along the surface, and in many disturbing ways make themselves 
a nuisance to the hunter in ambush. They seem especially 


River and Pond Ducks 

alert and lively. Neither are they so shy as many of their com- 
panions; for when come upon suddenly in the coves of the lake, 
they usually row boldly out toward the centre, out of gun range, 
and take to wing, if need be, rather than spend their whole day 
dozing in the tall grasses on the shores as many others do. Not 
that they may never be caught napping on the sand flats or in the 
sedges when the sun is high, for all ducks show decided noctur- 
nal preferences; only widgeons are perhaps the boldest of their 
associates. Open rivers, lakes, estuaries of large streams, and 
bays of the smaller bodies of salt water attract them rather than 
the sluggish, choked-up sloughs that shyer birds delight to hide in. 
Instead of nesting close beside the water in the sedges, after 
the approved duck method, the widgeons commonly go to high, 
dry ground to lay from seven to twelve buff-white eggs in a 
mere depression among the leaves that the mother lines with 
down from her breast. Nests are frequently found half a mile or 
more from water. It is supposed, but not as yet proved, that the 
mother carries in her bill each tiny duckling to the water, where 
it is at home long before it feels so on land or in the air. At 
various stages of the bird's development the plumage undergoes 
many changes; but aside from those of age and sex, the baldpates 
show unusual variability. However, Dr. Coues consoles the 
novice with the assurance that "the bird cannot be mistaken 
under any conditions; the extensive white of the under parts and 
wings is recognizable at gunshot range." 

The European Widgeon (Anas penelope) has found its way 
across the Atlantic and our continent, for it nests in the Aleutian 
Islands as well as in the northern parts of our eastern coast. It 
is occasionally met with in the eastern United States; and, al- 
though it has a bald pate also, its blackish throat and the reddish 
brown on the rest of the head and neck easily distinguish it from 
its American prototype. 


River and Pond Ducks 

Green -winged Teal 

{Anas caroUnensis) 

Length — 14 inches. One of the smallest ducks. 

Male — Head and neck rich chestnut, with a broad band of glossy 
green running from eyes to nape of neck; chin black; 
breast light pinkish-brown, spotted with black; upper back 
and sides finely marked with waving black and white lines; 
lower back dark grayish brown, underneath white. A white 
crescent in front of the bend of the wing; wings dull gray, 
tipped with buff and with patch or speculum half purplish 
black and half rich green. Head slightly subcrested. Bill 
black. Feet bluish gray. 

Female — Less green on wings; no crest; throat white; head and 
neck streaked with light reddish brown on dark-brown 
ground; mottled brownish and buff above; lower parts 
whitish changing to buff on breast and lower neck, which 
are clouded with dusky spots. 

Range — North America at large; nests in Montana, Minnesota, 
and other northern states, but chiefly north of the United 
States; winters from Virginia and Kansas, south to Cuba, 
Honduras, and Mexico. 

Season — Spring and autumn migratory visitor north of Washing- 
ton and Kansas ; more abundant in the interior than on the 

Next to the wood duck, this diminutive, exquisitely marked 
and colored kinsman is perhaps the handsomest member of its 
tribe; and, next to the merganser, it is said to be the most fleet 
of wing as it is of foot, unlike many of its waddling relations; 
but epicures declare its delicious flesh is the one characteristic 
worth expending superlatives upon. When the teal has fed on 
wild oats in the west, or on soaked rice in the fields of Georgia 
and Carolina, Audubon declared it is much superior to the glori- 
fied canvasback. Nothing about its rankness of flavor when it 
has gorged on putrid salmon lying in the creeks in the north- 
west, or the maggots they contain, ever creeps into the books; 
and yet this dainty little exquisite of the southern rice fields has 
a voracious appetite worthy of the mallard, around the salmon 
canneries of British Columbia, where the stench from a flock of 
teals passing overhead betrays a taste for high living, no other 
gourmand can approve. When clean fed, however, there is no 
better table-duck than a teal. 


River and Pond Ducks 

Among the earliest arrivals from the horde of water-fowl 
that follow the food supply from the far north into the United 
States every autumn, the green-wings are exceedingly abundant 
in the fresh water lakes and ponds of the interior, and less so on 
the salt water lagoons and creeks of the coast until frost locks up 
the celery, sedges, wild rice, berries, seeds of grasses, tadpoles, 
and the various kinds of insects on which they commonly feed. 
Then the teals go into winter quarters, and as they pass in small, 
densely packed companies overhead, the peculiar reed-like whis- 
tling of their swift wings may be plainly heard. Old sportsmen 
tell of clouds of ducks, numbering countless thousands, but 
they best know why such flights are gone forever from the 
United States. 

The selfish, dandified drakes, that have spent their summer 
putting on an extra suit of handsome feathers and living an idle 
life of pleasure while their mates attended to all the nursery duties, 
leave them to find their way south as best they may, while they 
pursue a separate course. In the spring the teals are, perhaps, the 
easiest ducks to decoy. To watch the gallantries and antics of 
the drake in the spring, when he proudly swims round and round 
his coy little sweetheart, uttering his soft whistle of endearment, 
no one would accuse him of total indifference to her later. 
Happily, she is self reliant, dutiful to her young, courageous, re- 
sourceful. As a brood may consist of from six to sixteen duck- 
lings, the mother does not lack company during the autumn 
migration, though she must often pay heavy toll to the gunners 
in every state she passes through. Were she not among the 
most prolific of birds, doubtless the species would be extinct 
to-day. Happily this duck is a mark for experts only ; for, with 
a spring from the water, it is at once launched in the air on a 
flight so rapid that few sportsmen reckon it correctly in taking 
aim. When wounded, the teal plunges below the water, or 
when pursued by a hawk; but it rarely, if ever, dives for food, 
the "tipping-up" process of securing roots of water plants in 
shallow waters answering the purpose. Occasionally one sees 
a flock of teals sunning themselves on sandy flats and bogs, 
preening their feathers, or dozing in the heat of noon; then the 
hunter picks them off by the dozen at a time; but ordinarily 
these birds keep well screened in the grasses at the edges of the 
waters until twilight. While, like most other ducks, they are 


River and Pond Ducks 

particularly active toward night and at dawn, they are not 
so shy as many. Farmers often see them picking up corn 
thrown about the barnyard; and Mr. Arnold tells in the "Nid- 
ologist" of finding nests of the green-winged teals built in tufts 
of grass on the sun baked banks along the railroad tracks in 
Manitoba, where the workmen constantly passed the brooding 
females intent only on keeping warm their large nestful of cream- 
white eggs. Nests have been found elsewhere, quite a distance 
from water, which would seem scarcely intelligent were not the 
teals very good walkers from the first, and less dependent than 
others on the food water supplies. In the west one some- 
times surprises a brood and its devoted little mother poking about 
in the undergrowth for acorns, or for grapes, corn, wheat, and 
oats that lie about the cultivated lands at harvest time. Green- 
wings are early nesters, and have full fledged young in July, when 
the blue-wings and cinnamon teal are still sitting. 

Blue-winged Teal 

{Anas discors) 


Length — 15 to 16 inches. 

Male — Head and neck deep gray or lead color with purplish 
reflections; black on top; a broad white crescent bordered by 
black in front of head; breast and underneath pale reddish 
buff, spotted with dusky gray on the former and barred on 
the flanks. Back reddish brown, marked with black and 
buff crescents, more greenish near the tail. Shoulders dull 
sky blue; wing patch green bordered with white. Bill gray- 
ish black. Feet yellowish with dusky webs. 

Female — Dusky brown marked with buff, with an indistinct white 
patch on chin; sides of the head and neck whitish, finely 
marked with black spots except on throat; breast and under- 
neath paler than male in winter; wings similar but with less 
white. In summer plumage males and females closely re- 
semble each other. 

Range — North America from Alaska and the British fur countries 
to Lower California, the West Indies, and South America; 
nests from Kansas northward; winters from Virginia and the 
lower Mississippi Valley southward. Most abundant east 
of the Rocky Mountains. 


River and Pond Ducks 

Season — More common in the autumn migrations, August, Sep- 
tember, and October, along the Atlantic coast states than in 
the spring, and always more plentiful in the Mississippi 
region than near salt water. 

Similar in most of its habits to the green-winged teal, the 
blue-winged species appears a trifle less hardy, and is there- 
fore, perhaps, the very first duck to come into the United States 
in the early autumn and to hurry southward when the first frost 
pinches. Tropical winters suit it perfectly, but many birds re- 
main in our southern states until spring. Here they forget family 
traditions of shyness, when the sun shines brightly, and sit 
crowded together basking in its rays on the mud flats and shal- 
low lagoons, delighting in the tropical warmth. It is when they 
are enjoying such a sun bath that the pot hunter, who has stolen 
silently upon them, discharges an ounce of shot in their midst, and 
bags more ducks at a time than one who knows how scarce this 
fine game bird is, where once it was exceedingly abundant, cares 
to contemplate. The old "figure four" traps, to which ducks are 
decoyed with rice, still find favor with the market hunter, who 
is looking for large returns for his efforts, rather than for sport. 
Decoys are all but useless in autumn when the drakes show no 
attention to even their mates. 

Formerly these teals were very common indeed in New Eng- 
land, the middle Atlantic and the middle states, whereas for many 
seasons past the same old story is heard there from the sports- 
men: "There is a very poor flight this year." It is likely to 
grow poorer and poorer in future unless the ducks are given 
better protection. We must now go to the inaccessible sloughs, 
grown with wild rice, in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and west- 
ward, or to the lagoons of the lower Mississippi Valley to find the 
two commoner species of teals in abundance. In such lu.xuriant 
feeding-grounds, where they associate closely, long, wedge- 
shaped strings of ducks rise from the sedges at any slight alarm, 
and shoot through the air overhead on whistling wings. We 
are accustomed to seeing small, densely massed flocks in the east 
when the birds are migrating southward. The blue-winged 
teals, after their small size is noted, can always be distinguished 
by the white crescent between the bill and eyes, conspicuous at 
a good distance. "When they alight, they drop down suddenly 
among the reeds in the manner of the snipe or woodcock," says 

1 06 

River and Pond Ducks 

Nuttall, instead of hovering suspiciously over the spot for awhile, 
like the mallards. They are silent birds, and, though not always 
actually so, their low, feeble quack, rapidly repeated, is so dim- 
inutive that they get little credit for a vocal performance. 


(Spatula clvpeatd) 


Length — 18 to 20 inches. 

J/«/if— Head and neck dusky, glossy bluish green; back brown, 
paler on the edges of the feathers, and black on lower back 
and tail; patches on sides of base of tail, lower neck, upper 
breast, and some wing feathers white; lower breast and 
underneath reddish chestnut; shoulders grayish blue; wing 
patch green. Bill longer than head, twice as wide at end 
as at base, and rounded over like a spoon; teeth at the sides 
in long, slender plates. Tail short, consisting of fourteen 
sharply pointed feathers. Feet small and red. 

Female — Smaller, darker, and duller than male. Head and neck 
streaked with buff, brown, and black; throat yellowish 
white; back dark olive brown, the feathers lighter on the 
edges; underparts yellowish brown indistinctly barred with 
dusky; wings much like male's, only less vivid. Immature 
birds have plumage intermediate between their parents'; 
their shoulders are slaty gray and the wing patch shows 
little or no green. 

Range — "Northern hemisphere; in America more common in the 
interior; breeds regularly from Minnesota northward and 
locally as far south as Texas; not known to breed in the 
Atlantic States; winters from southern Illinois and Virginia 
southward to northern South America." (Chapman.) 

Season — Winter visitor in the south; spring and autumn migrant 
north of Washington; more abundant in autumn migrations 
in the east. 

However variable the plumage of this duck may be in the 
sexes and at different seasons, its strangely shaped bill at once 
identifies it, no other representatives of the spoonbill genus of 
ducks having found their way to North American waters. Ap- 
parently the shoveler is guided by touch rather than sight, as it 
pokes about on the muddy shores of ponds or tips up to probe in 
the shallow waters for the small shellfish, insects, roots of aquatic 


River and Pond Ducks 

plants, and small fish it feeds on. It is not a strict vegetarian, 
however delicate and delicious its flesh may he at the proper 
season. There are many sportsmen who would not pass a 
shoveler to shoot a canvasback. 

North of the United States, where these ducks chiefly have 
their summer home, we hear of the jaunty, parti-colored drake, 
gayly decked out for the nesting season, when he is truly beau- 
tiful to behold, and charmingly attentive to his more sombre 
mate. By the time the autumn migration has brought them 
over our borders, however, he has cast off many of his fine feath- 
ers, together with his gallant manners, and closely resembles the 
duck in all but character. He is ever a selfish idler, while she 
attends to all the drudgery of making the nest in the marshy bor- 
der of the lake; of incubating from six to fourteen pale greenish 
buff eggs during four weeks of the closest confinement; of caring 
for the large brood and teaching the ducklings all the family arts. 

Shovelers are expert swimmers and divers, though they "tip 
up" rather than dive for food; they are good walkers also, when 
we see them in the corn fields, and almost as swift on the wing as 
a teal. Took, took; took, took, that answers as a love song and the 
expression of whatever passing emotion the ordinarily silent birds 
may voice, was likened by Nuttall to "a rattle, turned by small 
jerks in the hand." 

Like most other ducks of this subfamily, the shoveler is not 
common in the northern Atlantic states. Salt water never 
attracts it; but, on the contrary, it rejoices in lakes, sluggish 
rivers and streams, isolated grass-grown ponds, and even pud- 
dles made by the rain. In the sloughs and lagoons of the lower 
Mississippi Valley it is still fairly common all winter, however 
much it is persecuted by the gunners. 

"These birds migrate across the country to the western 
plains where they nest," says Chamberlain, "from North Dakota 
and Manitoba northward, ranging as far as Alaska." In such 
remote places, where the hand of the law rarely reaches the 
nefarious pot hunter, he happily finds the ducks in the very prime 
of toughness. 

1 08 

River and Pond Ducks 


{Dafila acuta) 


Length — Male, 2S to 30 inches, according to development of tail. 
Female, 22 inches. 

Male — Head and throat rich olive brown, glossed with green and 
■ purple; blackish on back of neck; two white lines, begin- 
ning at the crown, border the blackish space, and become 
lost in the white of the breast and under parts. Underneath 
faintly, the sides more strongly, and the back heavily marked 
with waving black lines; back darkest; shoulders black; 
wing coverts brownish gray, the greater ones tipped with 
reddish brown; speculum or wing patch purplish green; 
central tail feathers very long and greenish black. Bill and 
feet slate colored. 

Female — Tail shorter, but with central feathers sharply pointed. 
Upper parts mottled gray and yellowish and dark brown ; 
breast pale yellow brown freckled with dusky; whitish be- 
neath, the sides marked with black and white; only traces 
of the speculum in green spots on brown area of wing; tail 
with oblique bars. In nesting-plumage the drake resembles 
the female except that his wing markings remain unchanged. 

Range — North America at large, nesting north of Illinois to the 
Arctic Ocean ; winters from central part of the United States 
southward to Panama and West Indies. 

Season — Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, or more rarely a 
winter visitor, in the northern part of the United States; a 
winter resident in the south. 

No one could possibly mistake the long-tailed drake in fall 
plumage for any other species; but the tyro who would not 
confound his dusky mate with several other obscure looking 
ducks, must take note of her lead colored bill and legs, broad, 
sharply pointed tail feathers, and dusky under wing coverts. 
The pintails carry themselves with a stately elegance that faintly 
suggests the coming swan. Their necks, which are unusually 
long and slender for a duck; their well poised heads and trim, 
long bodies, unlike the squat figure of some of their kindred; 
their sharp wings and pointed tails, give them both dignity and 
grace in the air, on the land, or in the water, for they appear 
equally at home in the three elements. 

But of such charms as they possess they are exceedingly 


River and Pond Ducks 

chary. In the wet prairie lands and grass-grown, shallow waters 
which they delight in, hunters find these birds the first to take 
alarm — troublesomely vigilant, noisy chatterers, with a very small 
bump of curiosity that discourages tolling or decoys ; nervous and 
easily panicstricken. At the first crack of the gun they shoot 
upward in a confused, struggling mass that gives all too good a 
chance for a pot shot. If they had learned to scatter them- 
selves in all directions, to dive under water or into the dense 
sedges when alarmed, as some ducks do, there would be many 
more pintails alive to-day; but usually they practise none of these 
protections. There are men living who recall the times, never 
to return, when ducks resorted literally by the million to the 
Kankakee and the Calumet regions; and pintails in countless 
multitudes swelled the hordes that thronged out of the north in 
the autumn migration. In spite of their enormous fertility, their 
strong, rapid flight, their swimming and diving powers, their 
shyness and readiness to take alarm — in spite of the lavish pro- 
tection that nature has given them, and of their economic value 
to man — there are great tracts of country where these once abun- 
dant game birds have been hunted to extinction. 

From the west and the north sportsmen follow the ducks 
into the lower Mississippi Valley region and our southern sea- 
board states, where the majority winter. Widgeons and black 
ducks often associate with them there. The canvasback, the 
redhead, the black duck, the teals, and the mallard, while 
counted greater delicacies, by no means attract the exclusive 
attention of the pot hunter when pintails are in sight. Given a 
good cook and a young, f;it, tender duck, even Macaulay's school- 
boy could tell the result. 

It is an amusing sight to see a flock of drakes feeding in 
autumn, when they chiefly live apart by themselves. Tipping 
the fore part of their bodies downward while, with their long 
necks distended, they probe the muddy bottoms of the lake for 
the vegetable matter and low animal forms they feed upon, their 
long tails stand erect above the surface, like so many bulrushes 
growing in the water. They seem able to stand on their 
heads in this fashion indefinitely; a spasmodic working of their 
feet in the air from time to time testifying only to the difficulty a 
bird may be having to loosen some much desired root. 

From eight to twelve yellowish olive or pale greenish white 

1 10 


River and Pond Ducks 

eggs are laid near the water, but in dry, grassy land, where the 
mother, who bears all the family cares, forms a slight depression 
in the soil, under some protecting bush, if may be, and lines it 
with feathers from her breast. 

Wood Duck 

(y4ix sponsa) 


Length — 17 to 19 inches. 

Male — Crown of head, elongated crest, and cheeks golden, metal- 
lic green, with purple iridescence; a white line from base 
of bill over the eye, and another behind it, reach to the end 
of crest; throat, and a band from it up sides of head, white; 
breast rich reddish chestnut spotted with white; white un- 
derneath, shading into yellowish gray on the sides, which are 
finely marked with waving lines of black; strong black and 
white markings on long feathers at back of the flanks on the 
sides. Upper parts dark, iridescent and purplish, greenish 
brown; a white crescent and a black one in front of wings, 
which are glossed with purple and green and tipped with 
white; wing patch purplish blue edged with white; spot at 
either side of base of tail, chestnut purple. Bill pinkish, red 
at the base, black underneath and on ridge and tip. Legs 

Female — Smaller. Crest and wing markings more restricted; 
head dusky with purplish crown ; throat, patch around eye, 
and line backward, white; breast and sides grayish brown, 
streaked with buff; underneath white; back olive brown 
glossed with greenish and purple. Young drake resembles 
the female. 

Range — "North America at large, but chiefly in the United States, 
breeding throughout its range, wintering chiefly in the 
south." (Coues.) 

Season — Summer resident. 

This most beautiful of all our ducks, if not of all American 
birds, in the opinion of many, that Linnaeus named the bride 
{sponsa), although it is the groom that is particularly festive in 
rich apparel and flowing, veil-like crest, confines itself to this 
continent exclusively; neither has it a counterpart in, Europe or 
Asia as most of our other ducks have. It is an independent little 

River and Pond Ducks 

creature with a set way of doing things quite apart, many of them, 
from family traditions. For instance, it nests in trees rather than 
on the ground and walks about the limbs like any song bird; it 
never quacks, but has a musical call all its own; the lovers do 
not cease to be such after the incubation begins — to name only a 
few of the wood duck's peculiarities. 

Arriving from the south, already mated, in April, a couple 
prepare to spend the summer with us by selecting a home im- 
mediately; an abandoned hole where an owl, a woodpecker, a 
squirrel, or a blackbird has once nested, answers admirably; 
or, if such a one be not available, the twigs, grasses, leaves, and 
feathers that would have lined an excavation are woven into a 
loose, bulky nest placed among the branches. Deep woods near 
water, or belted waterways far away from the sea coast, are 
preferred localities. 

How the plump, squat, little mother can work her way in 
and out through the small entrance to the hole where, for four 
weary weeks, she sits on from eight to fourteen ivory eggs, is 
a mystery. It is usually far too narrow for her, one would think, 
and yet she evidently has no desire to make it larger, as she easily 
might do by pecking at the soft, decayed wood. The handsome 
drake on guard in a tree near by calls peet, peet, o-eek, o-eek to 
encourage her or warn her of any threatened danger, to which 
a faint, musical response, like the pewee's plaint, comes from the 
hole where she sits brooding. Many endearments pass between 
the couple, but there is no division of labor, for no self respecting 
drake would possibly allow his affection to overrule his dis- 
inclination for work. The duck attends to all household duties, 
evidently flattered and content with the vocal expressions of her 
lord's regard and his standing around and looking handsome, 
which cost him nothing. The constant moving of his tail from 
side to side, when perching, is his most energetic effort. 

When the fluffy little ducklings finally emerge from the shell, 
it is the mother who has the task of carrying the numerous brood 
to water. Often the nest is in a tree overhanging a lake, a quiet 
stream, or pond, in which case she has only to tumble the babies 
out of their cradle into the water, where they are instantly at 
home. But if the tree stands back from the water's edge, one 
by one she must carry them in her bill and set them afloat, 
while the father swims around them on guard, proud of them. 





River and Pond Ducks 

no doubt, proud of his energetic busy mate, but doubtless most 
proud of himself. Wood ducks become exceedingly attached to 
their home. They return year after year to the same hole to nest, 
regardless of approaching civilization, the diversion of a water 
course for factory purposes, the whistle of the locomotive. It is 
the gunner alone who drives them to a more secluded asylum. 
On the outskirts of villages these ducks often fearlessly enter the 
barnyard to pick up the poultry's grain; and there are plenty of 
instances where they have been successfully domesticated. 

In July the drake withdraws to moult his bridal garments, 
leaving his overworked mate to lead the ducklings about on land 
and water in quest of seeds of plants, wild oats or rice, roots 
of aquatic vegetables, acorns, and numerous kinds of insects. 
The small coleoptera that skips and flies so nimbly along the 
surface of still inland waters, among the sedges and the lily pads, 
is ever a favorite morsel, a fact that testifies to the expert swim- 
ming of this duck. By September the drake comes out from his 
exile clad in plumage resembling the duck's, but still more bril- 
liant than hers, and retaining the white throat markings. As the 
young birds have been gradually shedding their down through 
the summer and putting on feathers like their mother's, the fomily 
likeness in each individual is now most marked. Wood ducks, 
if ever gregarious, are so in autumn, when flocks begin to assem- 
ble early for the southern migration; but at the north we see 
only family parties preparing for the journeys that are made at 
twilight and by night, although in the south we hear of com- 
panies sometimes numbering a hundred or more. Unhappily, 
their sweet, tender flesh is in a demand exceeding the legitimate 
supply in every state they pass through. 

"The wood duck is far too beautiful a bird to be killed for 
food. Its economic value is too small to be worth a moment's 
consideration," says Mr. Shields. "I would as soon think of 
killing and eating a Baltimore oriole or a scarlet tanager as a 
wood duck, and 1 hope to see the day when the latter will be 
protected all the year round by the laws of all the states in the 
Union and of all the provinces of Canada." 



(Subfamily FiiligulinceJ 


(Aythyra americana) 


Length — 19 to 20 inches. 

Male — Well rounded head and throat, bright reddish chestnut, 
with coppery reflection; lower neck, lower back, and fore 
parts of body above and below, black; rest of the back, 
sides, and shoulders waved with black and white lines of 
equal width, that give the parts a silvery gray aspect. Wings 
brownish gray, minutely dotted with white; wing patch 
ashy, bordered with black; wing linings chiefly white like the 
under parts. Bill, which is less than two inches long, dull 
blue, with a black band at end. Legs and feet grayish brown. 
Female — Upper parts dull grayish brown; darker on lower back, 
the feathers edged with buff or ashy, giving them a mottled 
appearance; forehead wholly brown; line behind eye and 
cheeks reddish; upper throat white; neck buff; breast and 
sides grayish brown washed with buff, and shading into 
white underneath; an indistinct bluish gray band across end 
of bill. 

Range — North America at large; nesting from California and 
Minnesota northward, and wintering south of Virginia to 
West Indies. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant, or winter visitor. 

Caterers not up in ornithology very often have this common 
wild duck of the market stalls palmed off on them, at a fancy 
price, for canvasbacks; and the tyro on the duck shores of the 
Chesapeake and our inland lakes just as frequently confuses these 
two species. Here are a few aids to identification offered in the 
interest of science, and not because any sympathy need be felt for 
one who is compelled to eat a redhead, the peer of any table duck. 

The bill of the canvasback is a full half inch longer than that 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

of the redhead. The longer, narrower head of the former slants 
gradually backward from the bill, while that of the latter rises 
more abruptly, giving the duck a full, round forehead. The 
plumage on the head and neck of the redhead is decidedly rufous, 
without any black, whereas the canvasback is rufous brown on 
those parts, except on the chin and crown, which are blackish. 
The white lines on the almost white back of the canvasback are 
wider than those of the redhead, whose black and white waves 
are of equal width, and look silvery. Usually canvasbacks are 
larger, heavier birds, but not always. Finally, the females may 
be distinguished by the difference in their backs, the canvas- 
back duck having wavy white lines across a grayish brown 
ground, while the redhead is dull mottled brown and buff 
above. Unscrupulous dealers have a trick of pulling out the tell- 
tale feathers, however, which leaves the housekeeper only the 
shape of the duck's head and bill to guide her choice and protect 
her purse. As both these species frequent the same bodies of 
water, constant opportunities for comparisons are offered to that 
very small minority, alas, who are more interested in the study 
of the living duck than in the flavor of one roasted. 

When the ice begins to form at the far north, where the red- 
heads have spent the summer, great flocks come down to us, 
eschewing New England with unaccountable perversity, and 
taking up a temporary residence in the smaller lakes that drain 
into the Great Lakes and the larger western rivers, before de- 
scending to the Chesapeake shores — the duck's paradise — and 
the lagoons of our southern states, where they pass the winter. 
It must not be for a moment supposed that because this group of 
birds is called sea and bay ducks they are found exclusively 
around salt water. On the contrary, many are more abundant in 
the interior than along the coast. The classification has reference to 
the lobe, or web, of these birds' feet, which are most fully equipped 
for swimming and diving. The redhead and all its immediate 
kin plunge through deep water. Those that feed in the great 
beds of wild celery, or vallisneria, gain a peculiar sweetness and 
delicacy of flesh. In regions where this eel-grass does not grow 
— as in California, for example — and the redhead must live upon 
fish, lizards, tadpoles, and the coarser aquatic vegetables, it 
enjoys no patronage whatever from epicures; whereas in the 
Mississippi Valley and the Chesapeake, where this "celery" 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

grows most abundantly, gunners shoot thousands on thousands 
to supply the demand. 

A great troop of redheads flying in a close body along the 
coast in autumn makes a roar like thunder, as their long, strong 
wings beat the air in unison. Alighting on the waters above 
their feeding ground, they are at first restless, alert, constantly 
wheeling about in the air to reconnoitre, before settling down to 
enjoy themselves with an easy mind. If they have been decoyed 
to the duck shores at daybreak by gunners screened behind 
blinds, or tolled within range, a volley welcomes them ; the sur- 
vivors of the flock quickly outrace sight itself; the wounded es- 
cape by diving; and well-trained dogs, plunging through the icy 
water, bring in to shore the tax that has been levied on the 
" bunch." Sink boats and reflectors, employed by market shoot- 
ers who turn sport to slaughter, must soon be suppressed if 
there is to be any sport left — a doubtful possibility at the present 
rate of decrease. 

In the sloughs and shallow waters of the interior — too shallow 
for diving — the redheads dabble about like any pond ducks, and 
tip up one extremity while the other probes the muddy bottom 
for food. It is in such marshy waters at the north that they 
build a nest among the rank herbage close to shore. Here it 
sometimes rests on the water, or else very close beside it; for 
these ducks are poor walkers, and the mother chooses to glide off 
the large nestful of buff eggs directly into her natural element. 
As usual, the drake keeps at a distance when there is any work 
to be done. Their call note is a sort of hiss, suggesting their 
ancestors, the reptiles, on the one hand, and their immediate kin, 
the geese, on the other. 


(Aythyra vaLlisneria.) 

Called also: WHITE BACK ; BULL-NECK 

Length — 21 inches ; generally a little larger than the redhead. 

Male— Ht^d and neck dark reddish brown, almost black on 
crown and chin. A broad band of black encircles breast and 
upper back; rest of the back and generally wing coverts sil- 
very gray, almost white, the plumage being white, broken up 
with fine wavy black lines often broken into dots across 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

the feathers; white underneath; sides duslty; pointed tail 
feathers darkest slate. Bill, longer than head and shaped like 
a goose's, from 2.50 to 3 inches in length. Eyes red; feet 
bluish gray. 

Female — Head, neck, collar around upper back and breast, cinna- 
mon or snuff brown; lighter on the throat; back and sides 
grayish brown marked with waving white lines; white 

Range — North America at large, nesting from the Rocky Moun- 
tains and the upper tier of our western states to Alaska and 
the farthest British possessions, and wintering in the United 
States, especially in the Chesapeake and middle Texas regions, 
southward to Central America. 

Season — Autumn and spring migrant, and winter resident. 

"There is little reason for squealing in barbaric joy over this 
over-rated and generally underdone bird," says Dr. Coues; " not 
one person in ten thousand can tell it from any other duck on the 
table, and only then under the celery circumstances." Yet it is 
this darling of the epicures that, with the stewed terrapin of 
Maryland kitchens, has conferred on Baltimore the title of the 
"gastronomic capital" of our country. There, where it is 
brought to market fattened on the wild celery in the Chesapeake, 
it is in its prime a tender, delicately flavored duck, but not one 
whit more delicious than the canvasbacks taken in Wisconsin, 
for example, where the celery beds cover hundreds of miles; or 
the redheads that feed in the same place ; or, indeed, than many of 
the river and pond ducks unknown to the gourmands of Mary- 
land. Redheaded ducks are constantly palmed off at fancy prices 
by unscrupulous dealers on uninformed caterers, who suffer only 
in pocket-book by the deception; but the novice who wishes to 
get what he is paying for is referred to the preceding biography 
to learn the distinguishing marks of these close associates. 

After all it is the food it lives upon, and not its species, that 
is responsible for any duck's flavor. Canvasbacks have an im- 
mense range, and where no wild celery grows, and they must 
harden their muscles in the active pursuit of fish, lizards, and 
other animal diet, they become as tough and rank as a merganser, 
ignored and even despised members of the duck clan these pre- 
cieuses ridicules. 

The wild celery, or vallisneria spiralis, which is no celery at 
all, but an eel grass growing entirely beneath the water, took its 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

name from Antonio Vallisneri, an Italian naturalist, and it was 
passed on as a specific name to the canvasback. When fattened 
upon it a brace of these ducks often weigh twelve pounds. To 
secure its buds and roots, the only parts they eat, they must dive 
and remain a long time under water, only to be robbed on their 
return many times by the bold baldpates that snatch the celery 
from their bills the instant their heads appear above water. Sev- 
eral duck farms have been recently established where the common 
plebeian domestic duck is fed on celery and fattened for the 
market. Then this vulgar bird is served up at hotels and res- 
taurants as canvasback, at from three to five dollars a plate, and 
no one, not even the epicure, can tell the difference. 

Exceedingly shy, wary, restless scouts, the canvasbacks are 
decoyed within gun range only by the sportsman's subtlest wiles. 
It is no part of the plan of this book to assist in the already rapid 
extermination of our game birds by detailing the manifold schemes 
devised for their capture, which when fully investigated vastly 
increase our respect for a bird that can save its neck in passing 
through this land of liberty. This and other diving ducks that 
wear thick feathered chest protectors may fall to the water, 
stunned by the sportsman's shot, but quickly revive, and escape 
under water; while the retriever, nonplussed by their disappear- 
ance, is blamed for his stupidity. 

One would imagine our ornithologists were writing cook- 
books, to read their accounts of this duck whose habits have been 
little studied beyond its feeding grounds in the United States. 
Its life history is still incomplete, although its nesting habits are 
supposed to be identical with those of the redhead, and its buff 
eggs are known to have a bluish tinge. It is in death that the 
canvasback is glorified. 

Greater Scaup Duck 

(Aythyra marila nearctica) 


Length — 17.50 to 20 inches. 

Male—^AcXcV. on upper parts, with greenish and purplish reflec- 
tions on head; lower back and about shoulders waved with 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

black and white; under parts white, with black waving 
bars on sides of body and near the tail; speculum, or wing 
mirror, white. Bill dull blue, broad, and heavy; dark, slate- 
colored feet. 
Female — A white space around base of bill, but other fore parts 
rusty, the rusty feathers edged with buff on the breast; back 
and shoulders dusky, and the sides dark grayish brown, 
finely marked with waving white lines; under parts and 
speculum white. 

Range— WoKi\\ America at large; nesting inland, chiefly from 
Manitoba northward; winters from Long Island to South 

Season — Common spring and autumn migrant, and winter resi- 
dent south of New England and the Great Lakes. 

If the number of popular names that get attached to a bird is 
an indication of man's intimacy with it, then the American scaup 
is among the most familiar game birds on the continent. It is still 
a mooted question whether the word scaup refers to the broken 
shell tlsh which this duck feeds upon when wild celery, insects, 
and fry are not accessible, or to the harsh, discordant scaup it 
utters, but which most people think sounds more like qiiauch. Its 
broad, bluish bill, its glossy black head, its not unique habit of 
living in large flocks, its readiness to dive under a raft rather 
than swim around one, and its awkward, shuffling gait on land, 
where it rarely ventures, make up the sum of its eccentricities set 
forth in its nicknames. 

Gunners in the west and on the Atlantic shores from Long 
Island southward, especially in the Chesapeake, where wild 
celery abounds, find the bluebills among the most inveterate 
divers: they plunge for food or to escape danger, loon fashion, 
and when wounded have been known to cling to a rock or tuft 
of sedges under water with an agonized grip that even death did 
not unfasten. They do not rise with ease from the surface of the 
water, which doubtless often makes diving a safer resort than 
flight. Audubon spoke of their "laborious flight;" but when 
once fairly launched in the air, their wings set in rigid curves, 
they rush through the sky with a hissing sound and a rate of 
speed that no amateur marksman ever estimates correctly. They 
are high flyers, these bluebills; and as they come swiftly wind- 
ing downward to rest upon the bays of the seacoast or large 
bodies of inland waters, they seem to drop from the very clouds. 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

No dabblers in mud puddles are they: they must have water 
deep enough for diving and cold enough to be exhilarating. 
Diving ducks feed by daylight chiefly, or they would never be 
able to distinguish a crab claw from a celery blade; but they also 
take advantage of moonlight for extra late suppers. In the 
Chesapeake region flocks of ducks that have "bedded" for the 
night rise with the rising moon, and disport themselves above 
and below the silvery waters with greater abandon even than by 
day. Owing to the thick feathered armor these ducks wear, the 
sportsman often counts birds shot that, being only stunned, are 
able to escape under water. 

It is only when the nesting season has closed that we find 
the bluebills near the seacoast. They build the usual rude, duck- 
like cradle — or, rather, the duck builds it, for the drake gives 
nursery duties no thought whatever — in the sedges near an 
inland lake or stream, where this ideal mother closely confines 
herself for four weeks on from six to ten pale olive buff eggs. 
Nuttall observed that "both male and female make a similar 
grunting noise " (the quatick or scaup referred to), " and have the 
same singular toss of the head with an opening of the bill when 
sporting on the water in spring." 

The Lesser Scaup Duck (Aythyra affinis), Creek Broadbill, 
Little Bluebill, and so on through diminutives of all the greater 
scaup's popular names, may scarcely be distinguished from its 
larger counterpart, except when close enough for its smaller size 
(sixteen inches), the purplish reflections on its head and neck, and 
the heavier black and white markings on its flanks to be noted. 
Apparently there is no great difference in the habits of these fre- 
quently confused allies, except the preference for fresh water and 
inland creeks shown by the lesser scaup, which is not common 
in the salt waters near the sea at the north, and its more south- 
ern distribution in winter. Chapman says: "It is by far the 
most abundant duck in Florida waters at that season, where it 
occurs in enormous flocks in the rivers and bays along the 

The Ring-necked Duck (Aythyra collaris), or Ring-necked 
Blackhead, Marsh Bluebill, Ring-billed Blackhead, and Bastard 
Broadbill. as it is variously called, though of the same size as the 

Sea and Bay Ducks 

lesser scaup, may be distinguished from either of its allies by a 
broad reddish brown collar, a white chin, entirely black shoulders, 
gray speculum on wings, and a bluish gray band across the end 
of the broad, black bill, which are its distinguishing marks. 
While the female closely resembles the female redhead, its smaller 
size, darker brown coloration, gray speculum, indistinct collar, 
and the shape and marking of its bill, are always diagnostic with 
a bird in the hand. This broadbill is almost exclusively a fresh 
water duck: not an abundant bird anywhere, apparently, even in 
the well-watered interior of this country and Canada, which is all 
ducks' paradise; and mention of its occurrences are so rare along 
the Atlantic coast as to make those seem accidental. On the 
fresh water lakes of some of the southern Atlantic states it is as 
abundant in winter, perhaps, as it is anywhere. Its classification 
among the sea and bay ducks has reference only to the full 
development of its feet. 

It was Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, who first named 
this duck, which had been previously confounded with the two 
other broadbills, as a distinct species; and we are still indebted 
to that tireless enthusiast for the greater part of our informa- 
tion concerning it, which is little enough. So far as studied, 
its habits differ little from those of its allies. At the base of 
the head, a few long feathers, scarcely to be distinguished as a 
crest, are constantly erected as the bird swims about on the 
lake with its neck curved swan fashion; and Audubon tells of its 
"emitting a note resembling the sound produced by a person 
blowing through a tube." Like many another duck, there is 
more interest shown in this one's flavor than in its life history. 

American Golden-eye 

(Glaucionetta dangtila ainericana) 


Length — 17 to 20 inches. 

Male — Head and short throat dark, glossy green; feathers on the 
former, puffy; a round white space at base of bill; neck all 
around, breast, greater part of wings, including speculum 
and under parts, \vhite: wing linings dusky; rest of plumage 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

black. Feet orange, with dusky webs; bill black or blackish 

green, and with large nostrils; iris bright golden. 
Female — Much smaller; head and throat snuff color, and lacking 

the white space near the bill; fore neck white; upper parts 

brownish black; under parts white, shading into gray on 

sides and upper breast, which are waved with gray or brown ; 

speculum white, but with less white elsewhere on wings 

than male's. Bills variable. 
Range — North America, nesting from our northern boundaries to 

the far north, and wintering in the United States southward 

to Cuba. 
Season — Winter resident, also spring and summer migrant in 

United States. 

The Indians of Fraser valley tell a story of two men in one 
of their tribes who began to discuss whether the whistling noise 
made by this duck was produced by its wings or by the air rush- 
ing through its nostrils. The discussion waxed warm and furious. 
and soon others joined in. Sides were taken, one side claiming 
that the drakes, with their larger nostrils, make a louder noise than 
their mates, and that the scoters, which also have large nostrils, 
make a similar whistling sound when flying. The other side con- 
tended that whereas the wings of all ducks whistle more or less, 
the incessant beating of the golden-eye's short, stiff wings, that 
cut the air like a knife, would account for the louder music. 
Before long the entire crowd became involved in the dispute; 
tomahawks were brandished and a free fight followed, according 
to Allan Brooks, in which a majority of the warriors were killed 
without settling the question — an excellent story for the Peace 

Pale Faces, backed by scientific investigation, take sides with 
the wing whistler party. The golden-eye, in spite of its short, 
heavy body and small wings, covers immense distances, ninety 
miles an hour being the speed Audubon credited it with, and a half 
mile the distance at which he distinctly heard the whistle. Al- 
though the drake, at least, has every requisite in his vocal organs 
for making a noise, and the specific name, claiigula, entitles him 
to a voice, it has never been lifted in our presence. But then 
this duck has been very little studied in its nesting grounds, 
where, if ever, a bird gives utterance to any pent-up emotion. 
In the desolate fur countries at the far north of Europe and 
America, the golden-eye duck makes a nest in a stump or hollow 

! 22 

Sea and Bay Ducks 

tree, close by the lake or riverside, and covers over her large clutch 
of pale bluish eggs with down from her breast. As usual in the 
duci< tribe, the dral<e avoids all nursery duties by joining a club 
of males that disport themselves at leisure during the summer 

Wonderfully expert swimmers and divers, their fully webbed 
feet, that make these accomplishments possible, so interfere with 
their progress on land that they visit it only rarely. One can dis- 
tinctly hear the broad webs slap the ground, as, with wings partly 
distended to help keep a balance, the golden-eye labors awk- 
wardly on by jerks to reach the water, where not even the loon 
is more at home. As the golden-eye's flesh is rank and fishy and 
tough, owing to the small proportion of vegetable food it eats, 
and the large amount of exercise it must take to secure active 
prey, there can be no excuse for the sportsman's hunting it; and, 
happily, there is apt to be scant reward for his efforts. 

Exceedingly shy and wary, with a sentinel on the constant 
lookout, and associated only with those ducks that are as quick 
to take alarm as themselves, the whistlers are among the most 
difficult birds to approach. They dive at the slightest fear, swim 
under water like a tlsh, or, bounding upward with a few labored 
strokes from the surface of the lake, make off at a speed and at a 
height the tyro need not hope to overtake with a shot. During 
the late autumn migration the males precede their discarded mates 
and young by a fortnight. They continue abundant around many 
parts of our country, inland and on the coast, and enliven the 
winter desolation after most other birds have deserted us for 
warmer climes. 

Barrow's Golden-eye {Glaucioiietta islandica), a more 
northern species, that is often seen in the west, may scarcely be 
told from the common whistler either in features or habits. A 
crescent-shaped white spot at the base of the bill of the drake 
and more purplish iridescence on his head are his distinguish- 
ing marks; but the small females of these two species are be- 
lieved to be identical. In the region of the salmon canneries 
these ducks lose some of their native shyness and boldly gorge 
themselves on the decaying fish. Allan Brooks writes that "the 
note is a hoarse croak." Doubtless the common golden-eye 
makes some such noise also, or that close student, Charles 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

Bonaparte, would never have named it clangula. "They have 
also a peculiar mewling cry," Brooks adds, "made only by the 
males in the mating season." 


(Charitonetta albeola) 


Length — 13. 50 to 15 inches. 

Male — A broad white band running from eye to eye around the 
nape of neck; rest of head with puffy feathers, and, like those 
on throat, beautifully glossed with purple, blue, and green 
iridescence. Other upper parts black; neck all around, 
wings chiefly, and under parts wholly, white. Bill dull blue; 
feet flesh color. 

Female — Blackish brown above, with white streak on each side 
of head; whitish below. Smaller than male. 

Ratige — North America at large, nesting from Dakota, Iowa, and 
Maine northward to the fur countries; winters from the 
southern limit of its nesting range, or near it, to Mexico and 
the West Indies. 

Season — Transient spring and autumn visitor, or winter resident 
from November to April. 

Not even a grebe or loon is more expert at diving "like a 
flash " than this handsome little duck. Samuels says that " when 
several of these birds are together one always remains on the 
surface while the others are below in search of food, and if 
alarmed it utters a short quack, when the others rise to the surface, 
and on ascertaining the cause of alarm all dive and swim off 
rapidly to the distance of several hundred feet. " 

A bufflehead overtakes and eats little lish under water or 
equally nimble insects on the surface, probes the muddy bottom 
of the lake for small shell fish, nibbles the sea-wrack and other 
vegetable growth of the salt-water inlets, all the while toughen- 
ing its flesh by constant exercise and making it rank by a fishy 
diet, until none but the hungriest of sportsmen care to bag it. 
Yet this duck is more than commonly suspicious and shy. It will 
remain just below the surface, with only its nostrils exposed to the 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

;iir, for an hour after a severe fright, rather than expose its fat little 
body, that it prizes more highly than do those who know its worth. 
In any case a shot is more likely to stun than to kill a buffie- 
head, that, like most other diving birds, is armored with a thick, 
well-nigh impenetrable suit of feathers. It may fall as if mortally 
wounded, but the cold water usually revives it at once, and the 
expectant gunner looks for his victim many yards from where it 
is safely recovering from its recent excitement. 

Because it can so illy protect itself on land, for it is a 
wretched walker, and doubtless also because it chooses to nest in 
countries where the fox and other appreciative eaters of its flesh 
abound, the bufflehead enters a hollow tree to lay her light buff 
or olive eggs. Here she sits, often in the dark, for four weary 
weeks, quite ignored by the mate that in February almost bobbed 
his head off in his frantic efforts to woo her. It is she that must 
carry the large brood of ducklings in her bill to the water, teach 
them all she knows on it, and count herself well rewarded if her 
plumpest babies do not f;ill into the jaws of a pike ready to 
swallow the little divers, but are spared to migrate with her to 
open waters when the ice locks up their food at the north. 

Old Squaw 

(Clangula hyemalis) 


Length — Variable, according to development of tail — 18 to 2} 

Afale — In zviiifer: Blackish on back, breast, and tail, whose four 
middle feathers are long and narrow; sides of the head 
grayish brown; rest of head, neck all around, upper back, 
shoulders, and underneath, white; no speculum on grayish 
wings. ]3ill with large orange-colored patch; feet dusky 
blue; In summer: Sides of head white; top of head, throat, 
breast above and below, back and shoulders, black; white 
underneath. Tail longer than in winter. 

Female — No elongated feathers in tail, which consists of four- 
teen feathers coming to a point; head, neck, and upper 
parts, dusky brown, with grayish patch around the eye and 
one on side of neck; breast grayish, shading to white below; 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

the feathers on the upper parts more or less edged with buff 
in summer. 
Range — "in North America, south to the Potomac and the Ohio 
(more rarely to Florida and Texas) and California; breeds 
northward.'"' — A. O. U. 

Season — Common winter resident in northern United States; 
November to April. 

Like a crowd of gossiping old women these ducks gabble 
and scold among themselves all the year round, for in winter, 
when most voices are hushed, they are the noisiest birds that 
visit us. In summer, they nest so far north that none but Arctic 
travellers may hope to study them. Mr. George Clarke, of the 
Peary expedition, writes of "the old squaw's clanging call' 
ringing out from the drifting ice cakes where the drakes glided 
about at no great distance from their brooding mates. South, 
south, southerly, is the cry some people with more lively imag- 
inations than accuracy of ear have heard; but the Indians were 
nearer right when they "called down" this high flyer with a 
hah-ha-way, part of the full cry written by Mr. Mackay as o-onc- 
o-onc-ough, egh-ough-egh. The other part is not very different 
from the honk of a goose. Most of the duck's popular names, 
as well as its scientific one, allude to its noisy, talkative habit. 
At evening, and toward spring when the choice of mates in- 
volves great discussion and quarrelling, they make more noise 
than perhaps all our other sea fowl combined. 

The plumage of this duck varies so much with age, season, 
and sex, that it is well we have some pronounced characteristics 
to help us in naming our bird correctly. The long tail feathers 
of the drake are its most striking feature; but the obscure-looking 
duck has little to distinguish her from the female harlequin, 
except her white abdomen, which is usually concealed under 

When migrating from the icy regions that they haunt after 
all other ducks have left for the south, the old squaws proceed 
by degrees no faster than Jack Frost compels; so that in season 
as in plumage they are apt to be exceedingly variable, an open 
winter keeping them north until late, and a cold autumn driving 
them from the ice-bound waters to seek their fish, mollusks, and 
water wrack in the open channels of our larger lakes and rivers 
and the inlets of the sea. Maritime ducks these certainly are by 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

preference; famous divers and swimmers; strong, swift flyers ; 
noisy, restless, lively fellows, that live in a state of happy commo- 
tion; gregarious at all seasons, and strongly in evidence where- 
ever they find their way. 

There can be no excuse for killing these fish eaters for their 
flesh, which is rank and apparently in the very prime of tough- 
ness throughout their stay here; but they are clothed with par- 
ticularly thick, fine, lively feathers that are in great demand for 
pillows. These form an almost invulnerable armor one would 
think, yet great quantities of old squaws' down and feathers are 
bought by upholsterers every year. At the north the mother 
herself pulls out some of her feathers to cover her pale bluish 
eggs, concealed in a rude nest in grasses or under some low bush 
near the shore. When wounded, as the duck flies low and very 
swiftly along the water, it instantly dives from the wing, accord- 
ing to Mr. Mackay. He tells of seeing many of them towering, 
"usually in the afternoon, collecting in mild weather in large 
flocks if undisturbed, and going up in circles so high as to be 
scarcely discernible, often coming down with a rush and great 
velocity, a portion of the flock scattering and coming down in a 
zig-zag course similar to the scoters when whistled down. " 

The Harlequin Duck (Histriouiciis histrioiiicus), also called 
Lords and Ladies, comes down to our more northern coasts of sea 
and large inland lakes only when ice has closed its feeding 
grounds at the north; but no clanging call invites our attention 
when these gay masqueraders appear on the scene, tricked out in 
black, white, blue, and reddish brown applied in stripes and 
spots; and as they keep well out from shore to hunt in our open 
waters, few get a good look at their fantastic coats before they 
return to the north to nest. The female can scarcely be dis- 
tinguished from the female old squaw, except by her dusky 
under parts. A harlequin's flesh is dark and unpalatable, for 
fishy food is its staple, and no one not hard pressed by hunger 
would care to eat it. From the characteristics of habit that dis- 
tinguish all ducks of this subfamily, the harlequin differs little, 
except in living near rushing, dashing streams of the Rocky and 
Sierra Nevada mountains and northward during the nesting season. 
Six or more yellowish or greenish buff eggs are laid in hollow 
stumps near the water; and the fact that the young ducklings 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

are not swept away by the swift current of the stream they 
take to and live on, without returning to the nest once it is left, 
testifies to the remarkable propelling power of their feet. These 
ducks are most expert divers, too, and when alarmed will plunge 
like a grebe, and swim under water to parts unknown. 

American Eider 

(Somateria dresseri) 

Called also: SEA DUCK 

Length — 23 inches. 

Male — Upper parts white, except the crown of head, which is 
black, with a greenish white line running into it from behind 
and a greenish tinge on the feathers at sides of back of head. 
Upper breast white with a reddish blush; lower breast and 
all under parts, including tail above and below, black. 

Female — Upper parts buffy brown, streaked and varied with darker 
brown and black; back darkest; breast yellow buff, barred 
with black, and shading into grayish brown, indistinctly mar- 
gined with bulf underneath. 

Range — Nests around Nova Scotia and Labrador, migrating south- 
ward in winter to New England and the Great Lakes, more 
rarely south to Delaware. 

Season — Winter visitor. 

When resting under our down coverlets on a winter night, 
or tucked about with pillows on the divan of a modern drawing- 
room, how many of us give a thought to the duck that has been 
robbed of her soft warm feathers for our comfort, or take the 
trouble to make her acquaintance when she brings the brood that 
were despoiled of their bedding to furnish ours to visit our coast 
in winter ? It may be said in extenuation of our apparent indif- 
ference that eiders keep well out at sea, and come at a season 
when boating ceases to be a pleasure. Then, too, there is little 
to interest one during the winter in a bird whose chief concern 
appears to be deep diving. It is on the constant errand of getting 
mussels and other fish food which the saddle-back gull often 
snatches from it at the end of an unequal race if the duck does 
not end it suddenly by plunging under water. It is to Labrador 
and the north Atlantic islands that one must go to know this bird 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

:it home, and most of us are willing to do such travelling in the 
easy chairs of our library. 

Before these ducks have left our shores in March, courting 
has already begun; sharp contests occur, and the vanquished or 
superannuated males wander about in milder climates than the 
mated lovers fly to. Though no drake may be credited with 
great depth of feeling for his mate, the eider goes to the extreme 
of helping her make a nest of moss and seaweed among the 
rocks or low bushes under stunted fir trees, and will even pluck 
the down from his own breast to cover the eggs when hers has 
been persistently robbed. Ha-lio, ha-Iio, he half moans, half coos, 
in a lackadaisical tone to the busy housewife who replies with 
a matter-of-fact qinw/i, like any prosaic barnyard duck. Until 
the last one of her bluish or olive gray eggs is laid, the 
mother plucks no down from her breast ; but she will continue 
to lay, and to cover the new eggs with her feathers, several times 
over if her nest is robbed, until her poor breast is naked and the 
drake's down is called into requisition. According to Saunders 
the average yield of down from a nest in Iceland, where the 
birds are encouraged and protected by law, is about one-sixth 
of a pound. The gathering of these live feathers, as they are 
called, for no one thinks of killing this valuable bird or its allies 
to take their down which loses its elasticity after death, is 
an important industry in the northern countries of Europe ; but 
the industry is neglected and unintelligently managed on this side 
of the Atlantic. When all the eggs and down are taken from 
a nest repeatedly, the despairing birds abandon it for more re- 
mote parts, and never return ; whereas hope eternally springs in 
a breast even where feathers do not, if an egg or two are left the 
mother. Audubon found large colonies of the American eider 
nesting in Labrador in April, and gathered some fresh eggs for 
food in May, when ice was still thick in the rivers. He found 
both ravens and the larger gulls prowling about the coast ready 
to suck the eggs and carry off the ducklings before they had 
mastered the art of diving out of harm's reach. 

While the females sit upon their nests the drakes withdraw 
for a thorough moult, which leaves them so bare of feathers in 
July that they are sometimes unable to fly. Henceforth they live 
apart, he in flocks of males, she with small companies of mothers 
with their broods, which latter are usually the flocks that visit 

9 129 

Sea and Bay Ducks 

US in winter, for tiie hardy old drakes do not often migrate so far 
south. By August ice has begun to form over their northern 
fishing grounds, and the floci<s move a degree nearer us, flying 
swiftly and powerfully in a direct course, not far above the water, 
and almost never over land. 

American Scoter 

(Oidemia americana) 


Length — iq to 20 inches. 

Male — Entire plumage black, more glossy above. Upper half of 
bill, which is tumid, or bulging, is yellow or orange at the 

Female — Sooty brown above, waved with obscure dusky lines; 
throat and sides of head whitish; dirty white underneath; 
bill dark, but not bulging nor parti-colored. Young resem- 
ble the mother. 

Range — Seacoasts and large bodies of inland waters of northern 
North America; nesting from Labrador inland, and migrat- 
ing in winter to New England and the Middle Atlantic States 
anci to California. 

Season — Winter resident and visitor. 

The three species of coots, or scoters, that come out of the 
north to visit us in winter have neither fine feathers nor edible 
flesh to recommend them to popular notice; nor do they seem to 
possess any unique traits of character or singular habits to excite 
our lively interest. Their chief concern in life appears to be 
diving for mussels, clams, small fry, and mollusks in the estuaries 
of rivers and shallow sounds along our coasts. Some go to large 
bodies of inland waters for the same purpose. As this active 
exercise toughens their muscles to a leather-like quality, and as 
the fish food gives their reddish, dark flesh a rank flavor, the 
poultry dealer who sells one of these birds to an uninitiated 
housekeeper for black duck loses a customer. 

Most friendly with its own kin, the American coot may 
usually be found in flocks of white-winged and surf scoters, 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

eiders, and other sea ducks, where they congregate above beds of 
shell fish ; and, at least while in the United States, the habits 
of all these birds appear to be identical. But they are as shy 
of men as if their breasts were covered with more desirable 
meat, and dive when approached rather than take to wing and 
expose their precious ugliness to an unoffending field-glass. 
Human friendship is discouraged by them, however much their 
long list of common names, which are as often applied to one 
species as another, falsely testifies to their popularity. 

Ridgway describes their nests as on the ground, near water, 
and containing from six to ten pale dull buff or pale brownish 
buff eggs. 

The White-winged Scoter or Coot {Oidcmia deglandi), 
which is sometimes called Velvet Duck, differs from the preced- 
ing in plumage only, in having a white patch under the eye, 
a white mirror, or speculum, on wings, and orange-colored legs, 
much the same shade as its protuberant bill, which is feathered 
beyond the corners of the mouth. Possibly it goes farther away 
from water than the other scoters to place its nest under a bush 
on the ground, but the habits of all three species appear to be 
generally the same, and like those of nearly all sea ducks. 

The Surf Scoter, or Sea Coot {Oidemia perspicillata), has a 
square white mark on the crown of its head and a triangular one 
on the nape, to distinguish it from its sombre and rather uninter- 
esting relatives. 

Ruddy Duck. 

(Erismatiira rubida) 



Length — is to 1 7 inches. 

Male — In summer : Crown of head and nape glossy black ; chin 
and sides of head dull white ; neck all around and upper 
parts and sides of body rich reddish brown ; lower parts 
white, with dusky bars ; wing coverts, quills, and stiff- 
pointed tail feathers darkest brown ; head small ; neck thick. 
Bill, which is as long as head, broader at tip ; wings very 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

short, and without speculum. In winter the drake re- 
sembles female. 

Female — Upper parts dusky grayish brown, the feathers rippled 
with buff ; crown and nape more reddish, and streaked with 
black ; sides of head and chin white ; throat gray ; under 
parts white. Young resemble mother. 

Range — North America at large ; nesting chiefly north of the 
United States, but also locally within its range ; winters in 
the United States. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant ; also locally a winter resi- 

The heavy moult this drake undergoes after he deserts his 
brooding mate transforms him into an obscure, commonplace- 
looking bird from the faultlessly attired gallant of his courting 
days ; so that when the ruddy ducks appear on our inland lakes or 
the estuaries of rivers, shallow bays, and ponds near the sea, there 
is a close family resemblance between both the parents and the 
young, none of whom seem worthy bearers of their popular 
name. But however inconspicuous the feathers, this duck may 
always be named by its stiff tail quills, that no other bird but a 
cormorant can match. This curious tail, which is used as a rud- 
der under water, or a vertical paddle, is carried cocked up at right 
angles to the body when the duck floats about on the surface. 

Owing to the ruddy duck's short wings, it is less willing to 
trust its safety to them when alarmed than most ducks are, and 
it will quietly dive in grebe fashion, and drop to safe depths before 
swimming out of range, rather than depend upon the awkward 
rising from the surface, that must be struggled through before it is 
safely launched in steady though labored flight along the water. 
Heading against the wind, it at first seems to run along the sur- 
face with the help of rapid wing beats, before it is able to clear 
the water ; but once fairly started, it flies good distances and at a 
fair speed. In figure it more closely resembles a plump, squat 
teal than an ordinary sea duck. The head is so small that the 
skin of the neck can be easily drawn over it. 

Tall sedges near the water's edge make the ideal nesting or 
hunting resort of these ducks, that feed chiefly on eel grass and 
other vegetable matter growing either above or below the water 
in shallow bays and inlets, salt or fresh. It is their habit to drop 
into these grasses when surprised, and to hide among them, 
which is one reason why they are supposed to be rare ; whereas 


Sea and Bay Ducks 

they are fairly abundant, though often unsuspected. Numbers 
of them find their way into large city markets every winter; 
and especially in the Chesapeake region, or where wild celery 
abounds, their flesh is tender and well flavored. Happily the 
species is very prolific. Some authorities mention finding as many 
as twenty yellowish white, rough eggs in the rude nests built by 
the marshy lake or river side ; but ten are a good-sized clutch. 



{Subfamily Anserince) 

American White-fronted Goose 

{Anser albifrons gambeli) 


Length — 27 to }o inches. 

Male and Female — Upper part and fore neck brownish gray, the 
edgings of the feathers lighter; a white band along forehead 
and base of bill bordered behind by blackish; lower back, 
nearest the tail, almost white; wings and tail dusky; sides 
like the back; breast paler than throat, and marked, like the 
white under parts, with black blotches; bill pink or pale red; 
feet yellow; eyes brown. Immature birds, which are darker 
and browner than adults, lack white on forehead and tail 
coverts, also the black patches on the under parts. 

.ffa/z^^^North America; rare on Atlantic coast; common on the 
Pacific slope and in the interior; nesting in the far north, 
and wintering in the United States southward to Mexico and 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant or winter resident on the 
plains and westward to the Pacific. 

A long, clanging cackle, wait, wah, wall, wah, rapidly 
repeated, rings out of the late autumn sky, and looking up, we 
see a long, orderly line of laughing geese that have been feeding 
since daybreak in the stubble of harvested grain fields, heading a 
direct course for the open water of some lake. With heads 
thrust far forward, these flying projectiles go through space with 
enviable ease of motion. Because they are large and fly high, 
they appear to move slowly; whereas the truth is that all geese, 
when once fairly launched, fly rapidly, which becomes evident 
enough when they whiz by us at close range. It is only when 
rising against the wind and making a start that their flight is 



actually slow and difficult. When migrating, they often trail 
across the clouds lil<e dots, so high do they go — sometimes a 
thousand feet or more, it is said — as if they spurned the earth. 
But as a matter of fact they spend a great part of their lives on 
land; far more than any of the ducks. 

On reaching a point above the water when returning from 
the feeding grounds, the long defile closes up into a mass. The 
geese now break ranks, and each for itself goes wheeling about, 
cackling constantly, as they sail on stiff, set wings; or, diving, 
tumbling, turning somersaults downward, and catching them- 
selves before they strike the water, form an orderly array again, 
and fly silently, close along the surface quite a distance before 
finally settling down upon it softly to rest. 

Such a performance must be gone through twice a day, once 
after their breakfast, begun at daybreak, and again in the late 
afternoon, on their return from their inland excursion, which may 
be to stubble fields, or to low, wet, timbered country, or to bushy 
prairie lands. Not only the farmer's cereals, but any sort of wild 
grain and grasses, berries, and leaf buds of bushes, these hearty 
vegetarians nip off with relish. When we see them on shallow 
waters, with tail pointing sky ward and head and neck immersed, 
they are probing the bottom for roots of water plants, particularly 
for a sort of eel-grass that they fatten on, or for gravel, and are not 
eating moUusks or any sort of animal food, as is sometimes said. 

But fatal consequences await on ducks and geese alike that 
do not know enough to toughen their flesh and make it rank by a 
fish diet. White-fronted geese, delicious game birds of the first 
order, were once abundant during the migrations in the Chesa- 
peake country, where they freely associated with the snow goose 
and the Canada species, just as they do in the far west to-day; 
but the sportsman must now travel to the Great Lakes or the 
plains, or, better still, to California, their favorite winter resort, 
if he would see a good sized flight above the stubble fields, in 
which, hidden in a hole, and with flat decoys standing all about 
him, he waits, cramped and breathless, for the cackling flock to 
come within range. 

The stupidity of this bird is more proverbial than real. If 
any one doubts this, let him try to stalk one when it is feeding in 
the fields, or listen to the tales of woe the California farmers tell 
of its provoking vigilance and cleverness. 

1 35 


Snow Goose 

(Chen hyperborea nivalis) 



Length — 27 to 3s inches. 

Male and Female — Entire plumage white, except the ends of 
wings, which are blackish, and the wing coverts, which are 
grayish ; bill carmine ; legs dull red. Immature birds have 
feathers of upper parts grayish with white edges. 

Range — North America at large, nesting in the far north (exact 
sites unknown), and migrating to the United States to pass 
the winter. More abundant in the interior and on the Pacific 
slope than on the Atlantic, north of Virginia. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant, April and October ; or 
winter resident in milder parts of the United States to Cuba. 

The dullest imagination cannot but be quickened at the sight 
of a great tlock of these magnificent birds streaming across the 
blue of an October sky like a trail of fleecy white clouds. Such 
a sight is rare indeed to people on the Atlantic coast north of the 
Chesapeake ; but in the Mississippi valley during the migrations, on 
the great plains, and in parts of California all winter, fields are 
whitened by them as by a sudden fall of snow. Lakes in Min- 
nesota may still be seen reflecting their glistening whiteness as 
if snow peaks were mirrored there ; and in the Sacramento and 
San Joaquin valleys, in Oregon and beyond, they are still suf- 
ficiently abundant to be hunted on horseback by the indignant 
farmers, who see no beauty in their plumage to compensate them 
for their devasted fields of winter wheat that the hungry flocks 
nip off close to the ground. But like most other choice game 
birds, the snow goose is fast disappearing. Who that knows 
how rapid this decrease is ever expects to see such flocks of 
these superb fowl as gladdened the eyes of Lewis and Clarke 
when they reached the mouth of the Oregon ? 

Closely associated with the white-fronted and the Canada 
geese, the white brant may be named, even when too high up in 
the sky at the twilight of dawn or evening for us to see its dark- 
tipped wings and white plumage, by the higher pitched, noisier 
cackling that distinguishes its voice from that of the laughing goose 



and the mellow honk of the Canada brant. It migrates by night 
and day ; observes punctual meal hours like the the rest of its 
kin ; keeps a sentinel always on guard while it feeds in the grain 
fields or roots among the rushes on the tide-water flats and 
grassy patches bordering streams ; circles, gyrates, tumbles, and 
floats above the water on returning from its feeding grounds. 
In short, it behaves quite as other geese do when intoxicated 
with food. 

While it is supposed the white brant nests somewhere in the 
region of the Barren Grounds between the Mackenzie basin and 
Greenland, the nest and eggs are still unknown in that little- 
visited country beyond the north wind {hvperboreus), as the 
bird's name indicates. 

The Lesser Snow Goose {Chen livperborea), a smaller species, 
identical in plumage with the preceding, and very like it in habits, 
nests in Alaska, and wanders down the Pacific coast in winter, 
eastward to the Mississippi and southward to the Gulf. 

Canada Goose 

(Branta canadensis) 

Called also .■—\N\U:) GOOSE ; GRAY GOOSE ; HONKER 

Length — From i yard to 43 inches. 

Male and Fetnalc — Head and neck black, a broad white band run- 
ning from eye to eye under the head ; mantle over back and 
wings grayish brown, the edges of feathers lightest ; breast 
gray, fading to soiled white underneath. Female paler ; tail, 
bill, and feet black. 

Range — North America at large ; nests in northern parts of the 
United States and in the British possessions ; winters south- 
ward to Mexico. 

Season — Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, north of Washing- 
ton ; although a few remain so late (December) and return so 
early (March) they may almost be said to be winter resi- 
dents north as well as in the south. The most abundant and 
widely distributed of all our wild geese. 

Heralded by a mellow honh, honk, from the leader of a flying 
wedge, on come the long-necked wild geese from their northern 
nesting grounds, and stream across the sky so far above us that 



their large bodies appear like two lines of dark dots describing 
the letter V. In spite of their height, which never seems as great 
as it actually is because of the goose's large size, one can distinctly 
hear the honk of the temporary captain — some heavy veteran — 
answered in clearer, deeper tones, as the birds pass above, by the 
rear guardsmen in the long array that moves with impressive uni- 
son across the clouds. Often the fanning of their wings is distinctly 
audible too. The migration of all birds can but excite wonder 
and stir the imagination; but that of the wild goose embarked on 
a pilgrimage of several thousand miles, made often at night, but 
chiefly by broad daylight, attracts perhaps the most attention. 
Sometimes the two diverging lines come together into one, and 
a serpent seems to crawl with snake-like undulations across the 
sky; or, again, the flock in Indian file shoots straight as an arrow. 
It is as a bird of passage that one thinks of the goose, however 
well one knows that it remains resident in many places at least 
a part of the winter. 

A slow drift down a slope of a mile or more, on almost 
motionless wings, brings them to the surface with majestic grace, 
and flying low until the precise spot is reached where they wish 
to rest, they settle on the water with a heavy splash. Usually 
they stop flying near sunset to feed on the eel-grass, sedges, roots 
of aquatic plants, insects, and occasionally on small fish, or on the 
wheat, corn, and other grain that has dropped among the stubble 
in the farmer's fields, and the berries, grass, and leaf buds they 
find in swamps and bushy pastures. Quantities of gravel are 
swallowed with their food. After a good supper they return to 
the water, preferably to a good-sized lake, to sleep, and there they 
float about with head tucked under wing until daybreak, when 
another flight must be made inland to secure a breakfast. These 
two regular daily flights are characteristic of all the geese. 

Such punctuality at meals is confidently reckoned upon by 
the sportsman, who is thereby saved unnecessary waiting as he 
crouches, cramped and cold, in a pit among the stubble and con- 
cealed by a blind. These holes are about thirty inches in diam- 
eter and about forty inches in depth. There are no birds with 
keener, more suspicious eyes; no sentinel of a flock more on the 
alert, unless it be the sandhill crane, that often feeds with them 
and is their ally ; no game birds more wary when the sports- 
man tries to stalk them than these; and so no one can possibly 



appreciate the expression "a wild goose chase" who has not 
hunted them. The goose is by no means the dolt tradition says 
it is. The ordinary methods of hunting water-fowl do not 
answer with it, and in different parts of the country a different 
ruse is practiced to secure its flesh. Strangely enough, ducks 
and geese alike, that are thrown into a state of panic at sight of a 
man or dog, show no fear whatever of cows; and taking advan- 
tage of this fact, gunners often hide behind cattle, or lead a horse 
or an ox to get within range. On the great plains and in Cali- 
fornia, oxen trained for the purpose screen the hunters on horse- 
back, and walk straight into the flocks of Canada, snow, and 
laughing geese that have been lured by live or artificial decoys 
placed in some good feeding ground. Geese are not only gre- 
garious, but extremely sociable to their kin and to other birds as 
quick to take alarm as they. A constant gabbling goose-talk is 
overheard wherever they congregate, like members of a country 
sewing society. 

And yet these wary creatures have been successfully domes- 
ticated and crossed with the common barnyard goose. Many 
stories are in circulation of wild geese that have been wounded, 
and placed among the farmer's fowls, where they have been 
made well and apparently content until a flock of migrants, 
passing above, called them to a wild life again; but the very 
birds that could be easily identified by the scars of old wounds, 
revisited the barnyard whenever their travels to and from the 
south permitted. All geese become strongly attached to cer- 
tain localities. Ordinarily, a goose that has been wounded in the 
wing runs, if on land, but so awkwardly it may be quickly over- 
taken. If wounded when above or on the water, it will dive, 
and remain under the surface with only its nostrils exposed until 
all danger is over. Unless seriously hurt, it generally eludes cap- 
ture. The thick coat of feathers, that have an even greater com- 
mercial value than its flesh, is the goose's suit of armor, impene- 
trable except at close range. 

When surprised, a flock rises suddenly in great confusion; 
the large birds get in one another's way and offer the easiest 
shots the tyro ever gets; the honk, honk, k'zvonh from many 
outstretched throats clamoring at once mingles with the roar of 
wings, as with slow, heavy, labored flight the geese rise against 
the wind — the point from which they must be approached if one 



is to get a good view of them. But order somehow comes 
speedily out of chaos once the birds are well launched in air. 
Double ranks are formed, with the leader at the point where the 
two lines converge, and the wedge moves on, far away if they 
have been terrorized by firing, but only a few hundred yards if 
they find there is no real ground for fear. 

Flocks of wild geese go and come in the United States from 
September, when the young birds are able to join in the long 
flights, until early spring, when the great majority go north to 
nest. In some secluded marsh, by the shores of streams, or on 
the open prairie, far from the habitations of hungry men, the 
goose lays four or five pale buff eggs in a mass of sticks lined 
with grass and feathers, and sits very closely, while the gander 
keeps guard near by. An empty osprey's nest in a tree top. 
or a cavity in some old stump, frequently contains these eggs; 
but the goslings never return to the cradle once they have been 
led to water, for they are good walkers and swimmers from the 
start. After a thorough moult, which often makes the old birds 
as incapable of flying as the goslings, the detached families gather 
into flocks in September, when a few cold snaps in the Hudson 
Bay region suggest the necessity for migrating to warmer climes. 
On their arrival here they are very thin, worn out by the long 
journey; but the Christmas goose, as every housekeeper knows, 
is perhaps the fattest bird brought to her kitchen. 


(Branta hernicla) 


Length — 26 inches. 

Male and Female — Head, neck, throat, and upper breast and 
shoulders blackish, with a small patch of white streaks on 
either side of neck, sometimes also on chin and lower eyelid ; 
back brownish gray, the feathers margined with ashy; lower 
breast ashy gray, ending abruptly at the line of black of the 
upper breast; sides dark, but fading into white underneath; 
much white around tail; bill and feet black. Female smaller 
than gander. Immature birds have no white patch on neck, 
and plumage above and below is barred or waved with reddish 



Range — Arctic sea, nesting within tlie Arctic Circle, to the Caro- 
linas in winter. Most common on Atlantic coast; rare in the 

Season — Winter resident, or spring and autumn migrant in the 
United States. 

Flocks of brants continue to fly southward down the Atlantic 
coast from October until December, some alighting on muddy 
flats around the estuaries of rivers and creeks, on sand bars and 
in shallow inlets, to feed on eel-grass and other marine plants; 
but the majority passing rapidly by the shores of Canada and our 
northern states. High flyers, sea lovers, they keep well out 
from land during the migrations rather than follow the coast line, 
if any distance may be saved by a bee line from point to point. 
It is only in hazy weather that they fly low. A reconnoitre by 
the veterans must first be made after the confused mass of hoarse 
gabblers rises from the feeding grounds ; but after this spiral soar- 
ing has ended and the birds are once ftirly started on their jour- 
ney, neither pause nor uncertainty may be detected in their 
steady flight. They fly in more compact bodies than the long- 
drawn-out vyedges of Canada geese; no leader appears to direct 
their course, yet the mass moves as one bird, slowly and sedately. 
Some one has compared the trumpet-like sounds made by a flock 
of brants with the noise of a pack of fox-hounds in full cry. 
Occasionally these geese are found in the interior, for all their 
strong maritime preferences; but usually it is the black brant that 
is mistaken for them there and on the Pacific slope. 

On Long Island and southward these dusky waders walk 
about at low tide, tearing up eel-grass by the roots when they 
enter the marshes to feed in gabbling, honking companies. 
Watched from a distance — for a close approach, no matter how 
stealthy, frightens these wary birds to wing — they appear rather 
sluggish and move heavily over the mud flats, nipping every 
plant that grows in their path. Youthful gunners constantly 
mistake them for some of the larger sea-ducks and wonder that 
they do not dive for food. Brants never dive unless wounded. 
While the tide is out they feed constantly, stopping only to 
gabble and gossip, and quarrel from excessive greediness, with 
the result of being too heavy and lazy with much gorging" to fly 
out to sea when the tide comes in and lifts them off their feet. 
After sundown they go streaming in long lines out to deep, open 



water to pass the night afloat. Certain localities become favorite 
stopping places for these birds of passage, and they return to 
them year after year, unless harassed by the gunners beyond en- 
durance; but such resorts become rarer every season. In early 
winter the young of the year are as delicious a game bird as 
finds its way to the gunner's pouch; but old birds taken in the 
spring migration defy the inroads of any tooth not canine. 

Because it nests so very far to the north, the life history of 
this goose is still incomplete. According to Saunders, the nest 
is composed of grasses, moss, etc., lined with down and made 
on the ground. Four smooth and creamy white eggs fill it. 

The Black Brant (Braiita nigricans), a name sometimes 
applied to the white-fronted goose to distinguish it from the 
white brant or snow goose, is the western representative of the 
preceding species and of only casual occurrence on the Atlantic 
coast, it may be readily distinguished from its ally by its darker 
under parts and the white markings on the front as well as the 
sides of its neck. Their habits are almost identical. Both these 
" barnacle geese " take their name, not from their fondness for 
the little crustacean, for they are almost vegetarians, but from the 
absurd foble that they grew out of barnacles attached to wood in 
the sea. Some etymologists claim that the word brant is derived 
from the Italian word branta. coming from branca, a branch; but 
these geese have nothing to do with branches, unlike the Canada 
geese that sometimes nest in trees; and we may more confidently 
accept Dr. Coues's statement that brant means simply burnt, the 
dark color of the goose suggesting its having been charred. 



(Subfamily Cygnince) 

Whistling Swan 

(Olor colunibianus) 

Called also : KU'^mCA'H SWAN 

Length — 55 inches, or a little under 5 feet. 

Male and Female — Entire plumage white; usually a yellow spot 
between the eyes and nostrils, hut sometimes wanting; 
bill, legs, and feet black. Immature birds have some brown- 
ish and grayish washings on parts of their plumage. 

Range — North America, nesting about the Arctic Ocean, and 
migrating in winter to our southern states and the Gulf of 
Mexico. Rare on the Atlantic coast north of Maryland; 
more abundant on the Pacific. 

Season — Winter visitor and spring and autumn migrant, October 
to April. 

It is impossible for one who has seen only the common mute 
swans floating about in the artificial lakes of our city parks, 
while happy children toss them bits of cake and crackers, to 
imagine the grandeur of a flock of the great whistlers in their 
wild state. Not far from Chicago such a flock was recently seen 
in its autumn migration, and as the huge birds rose from the 
lake into the air, it seemed as if an aerial regatta were being 
sailed overhead ; the swans, each with a wing-spread of six or 
seven feet, moving like yachts under full sail in a mirage where 
water blended with sky and tricked one's vision. The sight is 
among the most impressive in all nature. It is wonderful ! 

On the Pacific coast, in the interior, down the Mississippi 
to the gulf states, and up the Atlantic coast from Florida to the 
Chesapeake, the whistling swans wander between October and 
April, flying at the rate of one hundred miles an hour, it is 



estimated. Like many of their smaller relatives, tliey fly in 
wedge shaped flocks, with an experienced, clarion voiced veteran 
in the lead. Dr. Sharpless, who was the first to point out this 
species as distinct from the whooping or whistling swan of 
Europe, with which our early ornithologists confused it, says : 
"Their notes are extremely varied, some closely resembling the 
deepest bass of the common tin horn, while others run through 
every modulation of false note of the French horn or clarionet." 
The age of the bird is supposed to account for the difference in 
the voice. No one can mistake the notes for the product of any 
musical instrument, however. One unkind man in the south, 
who was wakened in the depth of night by the noisy trumpet- 
ings of a flock feeding in a lagoon near his home, was heard to 
remark that if the swan did not really sing just before its death, 
it really ought to die just after making that noise! The poets, 
from Homer to Tennyson, and not the scientists, are responsible 
for the story of the swan's chanting its own dirge. These 
swans are particularly noisy when dressing their feathers, when 
feeding, and vv/hen flying, especially just after mounting from the 
water into the air, when they make loud demands each for its 
proper place in the V-shaped column. The Indians say that the 
swans follow in the wake of a flock of geese. Perhaps the 
Hudson Bay Fur Company, which has bought thousands of pounds 
of swan's down from the Indians, best knows why there are so 
few flocks of swans left to follow the geese to-day. 

Around the shores of lakes and islands in the Hudson Bay 
region, these swans return to nest in May; and gathering a mass 
of sticks and aquatic plants, pile them to a height of two feet 
or more, this down-lined nest being sometimes six feet across. 
In the labor of making it the male helps, for he is a far 
better mate and father than either a drake or a gander. From 
two to six rough, grayish eggs, over four inches long and nearly 
three inches wide, are laid in June, and not until after five 
weeks of close confinement on the nest can the proud mother 
lead her brood to water. At first the fledgelings are covered with 
a grayish brown down, which gradually changes into the white 
plumage that it takes twelve months to perfect. Young cygnets 
are counted a great delicacy by the epicures of Europe. 

Had the prehistoric swans been content to nibble herbage on 
the banks of streams, instead of immersing their necks to probe 



the bottoms for moUusks, worms, and roots, doubtless their 
necks would have reached no abnormal length. One rarely sees 
a swan tipping after the manner of the river ducks, and never 
diving. To escape pursuit the swan, which is really very shy, will 
quickly distance a strong rower by swimming, yet with an ease 
and majesty of movement that suggests neither fright nor haste. 

The Trumpeter Swan (Olor hiicciiiator), an even larger 
species than the preceding, with no yellow on the fore part of its 
head, though elsewhere identical in plumage with the whistler, 
has a more western range, being rarely found east of the 
Mississippi. In habits the two great birds appear to be much the 
same, but the voice of the well-named trumpeter resounds with 
a power equalled only by the French horns blown by red-faced 
Germans at a Wagner opera. 












(Order Herodiones) 

Spoonbills, herons, storks, bitterns, ibises, flamingoes, egrets, 
or white herons, and their i<indred compose an order remari<- 
able for the large average size of its members, all of whom have 
either long legs or necks, or both. Most of these birds belong 
to the tropics; and while many of them formerly reached our 
southern states in great numbers, the greed of the plume hunter, 
incited by the thoughtless vanity of women, has nearly exter- 
minated a number of the most beautiful species. The majority 
of these birds are either local or have now become too rare to be 
included in this book. 


(Family Ibididce) 

Slender, picturesque birds, long of neck, bill, legs, and wings, 
and very short tailed. A bare space around eye; claws almost 
like human nails. Silent birds, always living in flocks, chiefly 
on shores of smaller bodies of water or on bars and lower 
beaches on which the outgoing tide leaves a harvest of small 
crustaceans, which with frogs, lizards, small fish, etc., form 
their food. Sexes alike ; young different. 

White Ibis, or Spanish Curlew. 

Storks and Wood Ibises 

(Family Ciconiidce) 

Unhappily these storks still retain the name "ibis," which 
no amount of scientific protest seems possible to shake off. 
General form as in preceding group; but bill, which is as broad 
as the face at base, has tip curved downward. Four long toes, 


Herons and their Allies 

the hind one about on the level with the front ones, enabling 
the birds to rake the muddy bottoms of shallow lagoons with 
their feet. Claws less nail-like than in true ibises. Strong, 
graceful fliers. 

Wood Ibis 

Herons and Bitterns 

(Family Ardeidce) 

Birds of this family, that contains about seventy-five species, 
mostly confined to the tropics, have certain peculiar feathers 
or "powder-down tracts" which, when worn in pairs of 
two or three, are a fair but superficial mark of the clan. The 
herons wear three pairs; one on the back, over the hips; one 
underneath the hips, on the abdomen; and another on the breast. 
Bitterns lack the pair underneath. Their purpose is not yet 
known, but some scientists contend that these tracts are phos- 
phorescent, and that fish are lured by them at night. The plu- 
mage is generally loose, adorned with lengthened feathers, some 
species having beautiful crests and plumes on the back, that are 
worn in the nesting season. The legs are long and un- 
feathered, for wading; the four toes, all on the same level, are 
long and slender, for perching. The bill, which is always longer 
than the elongated, narrow head, appears to run directly into the 
eyes. Usually herons nest and roost in flocks, in favorable locali- 
ties, numbering thousands; but when feeding on the shores of 
lagoons, rivers, and lakes, solitary birds are seen. Other species, 
on the contrary, live singly or in pairs all the time. 

American Bittern, or Marsh Hen. 

Least Bittern. 

Great Blue Heron, or Blue Crane. 

Little Blue Heron, or Blue Egret. 

Snowy Heron, or White Egret. 

Green Heron, or Poke. 

Black-crowned Night Heron, or Quawk. 



(Family Ibididce) 

White Ibis 

(Giiara alba) 

Called also: SPANISH CURLEW 

Length — 25 inches. 

Male and Female — Plumage white, except the tips of four outer 
wing feathers, which are black. Bare space on head; most 
of bill and the long legs orange red. Long decurved bill 
tipped with dusky. Immature birds dull brown, except 
lower back and under parts, which are white. 

Ra7ige — Warmer parts of United States, nesting as far north as 
Indiana, Illinois, and South Carolina; straying northward 
annually to Long Island, and casually to Connecticut and 
South Dakota; winters in West Indies, Central, and northern 
South America. 

Season — Summer resident or visitor. 

Flocks of these stately, picturesque birds, flying in close 
squadrons, their plumage glistening in the glare of a tropical sun, 
their legs trailing after them, are not so familiar a sight even in 
the Gulf states as once they were. Their destruction can be set 
down to nothing but wanton cruelty, for their flesh is totally 
untlt for food, and their usefulness is nil if it does not consist in 
enlivening waste places with their beauty. 

Morning and evening the close ranks fly to and from the 
feeding grounds on the shores of lagoons and lakes, or to their 
favorite roosts, where their ancestors likely as not slept before 
them. Standing on one leg, with head and bill drawn in to rest 
between the shoulders and on the breast, the body in a perpen- 
dicular position, an ibis can remain motionless for hours, a 
picture of tropical indolence. The bill, which so closely resem- 
bles the curlew's that this ibis is frequently called Spanish cur- 



lew, enables the bird to drag out the crayfish from its shell and 
pinch the last piece of flesh from soft-shelled crustaceans. Small 
fish, frogs, lizards, and other aquatic animal food never seem to 
fatten this slender bird, that is a ravenous feeder none the less. 

Colonies of ibises build nests in ancestral nurseries, which 
may be in reedy marshes, or in low trees and bushes not far from 
good feeding grounds. Three to five pale greenish eggs marked 
with chocolate are found in the coarse, bulky nest of reeds and 
weed stalks. 



(Family Ciconiid^J 

Wood Ibis 

(Tantalus loculator) 



Length — 40 inches. 

Male and Female — Head and neck bare, and bluish or yellowish; 
plumage white, except the primaries and secondaries of 
wings and the tail, which are greenish black. Legs blue, 
blackish toward the toes; long, thick, decurved bill, dingy 
yellow. Immature birds have head covered with down; 
plumage dark gray, with blackish wings and tail, but soon 

Range — "Southern United States, from the Ohio Valley, Colo- 
rado, Utah, southeastern California, etc., south to Argentine 
Republic; casually northward to Pennsylvania and New 
York."— A. O. U. 

Season — Resident, or summer visitor. 

Like the turkey buzzards, this wood stork has the fascinating 
grace of flight that one never tires of watching, as the birds, first 
mounting upward with strong wing beats, go sailing away over- 
head in great spirals, floating on motionless, wide wings, wheel- 
ing, gyrating, rising, frilling, skimming in and out of the pathless 
maze that a flock follows as if its members were playing a sedate 
game of cross tag. With necks distended and legs trailing on a 
horizontal with their bodies, their length is extreme. As these 
birds are gluttonous feeders, it has been suggested that their 
flights, like the buzzard's, are taken for exercise to quicken their 

There is a tradition to the effect that the wood ibis is a 
solitary misanthrope, but Audubon mentions thousands in a 
flock; and while the day of such sights has passed forever in this 
land of bird butchers, one rarely sees a lone fisherman in the south 


storks and Wood Ibises 

to-day, and where one meets the bird at all, it is likely to be in 
the company of at least a score of its kind, with possibly a few 
buzzards sailing in their midst. "The great abundance of the 
wood ibis on the Colorado, especially the lower portions of the 
river," says Dr. Coues, " has not been generally recognized until 
of late years, . . . but the swampy tracts and bayous of Louisi- 
ana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are . . . their favorite 

Speaking of a hunting trip on the Myakka River in west 
Florida, in 1879, Mr. G. O. Shields writes: "As we walked 
quietly around a bend in the river, just out of sight of our camp, 
and came to an open glade or meadow of perhaps an acre, a sight 
met our eyes that might have inspired the soul of a poet or have 
awakened in the mind of the prosiest human being visions of 
Paradise. There sat great flocks of richly colored birds, the backs 
of which were nearly white, the wings and breast a rich and 
varied pink, changing in some of the males to almost scarlet. 
These were the roseate spoonbills [now nearly extinct]. In an- 
other part of the glade was a large flock of the stately wood ibis, 
with body of pure white, and wings a glossy radiant purple and 
black. In still another part, a flock of snowy white egrets, 
and here and there a blue or gray heron, or other tropical bird. 
Alarmed at our approach they all arose, but, as if aware their 
matchless beauty was a safeguard against the destroying hand of 
man, they soared around over our heads for several minutes 
before flying away. As they thus hovered over us we stood and 
contemplated the scene in silent awe and admiration. Our guns 
were at a parade rest. We had no desire to stain a single one of 
the exquisite plumes with blood." 

Indolent as creatures of the tropics are wont to be. the wood 
stork goes to no further effort to secure a dinner than dancing 
about in the shallow edges of the lagoon, to stir up the mud, 
which brings the fish to the top. A sharp stroke from its 
heavy bill leaves the fish floating about dead to serve as bait. 
With head drawn in between its shoulders, a pensive, sedate 
figure, the stork now calmly waits for other fish, frogs, lizards, 
or other reptiles to approach the bait, when, quick as thought, it 
strikes right and left, helping itself to the choicest food, and 
leaving the rest for the buzzards and alligators. A sun bath after 
such a gorge completes its happiness. 



(Family Ardeidce) 

American Bittern 

(Botaurus lentiginosus) 


Length — Varies from 24 to 34 inches. 

Male and Female — Subcrested; upper parts freckled with shades 
of brown, blackish, buff, and whitish; top of head and back 
of neck slate color, with a yellow-brown wash ; a black 
streak on sides of neck; chin and throat white, with a few 
brown streaks; under parts pale buff, striped with brown; 
head flat. Bill yellow, and rather stout, and sharply pointed; 
tail small and rounded; legs long and olive colored. 

Range — Temperate North America; nests usually north of Vir- 
ginia, and winters from that state southward to the West 

Season — Summer resident, or visitor from May to October; per- 
manent in the south. 

The booming bittern, whose " barbaric yawp " echoes from 
lonely marshes, grassy meadows, and swamps through the sum- 
mer, enjoys greater popularity in name than in deed; for he is a 
hermit, a shy, solitary wanderer, that even Thoreau, no less 
secluded than he, knew by his voice chiefly. "Many have 
heard the stake driver," says Hamilton Gibson, "but who shall 
locate the stake .^" The same bird whose voice sounds like 
a stake being driven into a bog, or, again, "like the working 
of an old-fashioned wooden pump, "or like the hoarse crowing 
of a raven when it flies at night, has for its love song the most 
dismal, hollow bellow, that comes booming from the marshes at 
evening, a mile away, with a gruesome solemnity. One of these 


Herons and Bitterns 

calls has been written putnp-er-lunk, pump-er-lunk , pump-er- 
lunk; but a better rendering, perhaps, is Dr. Abbott's piick-la- 
grooh, which has been verified again and again. 

After the sedges in the marshes have grown tall, it is next to 
impossible to find the bird; but on its arrival in spring, when it 
pumps most vociferously in the fens, the paddler up some lonely 
creek follows the sound until he sees this freckled fellow stand- 
ing perfectly still in the low grass, its head held erect and pointed 
upward. Not a muscle moves while the bird remains in ignor- 
ance of the watcher. An hour passes, and it might be a dead 
stump standing there in the twilight. It looks particularly 
like a stump if it has assumed another favorite position, of draw- 
ing in its head until it touches its back. Suddenly a succession 
of snappings and gulpings, to fill its lungs with air, convulses the 
creature, and then three booming bellowings come forth with 
gestures that suggest horrible nausea. One who did not see the 
bird in the act of making these noises would imagine from their 
quality that they came from below the water, and there are 
many stories in circulation among people who do not go to the 
pains to verify them, that water is actually swallowed and 
ejected by bitterns to assist their voices; but it is not. 

Come upon the hermit suddenly, and it seems paralyzed by 
fright. When danger actually threatens, up go the long head 
feathers, leaving the neck bare and making the bird look formid- 
able indeed. The plumage is ruffled, the wings are extended, 
and if the adversary comes too near, a violent slap from the strong 
wing and a thrust from the very sharp beak makes him wish his 
zeal for bird lore had been tempered with discretion. A little 
water spaniel was actually stabbed to death as a result of its 
master's inquisitiveness. 

During the day, the bittern, being extremely timid, keeps 
well hidden in the marshes; but it is not a nocturnal bird, by any 
means, however well it likes to migrate by night. To some 
it may appear sluggish and indolent as it stands motionless for 
hours, but it is simply intelligently waiting for frogs, lizards, 
snakes, large winged insects, meadow mice, etc., to come 
within striking distance, when, quick as thought, the prey is 
transfixed. A slow, meditative step also gives an impression of 
indolence, but the bittern is often only treading mollusks out of 
the mud with its toes. 




Herons and Bitterns 

In the air the bittern still moves slowly, and with a tropical 
languor flaps its large, broad wings, and trails its legs behind, 
to act as a rudder as it flies close above the tops of the sedges. 
When a longer journey than from one part of the marsh to 
another must be made, the solitary traveller mounts high by 
describing circles; and, secure underthe cover of darkness, makes 
bold and long excursions. It is only in the nesting season that 
we find these birds in couples. Then neither one is ever far 
away from the rude grassy nest that holds from three to five 
pale olive buff eggs hidden among the sedges, on the ground, in 
a marsh. There are those who assert that young bitterns are 
good food. 

Least Bittern 

(Ardetta exilis) 


Length — 15 inches. 

Male — Subcrested; top of head, back, and tail black, with green 
reflections; back of neck and sides of head brownish red, 
also wings, coverts, and edges of some quills ; throat 
whitish, shading into buff on under parts; the deepest shade, 
almost a yellow-brown, on sides; much buff on wings. 
Bill, eyes, and feet yellow; legs long and greenish. 

Female — Similar to male, but chestnut above, and the darker 
under parts are lightly streaked with dark brown. 

Range — Throughout temperate North America, nesting from 
Maine and the British Provinces southward ; winters from 
Gulf states to West Indies and Brazil ; less common west of 
the Rocky Mountains, but found on the Pacific coast to north- 
ern California. 

Season — Summer resident. 

The smallest member of a fiimily of waders noted for their 
large size, the least bittern brings down their average consider- 
ably; for it is only about a foot long, a quarter the length of the 
next species. Fresh-water marshes, inaccessible swamps, boggy 
lands, and sedgy ponds are where these secretive little birds 
hide, with rails and marsh wrens, gallinules, bobolinks, red- 
winged blackbirds, and swamp song sparrows for neighbors 


Herons and Bitterns 

among the rushes. Living where no rubber boot may follow 
them through the muck, they usually remain unknown to many 
human neighbors, unless some sluggish stream running through 
their territory will float a skiff and a bird student within field- 
glass range. These bitterns are by no means the solitary hermits 
the larger species are. Colonies of a dozen or more couples are 
found nesting within the same acre. 

However retiring in habits by preference, the least bitterns 
show no especial shyness when approached. Mr. Chamberlain 
tells of a small colony that spend the summer within a stone's 
throw of a street-car track and a playground in the busiest part 
of Brookline, near Boston — probably the home their ancestors 
were reared in ; for all the birds of this family show marked 
respect and attachment for an old homestead. In Westchester 
County, New York, there is a certain sluggish river whose reedy 
shores contain twenty nests or more within sight of a well-worn 
foot bridge. Here, looking down into the sedges, the birds are 
seen running about through the jungle, with their necks out- 
stretched and their heads lowered, as they hunt for food — small 
minnows, or young frogs and tadpoles, lizards, and bugs 
winged and crawling. Disturb the birds, and they take wing at 
once, with a harsh, croaking note, qua, and flapping their wings 
slowly and heavily, retreat no farther than to a denser part of the 
marsh, into which they drop, and are lost in the rushes. 

Dr. Abbott writes of a bittern's nest that he found near 
Poaetquissings Creek — that mine of nature's treasures he has 
opened for the delight of easy-chair naturalists. "Such finds 
make red-letter days," he says. "The nest itself was a loosely 
woven mat of twigs and grass, yet strong enough to be lifted 
from the tuft of bulrush upon which it rested. There were 
a single dirty blue white egg and four fuzzy baby bitterns not 
a week old. They were clad in pale buff down, scantily dusted 
over them, and an abundance of straight white hairs as long 
as their bodies. These young birds were far less awkward, 
even now, than herons of the same or even greater age. As 
1 took one up, it thrust its opened beak at me, but, becoming 
quickly reconciled, seemed to take pleasure in the warmth of my 
hand. At times it uttered a peculiarly clear, fifelike cry . . . free 
from every trace of harshness. " 

Near sunset and in the twilight of night and morning is 

1 60 

Herons and Bitterns 

when these bitterns, like all their kin, step boldly out of their 
retreats and indulge in longer flights from home. Many men of 
science have thought the powder-down tracts on their bodies 
glow with phosphorescent light in the dark and attract fish 
to the water's edge, where the bird stands motionless, ready to 
transfix a victim with its beak. But as yet this is only an inter- 
esting theory that has still to be oroved. 

Great Blue Heron 

(Ardea herodias) 

Called also: BLUE CRANE; (erroneously) SANDHILL CRANE 

Length — 42 to 50 inches. Stands about 4 feet high. 

Male and Female — Crown and throat white, with a long black 
crest beginning at base of bill, running through eye, and 
hanging over the neck, the two longest feathers of which 
are lacking in autumn. Very long neck, light brownish 
gray, the whitish feathers on lower neck much lengthened 
and hanging over the dusky and chestnut breast. Upper 
parts ashy blue ; darker on wings, which are ornamented 
with long plumes, similar to those on breast, in nesting 
plumage only. Bend of wing and thighs rusty red. 
Under parts dusky, tipped with white and rufous. Long 
legs and feet, black. Bill, longer than head, stout, sharp, 
and yellow. 

Range — North America at large, from Labrador, Hudson Bay, 
and Alaska; nesting locally through range, and wintering in 
our southern states, the West Indies, and Central and South 

Season — Summer resident at the north, April to October, often to 
December; elsewhere resident all the year. 

The Japanese artists, "on many a screen and jar, on many 
a plaque and fan," have taught some of us the aesthetic value 
of the heron and its allies— birds whose outstretched necks, long, 
dangling legs, slender bodies, and broad expanse of wing give 
a picturesque animation to our own marshes. But American 
artists seek them out more rarely than shooters, and a useless 
mass of flesh and feathers lies decomposing in many a morass 
where the law does not penetrate and the rifle ball does. Long- 
fellow, in " The Herons of Elm wood," paints a word picture of 
II 161 

Herons and Bitterns 

this stately bird, full of appreciation of its beauty and the mystery 
of the marsh. Surely no one enjoyed 

" The cry of the herons winging their way 

O'er the poet's house in the elmwood thickets " 

more than Lowell himself. 

" Sing him the song of the green morass, 

And the tides that water the reeds and rushes ; 

Sing of the air and the wild delight 

Of wings that uplift and winds that uphold you, 

The joy of freedom, the rapture of flight 

Through the drift of the floating mists that infold you." 

Hern, an obsolete form of heron, was perhaps last used by 
Tennyson when he wrote of "The Brook" that comes "from 
the haunts of coot and hern." The old adage, " not to know a 
hawk from a handsaw," lacks its meaning if we do not recall 
how heronsewe, a heron (not heronshaw, as is often writ- 
ten), was corrupted in England long ago, when hawking was a 
favorite sport there, into hernser, in turn corrupted into handsaw. 
Tradition says that the soul of Herodias became incarnate in the 
heron, the favorite bird of Herod, but in that case the common 
heron of Europe {Ardea chierea of Linnaeus) should bear her 
hated name, and not this distinctly American species. 

Patience, an easy virtue of the tropics, from whence the 
great blue heron comes, characterizes its habits when we observe 
them at the north. Standing motionless in shallow water, the 
Sphinx-like bird waits silently, solemnly, hour after hour, for 
fish, frogs, small reptiles, and large insects to come within 
range; then, striking suddenly with its strong, sharp bill, it snaps 
up its victim or impales it, gives it a knock or two to kill it if 
the thrust has not been sufficient, tosses it in the air if the prey 
is a fish, and, in order to avoid the scratching fins, swallows 
it head downward. Hunters pretend to excuse their wanton 
slaughter by saying herons eat too many fish ; but possibly these 
were created as much for the herons' good as our own, and no 
thanks are offered for the reptiles and mice they destroy. 

Wild, shy, solitary, and suspicious birds, it is next to im- 
possible to approach them, even after one has penetrated to the 
forbidding retreats where they hide. Near sunset is the hour 


' s Life-size. 

Herons and Bitterns 

they prefer to feed. In Florida one meets herons constantly, 
fishing boldly on the beach, wading in the lagoons, perching on 
stumps, and walking with stately tread and slow through the 
sedges by the river side, their long necks towering above the 
tallest grasses. The cypress swamps all through the south con- 
tain herons of every kind; but at the north the sight of this lone 
fisherman is rare enough to be memorable. Nine times out of 
ten he will be standing with his head drawn in to rest between 
his shoulders, and motionless as a statue. As he generally 
chooses to fish under the shadow of a tree by the water, or 
among the rushes that grow out into the sluggish stream, his 
quiet plumage and stillness protect him from all but the sharpest 
eyes. Disturb him, and with a harsh rasping squawk he spreads 
his long wings, flaps them softly and solemnly, and slowly flies 
deeper into the marsh. At close range he looks a comical mass 
of angles; but as he soars away and circles majestically above, 
his great shadow moving over the marsh like a cloud, no bird 
but the eagle is so impressively grand, and even it is not so 

Herons are by no means hermits always. Colonies of ten or 
fifteen pairs return year after year at the nesting season to ances- 
tral rookeries, each couple simply relining with fresh twigs the 
platform of sticks in a tree top that has served a previous brood 
or generation as a nest. The three or four dull bluish green eggs 
that are a little larger than a hen's very rarely tumble out of the 
rickety lattice, however. Both the crudeness of the nest and the 
elliptical form of the egg indicate, among other signs, that 
the heron is one of the low forms of bird life, not far re- 
moved, as scientists reckon space, from the reptiles. Sometimes 
nests are found directly on the ground or on the tops of rocks; 
but even then the fledgelings, that sit on their haunches in a state 
of helplessness, make no attempt to run about for two or three 

The Little Blue Heron, or Blue Egret ( Ardea carulea), less 
than half the size of its great cousin, casually wanders north- 
ward and beyond the Canadian border when its nesting duties 
are over in southern rookeries. Its home is also a platform of 
sticks, but it is placed, with a dozen or more like it, in bushes 
over the watery hunting ground, and not in the tops of tall 


Herons and Bitterns 

cypresses or other trees. Such colonies are still found as far north 
as Pennsylvania and southern Illinois. A rich maroon brown 
head and neck set off its bluish slate plumage, which is adorned 
with lengthened pointed feathers on the breast and shoulders. 
Immature birds are more confusing. At first they are white, or 
white washed with slaty gray, the tips of the primaries always 
remaining bluish slate, however, which enables one to tell them, 
with the help of their greenish yellow legs, from the snowy herons 
or egrets so often confused with them. Happily, the little blue 
herons wear no aigrettes, or they would share the tragic fate of 
the beauty of their family. 

" What does it cost, this garniture of death ? 

It costs the life which God alone can give ; 
It costs dull silence where was music's breath ; 

It costs dead joy that foolish pride may live ; 
Ah, life and joy and song, depend upon it, 
Are costly trimmings for a woman's bonnet ! " 

Only a generation ago the Snowy Heron {Ardea candidissitna) 
was so abundant the southern marshes fairly glistened with flocks, 
as if piled with snow; but all the trace of this exquisite bird now 
left is in the aigrettes that, once worn as its wedding dress, to-day 
wave above the unthinking brows of foolish women. In some 
states there is a penalty attached to the shooting of this heron ; 
but the plume hunters evade the law by cutting the flesh contain- 
ing the aigrettes from the back of the living bird, that is left to die 
in agony. Countless thousands of the particularly helpless fledge- 
lings, suddenly orphaned, have slowly starved to death, and so 
rapidly hastened the day when the extinction of the species must 
end the sinful folly. 

Little Green Heron 

(Ardea virescens) 


length — 1 6 to 1 8 inches; smallest of the herons. 
Male and Female — Lengthened crest and crown of head dark 
green; rest of receding head and neck chestnut red, shading 


Herons and Bitterns 

into yellow; brownish ash under parts; throat white, with 
line of dark spots widening on breast; back, with pointed 
lengthened feathers between shoulders, is green, or washed 
with grayish : wings and tail dark green, the coverts of the 
former outlined with white. Bill long and greenish black. 
Rather short legs, greenish yellow. Immature birds lack the 
lengthened feathers on back, are less brilliant, their crests 
are smaller, and they have black streaks on their under parts. 

Range — Tropical and temperate America; nests throughout the 
United States and far into the British possessions; winters 
from Gulf states southward. 

Season — Summer resident, April to October. 

This smallest, most abundant, and most northern heron 
comes up from the south in lustrous green plumage that gradu- 
ally loses its iridescence as nesting duties tell upon the physique; 
but as it is a solitary, shy bird, very few get a close look at its 
feathers at any time. Delighting in quagmires, where no rubber 
boot stays on the foot of the pursuer, the little green heron goes 
deeper and deeper into the swamp, and keeps well concealed 
among the rushes by day, coming out to the shores of wooded 
streams and sedgy ponds toward dusk, when often as not the 
motionless little figure is mistaken for a snag and passed by. 

Not a muscle does the bird move while patiently waiting 
for fish, frogs, and newts to come within striking distance of its 
sharp bill. With head drawn down between its shoulders, it 
will stand motionless for more hours than the most zealous bird 
student cares to spend watching it. Where food is e.xceedingly 
abundant, one may sometimes be seen wading around the edge 
of the pond with slow, well calculated steps, snapping up the 
little water animals that also become more active as evening 

Startle the lone fisherman, and with a hollow, guttuial 
squatik it springs into the air, but does not tlap its wings long 
before dropping on some old stump or distended branch to learn 
whether further flight is necessary. There is a certain laziness 
or languor about all the herons that they have brought from the 
tropics with them. When perched on a stump, its receding head 
thrust forward like a stupid, its apology for a tail twitching ner- 
vouslv. one sees the fitness of many of this heron's popular names. 
But why is this inoffensive wader held in such general contempt ? 

It has been stated by some scientists that, unlike many of its 


Herons and Bitterns 

kin, the green heron is always a hermit, rarely seen in couples, 
and never found in colonies, even at the nesting season; but 
surely there are enough exceptions to prove the rule. From all 
points of its large nesting range come accounts of heronries 
where not only green herons have built their rickety platforms of 
sticks in the low branches of trees or bushes in communities, but 
have associated there with different relatives, particularly with 
the night heron. They begin to build nests, or reline what the 
winter storms have left of their old ones, about the middle of 
April. These birds become attached to their nesting sites that 
they return to generation after generation, and a roost often be- 
comes equally dear. There are certain favorite trees in localities 
where the green heron is abundant that one rarely misses finding 
a bird perched upon. 

Why it is that the eggs — pale dull blue, from three to six — 
and the helpless fledgeling do not fall out or through their ram- 
shackle nursery is a mystery. Indolence characterizes these birds 
from infancy; for they remain sitting on their haunches in a 
state of inertia, roused only by visits of their enslaved parents 
bringing them food, until they are perfectly able to fly, some 
weeks after hatching. 

Black-crowned Night Heron 

(Nycticorax nycticorax ncevius) 

Called also: QUAWK; QUA BIRD 

Length — 2} to 26 inches. Stands fully 2 feet high. 

Male and Female — Three long white feathers, often twisted into 
apparently but one, at the back of head, worn only at the 
nesting season. Crown and back greenish or dull black; 
wings, tail, and sides of neck pearl gray with a lilac tint; 
forehead, throat, and underneath white. Legs and feet yel- 
low; eyes red; bill stout and black. Immature birds very 
different: grayish brown, streaked or spotted with buff or 
white on upper parts; under parts white streaked with 
blackish ; some reddish brown feathers in wings. 

Range— Vix\\\^di States and British provinces, nesting from Mani- 
toba and New Brunswick southward to South America. 
Winters in Gulf states and beyond. 

Season — Summer resident, or spring and autumn migrant north 
of the southern states. Resident all the year at the south. 


Herons and Bitterns 

To say that this is the most sociable member of a family that 
contains many misanthropic hermits, gives little idea of the night 
heron's fondness for society. Colonies of hundreds of pairs are still 
to be found, thanks to the bird's secluded and nocturnal habits. 
Some heronries contain these birds living among the blue, the 
great blue, or the green species, but in no very advanced state of 
socialism, however, for the gossiping and noisy qiiawking over 
petty quarrels that constantly arise make the place a pande- 
monium. Wilson, who usually pays only the kindest, most 
appreciative compliments to birds, likens the noise made by 
these to that of two or three hundred Indians choking each other! 

Not because the flesh of this bird is good for food, or its 
plumage is desired for hats, but because it is a nuisance in the 
neighborhood where civilization creeps upon the ancient eyries, 
is the night heron hunted. Flocks become so attached to the 
home of their ancestors, that only the harshest persecution drives 
them away, and then often no further than a few hundred rods. 
A sickening stench pervades the air blowing off a heronry; 
decomposed portions of fish, frogs, mice, and other animal food 
lie about on the ground, that is white with the birds' excrements. 
At Roslyn, Long Island, almost within sight of New York, a 
large colony of night herons that were driven from a populated 
portion of the town, where they had nested and roosted for 
many years, finally settled in a well wooded swamp not far off 
only after disgraceful persecution. One man boasts of having 
shot three hundred. Nevertheless there must be a thousand 
birds there still. For their protection, it should be added that 
there are few less inviting places to visit on a summer's day 
than this heronry. Certainly there is as much sport in shooting 
at the broad side of a barn as in hitting one of these large birds 
that, dazed by the sunlight, sits motionless on a distended branch, 
where any tyro could hit it blindfolded. 

The night herons arrive from the south about the middle 
of April, and at once repair what is left of the rickety platforms 
of sticks used a previous season, or build new ones. The 
wonder is they can weave any sort of a lattice out of such stiff, 
unyielding material. These nests are generally in the tops of tall 
trees, especially the cypresses, swamp oaks, and maples and 
evergreens near or growing out of a swamp; but there are also 
records of nests in bushes, or even on the ground. Often fluffy, 


Herons and Bitterns 

helpless fledgelings are found climbing about the nest while 
there are still some dull, pale blue eggs unhatched in June, which 
suggests the possibility of the extension of socialism into the 
nurseries; but who knows whether the rightful parents rear only 
their own young ? 

Toward sunset all the eyries in the swamps are emptied, 
and although, while the broods are young and incapable of mak- 
ing any effort whatever, the old birds must go a-fishing by day 
as well as at dusk, it is at twilight and later in the night that 
these herons choose to disperse among the ditches, shores of 
ponds and streams, the bogs and marshy meadows, to gorge 
upon the teeming animal life there. Next to this bird's fondness 
for an old, colonial homestead, its insatiable appetite is perhaps 
its most prominent characteristic. Evidently the digestion of a 
young heron keeps in a state of perpetual motion. The old birds, 
slender as they always are, grow perceptibly thinner while rais- 
ing their two broods a year. A choking noise, like the painful 
effort to bring up a fish that has taken a wrong course down the 
bird's long throat, but which is only an attempt to sing or con- 
verse, that old and young alike are constantly making, keeps 
a heronry well advertised, much to the profit of the hawks. 

Standing motionless, with head drawn in between its shoul- 
ders, as it waits at the margin of a pond at evening for the food 
to come within striking range, the heron can scarcely be distin- 
guished from a crooked stick. However deficient its sight may 
be, especially by day, an extraordinary keenness of ear detects 
the first creak of an intruder's foot, and with a qiiawk, quawh, 
the bird rises and is off, trailing its legs behind, after the manner 
of storks that Japanese artists have made so familiar. 

Have birds a color sense ? A night heron that was seen 
perching among the gray branches of a native beech tree must 
have known how perfectly its coat blended with its surroundings, 
where it was all but invisible to the passers by. 

1 68 


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•i .' , A. ' f o 

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(Order Paludicolce) 

Birds of the plains and marshes, the two families comprising 
this order have certain resemblances of structure that unite them 
into a distinct order, however the large cranes, with their long 
necks and legs, seem to approach more nearly the herons and 
their allies than they do the small rails, or marsh hens, and their 
congeners. Cranes, rails, gallinules, and coots, unlike the altricial 
heron tribe, are precocial; that is, they run at once from the nest, 
well clothed with down when hatched. These birds have four 
toes, the three front ones long, to enable the birds to run lightly 
over the oozy ground; the hallux, or great toe, may be elevated 
at the back, or, as in the case of gallinules and coots, on the level 
with the front ones, which in several species are lobate, but not 
flattened also, or palmate, as the grebes' toes are. Five large, 
strong muscles give the thighs of birds of this order special 
prominence, and influence the scientific classification. Shy, suspi- 
cious skulkers, more fleet of foot than of wing, these birds escape 
danger by running and hiding rather than by flying. 


(Family Gruidce) 

The cranes, as a family, are birds of largest size, seventeen 
vertebrae being the usual number in their long necks, and their 
stilt-like legs elevate their compactly feathered bodies to a con- 
spicuous height. Usually the head is partly bare, or covered 
with hairlike feathers. Bill is long, straight, slender, and strong. 
Plumage either white or gray. Solitary wanderers over the 


Marsh Birds 

plains and marshes, the cranes associate in flocks only at the 
migrations, although sometimes not averse to feeding in company 
with other birds, like the geese, for example, as suspicious as 
they. Field mice, snakes, lizards, frogs, berries, and cereals, all 
are swallowed by these rapacious feeders. Their voice is harsh, 
croaking, and resonant, and is frequently heard at night. 

Sandhill, or Brown Crane. 

Whooping Crane. 

Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

(Family Rallidce) 

The exceedingly shy, skulking rails, or marsh hens, spend 
their lives hidden among the sedges of marshes, where they run 
very lightly over the oozy ground, picking up their food from the 
surface rather than treading it out of the mud with their long 
toes. Like the gallinules, they associate with their kin where 
food is abundant rather than from pure sociability. In spite of 
their short, rounded wings, they cover immense distances in their 
migrations; but when flushed in the marshes, where they might 
remain unsuspected did not their voices betray them, they rise a 
few feet above the sedges, and, dragging their legs after them, 
quickly drop down among the grasses they are ever loth to leave. 
All manner of absurd fables about the rails being blown in from 
sea, and not hatched from eggs, and certain alleged mysteries of 
their nests, that human eye, it is said, has never looked upon, are 
palmed off upon the credulous, not only by the superstitious 
darkies in southern marshes, but by white people of intelligence, 
also. Rails are birds of medium or small size; their plumage 
differs little in the sexes or with age or season; the body is com- 
pressed to a point in front, but broad and blunt behind, this 
wedge shaped figure enabling the bird to squeeze through the 
mazes of aquatic undergrowth where it finds its constant home. 
"As thin as a rail" is a truly significant term. Gallinules and 
coots have a bare, horny plate on the forehead; some of the 
former are superbly colored. They keep more to the muddy 
shores of lagoons and ponds and less hidden among the sedges 
than the rails. Graceful walkers, they are good swimmers also, 


Marsh Birds 

though their toes lack the lobes that enable the coots to pass 
much of their lives on the water. Coots live in flocks. 

Clapper Rail. 

King Rail, or Marsh Hen. 

Virginia Rail. 

Sora, or Carolina Rail. 

Yellow Rail. 

Little Black Rail. 

Common, or Florida Gallinule. 

Purple Gallinule. 

American Coot, or Mud Hen. 



(Family GruidctJ 

Sandhill Crane 

(Grus mexicana) 

Called also: BROWN CRANE 

Length — 40 to 48 inches. 

Male and Female — Entire plumage leaden gray, more brownish on 
the back and wings. Upper half of head has dull reddish, 
warty skin covered with short, black, hairy feathers. Long, 
acute bill. Very long, stilt-like, dark legs, the tarsus alone 
being 10 inches long. Tail coverts plumed, immature birds 
have heads feathered and more rusty brown in their plumage. 

Range — Most abundant in the interior, on the Pacific slope, and the 
southwest; nests from the Gulf states northward through 
the iVlississippi valley to Manitoba; winters in the Gulf states 
and Mexico. 

Season — Summer resident only north of Florida, Louisiana, and 

Many people confuse this bird with the great blue heron, that 
is more often called by the crane's name than its own ; but beyond 
a certain resemblance of long legs and necks, these two birds 
have little or nothing in common. 

Immediately on their arrival in the spring the cranes go 
through clownish performances, as if they were trying to be awk- 
ward for the sake of being ridiculous; far from their real inten- 
tion, however, for it is by these antics that mates are wooed and 
won. They bow and leap " high in the air," says Colonel Goss, 
"hopping, skipping and circling about with drooping wings and 
croaking whoop, an almost indescribable dance and din in which 
the females (an exception to the rule) join, all working themselves 
up into a fever of excitement equaled only by an Indian war dance, 
and like the same, it stops only when the last one is exhausted:" 



— Strange performances indeed for birds preeminently pompous 
and circumspect! Certain of the owls and plovers and the flicker 
also go through laughable antics to win their coy brides, but such 
boldness of wooing by the female cranes presages the arrival of a 
"coming woman" among birds, still more nearly approached by 
the female phalarope, that, without encouragement, does all the 

One may more easily hope to find a weasel asleep than to 
steal upon a crane unawares. Before settling down to a feeding 
ground, it will describe great spirals in the air to reconnoitre, the 
ponderous body moving with slow wing beats, while the keen eyes 
scrutinize every inch of the region lest danger lurk in ambush. 
Grrrrrrrrrrroo, a harsh, penetrating tremolo calls out to learn if the 
coast is clear, and grrrrrrrrrooo come back the raucous cries from 
sentinels far and near. Hidden in the grasses, cramped, motion- 
less, breathless, one may be finally rewarded by the alighting 
of the great stately bird that finally comes drifting downward and 
stalks over the meadow, alert and suspicious. Not a sound 
escapes its sharp ears, nor a skulking mouse its even sharper 
eyes. It will thrust its beak unopened through its prey, whether 
it is a fish, frog, mouse, or reptile. This terrible weapon makes 
cowards of the crane's foes, small and large, yet it is the bearer 
of the spear that is the greatest coward of all. 

In addition to animal food, cranes eat quantities of cereals, 
and when vegetable fed, as they are apt to be in autumn, sports- 
men hunt them eagerly, but not too successfully, for no other 
game bird, unless it is the whooping crane or the wild turkey, so 
taxes their skill. It is impossible to steal upon them on the open 
prairie; and in the grass-grown sloughs approach is hardly less 
difficult. After each bending of the long neck, up rises the head 
for another reconnoitre. If any unusual sight come within range, 
the bird stands motionless and tense; then convinced of real dan- 
ger, "he bends his muscular thighs, spreads his ample wings and 
springs heavily into the air, croaking dismally in warning to all 
his kind within the far-reaching sound of his voice." to quote Dr. 
Coues. In spite of its heavy body the crane rises with slow cir- 
clings to a great height until, large as it is, it becomes a mere 
speck against the clouds. The long neck and stilt-like legs are 
stretched out on a line with its body, in the attitude made so 
familiar by the Japanese decorators of our screens and fans. Dur- 



ing the migrations a flock proceeds single file under the leadership 
of a wary and hoarse-voiced veteran, whose orders, implicitly 
followed by each, must first be repeated down the line that winds 
across the sky like a great serpent. 

The Whooping, or White Crane (Grus americana), the larg- 
est bird we have, measuring as it does over four feet in length, 
rarely comes east of the Mississippi, although its migrations extend 
from South America to the Arctic Circle. Apparently the habits 
of the two cranes are almost identical, and it is even claimed by 
some that one alleged third species, the little brown crane, is sim- 
ply an immature whooper, in which case every feather it owns 
must be shed before it appears in the glistening white plumage of 
its parents. Both the whooping and sandhill cranes build nests 
of roots, rushes, and weed-stalks in some marshy place, and the 
two eggs of each, which are four inches long, are olive gray, in- 
distinctly spotted and blotched with cinnamon brown. 



(Family Rallidce) 

Clapper Rail 

(Rallus longirostris crepitans) 


Length — 14 to 16 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts pale olive varied with gray, each 
feather having a wide gray margin ; more grayish brown on 
wings and tail, and cinnamon brown on wing coverts. 
Line above eye and the throat white, merging into the gray- 
ish buff neck and breast ; sides and underneath brownish 
gray barred with white. Body much compressed. Bill 
longer than head, and yellowish brown, the same color as 
legs. Young fledgelings black. 

Range — Atlantic and Gulf coasts of United States, nesting from 
Connecticut southward, and resident south of the Potomac. 

Season — April to October, north of Washington. 

Salt marshes, mangrove swamps, and grassy fields along the 
seacoast contain more of these little gray skulkers than the keen- 
est eye suspects; and were it not for their incessant chattering, 
who would ever know they had come up from the south to 
spend the summer } At the nesting season there can be no 
noisier birds anywhere than these; the marshes echo with their 
" long, rolling cry," that is taken up and repeated by each mem- 
ber of the community, until the chorus attracts every gunner to 
the place. Immense numbers of the compressed, thin bodies, 
that often measure no more than an inch and a quarter through 
the breast, find their way to the city markets from the New 
Jersey salt meadows, after they have taken on a little fat in the 
wild oat fields. " As thin as a rail " is a suggestive saying, indeed, 
to the cook who has picked one. 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

To get a good look at these birds in their grassy retreats is 
no easy matter. Row a scow over the submerged grass at high 
tide as far as it will go, listen for the skulking clatterers, and if 
near by, plunge from the bow into the muddy meadow, and you 
may have the good fortune to flush a bird or two that rises flut- 
tering just above the sedges, flies a few yards trailing its legs 
behind it, and drops into the grasses again before you can press 
the button of your camera. A rarer sight still is to see a clapper 
rail running, with head tilted downward and tail upward, in a 
ludicrous gait, threading in and out of the grassy maze. Stand- 
ing on one leg, with the toes of the other foot curled in, is a 
favorite posture; or one may be detected climbing up the reeds 
to pick off the seeds at the top, clasping the stem with the help 
of its low, short, hind toes. A rail's feet are wide spread because 
of long toes in front, that prevent the bird from sinking into the 
mud and scum it so lightly runs over. It can swim fairly well, 
but not fast. As might be expected in birds so shy, these be- 
come more active toward dusk, their favorite feeding hour, and 
certainly more noisy. 

Not even to nest will a clapper rail go much beyond tide 
water. From six to twelve cream white eggs spotted with 
reddish brown are laid in a rude platform of reeds and finer 
grasses on the ground, where they must always be damp if not 
wet; yet who ever finds a mother rail keeping the eggs warm ? 

The King Rail, the Red Breasted Rail, or Fresh Water Marsh 
Hen {Ra/liis elegaus) differs from its more abundant salt water 
prototype chiefly in being larger and more brightly colored, and 
possessing a more musical voice. Olive brown, varied with 
black above; rich chestnut on the wing coverts; reddish cinnamon 
on breast that fades to white on the throat; sides and underneath 
dusky, barred with white, are features to be noted in distinguish- 
ing it from the grayish clapper. A marsh overgrown with sedges 
and drained by a sluggish fresh water stream makes the ideal 
feeding and nesting ground of the king rail from the southern 
and middle states northward to Ontario. In habits these two 
rails are closely related. Mr. Frank Chapman describes the king 
rail's call as "a loud, startling hup, hup, blip, hup. hup, uttered 
with increasing rapidity until the syllables were barely dis- 
tinguishable, then ending somewhat as it began. The whole 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

performance occupied about five seconds." Of all impossible 
clews to the identification of a bird, that of its notes as written 
down differently in every book you pick up is the most hopeless 
to the novice without field practice. Nearly all the rails have 
a sort of tree toad rattle in addition to some other notes, which 
in the king rail's case have a metallic, ringing quality, and that are 
perhaps most intelligibly written "ke-link-kinh; kink-kinh-kink." 

Virginia Rail 

(Rallus virginianus) 


Length — 8.50 to lo inches. 

Male and Female — Like small king rails; streaked with dark 
brown and yellowish olive above; reddish chestnut wing 
coverts; plain brown on top of head and back of neck; a 
white eyebrow; throat white; breast and sides bright rufous; 
flanks, wing linings, and under tail coverts broadly barred 
with dark brown and white; eyes red. 

Range — From British Provinces to Guatemala and Cuba; nests 
from New York, Ohio, and Illinois northward; winters from 
near the southern limit of its nesting range southward. 

Season — Summer resident, April to October, north of Washington. 

When the original grant of Queen Elizabeth included nearly 
all the territory east of the Mississippi that the Massachusetts 
Bay Colony did not take in, the Virginia rail's name would have 
been more appropriate than it is to-day; for it is by no means a 
local bird, as its name might imply, and neither on the coast nor 
in the interior, north and south, is it rare. Short of wing, with a 
feeble, fluttering flight when flushed from the marsh, into which 
it quickly drops again, as if incapable of going farther, this small 
land lover can nevertheless migrate immense distances. One 
straggler from a flock going southward recently fell exhausted on 
the deck of a vessel off the Long Island coast nearly a hundred 
miles at sea. The ornithologist must frequently smile at the 
mysteries and superstitions associated with the nesting and 
migrating habits of this and other rails by the unintelligent. 

Doubtless there are many more of all species of rails in the 
United States than even one who scoured the marshes would 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

suppose. It is only at high tide along the coast that a boat may 
enter their marshy retreats far enough to flush any birds. The 
rest, secure in the tall sedges, run in and out of the tall grass on 
well beaten paths and through aisles of their own making without 
giving a hint as to their whereabouts. This bird, like the king 
rail, is frequently called a fresh water, marsh, or mud hen; not 
because it eschews salt water, but because, even near the sea, it 
is apt to find out those spots in the bay where fresh water springs 
bubble up rather than the brackish. Only the bobolinks and red- 
winged blackbirds, feeding with them on wild oats or rice, the 
swamp sparrows, marsh wrens, and other companions of the 
morass, know how many rails are hidden among the bulrushes, 
sedges, and bushes. 

During May, when a nest of grasses is built on the ground, 
in a tussock that screens from six to twelve pale buff, brown 
spotted eggs; and in June, when a brood of downy black chicks 
comes out of the shell, the penetrating voice of the Virginia rail 
incessantly calls out cut, cutta-cutta-cntta to his mate. "When 
heard at a distance of only a few yards," says Brewster, " it has 
a vibrating, almost unearthly quality, and seems to issue from 
the ground directly beneath one's feet. The female, when 
anxious about her eggs or young, calls ki-ki-ki in low tones, and 
kill much like a flicker. The young of both sexes in autumn 
give, when startled, a short, explosive hep or kik, closely similar 
to that of the Carolina rail." Still another sound is a succession 
of pig-like grunts, made early in the morning, late in the after- 
noon, or in cloudy weather. Confusing as are the notes of the 
different rails, they must be learned if one is to know the shy 
skulkers, that, unlike a good child, are so much more often heard 
than seen. 


(Por^ana Carolina) 


Length — 8 to q. so inches. 

Male and Female — "Above, olive brown varied with black and 
gray; front of head, stripe on crown, and line on throat, 
black; side of head and breast ashy gray or slate; sides of 

1 80 

Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

breast spotted with white; flanks barred slate and white; 
belly white." (Nuttall.) Bill stout and short (.75 of an inch 
long). Immature birds have brown breast, no black on head, 
and a white throat. 

Range — Temperate North America; more abundant on the Atlantic 
than the Pacific slope. Nests from Kansas, Illinois, and New 
York northward to Hudson Bay; winters from our southern 
states to West Indies and northern South America. 

Season — Common summer resident at the north; winter resident 
south of North Carolina; sometimes in sheltered marshes 
farther north. 

Where flocks of bobolinks (transformed by a heavy moult into 
the streaked brown reed birds of the south) congregate to feed 
upon the wild rice or oats in early autumn, sportsmen bag the 
soras also by tens of thousands annually, both of these misnamed 
"ortolans" coming into market in September and October, by 
which time the soras pitifully small, thin body has acquired the 
only fat it ever boasts. "As thin as a rail " at every other season, 
however, is a most significant expression, yet many people think 
it is a fence rail that the adage refers to. 

The strongly compressed heads and bodies of all the rail tribe, 
enabling these birds to thread the maze of aisles among the sedges 
without causing a blade to quiver and tell the tale of their where- 
abouts, is almost ludicrous when exposed to view — a rare sight. 
After one has punted a skiff over the partly submerged grass of 
their retreats and has waited silent and motionless for endless 
moments, a dingy little brown, -black, and gray bird may walk 
gingerly out of the reeds, placing one long foot timidly before 
the other, curling the toes of each foot as it is raised, while 
with head thrust forward and downward, and with the elevation 
of the rear end of the body emphasized by the pointed tail that 
jerks nervously at every step taken, an incarnation of fear moves 
before you. One old shooter declares he has seen rails swoon and 
go into fits from fright. 

Food gathered from the surface of the ground is picked off 
with sharp pecks, but all the rails run up the rushes also, clinging 
with the help of their hind toes to the swaying stem within reach 
of the grain hanging in tassels at the top. The long front toes, 
flattened but scarcely lobed, enable them to swim across a ditch 
or inlet, and all the rails are good divers. Rather than expose 
themselves as a target for the gunner, they will cling to submerged 

Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

Stalks, with their hills only above water, and allow a skiff to pass 
over them, without stirring. When thoroughly frightened by the 
dogs' constant flushing, and the shooting of their masters in the 
marsh, or, more particularly, when wounded, many never rise 

It is always the sportsman's hope to flush the rails, whose 
strong legs and skulking habits sufficiently protect them in the 
sedges, but whose slow, short flight keeps them within range of 
the veriest tyro. The 'prentice hand is tried on rails. Trailing 
their legs after them, and feebly fluttering their wings as they rise 
just above the tops of the rushes, they soon drop down into them 
again as if exhausted; yet these are the very birds that migrate 
from the West Indies to Hudson Bay. Their flight is by no means 
so feeble as it appears. Darky " pushers " enfold the goings and 
comings, the nesting and incubation of the rails, with all manner 
of absurd superstitions. 

Were it not for the incessant squeaking, "like young pup- 
pies," that is kept up in the haunts of soras, especially at dusk, 
morning or evening, or at the nesting season, or when startled by 
a sudden noise, we should never suspect there were birds living 
in the marshes. Pushers in the reedy lakes of Illinois and Michi- 
gan, and along the low shores of the James and other quiet rivers, 
sweetly whistle and call ker-wee, ker-wee, peep, peep, and kuk, 
'kuk, 'kuk, k, 'k,'k, 'kuk, until scores of throats reply, and slaughter 
soon commences. What little tender flesh there is on the rails' 
poor bodies, rather flavorless and sapid at the best, is filled with 
shot for the gourmands to grit their teeth against. As Mrs. Wright 
says of the bobolinks, so it may be said of the broiled or skewered 
soras, that they only serve "to lengthen some weary dinner 
where a collection of animal and vegetable bric-a-brac takes the 
place of satisfactory nourishment." 

In the sedges that shelter and feed them, the rails also build 
their matted grassy nest, never far from the water, and indeed 
often lifted into a tussock of grasses washed by it. The eggs, 
more drab than buff, but spotted and marked with reddish brown 
like the Virginia rail's, may number as many as fifteen; and the 
glossy black chicks run about on strong legs, but with the creep- 
ing timidity of mice, from the hour of hatching. 

The Yellow, or New York, or Yellow-breasted Rail {Poriana 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

noveboracensis), an even more skulking, timid species than the 
sora, has a reputation for rarity that doubtless the blackbirds, 
bobolinks, and marsh wrens, which alone can penetrate into the 
mysteries of the sedges, would express differently were they able 
to retail secrets. This small rail, that measures only seven inches 
in length, has more wisdom than its larger kin, and refuses to be 
flushed except in extreme cases, for the gunners to hit during its 
feeble, fluttering flight. Dogs must be sent into the marshes 
after the panic stricken birds running through aisles of grasses 
until about to be overtaken, when they escape by rising from the 
frying pan of the dogs' jaws only to fall into the fire of shot from 
the rifles. Ordinarily they keep so closely concealed among the 
grasses, that were it not for their croaking call, suggesting the 
voice of the tree toad, no one would suspect their presence. All 
rails are more or less nocturnal in their habits, and the yellow- 
breasted species, more full of fears than any, rarely lifts up its 
voice, that Nuttall described as an "abrupt and cackling cry 
'hrek, 'krek, 'krek, krek, huk, h 'iik," after daylight or before 
sunset. The description of the sora's habits, which are almost 
identical with this rail's, should be read to avoid repetition. In 
plumage, however, these two birds are quite different, the 
yellow-breasted rail having black upper parts streaked with 
brownish yellow and marked with white bars, the buff of the 
breast growing paler underneath, the dusky flanks barred with 
white, and the under coverts varied with black, white, and rufous, 
its wing linings are white, but these the bird takes good care not 
to show. 

The Little Black Rail, or Crake (Poriana jamaicensis), the 
smallest of the family, exhibits all the family shyness and fear, 
which, taken with its obscure coloration and its extreme unwill- 
ingness to rise on the wing, keep it almost unknown, although 
its range extends from Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oregon to 
Louisiana, the West Indies, and Central America. As its name 
implies, it is common in Jamaica. Mr. Marsh of that island writes 
its call " chi-clii-cro-croo-croo, several times repeated in sharp high 
notes so as to be audible to a considerable distance." Guided by 
this call, one may count oneself rarely fortunate to discover the 
little mouse-like bird that makes it, running swiftly in and out of 
the sedges, its head, breast, and under parts are slate color; its 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

fore back and nape are rich brown ; its lower back, wings, and 
tail are brownish black spotted with white, and the flanks and 
dusky under parts are barred with white. 

Common Gallinule 

(Gallinula galeata) 


Length — 12 to 14 inches. 

Male and Fetnale — A bare, bright red shield on forehead, same 
color as bill; plumage uniform dark bluish or grayish black, 
darkest on head and neck; washed with olive brown on 
back and shoulders, and fading to whitish underneath; flanks 
conspicuously streaked with white; space under tail white; 
legs greenish yellow, reddish at joint. 

Range — Temperate and tropical America, nesting from Ontario 
and New England to Brazil and Chili, and wintering from 
our southern states southward. 

Season — Summer resident or transient summer visitor, from May 
to October, north of the southern states. 

There is a popular impression, for which the early ornitholo- 
gists are doubtless responsible, that all gallinules are birds of the 
tropics; but this so-called Florida species crosses the Canadian 
borders in no small numbers every summer, and nests are also 
constantly reported in our northern and middle states. The 
truth probably is that the range of the Florida gallinule has not 
extended, but that within the last half century a hundred bird 
students scour our woods, meadows, and marshes for every 
enthusiast that tramped over them fifty years ago; and we are 
just becoming thoroughly acquainted with many of our birds 
when the gunners, milliners, cats, and other fatal accompaniments 
of a civilization that in many respects is still barbaric, threaten to 
exterminate the sadly decreased numbers left us to enjoy. 

Gallinules, although wild, shy, and timid creatures, or they 
would be no kin of the rails, wade more than they and swim 
expertly. It is amusing to watch their heads bob in rhythm 
with their feet as they rest lightly on the water. In brackish 
pools rather than salt ones, and preferably around fresh water 



Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

lakes and meadow brooks, they keep well concealed among the 
sedges while the sun is high or when danger threatens, coming 
boldly out to feed on the mud flats at dusk, or when they think 
themselves unobserved. Apparently they tolerate other galli- 
nules' society only if they must. Quarrels arising from jealousies 
over an infringement of territorial rights frequently occur. 

A gallinule strides from its grassy screen with grace and 
elegance, curling its toes when it lifts its large foot, as if it had 
taken a course of Delsarte exercises. Wading into the shallow 
pool, still curling its long toes before plunging its foot down- 
ward, and tipping its tail at every step, showing the white 
feathers below it, the bird strides along, close to the shore, stop- 
ping from time to time to nip the grasses and seeds on the bank, 
or to secure some bit of animal food on the muddy bottom of the 
water. Snails and plantains are favorite morsels. When lily 
pads or other flat leaved plants appear on its path, the gallinule 
runs lightly over them, upheld partly by its long toes and partly 
by its fluttering wings. Dr. Abbott tells of seeing a gallinule in 
his favorite New Jersey creek that went through the unusual (?) 
performance of throwing back its head until the occiput rested on 
its shoulders, and at the same moment the wings were lifted 
lightly as if the bird intended to fly. 

But flying is an art this terrestrial wader practices rarely. It 
depends sometimes upon swimming and diving, but almost 
always on running, to escape danger, many men of science 
claiming that a large part of its migrating also is done a-foot. 
As the family parties escape under cover of darkness, and steal 
away as silently as the Arabs, who knows positively how they 
travel ? A gallinule, equally with a barnyard chicken, appears 
ridiculous and out of its element in the air as it labors along a few 
paces, dragging its legs after it, and drops awkwardly to the 

The similarity to a chicken does not end with flight. In 
appearance, as in habits, and particularly in voice, the water hens 
and hens of the poultry yard have much in common. A single 
pair in a swamp keep up clatter enough for a yard full of fowls, 
" now loud and terror stricken like a hen whose head is just 
going to be cut off," as a friend of Bradford Torrey's expressed 
it; "then soft and full of content, as if the aforesaid hen had laid 
an egg ten minutes before and were still felicitating herself upon 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

the achievement." When both the Florida and the purple galli- 
nules build their nests, they very often simply bend down the 
tops of grasses to form a platform, then place a rude, grassy 
cradle on it; or the nest may be moored to the stems of the 
rushes, or to a bush, where the incoming tide raises it, but can- 
not loosen its anchors. But usually drier sites are chosen. 

The Purple Gallinule {lonoriiis martinica), a common bird in 
the southern states, nests so far north as southern Illinois and 
Carolina, and occasionally strays northward to New England and 
Wisconsin. In the Gulf states it is usually found in the same 
marsh with the Florida gallinule, eating the same food, nesting 
in the same manner, cackling like a chicken, in fact sharing 
nearly all its cousin's habits, its gorgeous plumage alone giving 
it distinction. 

American Coot 

(Fulka americana) 


Length — 14 to 16 inches. 

Male and Female — General color slate; very dark on head and 
neck, lighter on under parts; edge of wing, tips of secon- 
daries, and space below tail, white. Bill ivory white; two 
brownish spots near tip, the same shade as the horny plate 
on front of head, which is a characteristic mark of both 
gallinules and coots. Legs and feet pale green, the latter 
with scalloped lobes. 

Range — North America at large, from Greenland and Alaska to 
the West Indies and Central America; nesting throughout 
range, but more rarely on Atlantic coast. 

Season — Resident in the south; chiefly a spring and autumn mi- 
grant at the north, April, May; September to November. 

More aquatic than any of its kin, the coot delights in the 
swimming and diving feats of a grebe, and appears to be the 
connecting link between the swimmers, with whom it was 
formerly classed, owing to its lobed toes. What these toes lack 
in width is amply made up in length, the fact that makes the 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

bird so expert in the water and correspondingly awkward when 
it runs over the land, where, however, it spends very little time. 
It is the horny frontal plate, taken with the general resemblance 
in structure to the gallinules, that places the coot in their class. 

A lake or quiet river surrounded by large marshy tracts 
where sluggish streams meander, bringing down into deeper 
water wild grain and seeds, the larvae of insects, fish spawn, 
snails, worms, and vegetable matter, makes the ideal home of 
this duck-like bird. " 1 come from the haunts of coot and hern," 
the song of Tennyson's brook, calls up a picture of the home 
that needs no enlarging. The coot dives for food to great depths, 
sometimes sinking grebe fashion, and disappearing to parts 
unknown by a long swim under water with the help of both 
wings and feet. Swimming on the surface, the bird has a funny 
habit of bobbing its head in unison with the strokes given in the 
stern by its twin screws. 

A large amount of gravel seems necessary to help digest the 
quantity of grain swallowed, and for this a flock of coots must 
sometimes leave the muddy region of the lake. Rising from the 
surface, they flutter just above it, pattering along for a distance, 
their distended feet striking the water constantly, until sufficient 
momentum is gained to spring into the air and trust to wing 
power alone. This pattering noise and splashing, often heard 
when the coots cannot be seen for the tall sedges that screen 
them, is characteristic of several of the ducks also, and suggests 
the notion that the trick may have been learned from them ; for in 
southern waters, at least, coots and ducks often resort to the 
same lakes ; — that is, when the latter refuse to be driven off. , At 
no time of the year silent birds, often incessant chatterers, 
it is during the nesting season that the coots break out into 
shrill, high-pitched, noisy cacklings, which the slightest dis- 
turbance calls forth. Jealous, unwilling to permit alien swim- 
mers in their neighborhood, sociable, but without any great love 
of kin or kind to mellow their dispositions or their voices, they 
make their neighborhood lively. But coots are shy of men, albeit 
the young and old alike have flesh no one not starving could 
eat; and they usually live in some inaccessible pond or swamp, 
especially at the nesting season. As night approaches, they 
lose much of the timidity which keeps them concealed and 
silent the greater part of the day. 


Rails, Gallinules, Coots 

In May a nest has been built by first trampling down the 
rushes and weed stalks, then more of the same material is used 
for an exterior and finer grasses for a lining of the crib which 
toward the end of the month contains from eight to fifteen 
yellowish white eggs sprinkled over with brownish spots, 
chiefly around the larger end. Let no other bird dare show its 
head in the immediate neighborhood of a pair of nesting coots. 
They will tolerate no neighbors then, gregarious as they are at 
other seasons. After three weeks of close confinement the 
mother bird leads her large brood to water, where the chicks 
swim and dive almost from the beginning, although keeping 
close enough to their patient teacher to hide under her wings on 
the first shrill alarm cry from the father, ever on guard. Hawks 
from above and pickerel and turtles from below find no fault, as 
men do, with the flavor of young coots. But soon the fledge- 
lings become quite independent, leaving the parents free to 
devote their attention to another brood. Usually the flock of 
migrating coots that we see in autumn is only a large family 










Oyster Catcher 




(Order Limicolce) 

Birds of the open field, marshy bogs and thickets, or shores 
close by the water's edge, finding their food on the surface of the 
ground, in the mud, or among the shallows of the beach, 
averaging smaller than birds of any other group included in this 
book, they usually have long slender legs for wading, and long 
slender bills for probing the mud after food, which increase their 
apparent size. Unlike the compressed figures of rails and their 
allies, the bodies of these birds are depressed or well rounded; 
their wings are long and pointed; their tails, which are short, are 
very full feathered. As compared with the large footed herons, 
rails, and gallinules, these birds have short toes, the hinder one 
very short, elevated, or absent; but certain species find their toes 
long enough to tread out worms and small shell fish from the 
mud fiats, and some, partly webbed, are well adapted for swim- 
ming. The nests of birds of this very large order are mere 
depressions in the ground, not always lined with grass, and 
their young, fully clothed with down when hatched, are able to 
run about immediately. 


(Family Phalaropodidce) 

A small, select fomily of three, two of whose species keep 
so far out at sea during their migrations from the Arctic regions 
to the south that we rarely see them, Wilson's phalarope, alone, 
being anywhere a common bird in the United States. Strangely 
enough, it is far more abundant in the interior than on the coast. 


Shore Birds 

The bodies of these small sea snipe, as they are often called, are 
depressed, covered with thick plumage to resist water that they 
spend much time upon, for their feet are furnished with nar- 
row lobes that enable them to swim well. They are smaller 
than the robin. The curious characteristic of this family is 
that it contains the most advanced female among all the feath- 
ered tribes; this strong minded creature wearing the gay colors, 
doing the wooing, and gayly disporting herself, while the male 
incubates the eggs and attends to nursery drudgeries. 

Wilson's Phalarope 

Northern Phalarope 

Avocets and Stilts 

(Family Recurvirostridce) 

Usually one sees a small tlock of these waders, very long 
of legs, slender and depressed of body, and with a long, sharp 
bill, curved upward like an upholsterer's needle or a shoemaker's 
awl. This bill, which is of extreme sensitiveness, probes the 
mud in the shallows where the birds wade about for food. 
Sometimes called wading snipe, they swim, when necessary, as 
easily and gracefully as they walk. Their plumage may differ 
with the season, but the sexes and young are alike. 

American Avocet 

Black-necked Stilt 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

(Family Scolopacida'J 

Generally the sensitive bill is long and straight, often several 
times longer than the head, and frequently curved slightly up- 
ward or downward. With this tool these birds probe the sand 
or mud for food, feeling for what they want, and using the bill 
also as a forceps. Often the upper prong may be bent at will for 
hooking the earthworms out. Birds of this numerous fiimily 
have four toes instead of three; but, in most instances, the struc- 
ture is very like that of the plovers. Plumage, which is plain 
colored, varies with the season, but little with the sexes or with 
age. Usually the female is the larger. These birds average 


Shore Birds 

small, the least sandpiper being the smallest of our water fowl. 
With few exceptions they keep near the water's edge or wherever 
the ground is soft enough to be easily probed, whether by the 
sea and rivers or in inland bogs, moist meadows, and thickets. 
Exclusive when nesting, but not often solitary at other seasons, 
they are generally gregarious, strongly attached to their compan- 
ions, and migrate in large flocks. "The voice is a mellow pipe, 
a sharp bleat, or a harsh scream, according to the species," 
says Dr. Coues. "Few birds surpass the snipe in sapid quality 
of flesh, and many kinds rank high in the estimation of the 
sportsman and epicure. " 


Wilson's or Jack Snipe 


Long-billed Dowitcher 

Stilt Sandpiper 

Knot or Robin Snipe 

Pectoral Sandpiper 

White Rumped Sandpiper 

Baird's Sandpiper 

Least Sandpiper 

Red-backed Sandpiper 

Semipalmated Sandpiper 

Western Semipalmated Sandpiper 

Sanderling or Surf Snipe 

Marbled Godwit or Brown Marlin 

Greater Yellowlegs 


Solitary Sandpiper or Tatler 


Bartramian Sandpiper or Upland " Plover" 

Buff-breasted Sandpiper 

Spotted Sandpiper 

Long-billed Curlew 

Jack Curlew 

Eskimo Curlew or Doe Bird 


Shore Birds 


(Family Charadriidce) 

Resembling the snipe in structure, plovers may be distin- 
guished by their moderate or small size, averaging that of the 
thrush, by their short bills (not longer and generally shorter than 
the head), which are shaped somewhat like a pigeon's; by their 
three toes — not an infallible guide, however, since our black- 
breasted species and two others have four toes; — in having 
rounded scales on the tarsi; by their plump bodies, short, thick 
necks, long wings, reaching to the tip of the tail or beyond, and, 
in some instances, by spurs on the wings. In habits, too, there 
is a similarity to the preceding group; but the plovers pick their 
food, which is largely of an animal nature, from the surface of 
the ground, instead of probing for it, as their shorter bills indi- 
cate. They also more frequently visit dry fields and uplands. 
Rapid runners and fliers, mellow whistlers, gregarious, except 
at the nesting season, and not shy, plovers are among the best 
known of our common birds. 

Black-breasted Plover or Beetle-head 

Golden Plover 


Semipalmated or Ring-necked Plover 

Piping Plover 

Belted Piping Plover 

Wilson's Plover 

Surf Birds and Turnstones 

(Family Aphrii^idce) 

One member only of this maritime family of four species 
visits the outer bars and beaches of our sea coast, to turn over 
shells and pebbles looking for the small animal life it preys upon. 
Its head and bill resemble a plover's; its wings are long and 
sharply pointed for sea roaming. 

Turnstone or Calico-back 


Shore Birds 

Oyster Catchers 

(Family HcemaiopodidceJ 

The brightly colored bill, twice as long as the head, com- 
pressed like a knife blade toward the end, is the chief distin- 
guishing mark of birds of this small family. This tool is used to 
pry open the shells of mussels, oysters, clams, and other shell- 
fish; hence Dr. Coues suggests oyster-opener as a better name 
for these birds, since oysters don't run fast! Rather large birds, 
dark colored and white in masses; the plumage of the sexes 
similar; the legs stout and rough; no hind toe; the wings long 
and pointed for long sea flights. 

American Oyster Catcher 



(Family Phalaropodidce) 

Wilson's Phalarope 

( Phalaropus tricolor) 


Length — 8.25 to 9 inches. Smaller than a robin ; female the larger. 

Female: In summer — "Top of the head and middle of the back 
pearl gray, nape white; a black streak passes through the 
eye to the side of the neck, and, changing to rufous chest- 
nut, continues down the sides of the back and on the scap- 
ulars; neck and upper breast washed with pale, brownish 
rufous; rest of the under parts and upper tail coverts, white. 

Male: In summer — Upper parts fuscous brown, bordered with 
grayish brown; upper tail coverts, nape, and a line over the 
eye white or whitish; sides of the neck and breast washed 
with rufous; rest of the under parts white. 

Adults: In 7vinter — Upper parts gray, margined with white; 
upper tail coverts white; wings fuscous, their coverts mar- 
gined with buffy; under parts white." — (Chapman.) 

Range — Temperate North America, most abundant in the inte- 
rior; nesting from northern Illinois and Utah northward, and 
wintering southward to Brazil and Patagonia. 

Season — Chiefly a migrant in the United States; more rarely a 
summer resident. 

Without the help of the woman's college, club, or bicycle, 
the female phalarope has emancipated herself from most of 
the bondages of her sex, showing a fine scorn for its con- 
ventional proprieties. It is she who, wearing the handsome 
feathers and boasting a larger size than the male — although 
neither bird is so large as a robin, — undertakes to woo her 
coy sweetheart by bold advances. Possibly a brazen rival adds 



to his miseries. The at first reluctant lover may run away, but, 
quickly overtaken, he soon falls a victim to the wiles of the most 
persistent wooer, to continue the most hen-pecked of mates 
ever after. 

On him fall all the domestic drudgeries, except the laying 
of the eggs — the one feminine accomplishment of his almost 
unsexed boss. He chooses the site for their nursery in a tuft of 
grass in a wet meadow or soft earth, usually near water; and, 
having scratched a slight depression in the soil and lined it with 
grass, she actually condescends to lay three or four cream colored 
eggs, heavily blotched with chocolate brown, about the first of 
June. Sometimes a second and smaller set of eggs is found late 
in the season. Many male birds, as we all know, relieve their 
brooding mates, but is there another instance where the male 
does all the incubating, while the female enjoys life at ease ? 
What must a totally enslaved mother duck think of such eman- 
cipation ? And what compassion must not a dandified, care-free 
drake feel for the male phalarope confined on the eggs day after 
day, and scarcely permitted twenty minutes for refreshments ? 

To secure their food, phalaropes run along the marshes and 
beaches exactly like sandpipers, picking up snails and other small 
animal forms, and nodding their heads as they go; or wading 
knee deep into the ponds, thrust them below the shallow water. 
"Swimming Sandpipers" they certainly are, though they swim 
rarely, never for long at a time, or in deep water. Every 
movement, whether afloat or ashore, is full of daintiness and 
grace. In flight they sometimes cover short distances in a zig- 
zag, as if uncertain of their direction; but once launched on a 
long migration, they fly with directness and power. 

The Northern Phalarope ( Pbalaropus lobatus), a very small, 
slaty gray, chestnut red, buff and white bird, the smallest of all 
the swimmers, passes along the coasts of the United States, from 
its nesting grounds in the Arctic regions, to winter in the tropics. 
Great flocks, bedded or swimming in the ocean, are often met 
by coastwise steamers in spring and from August to November. 



(Family RecurvirostridcrJ 

American Avocet 

( Recurvirostra americana) 


Length — 16 to 20 inches. 

Male and Female : In summer — White, changing into cinnamon, 
on neck and head; shoulders and wings brownish black, 
except the middle coverts, the tips of the greater ones, and 
part of the secondaries, which are white. Very long, ex- 
cessively slender black bill, curved upward. Legs very 
long and of a dull blue. In winter: Similar, but head and 
neck ashy or pearl gray like the tail. 

Range — Temperate North America, nesting from Texas north- 
ward to Great Slave Lake, and wintering in Central America 
and the West Indies. Rare in the eastern United States. 
Irregularly common in the interior. 

Season — Summer resident or spring and autumn migrant. 

The avocet, like the skimmer, the sea parrot, and the 
curlew, possesses one of the most extraordinary bills any bird 
wears. Slowly swinging it from side to side, as a farmer 
moves his scythe, the eccentric looking bird wades about in 
the shallows, feeling on the bottom for food that cannot be seen 
through the muddy water. Often the entire head and neck 
must be immersed to probe the mud for some small shell fish 
and worms that the sensitive, needle-like bill dislodges. A 
leader usually directs the motions of a small flock that follows 
him through thick and thin, mud and water; or, if the water 
suddenly deepens, off swim the birds until their feet strike 
bottom again, and the mowing motion is resumed, while the 
sickle bills feel and probe and jerk as the mowers move 
along deliberately and gracefully. The curlew's tool, the true 


K Life size. 

Avocets and Stilts 

sickle-bill, curves downward, just the reverse of the avocet's; 
neither is it used under water. 

The avocet is, perhaps, the best swimmer among the 
waders, owing to its webbed toes. The thick, waterproof 
plumage of its under parts keeps its body dry. When about to 
alight it chooses either water or land, indifferently; but it is al- 
ways especially abundant in or about the alkaline marshes of the 
interior. Not at all shy of man, it pays little attention to him 
unless positively pestered, when, springing into the air, and 
trailing its long legs stiffly behind to balance its outstretched 
neck, it flaps leisurely away to no great distance, calling back 
clich, click, click, a sharp and plaintive cry. A long sail on 
motionless wings, and a drift downward, brings the bird to the 
ground again, but tottering at first, as if it took time to regain 
its equilibrium, just like a stilt. On alighting, it strikes an ex- 
quisite pose, lifting its wings till they meet over its back, like 
the terns and plovers, before folding them away under the 
feathers on its side. 

The nest is a mere depression in the ground, in a tuft 
of thick grass growing in some marshy place, and it may 
be lined with fine grasses, though such luxury is not cus- 
tomary. Three or four pale olive or yellowish clav colored eggs, 
thickly spotted with chocolate brown, are a complement. Near 
such a spot, the birds become clamorous and excitable, the 
entire colony resenting any liberty taken by an intruder carrying 
no more alarming weapon than a field glass. Still, a male 
avocet, lost in rose colored day dreams as he paces up and down 
near his nest, like the willet, on sentinel duty, rarely sees any- 
thing that is not directly in his way. 

Black-necked Stilt 

( Himantopus mexicanus) 


Length — About 15 inches. 

Male and Female — Mantle over back and wings black, also line 
running up back of long neck and spreading over top and 
sides of head below the eye. Tail grayish; rest of plumage, 


Avocets and Stilts 

including a spot above and below the eye, white. (Long 
black wings, folding over white spots on lower back, rump, 
and upper tail coverts, make the entire upper parts appear 
black.) Immature birds more brownish above. Long, 
straight, slender, black bill. Excessively long red or pink 
legs. Beautiful large crimson eyes. 

Ratige — Tropical America, nesting northward from the Gulf 
states, "locally and rarely" up the Mississippi; rare on the 
Atlantic coast, though specimens have been taken in Maine 
and some reach Long Island annually; most abundant in the 

Season — Summer resident or visitor. Permanent resident in 
Gulf states. 

To a query put to an Arkansas farmer as to why this bird 
should be called the lawyer, immediately came another query: 
"Ain't you ever noticed its long bill.?" 

But it is the excessive length of legs that attracts the 
attention of all except punsters. So slender and stilt-like are 
they, so teetering and trembling is the bird when it alights, 
that one's first impulse is to rush forward and help it regain its 
equilibrium before it falls. Why must the stilt always go 
through this pretense of feebleness when we know it is a strong 
steady walker, graceful and alert; or, does it actually lose its 
balance on alighting ? 

Wading about, with decided and measured steps, in shallow 
pools, preferably among the salt and alkaline marshes, where the 
avocets often keep them company, the stilts pick up, from first 
one side, then the other, insects and larvae, small shell fish, 
worms, fish fry, etc., often plunging both head and neck under 
water to seize some deep swimmer. Long as their legs are, 
they will wade up to their breasts to secure a good meal; but, 
having no webs to their toes, swimming does not come easy, as 
it does to avocets, nor is it often tried. 

Strong fliers, owing to their long wings, which, when 
folded, reach beyond the tail, the longshanks trail their stif- 
fened legs behind them at a horizontal, after the manner of their 
tribe, and continually yelp click, click, click, as the flock moves 
leisurely overhead. In the nesting grounds this yelping cry is 
incessant, however fiir the intruder keeps from the olive or 
clay colored eggs or the young chicks that run about as soon 
as hatched. 


(Family Scolopacidcv ) 


(Pbilohela minor) 


Length — lo to ii inches; Female ii to 12 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts varied with gray, brown, black, 
and buff; an indistinct black line on front of head, another 
running from bill to eye; back of head black with three buff 
bars. Under parts reddish buff brown. Eyes large and 
placed in upper corner of triangular head. Bill long, 
straight, stout. Short, thick neck and compact, rounded 
body; wings and legs short. 

Range — Eastern North America, from the British Provinces to the 
Gulf, nesting nearly throughout its range; winters south of 
Virginia and southern Illinois. 

Season — Resident all but the coldest months ; a few winter. 

The borings of the woodcock in bogs, wet woodlands, and 
fields — little groups of clean cut holes made by the bird's bill in 
the soft earth — give the surest clue to the presence of this 
luscious game bird, that has been tracked by sportsmen and 
pot hunters alike, from Labrador to the Gulf, by means of these 
tell-tale marks until the day cannot be far distant when there 
will be no woodcock left to shoot. Since earthworms are the 
bird's staple diet, these must be probed for and felt after through 
the moist earth. Down goes the woodcock's bill, sunk to the 
nostril; the upper half, being flexible at the tip, draws the worm 
forth as one might raise a string through the neck of a jar with 
one's finger. Curiously, the tip of the upper mandible works 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

quite independently of the lower one — a fact only recently dis- 
covered by Mr. Gurdon Trumbull. Owing to the position of the 
eyes, at the back of the head, food must be felt rather than seen; 
but, so sensitive is the tip of the bill, and so far out of sight are 
the worms, in any case the eyes serve a better purpose in being 
placed where they widen the bird's vision and so detect an 
enemy afar. It is claimed by some that, like the owls, woodcock 
see best at night. Worms come to the surface after dark, which 
explains this and many other birds' nocturnal habits. 

In the early spring any one who takes an interest in the 
woodcock, aside from its flavor, will be repaid for one's tramp 
through the swale, at evening, to see the bird go through a series 
of aerial antics and attestations of affection to his innamorata. 
Standing with his bill pointing downward and his body inclined 
forward, he calls out pink, pink, as much as to say: "Now 
look, the performance is about to begin " ; then suddenly he 
springs from the ground, flies around and around in circles, his 
short stiff wings whistling as he goes, higher, higher, faster, 
faster, and louder and louder, as he sweeps by overhead in erratic 
circles, each overlapping the other, until the end of the spiral 
described must be fully three hundred feet from the ground. 
Now, uttering a sharp whistle, down he comes, pitching, dart- 
ing, and finally alighting very near the spot from which he set 
out. Pink, pink, he again calls, to make sure his efforts are 
not lost upon the object of his affection, and before he can 
fairly have recovered his breath, off he goes on another series of 
gyrations accompanied by wing music. Or, he may dance 
jigs when in the actual presence of the loved one. Cranes, 
plovers, owls, and flickers, among others, go through clownish 
performances to win their mates, in some instances the females 
joining in; but the woodhen, as the proper-nice people say, 
remains coy and apparently coldly indifferent to the madness 
of her lover. He will sometimes stand motionless, as if medi- 
tating on some new method of winning her, his head drawn 
in, his bill pressing against his breast. Then, with his short 
tail raised and outstretched like a grouse's, and with dropped 
wings trailing beside him, he will strut about with a high step — 
a comical picture of dignity and importance. 

Little time need be taken from the honeymoon to make a 
nest. This consists of a few dry leaves on the ground in the 


' V ,■: '"^ ' ' ii-j Gt ilifc ii Mil 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

woods, usually near a stump, where the four buffy eggs, spotted 
over with reddish brown, are laid, often before the snow has 
melted, in April. A dry place being chosen for the nesting site, 
it sometimes becomes necessary to transport the funny little 
fluffy, long-billed chicks to muddy hunting grounds, and the 
mother has been detected in the act of flying with one of her 
brood held between her thighs. But the chicks are by no means 
helpless, even from the instant they leave the shell, it is a pretty 
sight to see a little family poking about at twilight for larvae, 
worms, and small insects, among the decayed leaves, the fallen 
logs, and the ferns and skunk cabbages. Peep, peep, they call, 
quite like barnyard chicks. 

By the first of August the woodcocks, deserting the low, 
wet lands, scatter themselves over the country in corn fields, 
grassy meadows, birch covered hillsides, "alder runs," pine 
forests, and thick, cool, moist undergrowth, near woods; and 
now they moult. No whistling of wings can be heard as the 
birds heavily labor along near the ground, often unable to raise 
their denuded bodies higher. In September, when the sportsmen 
make sad havoc in the flocks, already gathering for migration, 
they are found in the dense thickets of wooded uplands, where a 
stream flows to keep the ground soft; and in October, when the 
birds are in prime condition, the spot that contained scores at 
evening may hold none by morning. The russet colored birds 
mingle with the russet colored leaves, and, as they lie close, it 
takes a good dog to find them. The woodcocks migrate silently 
by night, and an early frost, that stiffens the ground, drives them 
off suddenly to softer territory southward. Hence the delightful 
element of uncertainty enters into the hunting of this bird, that 
is here to-day and gone to-morrow. When flushed, its flight 
appears to be feeble, as, after a few whistles of its short, stiff 
wings, and trailing its legs behind it, it quickly drops into cover 
again, running a little distance on alighting, but the distances 
covered in migrations prove it to be no unskilled flier. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Wilson's Snipe 

(Gallinago delicata) 


Length — 10.50 to 1 1.50 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts varied with black, brown, and 
buff; crown dusky, with buff stripe; throat white; neck 
and breast buff, streaked with dusky; underneath white, the 
sides with blackish bars. Outer feather of wings white; 
wings brownish black, the feathers barred with reddish 
brown and margined with white. Tail bay and black, 
the outer feathers barred with black and white; the inner 
ones black, marked across the end with rufous and tipped 
with soiled white. Bill about 2. so inches long and resem- 
bling the woodcock's. 

Range — -North America at large, from Hudson Bay and Alaska, 
south in winter to central and northern South America and 
the West Indies. Nests in far north chiefly, rarely in the 
northern United States. 

When the first shad run up our rivers to spawn, and the 
shad bush opens its feathery white blossoms in the roadside 
thickets in March, the snipe come back from the south to haunt 
the open wet places of the lowlands, fresh water marshes, 
soaked fields, and the sheltered sunny spots in a clearing that 
are the first to thaw. Only in exceptionally dry seasons do these 
birds go near salt water marshes. Generally speaking, snipe 
prefer more open country than woodcock; but plenty of the 
former have been flushed in bush-grown, springy woods — the 
woodcock's paradise when the lowlands become flooded. The 
russet colors and markings of these birds, that so perfectly mimic 
their surroundings as they lie close, conceal them from all but 
the sharpest eyes. We may know of their arrival by the clusters 
of holes in the mud; for both snipe and woodcock have the habit 
of thrusting their bills into the soft ground up to the nostrils, feel- 
ing for worms as they probe with the sensitive tip whose upper 
half is flexible and capable of hooking the earthworm from its 
hole. As the snipe's eyes are set far back in its head, it must be 
guided only by the sense of touch. The larvae of insects and 
insects themselves are found by overturning old leaves and 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

decayed wood; but most of this bird's food must be probed for. 
Martin Luther was not the only one to profit by a Diet of Worms! 

While comparatively few nests are built in the United States, 
most of the love making is done here, and one of the character- 
istic spring sounds in districts frequented by this snipe is the 
Aiolhm whistling of its wings at evening, dawn, or by moonlight, 
when its wooing is done chiefly in mid air. Lighter and more 
trim of figure than a woodcock, Wilson's snipe is a better flier, 
and, rising upward by erratic yet graceful spirals, it attains a 
height we can only guess at but not see in the dusk; then darting 
earthward, music thrums and whistles in its wake to charm the 
ear of the listening sweetheart. It makes "at each descent a 
low yet penetrating, tremulous sound," says Brewster, "which 
suggests the winnowing of a domestic pigeon's wings, or, if 
heard at a distance, the bleating of a goat, and which is thought 
to be produced by the rushing of the air through the wings of the 
snipe. . . . Besides this 'drumming' or 'bleating,' as it is called, 
the snipe, while mating, sometimes make another peculiar sound, 
a kitk-kiik-kuk-kiik-kup, evidently vocal, and occasionally accom- 
panying a slow, labored, and perfectly direct flight, at the end of 
which the bird alights on a tree or fence post a few minutes." 

The flight of a snipe, almost invariably erratic, zig-zag one 
minute and maybe strong and direct the next, discourages all but 
the most expert wing shot. Although lying close, and generally 
flushed in the open, no tyro is quick enough at covering the 
swift, tortuous flier to bag it. Nervous, excitable, and therefore 
particularly difficult to hit, poor of flesh and muscular from long 
travel in the spring migration, nevertheless there are in many 
states no laws to prevent the killing of these snipe then; and the 
fact that eggs are already formed in many birds brought to the 
kitchen has not yet moved the hearts of sportsmen and legis- 
lators to action. For the most part, these snipe go north of the 
United States to lay three or four clay-colored or olive eggs, 
heavily marked and scratched with chocolate, in a depression in 
the ground. 

When the early frosts of autumn harden the soil at the north, 
so that the bill can no longer penetrate it, the snipe, migrating 
by night, again visit us, this time fatter, more lazy, or at any rate 
less nervous than they were during the mating season. Just as 
a wet meadow may be full of them some August morning before 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

we are expecting them, so in September the sportsmen go to 
look for them at dawn where they were the evening before in 
numbers, to find that they have silently travelled southward 
during the night. There is always the charm of the unexpected 
about the snipe's appearance or disappearance. Like the wood- 
cock, it is almost nocturnal in habits, because earthworms 
come to the surface then. Coming out from under cover, 
where it has dozed the best part of the day, to feed in 
the open at twilight of morning or evening, it lies close 
until flushed, when, springing upward from the grass almost at 
the sportsman's feet, as if shot out of a spring trap, and startling 
the novice out of a good aim by its hoarse, rasping scaip, scaip, 
it stands a good chance of escaping, thanks to its swift zig- 
zag course. 


( Macrorhamphus griseus) 

Called also: RED-BREASTED SNIPE (summer); QUAIL SNIPE; 

Length — 9. 50 to ID. 50 inches. 

Male and Female : hi j-wwwcr— Upper parts black, the feathers 
edged or barred with rusty red, white, and buff; tail and 
rump white barred with dusky; lower part of back white, 
conspicuous in flight; under parts rusty red, paler or white 
below, more or less spotted and barred with dusky. Bill, 
which is two inches long, is blackish brown. Legs and feet 
greenish brown. In icinter — General plumage brownish or 
ashy gray; lower back white; rump and tail barred with 
dusky and white; lower parts white, shading into gray 
on breast. 

Range — Eastern North America, nesting within the Arctic Circle 
and wintering from Florida to the West Indies and Brazil. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant; April, May; August and 

Compact flocks of gray snipe, as they are called after the 
summer moult has transformad them, migrating southward 
along the sea coast in August and September, may be easily 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

called down by anyone sufficiently familiar with their loud, 
quivering, querulous whistle to imitate it. Sportsmen also use 
decoys; but these are gentle, sociable birds, among the last to 
suspect evil or to take alarm, and need little encouragement to 
alight beyond the supposed entreaties of a sister flock. They 
appear to be never in a hurry; the long journey to and from their 
nesting grounds has frequent halting places; the mellow days of 
early autumn find them free from care and ready to accept every 
invitation to enjoy life to the full. 

Wheeling about as the imitation of their call reaches them, if 
they are not perchance flying too high to hear it, down swings 
the flock, hovering over the mud flats and tracts of low beach 
exposed at ebb tide. After circling about and seeing none of 
their kin, they may nevertheless decide to stop and rest awhile 
and feed in so promising a field. Now they scatter, but never 
so far that a chattering talk may not be kept up with their com- 
panions while they look for snails, seeds of sedges, insects, small 
mollusks, gravel, and bits of vegetable matter picked off the 
surfiice or from the shallow pools in the salt marshes. Some- 
times they probe the soft mud, too, for some tiny marine creature 
that has buried itself there; but not commonly, as the woodcock 
and Wilson's snipe do. A sand bar will often be so crowded 
with these sociable little waders that the sportsman picks off a 
dozen or more birds at a single shot; and so innocent are they 
that even such a lesson does not prevent their returning to the 
identical spot after a short flight. It is small wonder they are 
favorites with shooters. 

Skimming over the marshes, swallow fashion, a flock darts 
about in an erratic, joyous course — now high in air and performing 
some beautiful evolutions, now close above the sedges — their 
shrill, quivering whistle, constantly called back and forth, keeping 
the neighborhood lively. The note can scarcely be distinguished 
from the whistle of the yellowlegs that these snipe frequently 
associate with as they do with various sandpipers. When on 
the wing, the white spot on the lower back, a diagnostic feature, 
is conspicuous enough to help the novice name the bird. 

A number of nests or depressions in the moss or grasses that 
answered the purpose, have been found near lakes and marshes 
at the far north by travellers who have brought back to our 
museums clutches of four drab or fawn colored eggs spotted and 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

marked with sepia, chiefly around the larger end. These birds of 
many names are not found in Germany, any more than the so 
called English snipe is found in England, but they are called 
German snipe or Deutschers, to distinguish them from that 
species, dowitcher being simply a corruption of Deutscher in the 
mouths of longshoremen. 

The Long-billed or Western Dowitcher (Macrorhamphus 
scolopaceus), the representative of the preceding species from the 
Mississippi Valley westward to Alaska, may be distinguished 
from it chiefly by its slightly larger size and longer bill and 
possibly by its more uniformly rusty under parts and the heavier 
dusky bars on its sides in the summer plumage only. Very 
rarely one of these birds is taken by gunners on the Atlantic 
coast. In habits these two species are similar — even their eggs 
being identical; but the shrill swhistXtd p'te-te-te, p'te-te-te, of the 
gray snipe swells into a musical song, something like peet-peet; 
pee-ter-'d:ee-too; wee-too; twice repeated, according to Mr. D. G. 
Elliot, in the case of the long-billed dowitcher. For years even 
scientific men thought these two species were one. 

Stilt Sandpiper 
( Micropalama himaniopusj 


Length — About 9 inches. 

Male and Female : In Summer — Feathers on upper parts blackish, 
each bordered with gray or buff or tawny, the markings 
scalloped on the shoulders; wings darker; ears, and an indis- 
tinct line around back of head, rusty red; lower back ashy; 
upper tail coverts white with dusky bars; tail ashy, the 
centre and edges of the feathers white. Under parts white, 
streaked and barred with dusky. Bill nearly as long as a 
snipe's, and flattened and pitted at the tip. Legs verv long. 
Both bill and feet greenish black. In Winter: Upper parts 
brownish or ashy gray, the feathers edged with white; a 
white line like an evebrow; upper tail coverts white, the 
tail feathers white margined with brownish ash; throat and 
sides streaked with gray; under parts white. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Range — Eastern North America, nesting witiiin tiie Arctic Circle, 
wintering from Florida and the Gulf States to Brazil and Peru! 
Season — Spring and autumn migrant, IVlay; July to October. 

From the Arctic Circle to Peru is surely a journey to warrant 
frequent and long breaks; but only rarely do we hear of a small, 
open flock of these tireless travellers resting awhile on the sand 
flats of our coast or the muddy channels of the rivers inland to 
fortify themselves with a square meal before continuing their 
rapid flight. Like most birds that spend part of their lives at 
least in Arctic desolation, these sandpipers, not knowing man, 
have little fear of him, being of the same gentle, confiding dispo- 
sition, apparently, as the dowitchers, with which they may some- 
times be found, lured by the sportsman's decoys. Four birds, 
watched on a Long Island beach, were wading about in a pool 
left by the receding tide; and as they tipped forward, thrusting 
their sensitive bills into the soft sand to feel after food, and often 
immersing their heads to secure a worm or snail buried there, 
it seemed as if the top-heavy little waders must upset from 
their long, slender props. Yet when they walked — for they do 
not run as actively as true sandpipers, this species being a con- 
necting link between sandpipers and snipe — they moved grace- 
fully and easily. One characteristic they have that reminds one 
of the avocet and black-necked stilt: on alighting they first 
teeter, then stand motionless as if to steady themselves and make 
sure of their balance. Colonel Goss tells of their squatting to 
avoid detection, flying only as a last resort, then darting swiftly 
away, calling a sharp tweet, tweet. 


(Tringa ca7tntusj 

SANDPIPER (summer); GRAY SNIPE (winter) ; BEACH 

Length — 10.50 inches: largest of the sandpipers. 

Male a?id Female : In summer — Upper parts varied black, gray and 
reddish; crown gray streaked with black; line over the eye, 
chin, throat, and underneath cinnamon red, fading to white 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

on centre of abdomen; rump, upper and under tail coverts 
and flanks white, barred with dusky; tail ashy brown, 
bounded by dusky brown and tipped with white. Bill, 
legs, and feet black. In winter — Top of head and back of 
neck brown, streaked with soiled white; back and shoulders 
ashy gray, the feathers edged with a lighter shade or white; 
under parts white, the neck and breast spotted and barred 
with gray. 

Range — Nearly cosmopolitan ; nesting in the northern half of the 
globe and migrating to the southern half in winter. In the 
United States more common, during the migrations, along 
the sea coasts than in the Mississippi valley route southward. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant; May and June; July to 

Like King Canute, this beach robin that Linnaeus named for 
him seems to defy the waves, as, running out after them, it 
would fain bid them keep back until it has had its fill of the 
small shellfish left uncovered on the sand; but more quickly 
running in again when the surf combs and breaks in a threaten- 
ing deluge. Now it runs nimbly out in the wake of the receding 
waters, apparently intent only on its dinner, but all the while 
watching out of the corner of its eye an incoming wave, whose 
march and volume it so accurately estimates. It is amazing how 
closely and yet how certainly it escapes a drenching: the 
tumbling surf never quite overtakes it on its race back, though 
that last morsel it stopped for seemed inevitably fatal. It is a 
fascinating, though a nervous, sort of occupation, watching the 
sandpipers picking up their hurriedly interrupted meals. Dray- 
ton gives a different reason for fastening Canute's name on the 
knot, than the one popularly supposed to be the right one, in 
his lines: 

" The Knot that called was Canute's bird of old, 
Of that great king of Danes his name that still doth hold, 
Hh appeiite to please, that far and near was sought." 

Not all the knot's food is picked off the surface: the worm, 
snail, or small crustacean that has buried itself in the soft mud 
must be probed for, snipe fashion. 

Gentle, easily decoyed birds, owing to their fondness for 
society, usually a good sized bunch, if any, settles down on 
the mud flat or sandy beach after a preliminary wheel in close 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

array; hence the all too frequent possibility of a single discharge 
killing the entire company. The marvel is that there are any 
knots left to shoot. Mr. George H. Mackay, in The Auk, tells 
of the "fire lighting" method of capturing them, once in vogue, 
which was "for two men to start out after dark at half tide, one 
of them to carry a lighted lantern, the other to reach and seize 
the birds, bite their necks, and put them in a bag slung over the 
shoulder." Sportsmen put a stop to the burning of marshes 
some years ago, but not until this fine game bird, with many 
others, had become rare. The same authority quoted describes 
its notes as "a soft wah-quoit, and a little honk." In Kansas, 
Ohio, and other parts of the interior, where there is no surf to 
chase out and run from, one meets scattered flocks pattering 
about on the muddy shores of lakes and rivers, quite as actively 
as if the water pursued them. Alighting one minute, flying off 
the next, resting an instant, then on again after a quick little 
run, the knot sometimes acts more like a fugitive from justice 
than an inoffensive, peaceful lover of its kind. This restlessness 
is not so noticeable in the autumn migration, perhaps, when the 
birds are fat from abundant food, as in the spring, when they 
make short pauses on the long trip, impatient to reach their 
nesting grounds within the Arctic Circle. 

It was General Greely who first made known the eggs and 
nest of these birds. "They arrived on June 3, 1883," he writes 
in his "Three Years of Arctic Service," "and immediately nested 
(near Fort Conger). . . . The ground color (of the egg) was light 
pea-green, closely spotted with brown in small specks about the 
size of the head of an ordinary pin. . . . Fielden has described 
the soaring of these birds, and the peculiar whirring noise 
they make." 

The Purple Sandpiper, Winter or Rock Snipe (Tringa 
maritima), an extremely northern species, also observed by 
General Greely near Thank God Harbor, comes down our 
Atlantic coast between November and March, but not often 
farther than Long Island or the Great Lakes. Like the Pilgrim 
Fathers, it chooses to dwell on a "stern and rock bound coast." 
It is wonderfully sure-footed in running over the slippery 
bowlders dashed by the spray, picking its food as it goes from 
among the algae attached to the rocks. It is nine inches long, 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc, 

and in its winter plumage — the only dress we see — the purplish 
gloss on the black feathers of its back, worn in summer, is not 
visible. Instead, it is a uniform lustrous ash on its head, neck, 
breast, and sides. The back, which is a dingy olive brown, has 
the feathers margined with ash. The wings are the same shade, 
but the coverts and some of the long feathers are distinctly bor- 
dered with white; linings of the wings and under parts are 
white; the upper tail coverts and middle tail feathers are black- 
ish ; the outer feathers, ashy. 

Pectoral Sandpiper 

( Tringa maculata) 


Length — 9.00 to 9. 50 inches. 

Male and Female — The blackish brown feathers of upper parts 
heavily bordered with buff; the lower back and upper tail 
coverts black, lightly tipped with buff. Tail pointed; the 
shorter outer feathers brownish gray, edged with white. 
Eyebrow white; sides of head, neck, and breast white, 
streaked with brown or black; rest of under parts white. In 
winter plumage the feathers of upper parts are edged with 
chestnut, instead of buff, and the breast is washed with 

Range — The whole of North and the greater part of South Amer- 
ica; also the West Indies. Nests in the Arctic regions; 
winters south of United States. 

Season — Migratory visitor, April, May, and from July to November. 

To all except inveterate gunners the habits of this little game 
bird become most interesting after it has gone to the far north, 
where most people may not observe them, and we must depend 
upon Mr. Nelson's "Report on Natural History Collections made 
in Alaska" for our information. On reaching the nesting 
grounds a male becomes intensely excited in its efforts to win the 
attention of a sweetheart. It may "frequently be seen running 
along the ground, close to the female," he writes, "its enormous 
sac inflated, and its head drawn back and the bill pointing direct- 
ly forward; or, filled with springtime vigor, the bird flits, with 


."^ \ 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

slow but energetic wing-strokes, close to the ground, its head 
raised high over the shoulders, and the tail hanging almost di- 
rectly down. As it thus flies, it utters a succession of hollow, 
booming notes, which have a strange ventriloquial quality. At 
times the male rises twenty or thirty yards in the air, and, inflat- 
ing its throat, glides down to the ground with its sac hanging 
below. Again he crosses back and forth in front of the female, 
puffing his breast out, bowing from side to side, running here 
and there. . . . Whenever he pursues his love making, his rather 
low but pervading note swells and dies in musical cadences." 
These liquid notes may be represented by a repetition of the 
syllables too-ii, too-u, too-ii. Like certain members of the grouse 
family, the skin of the throat and breast of the male becomes 
very loose and flabby, like a dewlap, during the mating season, 
and may be inflated at will to a size equalling that of the body. 
Eggs brought to the Smithsonian Institution from tufts of grass 
in meadows at the delta of the Yukon are greenish drab, spotted 
and blotched with umber. 

When flocks of these sandpipers come down from Alaska 
and Greenland in early autumn, we see them less commonly 
scattered on the beaches, where one naturally looks for sand- 
pipers, and usually in the salt marshes, or in meadows near 
water, salt or fresh, running nimbly among the grasses, pattering 
about in the pools, pecking at insects, snails, and other tiny 
creatures above ground, or probing the soft mud or sand for 
such as have buried themselves below. Silent, gentle, almost 
tame, friendly with their allies and unsuspicious of foes, they lie 
well to a dog, squat when danger comes near, and only when it 
positively threatens fly off with a "squeaky, grating whistle." 
Because they fly in a zig-zag, erratic course, they are frequently 
called snipe, but they are true sandpipers, nevertheless. Decoys 
rarely lure them, though an imitation of their whistle may. 
In autumn we can see no indication of the extraordinary pectoral 
sac that becomes so prominent in the bird's figure in June, 
and that is responsible for the most characteristic of its many 
popular names. 

The White-rumped, Schinz's, or Bonaparte's Sandpiper 
( Tringa ftiscicollis), scarcely over seven inches long, looks like a 
smaller copy of the preceding species, although on close scrutiny 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

we note that its central tail feathers are not long and sharply 
pointed, and that its longer upper tail coverts are white instead of 
blackish. These white tail coverts, so conspicuous in flight, 
help to define the bird from Baird's Sandpiper, that has dingy 
olive brown coverts; but we must depend upon the white- 
rumped bird's larger size, chiefly, to tell it from the semipaimated 
sandpiper. This is a sociable little wader, often flocking with 
its cousins, and so offering frequent opportunities for comparison 
of these often confused species. In winter the upper parts are 
plain brownish gray, and the streaks on neck, breast, and sides 
are less distinctly streaked. No striking peculiarities of habit 
distinguish it : it is a peaceful, gentle, friendly, active, little sprite, 
like the majority of its kin; too confiding, often, to save its body 
from the ultimate fate of the gridiron and the skewer. Its note 
is a piped weet, weet. 

Baird's Sandpiper (Tringa bairdii), far more common in the 
interior than on the Atlantic coast, closely resembles the white- 
rumped species in size and plumage, and may be distinguished 
from it " by the fuscous instead of white middle upper tail-cov- 
erts," says Mr. Frank Chapman. "In summer it differs also in 
the absence of rufous above, the less heavily spotted throat, and 
the white instead of spotted sides. In winter the chief distin- 
guishing marks of the two species, aside from the differently col- 
ored upper tail-coverts, are the buffy breast and generally 
paler upper parts of bairdii." Colonel Goss says these sand- 
pipers are more inclined to wander from the water's edge 
than the white-rumped species, whose habits they otherwise 
closely resemble, and that he has flushed them on high prairie 
lands at least a mile from the water. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Least Sandpiper 

(Tringa minutilla) 


Length — 6 inches. Smallest of our sandpipers. 

Male and Female — In summer: Upper parts dingy brown, the 
feathers edged with chestnut or buff; the lower back and 
upper tail coverts plain black, like the central tail feathers; 
outer tail feathers ashy gray. Line over eye, throat, sides, and 
underneath white, more buffy, and distinctly streaked with 
blackish brown on neck and breast. (Immature birds have 
not these distinct streaks.) In winter: General appearance 
gray and white; upper parts brownish gray; breast white 
or pale gray; not distinctly streaked; other parts white. Bill 
black; legs greenish; toes without webs. 

Range — North America at large; nesting in the Arctic regions and 
wintering from the Gulf states to South America. 

Season — Transient visitor; May; July to October. 

Flocks of these mites of sandpipers, often travelling with 
their semipalmated cousins, whose popular names are indiscrimi- 
nately applied to them also, come out of the far north just as 
early as the young are able to make the long journey. Chicks 
that in June leave the drab or yellowish eggs thickly spotted 
with chestnut brown, run from the mossy ground-nest at once; 
and in July, when family parties begin to congregate in Labrador, 
join the whirling companies of adults in many a preliminary wing 
drill before descending to the States. Innocent of evil, confiding, 
sociable, lively little peepers, their tiny bodies offering less than a 
bite to a hungry man, neither their faith in us nor their pathetic 
smallness protects them from the pot hunters. True sportsmen 
scorn to touch them. A single pot shot may and usually does 
kill a score of birds; yet, so ignorant are they of man and his 
inventions, the startling report of a gun drives them upward but 
a few yards for a confused whirl en masse that ends on the ground 
where it began, and often before the dead and wounded victims 
can be picked up. Celia Thaxter's lines on the little sandpiper 
charmingly describe its touching confidence. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Running nimbly along the mud and sand flats of beaches; 
over rocks slippery with seaweed; in marshes and dry, grassy 
inland meadows too; or dancing just in advance of the frothing 
ripples, where the waves break high on the sand, graceful and 
dainty in every movement they make, these tiny beach birds en- 
liven our waste places until November storms drive them south. 
Who cannot recall a walk along some beach made memorable by 
the cheerful companionship of these gay mites running and Hit- 
ting not far ahead and calling back peep, peep, in response to one's 
whistle } By far the most numerous waders that visit us, one can 
scarcely fail to find them, if not in scattered companies apart, then 
in flocks of their numerous relations. Usually they are busily, 
playfully gathering larvae, insects, worms, and tiny shell fish that 
may be picked off the surface or probed for, a quiet intruder not 
in the least interrupting their dinner. Startle them and they 
gather into a mass, whirling about, showing their backs as well 
as their under parts, and with much shrill peeping; but their 
easily restored confidence soon returns, and they again alight on 
the good feeding ground, though it may not be a rod away. 

The Semipalmated (half webbed) Sandpiper, or Sand Ox-eye, 
also known as Peep {Ereunetes pusillus), scarcely more than 
a half inch longer than the least sandpiper, and so like it in plu- 
mage and habit it may scarcely be distinguished from it in a flock 
where these two cousins mingle, has its toes half webbed, its 
diagnostic feature. Those who refuse to shoot birds in order to 
name them will have some difficulty here. Possibly this sand- 
piper keeps closer to the water than its little double that is often 
found in the meadows. Both birds are so frequently seen chasing 
out after the waves, to pick up the tiny shell fish, worms, etc., 
they uncover, and more rapidly being chased in by them as the 
foam curls around their slender legs, that it is impossible to think 
of either as anything but beach birds. They are marvelously ex- 
pert in estimating the second they must run from under the comb- 
ing wave about to break over their tiny heads; but if the rushing 
waters threaten a deluge, up they fly, flitting just above the foam- 
ing ripples until they subside, leaving a harvest behind. The 
semipalmated sandpiper swims well when lifted off its feet by 
an unexpected breaker, or when wounded in the wing. 


;/ \>:- 

kX«>""W* *'" 


<< '■■ 

..i;^A "v cj» * J 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

The Western Semipalmated Sandpiper {Ereunetes occident- 
alis), the representative of the preceding species west of the Mis- 
sissippi, differs from it in having the plumage of its upper parts 
more distinctly chestnut red, the breast more heavily streaked, and 
the bill a trifle longer; but neither species differs perceptibly in 
habits from the least sandpiper, and neither one is larger than an 
English sparrow. 

Red-backed Sandpiper 

(Trittga alpina pacifica) 


Length— S to 9 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Chestnut red streaked with black 
above, many feathers tipped with white; lower back and 
upper tail coverts blackish ; wing coverts and tail feathers 
brownish gray; breast whitish streaked with dusky; under 
parts white, with a large black patch in the middle. (Summer 
dress worn early and late.) In winter : Upper parts brown- 
ish or ashy gray; under parts white or grayish, sparingly 
streaked; the sides sometimes spotted with black. Bill long, 
black, and curved downward; legs and feet black. Imma- 
ture birds have the blackish feathers of upper parts with 
rounded tips of chestnut or buff; the breast washed with 
buff and indistinctly streaked; white underneath, spotted 
with black. 

Range — North America; nesting in the Arctic regions, wintering 
from Florida southward. A few remain farther north in 
sheltered marshes. Rare inland; common coastwise. 

Season — Transient visitor; April, May; August to October. 

Never far from the sand bars and mud flats exposed at low 
tide, or the salt water marshes back of the beaches, flocks of these 
red-backed sandpipers, that are not always clad in their winter 
feathers when they come to spend the autumn on our shores, 
pursue the daily round of duties and pleasures common to their 
tribe. It is not an easy matter, even to one well up in field 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

practice, to name the multitudinous sandpipers on sight, since 
their plumage, never bold or striking, often differs greatly with 
age and season, making the task even more difficult than that of 
correctly naming every warbler. But the long, decurved bill of 
this sandpiper offers the surest clue to its identity at any time. 

With this bill the sand worms are dragged forth from their 
holes and the tiny shell fish from the depths in which they have 
buried themselves at low tide. It appears to be quite as sensitive 
in feeling after food as a snipe's. Or it will be used to pick 
morsels from the surface and to seize insects on the wing in the 
salt meadows. Usually these sandpipers keep close together in 
their feeding grounds and during flight, offering all too tempting 
a chance for a pot shot. Because they are unsuspicious from 
passing so much of their lives in Arctic desolation, unmolested 
by men, dogs, and guns, their gentle confidence passes for stupid- 
ity here. Is it through stupidity or some higher trait that the 
survivors of a fiock, just raked by a bayman, return immediately, 
after a hurried, startled whirl, to the spot where their companions 
lie dead or wounded and helpless, calling forth a pity in them 
not shared by the man behind the gun, who, with another dis- 
charge, rakes the survivors ? One inveterate old reprobate on 
Long Island proudly exhibited over fifty of these and pectoral 
sandpipers that had been feeding with them, as victims of only 
three shots. 

In the spring, when lively impulses move all birds to in- 
teresting performances, these dunlins, as our English cousins call 
them, go through some beautiful wing manoeuvres calculated to 
inspire admiration in the speckled breast of the well beloved. 
"As the lover's suit approaches its end," to cite an author quoted 
by Mr. D. G. Elliot, "the handsome suitor becomes exalted, and 
in his moments of excitement he rises fifteen or twenty yards, and 
hovering on tremulous wings over the object of his passion, pours 
forth a perfect gush of music until he glides back to earth ex- 
hausted, but ready to repeat the effort a few minutes later. 
Murdoch says their rolling call is heard all over the tundra every 
day in June, and reminds one of the notes of the frogs in New 
England in spring." Up at the far north, where the love making 
and nesting are commenced by the first day of summer — for the 
birds make a very short stay here in spring — the males utter "a 
musical trilling note, which falls upon the ear like the mellow 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

trickle of large drops falling rapidly into a partly filled vessel." 
Three or four precocious chicks, that have emerged from pale 
bluish white or buff shells heavily marked with chocolate, run 
about the tundra with their still devoted parents in June, and are 
able to fly expertly in July, when the first migrants reach our 


(Calidris arenaria) 


Length — 7 to 8 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer: Upper parts varied blackish 
brown, reddish chestnut, and grayish white, most feathers 
tipped with the latter; wing coverts ashy brown, broadly 
tipped with white, making a bar across wings; tail brownish 
gray, margined with white, the outer feathers nearly white; 
throat and breast washed with pale cinnamon and spotted 
with blackish; other under parts, immaculate white. Bill, 
about as long as head, stout, straight, black; broader at the 
tip than at its slightly concave centre. Feet with three 
toes only; no hind toe; scales of tarsus transverse. In 
■winter : The chestnut in upper plumage replaced by gray, or 
mixed with brown and gray in the spring; under parts pure 
white. Immature birds in autumn lack the chestnut tint 
and are more evenly mottled; brownish ash or blackish and 
white above, pure white below; rarely with a spot on breast. 

Range — Nearly cosmopolitan, nesting in the Arctic regions or 
near them; south in winter as far as Chile and Patagonia. 

Season — Spring and autumn visitor; March to June; September, 

Commonest of the beach birds everywhere, the sanderlings 
— for it is impossible to think of them except in flocks — run 
about like a company of busy ants on our coast and sometimes 
inland too, near large bodies of water that are followed in the 
migrations. Gleaning from the sand fiats with an eagerness 
suggesting starvation, their heads pushed forward, alert, nimble- 
footed, nervously quick in every movement, the birds' every 
energy while with us appears to be concentrated on the business 
of picking up a living as if they never expected to see food again. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Among the semipalmated, the least, and other sandpipers they 
often hunt with, sanderlings may be readily picked out by the 
attitude of the head and their fearful eagerness. Impressions of 
their three toes (a plover characteristic) in the wet sand, at low 
tide, cover a good feeding ground like fret work. Chasing out 
after the receding breakers, picking up the minute shell fish, ma- 
rine insects, shrimps, seeds of sedges, etc., strewn over the flats, 
the active little troop outstrips the frothing waves on the back- 
ward race with marvelous agility. Rarely, indeed, does the 
curling foam reach the immaculate white under plumage; no 
combing breaker ever drenches the sanderlings unawares, how- 
ever absorbing their dinner appears to be; yet deep water has no 
terrors for them. Wading is a frequent diversion, and swimming 
becomes the safest resort for wounded birds. 

Bay men, who habitually carry guns and shoot at every- 
thing wearing feathers, tell you that sanderlings are wary little 
creatures, never so gentle and confiding as many sandpipers that 
may be raked from a few yards; but possibly if these men car- 
ried only field glasses, and kept up a reassunng peet-meet whistle 
as they slowly approached a busy flock — a possibility to make 
a longshoreman smile — the alleged timidity would be found to 
disappear and the birds to remain. Startle them, and rising and 
moving like one bird toward the sea, calling shrilly as they fly, 
on they go along the coast line no further than a few hundred 
yards, their bodies turning and twisting in the air, their under 
parts glistening where the sunlight strikes them. Instantly, on 
alighting, the flock begins to feed again. Follow these birds to 
Florida in winter, and one finds apparently the same ones still 
feeding. Captain Feilden, the naturalist in General Greely's 
Arctic expedition, reported sanderlings in flocks of knots and 
turnstones, and a nest in latitude 82° 33' north. It was on a gravel 
ridge above the sea, and the eggs (three or four light olive brown, 
finely spotted and speckled with darker) were deposited in a 
slight depression among ground willow plants, the lining of the 
nest consisting of a few withered leaves and dry catkins. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Marbled Godwit 

(Limosa fedoa) 


Length — 16 to 22 inches; largest of the shore birds except the 
long-billed curlew. 

Male and Female — General impression of plumage pale, dull 
chestnut red barred and varied with black. Head and neck 
pale buff streaked with black; entire upper parts reddish 
buff, irregularly barred with black or dusky; throat white; 
rest of under parts pale reddish buff, the strongest shade 
under wings; wavy dark brown lines on all feathers except 
on centre of abdomen, which is pale buff. Long bill, curving 
slightly upward, flesh colored at base, blackening near the 
tip; long legs, ashy black. Female larger. Immature birds 
are similar, but lack most of the brown lines on under parts. 

Range — Temperate North America; nesting in the interior chiefly 
from the upper Mississippi region north to the Saskatchewan ; 
wintering in Cuba, Central and South America ; rare on 
Atlantic coast. 

Season — Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant in United States; 
May; August to November. 

Conspicuous by its size and coloration among the waders, 
the great marbled godwit might be confused only with the long- 
billed curlew at a distance where the slight curve upward of the 
godwit's bill and the pronounced downward curve of the cur- 
lew's could not be noted. It is not the intention of the godwit to 
give anyone a near view of either plumage or bill. The most 
stealthy intruder on its domains — salt or fresh water shores, 
marshes, and prairie lands — startles it to wing; its loud, whistled 
notes sound the alarm to other marlins hidden among the tall 
sedges, and the entire flock flies off at an easy, steady pace, not 
rapid, yet not to be overtaken afoot. A beautiful posture, common 
to the plovers, curlews, terns, and some other birds, is struck just 
as they alight. Raising the tips of the wings till they meet high 
above the back, the marlins suggest the favorite attitude of angels 
shown by the early Italian painters. 

Devoted to their companions, as most birds of this order are, 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

the godwits lose all shyness and caution when some members 
of the flock that have been wounded by the gunner, cry out for 
help. Unwilling to leave the place, and hovering round and round 
the spot where a dead or dying comrade lies, they seem to forget 
their fear of men and guns, now replaced by a sympathy that risks 
life itself. Just so they hover about a nest and cry out sharply in 
the greatest distress when it is approached, until one feels ashamed 
to torment them by taking a peep at the four clay colored eggs, 
spotted, blotched, and scrawled over with grayish brown, where 
they lie in a grass lined depression of the ground. The nests 
are by no means always near water; several seen in Minnesota 
were in dry prairie land. 

The marlin feels along the shore somewhat as an avocet 
does, its sensitive bill thrust forward almost at a horizontal, as 
touch aids sight in the search for worms, snails, small crustaceans, 
larvae, and such food as may be picked off the surface or probed 
for as the bird walks along. Suddenly it will stop, thrust its bill 
into the mud or sand up to the nostrils, and, snipe fashion, feel 
about for a worm that has buried itself, but not escaped. Stand- 
ing on one long leg, the other somehow concealed under the 
plumage, the neck so drawn in it seems to be missing from the 
marlin's anatomy, the bill held at a horizontal — this is a charac- 
teristic attitude whether the bird be standing knee deep in the 
water, or among the prairie grass. 

The Hudsonian Godwit, Ring-tailed Marlin, White-rumped, 
Rose-breasted, or Red-breasted Godwit {Linwsa hcvmastica), 
while it resembles the preceding in habits, differs from it in 
length, which is about fifteen inches, and in plumage, which is 
as follows: Upper parts black or dusky; the head and neck 
streaked with buff, the back barred or mottled with it; upper 
tail coverts white (conspicuous in flight), the lateral coverts tipped 
or barred with black ; the tail black, with a broad white base and 
narrow white tip; throat buff streaked with dusky; the under 
parts chestnut red barred with black, and sometimes tipped with 
white. This bird, not so rare on the Atlantic coast as its relative, 
is nevertheless not common either there or elsewhere in the 
United States. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Greater Yellowlegs 

(Tot anus melanoleucus) 


Length — 13 to 14 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dark ashy speckled with white; the 
head and neck streaked; the back and wings spotted; space 
over eye and the throat white; tail dusky, with numerous 
white bars; the white breast heavily spotted with black; sides 
barred ; underneath plain white. (Winter and immature birds 
have the upper parts more ashy or gray, and almost black 
in summer, and the markings on sides and breast fade in 
autumn.) Bill two inches long or over; long, slender, yellow 

Raiige — America in general, nesting from Iowa and northern Illi- 
nois northward, and wintering from the Gulf states to Pata- 

Seasoti — Chiefly a spring and autumn visitor; April, May; July to 

A "flute-like whistle, when, zvheu-wheu-wheu-wheu, wheu, 
wheu-wheu," familiar music to the sportsmen in the marshes, tells 
the tale of the yellowlegs' whereabouts; and a responsive whistle, 
calling down the noisy, sociable birds to the wooden decoys even 
from a greater height than their bodies may at first be seen, or 
bringing them running from the muddy feeding grounds to their 
supposed friends, lures them close enough to the blind for a pot 
shot. Consternation seizes the survivors; they fly upward and 
jostle against each other; they dart now this way, now that, crying 
shrilly as they blunder upward in a zigzag course; but calming 
their fears as the whistle from behind the blind reassures and 
entreats, down wheel the confiding innocents again, only to be 
stretched beside their stiffening companions at a second discharge 
of the gun. So this alleged sport goes gaily on through the 
autumn, although no one on the Atlantic coast, at least, raves over 
the sedgy flavor of the stone snipe's flesh, or often tries to give 
a better reason for bagging the birds than that they frighten off 
the ducks! In the west the flesh is more truly desirable. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Noisy, hilarious chatterers, their shrill notes, four times re- 
peated, coming from an entire flock at once, after the manner of 
old squaws, these tattlers, that are always inviting kindred flocks 
to join theirs, excite other birds to restless habits like their own, 
and keep themselves well advertised in the marshes and about the 
bays and estuaries where they feed. Yet they are exceedingly 
vigilant in spite of their noise, and are the first to pass an alarm. 
It is only by screening oneself behind a blind, and whistling the 
birds within range of nothing more formidable than a field glass 
and a camera, that the altruistic bird hunter may hope to study 
the wary fellows. As a flock whirls about in wide, easy circles 
before alighting, they appear to be yellow legged white birds. 
Before actually touching the ground with their dangling feet, the 
wings are flapped, then raised above the back to a point where 
they meet — a posture suggesting a scorn of earth — then they are 
softly folded into place. As the bird walks, it carries itself with 
a stately dignity, yet the long bill turned inquisitively from side to 
side detracts not a little from the general impression of elegance. 
Wading up to its breast in shallow waters, or running nimbly 
over the sand flats and muddy beaches, the yellowleg keeps its 
bill almost constantly employed dragging worms, snails, and 
small shell fish from their holes, probing for others, and picking 
up tiny crustaceans swimming along the surface of the water or 
crawling over the beach. 

It is a long excursion from Labrador to the Argentine Re- 
public, yet birds hatched at the end of June at the north reach 
South America in October, leaving again in March, and so enjoy 
perpetual summer. 


( Tot anus flavipes) 


Length — lo to \2 inches. 

Male and Female — Coloration precisely as in the greater yellow- 
legs. This bird is to be distinguished only by its smaller 
size, and its proportionately longer legs. 




Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

J?fl«^^— North America at large, nesting from the northern states 

to the Arctic regions; wintering from the Gulf states to 

Season — Chiefly a spring and autumn visitor; more abundant in 

autumn; rarely a summer resident; April, May; July to 


The haunts, habits, and noisy voices of the two species of 
yellowlegs are so nearly identical, like their plumage, that a 
description of them would be simply a repetition of the larger 
bird's biography. From the fact that some of these birds nest 
within the United States limits, they have been called summer yel- 
lowlegs; but the great majority act precisely as their larger double 
does, and so have earned only diminutives of its popular names. 
In the Mississippi region the lesser telltale is far more common 
than in the east, but it is still abundant on the Atlantic coast in 
the autumn migrations, at least; and it is supposed to be every- 
where a commoner bird than the greater yellowlegs. Possibly 
this smaller tattler responds more readily to the whistling down 
method of enticing a flock to decoys, but the experiences of indi- 
vidual sportsmen differ greatly in this as in most matters. 

Solitary Sandpiper 

(Totanus soLitarius) 



Length — 8 to 9 inches. 

Male and Female — In summer : Upper parts dingy olive with a 
greenish tinge, streaked on the head and neck, and finely 
spotted on the back with white; tail regularly barred with 
black and white, the white prevailing on the outer feathers; 
primaries and edge of wing blackish; underneath white, 
shaded with dusky and streaked on sides of throat and 
breast; sides and wing linings regularly barred with dusky. 
Long, slender, dark bill; legs dull green, turning black after 
death. //; winter : Similar, but upper parts more grayish 
brown and the markings everywhere less distinct. 

Range — North America, nesting occasionally in northern United 
States, but more commonly northward, and migrating south- 
ward in winter to Argentine Republic and Peru. 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

Season — Spring and autumn visitor; April, May; July to Novem- 
ber. Rarely a summer resideiit. 

A lover of woods, wet meadows, and secluded inland ponds, 
in the lowlands or the mountains rather than the salt water 
marshes and sand flats of the coast that most of its kin delight in, 
the wood tattler is a shy recluse, but not a hermit. At least a 
pair of birds are usually seen together, representatives of small 
flocks scattered over the neighborhood, but generally hidden in 
the underbrush. As compared with most other sandpipers that 
move in compact flocks and are ever inviting other waders to 
join them, this species is certainly unsocial; but to call it soli- 
tary implies that it is a misanthrope like the bittern, which 
no one knew better than Wilson, who named it, that it is not. 
"It is not a morose or monkish species, shunning its kind," 
says Mr. D. G. Elliot, "but is frequently met with in small com- 
panies of five or six individuals on the banks of some quiet pool 
in a secluded grove, peacefully gleaning a meal from the yielding 
soil or surface of the placid water. As they move with a sedate 
walk about their chosen retreat, each bows gravely to the other, 
as though expressing a hope that his friend is enjoying most 
excellent health, or else apologizing for intruding upon so charm- 
ing a retreat and such select company." Dainty, exquisite, 
graceful, exceedingly quick in their movements, their chief fault 
is in keeping out of sight so much of the time — the characteristic 
that preserves their delicate flesh from overloading game bags. 
Penetrate to their retreats, and they prefer running into the 
underbrush rather than expose their neat figures and speckled 
plumage by skimming over the pond. Sit down on the bank, 
and perhaps some dapper little fellow will pay no attention to 
your motionless figure and pursue his own concerns. He will run 
nimbly along the margin of the water, snapping at insects and 
caterpillars here and there, or, rising lightly in the air, seize a 
small dragonfly on the wing. He may go lightly over the lily- 
pads, rail fashion, half flitting with his wings, half running to keep 
himself from sinking, or wade up to his breast with measured 
steps, heron fashion, and remain fixed there, waiting for the small 
coleoptera to skip along the surface within range of his bill. This 
species appears to eat comparatively few snails, worms, and 
crustaceans, and a preponderance of insect fare. Its low, musi- 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc, 

cal whistle is rarely heard here, but the South Americans see the 
propriety of calling this bird a tattler. 

Although the solitary sandpiper is known to make its nest 
in the United States, so cleverly does it conceal it, only a 
single clutch of eggs has ever been found, so far as known, 
the one taken by Richardson near Lake Bombazine, Vermont, in 
May, 1878. Dr. Brewer described the eggs as light drab, with 
small rounded brown markings, some quite dark, nowhere con- 
fluent, and at the larger end a few faint purplish shell marks. 


(Symphemia semipalmata) 


Length — About 16 inches. 

Male and Female — hi summer: Upper parts brownish gray, streaked 
on the head and neck with black; the back barred across with 
black, which sometimes give the prevailing tone ; a large white 
space on wings, half the primaries and the greater part of 
secondaries being white ; upper tail coverts white, indistinctly 
barred with dusky; central tail feathers ashy, indistinctly 
barred with dusky; the outer feathers almost white, and mot- 
tled with gray. Under parts white; the fore neck heavily 
streaked; the breast and sides washed with buff and heavily 
barred with dusky; wing lining sooty. Bill long and dark; 
legs bluish gray; the toes partly webbed (semipalmate). In 
winter: Upper parts a lighter brownish gray, nearly if not 
altogether unmarked; the tail coverts white; below white 
shaded with gray on throat, breast, and sides; axillars black- 
ish. A great variety of intermediate stages. 

Range — Eastern temperate North America, nesting throughout its 
United States range, but rarely north of Long Island or Illi- 
nois; resident in southern states, and wintering southward 
to West Indies and Brazil. 

Season — Summer resident or spring and autumn visitor; May; 
August and September. 

Pill-will-willet, pill-will-wUIet, loudly whistled from the tide 
or fresh water marshes, leaves no doubt in the sportsman's mind as 
to what bird is sounding the alarm to better game and startling 
every throat and wing in the neighborhood to action. Wary, 
restless, noisy, no one may approach this large tattler, however 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

well protected in the spring, at least (as every bird should be), un- 
der the wing of the law; neither will it come to a decoy easily, 
nor permit itself to be whistled down to the stools, unlike the 
majority of its too confiding kin. But however distrustful of 
man, it is not unsocial, since we often see it in companies of other 
beach birds that evidently depend upon its office as sentinel. Morn- 
ing, noon, and night its voice is loudly in evidence, until one tires 
of hearing its persistent whistle. Within a stone's throw of a 
summer cottage on the New Jersey coast, a decidedly wide-awake 
call came from the marsh every hour between sunset and sunrise. 

But love, the magician, works wonders with this noisy, dis- 
trustful bird, and a radical if temporary change comes over it 
during the nesting season. "They cease their cries," says Dr. 
Coues, "grow less uneasy, become gentle, if still suspicious, and 
may generally be seen stalking quietly about the nest. When 
willets are found in that humor — absent minded, as it were, ab- 
sorbed in reflection upon their engrossing duties, and unlikely to 
observe anything not in front of their bill — it is pretty good evi- 
dence that they have a nest hard by. During incubation, the bird 
that is 'off duty ' (both birds are said to take turns at this) almost 
always indulges in reveries, doubtless rose tinted . . . and 
the inquiring ornithologist could desire no better opportunity to 
observe every motion and attitude." 

A nest in the Jersey marsh already mentioned was nothing 
more than a depression in a dry spot of ground, containing four 
pale olive brown eggs spotted with a darker shade and rich pur- 
plish brown. This nest, among the thick sedges, was reached by 
a sort of tunnel among the grasses, entered some little distance 
away by the sitting bird. Neither parent had forgotten how to 
get scared or to make a noise the day that nest was visited; nor 
did other birds in the marsh fail to loudly protest their sympathy, 
not to say alarm, as they circled overhead in a state of painful ex- 
citement. Reassured that no harm had been done by a mere 
glance at the speckled treasures, the willets wheeled about lower 
and lower over the sedges, flashing the white wing mirrors in the 
sunlight before they alighted, and with wings held high above the 
back until they met, at last set foot to earth again, bowing their 
heads like reverent archangels as they struck this exquisite posture. 
Musical, liquid, tender notes, evidently a love song, float from 
the throat of the sentinel lover, walking up and down in absent- 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

minded happiness not many paces from the entrance to the grassy 
tunnel. None of the willets in that well populated marsh were 
ever caught in the act of swimming, though the partial webbing 
of their feet indicates that they must be able to swim well when 
necessary. A western representative of these birds, formerly con- 
founded with them, nests west of the Mississippi, and Mr. Will- 
iam Brewster discovered that it is a slightly larger bird, with a 
more slender, long bill, of paler coloration, and with less distinct 
bars and other marks. 

Bartramian Sandpiper 

(Bartraniia longicauda) 

Called also: UPLAND, or FIELD, or GRASS, or HIGHLAND 

Length — 1 1.50 to 12.7s inches; usually just a foot long. 

Male and Female — Upper parts blackish varied with buff, brown, 
and gray; the head and neck black streaked with buff, and 
a buff stripe through the eye; the back and the wing coverts 
dusky barred with buff, the lighter color prevailing on the 
nape and wings; outer primary olive brown barred with 
white, the others barred with black; lower back, rump, and 
central tail coverts brownish black; tail feathers brownish 
gray, the outer ones varying from orange brown to buff or 
white, all more or less barred with black, with a broad black 
band across the end, and white tips of increasing breadth. 
Under parts white, washed with buff on breast and sides, 
which are streaked or barred with black. Bill comparatively 
short, yellow, with black ridge and tip; feet dull yellow. 

Range — North America, chietly east of Rocky mountains and 
north to Nova Scotia and Alaska; nesting nearly throughout 
its North American range; wintering southward so far as 
Brazil and Peru. 

Season — Summer resident or migrant; April, July, August, Sep- 

It is in high, dry, grassy meadows, among the stubble in old 
pastures, in rustling corn fields and on the open plains, and not 
always near salt water, that the sportsman looks for this so called 
wader, more precious in his sight than any other small game bird 

229 I 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

except possibly the woodcock. Bob White, and Jack snipe. Few 
birds have been more tirelessly sought after; few that were ever 
abundant in New England and other eastern states have been so 
nearly exterminated there by unchecked, unintelligent, wanton 
shooting. It is to Kansas, Texas, and the great plains watered 
by the Missouri that one must now go to find flocks numbering 
even fifty birds, whereas our grandfathers once saw them in 
flocks of thousands on the Atlantic slope. Like the geese, 
ducks, and certain other birds that are exceedingly afraid of men 
and impossible to stalk afoot, this wary " plover" pays no atten- 
tion whatever to horses and cattle; hence shooting from a wagon 
is the common method of hunting it in some parts of the west 
to-day; and an unsuspicious flock, suddenly startled towing only 
when the wheels rumble beside it, soon fairly rains plover. Shot 
easily penetrates the delicate tender flesh unprotected by a dense 
armor of feathers such as generally saves a goose under similar 

Delicious as a broiled plover is, there is no true sportsman 
who will hesitate to admit that the graceful, slender, beautifully 
marked, sweet voiced bird is not vastly more enjoyable in life. 
A loud, clear, mellow, rippling whistle that softly penetrates to 
surprising distances, like the human voice in a whispering gallery, 
has an almost ventriloqual quality, and one never knows whether 
to look toward the clouds or among the stubble at one's feet for 
the musician. For liquid purity of tone can another bird note match 
this triplet ? At the nesting season, especially, a long, loud, weird 
cry, like the whistling of the wind, chr-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-e-oo-oo- 
00-00, as Mr. Langille writes it, may be heard even at night; the 
mournful sound is usually uttered just after the bird has alighted 
on the ground, fence, or tree, and at the moment when its wings 
are lifted, till they meet above its back. Everyone who has ever 
heard this cry counts it among the most remarkable sounds in all 
nature. The spirited alarm call, qiiip-ip-ip, quip, ip, ip, rapidly 
uttered when the bird is flushed in its feeding grounds, and 
still another sound, a discordant scream quickly repeated, that 
comes chiefly from disturbed nesting birds, complete the list of 
this tattler's varied vocal accomplishments. 

If this upland plover realized how perfectly the plumage on 
its back imitates the dried grass, it might safely remain motion- 
less and trust to the faultless mimicry of nature to conceal it. 


'^ri Jjile-bize. 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

As you look down from your saddle into a dry field, the sharpest 
eye often fails to see these birds squatting there until something 
(but not the horse) frightens them and a good sized Hock sur- 
prises you when it takes wing. Three or four sharply whistled 
notes ring in your very ears as the plovers mount. The swift 
flight is well sustained. Mere specks seem to float across the 
heavens, and were it not for the soft, clear rippling whistle that 
descends from the clouds, who would imagine that these birds so 
commonly seen on the ground would penetrate to such a height 
above it ? In the migrations along the coast and inland, serried 
ranks, flying high, cover immense distances daily. The pampas of 
the Argentine Republic hold flocks that have gathered on our own 
great plains, who shall say how soon after the journey was begun .^ 
On alighting, with their wings stretched high above their 
backs in plover fashion, these true sandpipers remain perfectly 
still for a minute, turning their slender necks now this way, now 
that, to reconnoitre, before they gracefully walk or run off to 
feed, bobbing their heads as if satisfied with the prospect as they 
go. They must devour grasshoppers by the million — another 
reason why they should be protected. In the nesting season, at 
least, the mates keep close together when feeding on berries and 
insects, that, however largely consumed, fail to fatten their slender 
bodies now. Anxiety, common to all true lovers and devoted 
parents, keeps them thin. A few blades of dry grass line the 
merest depression of the ground in some old field or open prairie 
that answers as a cradle for the four clay colored eggs spotted 
over with dark brown and clouded with purplish gray shell 
marks. Funny, top-heavy, fluffy little chicks tumble clumsily 
about through the grass in June. 

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) closely 
allied to the larger upland " plover," like it prefers dry fields and 
grassy prairie lands, although during the migrations it too is often 
met with on beaches on the coasts of both oceans. Its upper 
parts are pale clay buff, the centre of each feather black or dark 
olive; the inner half of the inner webs of the dusky primaries is 
speckled with black, a diagnostic feature; the longer inner wing 
coverts are conspicuously marked and tipped with black edged 
with white; the feathers of under parts are pale buff edged with 
white and indistinctly marked. A few of these migrants rest 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

awhile on the south shore of Long Island in the early autumn 
yearly. "They are an extremely active species when on the 
wing," writes Dr. Hatch, who studied them in Minnesota, "and 
essentially ploverine in all respects, seeking sandy, barren prairies 
where they live upon grasshoppers, crickets, and insects gener- 
ally, and ants and their eggs especially. 1 have found them 
repasting upon minute mollusks on the sandy shores of small 
and shallow ponds, where they were apparently little more sus- 
picious than the solitary sandpipers are notably. The flight is in 
rather compact form, dipping and rising alternately, and with a 
disposition to return again to the neighborhood of their former 
feeding places." "During the breeding season," says Mr. D. G. 
Elliot, "they indulge in curious movements, one of which is to 
walk about with one wing stretched out to its fullest extent and 
held high in the air. Two will spar like fighting-cocks, then 
tower for about thirty feet with hanging legs. Sometimes one 
will stretch himself to his full height, spread his wings forward 
and puff out his throat, at the same time making a clucking 
noise, while others stand around and admire him." 

Spotted Sandpiper 

(Actitis macularia) 



Length — 7. 50 inches. 

Male and Fe?nale — Upper parts an olive ashen color, iridescent, 
and spotted and streaked with black; line over eye and 
under parts white, the latter plentifully spotted with round 
black dots large and small, but larger and closer on the male 
than on the female, the smallest marks on throat; inner tail 
feathers like the back, the outer ones with blackish bars; 
secondaries and their coverts broadly tipped with white; 
some white feathers at bend of wing; white wing lining 
with dusky bar; other white feathers concealed in folded 
wing, but conspicuous in flight. Bill flesh colored or partly 
yellow, black tipped. Winlter birds are duller and browner 
and without bars on upper parts. 

i?a«g-^— North America to Hudson Bay, nesting throughout its 
range; winters in southern states and southward to Brazil. 

Season — Summer resident; April to September or October. 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

The familiar little spotted sandpiper of ditches and pools, 
roadside and woodland streams, river shores, creeks, swamps, 
and wet meadows — of the sea beaches, too, during the migrations, 
at least — quite as frequently goes to dry uplands, wooded slopes, 
and mountains so high as the timber line, as if undecided whether 
to be a shore or a land bird, a wader or a songster. Charming 
to the eye and ear alike, what possible attraction can a half dozen 
of these pathetically small bodies roasted and served on a skewer 
have to a hungry man when beefsteak is twenty cents a pound ? 
A thrush is larger and scarcely more tuneful, yet numbers of 
these little sandpipers are shot annually. 

Some quaint and ridiculous mannerisms, recorded in a large 
list of popular names, make this a particularly interesting bird to 
watch. Alighting after a short, low flight, it first stands still, like 
a willet, to look about; then making a deep bow to the spectator, 
you might feel complimented by the obeisance, did not the eleva- 
tion of the rear extremity turned toward you the next minute 
imply a withering contempt. Bowing first toward you, then 
from you, the teeter deliberately sea-saws east, west, north, south. 
This absurd performance, frequently and ever solemnly indulged 
in, interrupts many a meal and run along the beach. A sudden 
jerking up or jetting of the tail as the bird walks, like the solitary 
sandpiper, gives it a most curious gait, all the more amusing be- 
cause the bird is so small and evidently so self-satisfied. One 
rarely sees more than a pair of these sandpipers in a neighbor- 
hood which they somehow preempt, except at the migrations, 
when families travel together; but as two broods are generally 
raised in a summer, these family parties are no mean sized flock. 
Startle a "teeter snipe," and with a sharp, sweet peet-iveet, ■weet- 
weet, it flies off swiftly on a curve, in a steady, low course, but 
with none of the erratic zig-zags characteristic of a true snipe's 
motions, and soon alights not far from where it set out. A fence 
rail, a tree, or even the roofs of outbuildings on the farm have 
been chosen as resting places. The peet-weets skim above the 
waving grain inland, their pendant, pointed wings beating 
steadily, and follow the same graceful curves that mark their 
course above the sea. 

In the nesting season, which practically extends all through 
the summer, this is a sand "lark" indeed. Soaring upward, 
singing as he goes, in that angelic manner of the true lark of Eng- 

Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

land, the male pours out his happiness in low, sweet peet-weets 
trilled rapidly and prolonged into a song; — cheerful, even ecstatic 
notes, without a trace of the plaintive tone heard at other 
times. A good deal of music passes back and forth from these 
birds a-wing. Fluffy little chicks run from the creamy buff 
shells thickly spotted and speckled with brown, as soon as 
hatched. The nest, or a depression in the ground, lined with dry 
grass, that answers every purpose, may be in a meadow or 
orchard, but rarely far from water that attracts worms, snails, and 
insects for the little family to feed on. This is the one sandpiper 
that we may confidently expect to meet throughout the summer. 

Long--billecl Curlew 

(Numeniiis longirostris) 


Length — 24 inches; bill of extreme length, about 6 inches, some- 
times 8 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts buff or pale rufous and black; 
the head and neck streaked; the back, wings, and tail barred 
or mottled with cinnamon, buff, and blackish; under parts 
buff; the breast streaked, and the sides often barred with 
black. Long, black bill, curved downward like a sickle; 
long legs and feet, dark. 

Range — Temperate North America; nesting in the south Atlantic 
states and in the interior so far as Hudson Bay, or mostly 
throughout its range; winters from Florida and Texas to the 
West Indies and Guatemala. 

Season — Summer resident in the interior; an irregular summer vis- 
itor on Atlantic coast north of the Carolinas ; migratory north- 
ward to the prairies of the great northwest. 

The extraordinary bill of the curlew, curving in the opposite 
direction from the avocet's, serves the same purpose, however, 
and drags small crabs and other shell fish that have buried them- 
selves in the wet sand, snails, larvae, and worms from their holes, 
the blades acting like a forceps. Beetles, grasshoppers, and flying 
food seized on the prairies; berries, and particularly dewberries, 
complete the curlew's menu. The entire bill so far as the nos- 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

tiils, notwithstanding its extreme length, often sinks through the 
soft sand or mud to probe for some coveted dainty. The curlew, 
the avocet, the sea parrot, and the skimmer vie with each other 
in possessing the queerest freak of a bill. 

Large flocks of curlews, flying in wedge-shaped battalions, 
like geese, with some veteran, a loud, hoarse whistler, in the lead, 
evidently migrate up our coast to the St. Lawrence and across 
Canada, to disperse over the broad prairies of the northwest. 
Not at all dependent on water, however truly their bills indi- 
cate that nature intended them for shore birds, they are quite as 
likely to alight on dry, grassy uplands as on the muddy flats of 
lower water courses. "Their flight is not rapid, but well sus- 
tained, with regular strokes of the wings," says Goss; "and 
when going a distance, usually high, in a triangular form, utter- 
ing now and then their loud, prolonged whistling note, so 
often heard during the breeding season. Before alighting, they 
suddenly drop nearly to the ground, then gather, and with a ris- 
ing sweep, gracefully alight." Flocks on their way south stop to 
rest awhile on Long Island any time from July to September. 

Wherever the curlew strays, its large size and unusual bill 
make it conspicuous. It is a shy and wary bird, impossible to 
stalk when feeding, but responsive to an imitation of its call, and 
coming readily to decoys. In the interior, sportsmen declare the 
flesh is well worth shooting ; but on the coast, north or south, even 
its odor is rank. Evidently there is a truly strong attachment be- 
tween members of the same flock, as there is among many sand- 
pipers, for the cries of wounded and dying victims draw the 
agonized sympathizers back to the spot where they lie, although 
a second discharge may bring them the same fate. 

Three or four clay colored eggs, shaped like a barnyard 
hen's, but spotted with fine marks of chocolate brown, are found 
in a depression of the ground. Great numbers of nests are made 
on the south Atlantic coast and also on the prairies of the north- 
west, a strange division of habitat indeed for young chicks. 

Whimbrel, Striped-head, and Crooked-bill, the Hudsonian 
Short-hilled or Jack Curlew (Numenius hudsoiiicus), with a bill 
only three or four inches long to bring the entire length of the 
bird to sixteen or eighteen inches, has blackish brown upper 
parts mottled with buff, most conspicuous on wing coverts; the 


Snipe, Sandpipers, etc. 

crown dusky brown, with a buflf central stripe; the rest of head, 
necl<, and under parts light buff; a brownish streak running 
through the eye, and the neck and breast spotted with brown. 
Flying up the Atlantic coast from Patagonia, the southern limits 
of its winter quarters, the Jack curlew sometimes loiters awhile in 
May on our mud flats and marshes before continuing in V-shaped 
flocks up to the south shore of the St. Lawrence (but not across 
it), then due north to Hudson Bay, where the nests are built. 
Evidently nesting duties are soon ended, for returning migrants 
commonly reach Long Island from July to October. No one has 
a good reason to give for shooting these birds, yet it is certain 
that whereas they were once abundant they are now almost rare. 

The Eskimo Curlew, Fute, Doe or Dough Bird, Short-billed 
or Little Curlew (Ntimeiiitis borealis); about thirteen inches long, 
its short, decurved bill measuring less than two and a half inches, 
has blackish brown upper parts spotted with buff; the crown 
streaked, but without the distinct central line that marks the 
head of the Jack curlew; the under parts buffy or whitish, the 
breast streaked; the sides and under wing coverts barred with 
black. En route from the Arctic regions, where it nests, to 
Patagonia, where it winters, this is a very common species at 
times. The prairie lands adjacent to the Mississippi, its favorite 
highway, hold "immense flocks" in August and later, it is 
said; but very few stragglers reach the Atlantic shores. Just as 
the Jack curlew scrapes acquaintance with the willet, godwit, 
and other sandpipers on our beaches, so this curlew associates 
with the upland "plover," the golden plover, and other birds of 
the interior in this country and on the pampas covered plains of 
the Argentine Republic. In the Barren Grounds and across the 
continent from Greenland to Behring Straits, the Eskimo curlew 
nests. Its whistle is less harsh and loud than its long-billed 
cousin's, but in their habits generally these three curlews are 



(Family Charadriidce) 

Black-breasted Plover 

(Charadrius squatarola) 


Length — ii to 12 inches. 

Male and Female — //; summer : Mottled black and white; the up- 
per parts black bordered with white; tail white barred with 
black; sides of head and neck and under parts black, except 
lower abdomen and under tail coverts, which are white; axil- 
lars (feathers growing from armpits) black. Short bill and 
the feet and legs black; a small hind toe. In winter : Simi- 
lar, except that upper parts are brownish gray lightly edged 
with white, and under parts are mixed black and white; but 
numerous intermediate stages occur, and the plumage is most 
variable. Immature birds have black upper parts, the head 
and neck streaked and the back spotted with buff or yellow 
brown; the breast and sides streaked with brownish gray. 

Range — Almost cosmopolitan; nests in Arctic regions, and win- 
ters from southern United States to the West Indies and 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant; May, June; August to Oc- 
tober; more abundant in autumn. 

Crescent shaped flocks of black-breasted plover, launched on 
a journey from one end of our continent to the other, come out of 
the south in May ; and following routes through the interior, as well 
as along the coasts, make short stops only on the way to nest 
in the Arctic regions. They are now restless, as most birds are in 
spring. Large and stout for plovers, distinctly black and white 
while the nesting plumage is worn, there is less danger of con- 



fusing them now than in the autumn migration, when immature 
birds, especially, so closely resemble the golden plover that it is 
only by noting this bird's small hind toe, which no other plover 
owns, and the black axillars, or feathers of its armpits, so to 
speak, where the golden plover is smoky gray, that the sports- 
man can positively tell which bird he has bagged, it has been 
said that these plovers migrate in wedge shaped ranks and lines 
like ducks and geese, which may often be the case, but not al- 
ways or usual, we think. A cresent shaped tlock, the horns point- 
ing sometimes forward, sometimes backward, seems to be the 
preferred form of flight. Long, perfect wings, a full, slow wing 
stroke, and a light body are a combination well calculated to 
discount distance. 

Arctic travellers have brought back clutches of three or four 
pointed eggs that vary greatly in color, ranging between light 
yellowish olive or dark to shades of brown spotted and speckled 
with rufous. They have also brought back a " yarn " — or is it a 
fact ? — about the males sitting on the nest and doing all the incu- 
bating, while the females enjoy Jiit de si'hie emancipation. 
Fluffy, precocious chicks hatched in June become expert flyers 
by July, and in August arrive in the United States with parents 
and friends in motley flocks, often no two birds of which are 
wearing precisely the same feathers. Having fed chiefly on ber- 
ries and grasshoppers at the north, autumn birds are counted good 
eating ; but as they have a decided preference for tide water flats 
and marshes where shrimps and other small marine creatures 
form their diet, the flesh soon becomes sedgy and unpalatable 
once they reach the coast. A quick strike at a particle of food 
about to be picked up makes these plovers appear greedy; how- 
ever, all their motions are quick and sudden. In running, espe- 
cially, are they nimble: a sprint of a few yards, a sudden halt to 
reconnoitre with upstretched heads, another quick run, then a 
pause, are characteristic movements of most plovers, just as squat- 
ting to conceal themselves is. 

Because so many young innocents which have no knowledge 
of men make up the autumn flocks, these respond quickly to de- 
coys and to an imitation of their clear, mellow whistle, that pene- 
trates to surprising distances from where the birds are circling high 
in air. Down they sail on motionless wings, apparently glad for 
any diversion in their aimless, roving life. Soft notes of content- 



merit uttered as they drift with decurved wings and dangling 
legs toward the decoys are soon silenced forever by a deadly 
report. Twenty years ago the black-breasted and the golden 
plovers were abundant on the Iowa and Illinois prairies in spring 
and fall, but they were pursued by sportsmen so relentlessly that 
now a flock is seldom seen in either state. The few birds that 
remain seem to have chosen some other route for their migra- 
tions, in order to escape the fusilades to which they were there 

American Golden Plover 

(Charadrius dominicus) 


Length — 10.50 inches. 

Male and Female — In Slimmer: Mottled upper parts black, green- 
ish, golden yellow, and a little white, the yellow in excess; 
tail brownish gray indistinctly barred with whitish; sides of 
breast white; other under parts and sides of head black; un- 
der wing coverts ashy gray. Bill and feet black. In winter : 
Upper parts and tail dusky, spotted or barred with yellow or 
whitish, the colors not so pure as in summer; under parts 
grayish white, purest on chin and abdomen; the throat and 
sides of head streaked ; the breast and sides of neck and 
body mottled with dusky grayish brown ; legs dusky. 
Immature birds resemble winter adults; also hke black- 
breasted plovers; but the grayish axillars and the lack of a 
fourth toe sufficiently distinguish this species from the pre- 
ceding, however variable the plumage may be at different 

Range — North America at large; nests in Arctic regions; winters 
from Florida to Patagonia. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant; May; August to Novem- 

Golden grain, golden rod, golden maple leaves, and golden 
plover all come together; the birds not so yellow, it is true, as 
they were in the spring, when they gave us only a passing 
glimpse of their clearer, more intense speckled plumage, but still 
yellow enough to be in harmony with nature's autumnal color 



scheme. Indeed, they blend so well with their surroundings as to 
be all but invisible. Usually the under parts of birds are light col- 
ored to help make them inconspicuous on the wing; but the black 
markings on this and the preceding plovers are notable excep- 
tions. High above the corn and buckwheat, the stubble, the 
burned and ploughed fields of the interior, or the level stretches 
of grass far back of the beaches, the sandy dunes, and flats bared 
at low tide along the coast, come the plovers in crescent-shaped 
flocks, now massed, now scattered, now rising, now dipping, the 
wings tremulous with speed, and swinging round in a circle at 
sight of a feeding ground to their liking. With soft, trilled 
mellow whistles rippling from their throats, the birds drift down- 
ward on set, decurved wings, and skim low before alighting. 
For an instant, as their dangling legs touch the ground, they raise 
their wings high above their backs until they meet, then slowly fold 
them against their sides. Now they scatter, and running nimbly 
and gracefully hither and thither, check themselves suddenly 
from time to time, raise their heads and look about to reconnoitre. 
Every motion is quick; they strike at a particle of food as if 
about to take a dive loon fashion, then run lightly on again, soon 
returning to the same spot if driven off. A hasty run must be 
taken, even when frightened, before the plovers spring into the 
air. A flock has a curious way of standing stock still at an 
alarming noise, before starting to run. When they squat and 
hide behind tufts of beach grass, it takes sharp eyes to detect 
birds from sand. 

But even without apparent alarm, the scattered birds often rise 
as if summoned by some invisible and inaudible captain, and 
fly close along the ground, wheeling and dashing and skimming 
in beautiful and intricate evolutions. Such a flock offers all too 
easy a side shot. In "the good old days" of carnage that are 
responsible for the scarcity of this fine game bird to-day, it often 
rained plover when the gunners were abroad. This latter phrase 
suggests the query : What connection of ideas is there between 
pluvia (rain) and plover derived from that word } An early 
French writer, Belon (1555), speaking of the European species, of 
course, says "Pourcequ'on le prend mieux en temps plurieux 
qu'en nuUe autre saison ;" but with us the birds are, if any- 
thing, wilder and less approachable in rainy weather than when 
it is fine. Is it that their backs look as if they had been sprinkled 





.1 ^^ 








-■ '.1 

."* ■ > 


with rain drops ; or that they whistle more before storms, as 
their German name (Regempfeifer) would imply; or that the east 
wind that brings rain, blows tlocks of these migrants in from sea ? 

Golden plovers, once so plentiful and confiding that they came 
near enough to the plough for the farmer's boy to strike and kill 
with his whip, were sold in the Chicago streets for fifty cents a 
hundred within the memory of many, and those not the oldest 
inhabitants. Dead birds propped up with sticks when the 
wooden decoys from city shops were not available ; a dried pea 
rattling about in a hollow reed to imitate the mellow coodle, coodle, 
coodle of the plover's melodious call, allured the birds within easy 
range of every farm hand's antediluvian musket. 

Plovers' visits depend much on weather, a clear, fine day 
inviting a long, unbroken flight far out at sea during the autumn 
migration ; whereas lowering weather, especially an easterly 
storm, drives the birds to the coast, where, flying low, a warm 
reception of hot shot usually awaits them from behind blinds. 
Grassy level stretches and pasture lands back of the beaches, 
rather than sandy places, attract them, since land insects, grass- 
hoppers particularly, and worms are what they are ever seeking. 
In the autumn migration, at least, the great majority of plovers 
follow the coast, sometimes closely, sometimes far at sea, so far 
that many flocks on their way to South America pass to the east 
of Bermuda. Long, perfect wings and light bodies enable them 
to cover immense distances without resting. While no fixed 
route appears to be followed in spring, possibly the birds show 
a preference then for the freshly-ploughed inland fields where 
food, winged, crawling, and in the larval state, abounds. 

Among all the gaily dressed, tuneful lovers that visit us in 
May, few are handsomer and more charming in voice and man- 
ner than this melodious whistler. Further north he breaks into 
a long serenade, sung chiefly in the short Arctic night : tee-lee-lee, 
tu-lee-leeucit, wit wit, wee-ii--wi1, chee-lee-u-too-lee-ee, as described 
by Wilson, who followed these plovers to Behring Sea until he 
found their nest, that so few know. A depression among the 
grass or moss, lined with fine grasses and dried leaves, usu- 
ally cradles four yellowish eggs covered over with dark red- 
dish brown spots ; but in the eggs, as in the plumage of the 
plovers, there is great variation. Birds that lay pointed eggs, as 
plovers do, arrange the narrow ends toward the centre of the 



nest that they may be the better covered ; and rumor says these 
emancipated females leave all the incubating to the males. 


(/Egialitis vocifera) 


Length — 9.50 to 10.50 inches. About the size of the robin. 

Male and Female — Grayish brown washed with olive above ; the 
forehead, spot behind eyes, throat, a ring around the neck, 
a patch on wing, a band across breast, and underneath, white; 
front of crown, cheeks, a ring around neck, and a band across 
breast, black; lower back and base of tail chestnut; inner 
tail feathers like upper parts; outer feathers chestnut and 
white, all with subterminal band of black tipped with white. 
Bill black; legs light; eyelids red. 

Range — Temperate North America to Newfoundland and Mani- 
toba; nests throughout range; winters usually south of New 
England to Bermuda, the West Indies, Central and South 

Season — Resident, March to November, or later ; most abundant 
in spring and autumn migrations. 

A certain corn field used to be visited daily by an aspiring 
ornithologist, aged nine, for a peep at four little yellowish white 
eggs, spotted and scrawled with chocolate brown, that were laid 
directly on the ground, without so much as a blade of grass to 
cradle them. Every visit threw the old birds into a panic, which, 
of course, was part of the fun anticipated in making the visit. 
Kildeer, killdeer, dee, dee, they called incessantly as they whirled 
about overhead and screamed in the child's ears; but still the eggs 
were relentlessly fondled, while the mother now frantically ran 
about, dragging her wings beside her, pretending to be lame; now 
sprang into the air and dashed about every which way, as if mad. 
In spite of much handling, however, the eggs actually hatched; 
and what was the child's amazement after leaving them at nine 
o'clock one morning to return at ten and find eggs, birds, and even 
shells had disappeared! Later a brood of queer, top-heavy, long- 
legged, striped, and downy chicks was discovered running 



nimbly about the com field, feeding; but what they did with 
their eggshells ever remained a mystery. 

This common plover of pastures and cultivated fields, of lake- 
sides and marshes, or any broad tracts of land near water, that 
seems indispensable to its happiness, is in decided evidence be- 
cause of its wild, noisy cry even when we cannot see the bird; 
but the two black bands across its breast, its white forehead and 
red eyelids easily identify it whenever met. As a rule one sees 
flocks of these plovers only a-wing, for they scatter when 
feeding. Sometimes the lu'll-dce, kill-dee sounds low and sweet, 
with a plaintive strain in it; but let any one approach the bird's 
haunts, and the voice rises higher and shriller until it would seem 
the strident notes must soon snap the vocal cords. Cows, 
horses, sheep, and the larger poultry that wander over a farm do 
not alarm these birds in the least. In their presence they are 
gentle and almost tame, but a man is their abhorrence in regions 
where they have been persecuted; elsewhere they are not con- 
spicuously wild. Yet their flesh is musky and worthless from 
the point of view of the sportsman, who seldom wastes shot on 
it. A startled bird will run swiftly away rather than fly at 
first, stop occasionally to look back at the villain still pursuing 
it, crying complainingly all the while, and perhaps flutter in 
low, short flights to lure the intruder still farther away. But the 
killdeer, with its long, perfect wings, is a strong, steady high-flyer, 
however erratic and uncertain its flight may be when suddenly 
flushed by some innocent stroller taking a short cut through the 
pasture. Restless and full of fears, real or imaginary, there is 
scarcely an hour of the day or the night when its voice is not 
raised, until sportsmen have come to regard so keen a sentinel as 
a nuisance. Dr. Livingston met with a close kinsman of the 
killdeer in Africa that he described as "a most plaguey sort of 
public spirited individual that follows you everywhere, flying 
overhead, and is most persevering in his attempts to give fair 
warning to all animals within hearing to flee from the approach 
of danger." 

On the ground, where the killdeer spends most of its time, it 
moves about daintily, quickly, even nervously; for it never remains 
still except for the instant when it seems to gaze at an intruder 
with withering contempt. Since worms, that are its favorite food, 
come to the surface after sundown, this bird, like many others of 



similar tastes, is partly nocturnal in habits; but grasshoppers, 
crickets, and other insects take it abroad much by day. It mi- 
grates chiefly at night, the hilldeer, hildeer, resounding from the 
very stars. 

Semipalmated Plover 

(/Egialitis semipalmata) 


Length — 6.75 to 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English spar- 

Male and Female — Upper parts brownish gray ; front of crown, 
band across base of bill, sides of head below eye, and band on 
breast, that almost encircles the neck, black; forehead, throat, 
ring around neck, parts of outer tail feathers, and under parts 
white. Brownish gray replaces the black in winter plumage. 
Bill black, orange at base ; ring around eye bright orange ; 
yellow toes, webbed at the base. 

Range — North America at large; nesting from Labrador and 
Alaska northward to Arctic sea; winters from Gulf states to 
Bermuda, West Indies, Peru, and Brazil. 

Season — Spring and autumn migrant; April, May; July, August, 
September; most plentiful in late summer and early autumn. 

Closely associated with the friendly little sandpipers, these 
small plovers likewise haunt the beaches, their plumage in autumn 
being precisely the color of the wet sand they constantly run 
about on in small scattered flocks. When the tide goes out, 
their activities increase. Birds that have been hiding in the 
marshes and sand dunes now trip a light measure over the ex- 
posed sand bars and mud flats, leaving little tracks that may not 
be distinguished from those of the sand ox-eye or semipalmated 
sandpiper that hunts with them, although the plover has only 
three half webbed toes. The small, slightly elevated fourth toe 
of the ox-eye is only faintly evident at times in its tracks. 

Tiny forms chase out after the receding waves, running in 
just in advance of the frothing ripples that do not quite overtake 
them, although the plovers almost never spring to wing as sand- 
pipers do when a drenching threatens, but place all their trust in 
their fleet legs. With such feet as theirs, they must be able to 
swim; but who ever sees them in deep water.? More silent, too, 



■.if . ■ 
■ V' 


than sandpipers, it is chiefly when alarmed that two plaintive, 
sweet, but sometimes sharp notes escape them, whereas sand- 
pipers keep up their cheerful peep, peep, under all circumstances. 
Real danger summons the scattered flocks of ring-necks to wing 
into a compact mass that moves as if swayed by one mind ; but like 
most birds that nest too far north to become acquainted with 
murderous men, these gentle, confiding little plovers suspect no 
evil intentions and rarely fly away. Running to hide by squat- 
ting behind tufts of beach grass stills their small fears. 

In the interior, for an inland route is followed as well as a 
coastwise one, the ring-neck runs about the margins of small lakes 
or ponds, rivers and marshes, everywhere looking for worms, 
small bits of shell fish, eggs of fish, and insects; always alert and 
busy and hungry. General Greeley found these plovers still 
nesting in Grinnell Land early in July; yet by the end of the 
month stragglers from large flocks begin to arrive in the United 
States — a little journey to try the wings of fledgelings en route to 
Brazil. It is said the male arranges the small pear shaped buff 
eggs, spotted with chocolate, with the pointed end toward the cen- 
tre of the depression in the ground that answers as nest, the bet- 
ter to cover all four with his breast, for it is he who does most, if 
not all, of the incubating. Greenlanders, who have a longer 
opportunity to study this interesting little bird, say that it claps 
its wings before a storm and becomes strangely excited; but 
although it has the dainty habit of lifting its wings high above 
its back till they meet, on alighting, no excited clapping of them 
has been recorded here. This is the most abundant and most 
widely distributed of the ring-necks. 

Piping Plover 

C/Egialitis meloda) 

Called also : PALE RING-NECK 

Length — 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow. 
Male and Female — Upper parts very pale ash; forehead, ring 

around neck, and under parts white; front of the crown 

and a link of incomplete collar either side of breast, black; 

inner tail feathers dusky, the outer ones becoming white. 

In winter plumage the black is replaced by brownish ash. 



^a;/g-^— North America east of the Rockies ; nesting from coast of 
Virginia northward to Newfoundland; winters in West 

Season — Summer resident, March to September; most abundant 
in autumn migrations. 

Very slight differences in the habits of plovers that haunt our 
beaches have been noted by the most tireless students, and were 
it not for the piping plover's notes there would be nothing be- 
yond a reference to its stronger maritime preferences and more 
southerly nesting range to add to the account of the ring-neck. 
The piper, much lighter in color, is the lightest species that visits 
us. It nests among the shingle on our beaches from Virginia to 
Maine and beyond, where it is next to impossible to discover the 
finely speckled drab eggs that imitate the sand perfectly; and 
possibly because it does not pass half its year in Arctic seclusion, 
as some other plovers do, it is not quite so gentle and confiding 
as they — this is the sum of its peculiarities. Its pathetically small 
size, scarcely larger than that of an English sparrow, should be, 
but is not, a sufficient protection from the gun. 

"It cannot be called a 'whistler' nor even a 'piper' in an 
ordinary sense," says Mr. Langille. " Its tone has a particularly 
striking and musical quality. Oueep, queep, qtieep-o, or peep, 
peep, peep-Io, each syllable being uttered with a separate, distinct, 
and somewhat long drawn enunciation, may imitate its peculiar 
melody, the tone of which is round, full, and sweet, reminding 
one of a high key on an Italian hand-organ or the hautboy in a 
church organ." The sweet, low notes, it should be added, have 
an almost ventriloqual quality also, that often makes it difficult to 
locate the bird by the ear alone. 

Retiring to the dunes and meadows back of the beach only 
to sleep or rest when the tide is high, we most frequently see 
this active little sprite running nimbly along the wet sands, 
poking among the shells, chasing out after the waves, and hur- 
riedly picking up bits of food before being chased in by them, or 
flying above the crests short distances along the beach, usually to 
escape a deluge from the combing breakers. All its movements 
are alert, quick, graceful. At Muskegat, where this plover's nests 
are found among the terns', the plover loses little by comparison 
with those preeminently graceful birds. Around the great lakes 



scattered flocks are seen in the migrations chiefly; but it is on 
the secluded Atlantic beaches, comfortably distant from seaside 
resorts, that we find the piping plover most abundant. 

The Belted Piping Plover {/Egialitis meloda circumcincta), a 
western representative of the preceding, differs from it only in 
having the black links on the breast joined to form a band. 

The Mountain Plover {/Egialitis montana), a distinctly prairie 
bird, rather than a mountaineer, has grayish brown upper parts, 
the feathers margined with chestnut; the white under parts grow 
yellowish on breast, but without belt or patches; the front of the 
crown and the cheeks black. It is almost nine inches long. It 
has all the charming grace, quickness of motion, and winning 
confidence that characterize its clan. 

Wilson's Plover 

(/Egialitis wilsonia) 

Length — 7.50 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts ashy brown, tinged on nape and 
sides of head with chestnut ; forehead and under parts white, 
the white of throat passing around like a collar, and the 
white of forehead running backward in a line over each eye 
to nape; lores, front of crown, and a band across the breast 
black in male, brownish gray in female; inner tail feathers 
dark olive, the outer ones becoming white. Bill large, stout, 
and black; no colored eye ring; legs flesh colored. Imma- 
ture birds look like mother, but have upper parts margined 
with gray or white, more closely resembling dry sand, if 
possible, than do the adults. 

Range — America, nesting from Virginia southward; winters south 
to Central and South America; common on south Atlantic 
and Gulf beaches and California. 

Season — Summer resident; a few winter in the south. 

A beach bird in the strictest sense, Wilson's plover is never 
found inland, but close beside tide water on the mud flats that 
furnish a fresh menu at each ebbing; or on the dry sand beyond 
the reach of the surf, where its plumage, in wonderful mimicry of 
its surroundings, conceals it perfectly. In the short, sparse grass 



of the upper beaches, a brooding bird that knows enough to keep 
still in the presence of a passer-by, runs little risk of detection. 
The three clay colored eggs, evenly and rather finely spotted 
and speckled with brown, that are laid directly on the sand, 
require little incubating, however, beyond what the sunshine 
gives them ; but the parents never stroll so far away from their 
treasures that they may not return instantly danger threatens and 
run or swoop about the visitor, imploring retreat. Gentle, unsus- 
picious manners give these birds half their charm. Their grace 
of motion, another characteristic, suffers little by comparison with 
that of the terns not infrequently found nesting among them. 
On the ground all plovers excel in sprightliness; every move- 
ment is quick and free; and on the wing, also, these describe all 
manner of exquisite evolutions, half turning in the air to show now 
the upper, now the under side of the bodies; now sailing on 
long, decurved, motionless wings; now hovering an instant 
before alighting, stretching their wing tips high above the back — 
a beautiful posture that the terns have evidently copied. 

Quite closely resembling the semipalmated plover in plu- 
mage, this species may always be known by its large, heavy bill, 
the largest, in proportion to the size of the bird, any plover has, 
and by the absence of a bright eye ring that, with the partial 
webbing of its toes, are the ring-neck's diagnostic features. Small 
flocks of Wilson's plover reach Long Island every summer, but 
rarely touch the New England coast. The morsel of flesh on its 
plump little breast should seem not worth the hunting by healthy 
men, whose appetites need no coaxing. One who little under- 
stands the ways of gunners might think a bird smaller than a 
robin would suffer little persecution. 

Dr. Coues describes this plover's note as half a whistle, half a 
chirp, quite different from the other plovers' calls; but a plaintive 
quality can be detected in it, too, as in the voices of most beach 
birds, that reflect something of the mystery and sadness of the 
sea. In his lines to "The Little Beach Bird," that are appli- 
cable to a dozen species, Richard Henry Dana emphasizes the 
contrast between the joyous songs of land birds and the melan- 
choly, plaintive strains of those that live along the sea. 



(Family Aphri[idce) 


(Arenaria interpres) 


Length — 8. 50 to 9. so inches. A little smaller than a robin. 

Male and Female — In summer: Upper parts strangely variegated 
and patched with chestnut, black, brown, and white; base of 
tail white, the tail feathers banded with black and tipped 
with white; white band on wings; beneath, including wing 
linings, white; the throat and breast jet black divided by a 
white space. Black, short bill tapers to an acute tip, very 
slightly recurved; legs orange red; the small hind toe turns 
inward. The female has less chestnut and more plain brown 
on her upper parts, and the black lacks the lustre of jet. 
In winter: Upper parts blackish blotched with gray and brown 
or ashy brown, and lacking the chestnut feathers; the breast 
markings more restricted. 

Range — Nearly cosmopolitan; nests in Arctic latitudes and in the 
Western hemisphere; migrates to South America so far as 

Season — Irregular, transient visitor; April, May; August, Septem- 
ber, or later. 

With a bill curiously like a writing pen, this well named 
wader turns over pebbles, clods of mud, shells, and seaweed on 
the beaches more commonly about the foot of cliffs and in stony 
coves than on long, sandy stretches, ever looking for the small 
marine creatures that satisfy its appetite, particularly for the eggs 
of the horsefoot or king crab {Limulus polyphemiis), its favorite 
dainty. Often not only the head and bill must be used to push over 
a stone, but the breast assists too; ordinarily, however, the bird 



simply pokes its bill under a ligiiter object, and, giving its head a 
quisle jerk, turns over the roof under which some small prey 
thought itself secure, swallows the morsel, then runs off to the next 
shell to repeat the operation. Seaweed is simply tossed aside. 

Joseph's coat doubtless showed no more variegated patch- 
work than the turnstone's nesting plumage, which, however, 
differs greatly in individuals, scarcely any two of which have pre- 
cisely the same markings at any season. Because of this variety 
the early ornithologists believed there were several more distinct 
species of turnstones than actually exist. Other beach birds are 
mostly clad in soft tints that so blend with the sand we can 
scarcely distinguish them until they move; but the calico back, 
although small, is ever conspicuous, and possibly because it knows 
how hopeless concealment is, as compared with the confiding, 
gentle little sandpipers and plovers, it is shy and wild. 

Small companies of three or four, or family parties, run about 
the outer beaches with all the sprightliness of plovers, then stop 
suddenly to meditate, then run on again, pausing to turn over a 
shell now and then, but always active, and more ready to place 
dependence on their fleet legs than on their wings to distance a 
pursuer; yet when one goes too near, the turnstone rises, uttering 
a few twittering, complaining notes, flaps its wings quickly, 
sails low, and with a few more flaps and another sail soon alights 
at no great distance, to return to the point where it was flushed 
at its first opportunity. It is wonderfully patient and persistent 
about exhausting the resources of one feeding ground before 
looking for another. Wading about in a cove, it will sometimes 
deliberately seat itself in the water, just as it squats on a beach, 
and swim off easily to a safe distance across the inlet from the 

A bird that travels from Patagonia to the Arctic Circle to nest, 
. naturally is a fast, strong flyer, the frequent sailings after quick 
flaps of the wings resting them sufficiently to make long, unin- 
terrupted flights possible. General Greeley found turnstones as 
far north as he went, and reported that fledgelings which in 
late June had emerged from clay colored eggs (blotched and 
scrambled with grayish brown) were able to fly by the ninth of 
July. A few birds take an inland route during the migrations, 
and display their freaky feathers on the shores of the Great Lakes 
and larger rivers. 



(Family Hcematopodidcn) 

American Oyster-Catcher 

( Hcematopus palliatus) 



Length — 17 to 21 inches. 

Male and Female — Head, neck, and upper breast bkick; back and 
wings dark olive brown; greater wing coverts, base of sec- 
ondaries, sides of lower back, upper tail coverts, base of tail, 
and all under parts, white. Bill coral red, twice as long as 
head, compressed, almost like a knife-blade at end, but vary- 
ing in shape, owing to wear and tear; feet flesh colored; 
three toes united by a membrane to middle joint. 

Range — " Sea-coasts of temperate and tropical America, from New 
Jersey and Western Mexico to Patagonia; occasional or ac- 
cidental on the Atlantic coast north to Massachusetts and 
Grand Menan." A. O. U. 

Children brought up on " Alice in Wonderland " might imag- 
ine from the name of this bird that oysters are fleet-footed racers 
along our beaches, overtaken at the end of a breathless chase by 
the oyster-catcher! On the New Jersey coast and southward, but 
rarely farther north, we see (if we are cautious, far sighted-stalk- 
ers), this curious bird actually prying open shells of bivalves — oys- 
ters less commonly, however, than mussels and some others — 
and digging up fiddler crabs and worms that have buried them- 
selves in the soft sand, with a bill that is one of the most peculiar 
among bird tools. Long, stout at the base, but compressed like 
a knife blade at the end; often as worn and jagged as the opener 
seen at a Coney Island oyster stand ; sometimes bent sideways from 
severe wrenches; and bright coral red — this bill belongs in the 
same class of freaks as the bills of the avocet, skimmer, curlew, 



woodcock, and sea parrot. The oyster-catcher is a shy bird, con- 
stantly on the alert, and it is no easy matter to steal upon one close 
enough to watch it at work. Walking with stately dignity along 
the lower beach, striking its bill into the sand, often up to the nos- 
trils, suddenly it stops at a glimpse of an intruder, and with shrill 
notes of alarm springs into the air and is off, not in a short flight, 
as the confiding little plovers and sandpipers make, soon to return, 
but away down the beach, often out of sight. Another time you 
will have learned to rely on a powerful field glass to lessen the 
distance between you. 

But this bird, so quick to move out of harm's way, is a past 
master in the art of stealing upon bivalves unawares when they 
are lying about on the beaches with their shells open, and prying 
the shells apart until the delectable morsels are cut from them and 
swallowed. Whoever has had his finger pinched between mus- 
sel shells will not be surprised at the crooked, jagged blade the 
oyster-catcher often carries about. When the bird finds its bill 
hopelessly caught in a vise, it simply lifts the razor clam, " racoon 
oyster," or whatever its captor may be, knocks it against a rock 
until the shell is broken, and then feasts. Limpets are pried off 
rocks as if with a chisel. Again the oyster-catcher wades into 
the shallows for shrimps and other little marine creatures. No 
doubt it can swim well too, owing to the partial webbing of its 
toes; but rapid running and still more rapid flying usually make 
other accomplishments superfluous. With tough, unsavory flesh 
to save it from sportsmen's persecutions, it is a timid bird, never- 
theless. It does not live in large flocks; solitary, or with two or 
three companions only, it dwells far from the haunts of men and 
apart from those sociable beach birds that are too confiding for 
self-preservation. A striking, handsome wader on the ground, 
it is even more attractive as it flies with a few friends, showing 
its glistening white under parts as it wheels about overhead 
with great regularity of mancEuvre. Rapid wing beats and fre- 
quent sails make its flight strong, yet extremely graceful. A 
quick, shrill wheep, zvlieep, ■wheo, uttered on the wing as well as 
on the ground, voices the bird's various emotions. Birds of a 
migrating flock are said to keep together in lines like a mar- 
shalled troop, swayed by one mind, just as they appear to be 
when wheeling over the beach on pleasure bent. 

Like gulls, terns, skimmers, and other beach nesters, the oys- 

2 '\2 


ter-catchers allow the sun-baked sand to do the greater part of 
the incubating, the parents confining themselves only at night or 
during storms on three or four pale buff eggs spotted and blotched 
with chocolate, and laid directly on the shingle, in a depression. 
Mr. Walter Hoxie, in the "Ornithologist and Oologist," tells of 
seeing a pair of these birds whose nest had been discovered, but 
not disturbed, take the eggs about one hundred yards farther 
along the beach and deposit them safely, one by one, in a new 
nest which he watched them prepare. Fluffy chicks, that run as 
soon as hatched, will squat and remain motionless like plovers, 
secure in their plumage's perfect imitation of their surroundings. 


PART 111 



Bob Whites 



17 257 


(Order Gallhuv) 

Birds that scratch the ground for food, the progenitors of our 
barn-yard fowls, the game birds par excellence of the sportsman, 
none are more interesting either from his point of view or from 
that of the bird student, or of greater commercial value. Certain 
structural peculiarities are noticeable throughout the group: a 
greatly enlarged esophagus, now called a crop, receives the 
bolted food and moistens it, leaving to a very thick, hard gizzard 
(except in the sage cock) the work of grinding the food with the 
help of gravel swallowed with it. Usually heavy in body, round 
breasted, small of head, stout of legs and feet, sometimes with 
spurs on the former, richly, if often quietly, plumed, the appear- 
ance of these birds is too familiar to be enlarged upon. They are 
prolific layers, and raise large broods, that follow the mother like 
chickens, as soon as hatched, one or more families composing a 
covey or bevy soon after the nesting season. 

Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

(Family Tetraonidce) 

Of the two hundred species contained in this great family, 
one-half belong to the Old World, where they are known 
as partridges and quail, names miscellaneously applied to our 
grouse and Bob Whites, that differ greatly in structure from their 
European allies, and the source of endless confusion in the 
popular mind. Three subfamilies go to make up this large 
family: the Perdicina', or Old World partridges and quail; the 
Odoufoplion'iire, or New World partridges and Bob Whites; and 
the Tetraonina:, or grouse. These fowl-footed birds have the 
hind toe raised above the ground, differing from the pigeon- 
footed gallinaceous birds, that have four toes on the same level; 


Gallinaceous Game Birds 

and the grouse have feathered legs, like many birds of prey, to 
keep these parts from being frozen, since they frequent high 
altitudes. None of these American species is migratory, yet 
their rapid, whirring flight, performed with quick strokes of 
small, concave, stiffened wings, is well sustained, and sometimes 
for long distances. The heads of grouse especially, high at the 
rear to contain the unusually developed brain, indicate that rare 
degree of intelligence among birds which so taxes the wits of 
the sportsman; but certainly the Bob White is not lacking in 
mental calibre. The latter birds are devoted lovers and parents, 
whereas grouse are generally polygamous, and the males are 
either indifferent to the eggs and young, or, in some cases, de- 
structive of them. Mr. D. G. Elliot remarks: "It is a rather 
singular fact that in most polygamous species the plumage of the 
sexes is very dissimilar, while there is usually but little difference 
observable between those that are monogamous." 

Bob White, or Quail. 

Dusky, or Blue Grouse. 

Canada Grouse, or Spruce Partridge. 

Ruffed Grouse, or Partridge. 

Canadian Ruffed Grouse. 

Gray Ruffed Grouse. 

Oregon, or Red Ruffed Grouse. 

Prairie Chicken, or Pinnated Grouse. 

Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse. 

Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse. 

Sharp-tailed Grouse. 

Sage Grouse, or Cock of the Plains. 

Pheasants and Turkeys 

(Family PhasianidceJ 

A group of magnificent birds, including the peacock, 
pheasants, and the jungle fowl, the progenitors of our domestic 
poultry. From the Mexican turkey, now imported all over the 
world, and into France and England since the sixteenth century, 
came the race that furnishes our Thanksgiving feasts. 

Wild Turkey. 


v^^v*^:.' -^^i.^^^,^-? 

-rJ Life-si-ze. 


(Family Tetraonida'J 

Bob White 

(Colinus virginianus) 


Length— C).z,o xo 10.50 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts reddish brown or chestnut, flecked 
with black, white, and tawny; rump grayish brown, finely 
mottled, and with a few streaks of blackish; tail ashy, the 
inner feathers mottled with buff; front of crown, a line from 
bill beneath the eye, and band on upper breast, black ; fore- 
head, and stripe over the eye, extending down the side of the 
neck, white; breast and under parts white or buff, crossed 
with irregular narrow black lines; feathers on sides and 
flanks chestnut, with white edges barred with black. The 
female has forehead, line over the eye, and throat, buff, and 
little or no black on upper breast. Summer birds have 
blacker crowns and paler buff markings. Much individual 
variation in plumage. 

Range—" Eastern United States and southern Ontario, from south- 
ern Maine to the south Atlantic and Gulf states; west to cen- 
tral South Dakota, Nebraska; Kansas, Oklahoma and eastern 
Texas. Of late years has gradually extended its range west- 
ward along lines of railroad and settlements; also introduced 
at various points in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, 
California, Oregon, and Washington. Breeds throughout 
its range." A. O. U. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Endless confusion has arisen through the incorrect local 
names given to the Bob White, which in New England is called 
quail wherever the ruffed grouse is called partridge, and called 
partridge in the middle and southern states wherever the ruffed 
grouse is called pheasant; but true partridges and quail, quite 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

different in habits and appearance from ours, are confined to tiie 
Old World, however firmly their names cling to the American 
species. That which we call a quail, by any other name would 
taste as sweet; and it is surely time the characteristic game bird of 
this country received in all sections its characteristic, distinctive 
title. Bob White, the name it calls itself, also has the sanction 
of that dignified, conservative body, the American Ornithologists' 
Union, than which can there be two higher authorities ? 

Before the snow and ice have been melted by spring sun- 
shine. Bob ]Vhite ! ah, Bob White ! a clear staccato whistle, rings 
out from some plump little feathered breast swelling with tender 
and sincere emotions. Mates are not easily won: sharp contests of 
rival males, that fight desperately, like game cocks, occur through- 
out the pairing season; the demure, coy little sweetheart, con- 
cealing her admiration for the proud victor strutting before her, 
only fans his flame by her feigned indifference. In vain he jumps 
upon a stump and, like a ruffled orator, repeats his protestations. 
He runs beside her, now bowing, now crossing her path, ardently 
entreating some sign that his handsome feathers, his gallantry, 
his musical voice, his sworn devotion to her, have made an im- 
pression; but the shy little lady, appearing to be frightened by 
such ardor, discreetly withdraws, knowing perfectly well, as 
every coquette must, that such coyness never discourages a suitor 
worth the having. Marriage is not entered into lightly or irrev- 
erently by these monogamous birds, unlike their European Mor- 
mon kin that utterly lack the gallantry and affectionate nature 
characteristic of the American bird. It is a slander to call Bob 
White by the name of the disreputable, pugnacious, selfish, mean- 
looking quail. Rarely, indeed, does he lapse from rectitude and 
take a second mate. 

In May, a simple nest, or slight depression in the ground, 
lined with leaves and grasses, is formed sometimes in the stub- 
ble, in a grassy tussock that meets overhead, and must be entered 
from one side; or beneath a small bush, next a worm-eaten old 
log, at the foot of a stump; or in the cotton rows — anywhere, in 
fact, where seclusion favors. Some nests have been found with 
well constructed domes, and the entrance a foot or more from the 
nest proper. Incredibly large numbers of brilliant white eggs — 
as many as thirty-two — are reported in a single nest, all skilfully 
packed in, pointed end downwards to economize space. Does 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

the amiability of the female extend to sharing her nest with a 
rival, or are all these eggs hers ? Remove an egg, and it is im- 
possible for the human hand to rearrange the clutch with such 
faultless economy. In the middle and southern states, where two 
and even three broods have been reared in a season, the number 
of eggs laid at a time rarely exceeds ten, so that the autumn 
coveys there are no larger than those in the north. Both parents 
take turns in covering the eggs, the male encouraging his brood- 
ing mate by cheerful, musical whistles introduced by a half-sup- 
pressed syllable, that the New Englanders translate into No more 
wet! more wet! or Pease most ripe! most ripe ! and the West- 
ern farmers into Sow more wheat! more wheat! A shrill wee- 
teeh, used as a note of warning; qiioi-hee, quoi-hee, to reassemble 
a scattered covey; a subdued clucking when undisturbed, and a 
rapidly repeated twitter when surprised, are Bob White's vocal 
expressions. One feels happier for having heard his exuberant 
joy and pride whistled from a fence-rail or low branch of a tree. 
How readily he answers the farmer's boy whistling to him from 
the plough ! He is decidedly in evidence, bold and fearless during 
the twenty-four days of incubation ; but one rarely sees the female 
then. She is ever shy. Ray, the English naturalist, says the 
European quail hatches one-third more males than females — a 
proportion that corresponds with the numbers generally bagged 
by our gunners. Should the eggs be handled when first laid, 
the nest is at once deserted. Mowing machines work sad havoc 
every year. 

Precisely as a brood of chickens follows a mother hen about 
the farm, so a bevy of comical little downy Bob Whites, some- 
times with the shells still sticking to their backs, run about 
through the tangled brake and cultivated fields, learning from both 
devoted parents which seeds of grasses, cereals, and berries they 
may eat. Farmers bless them for the number of weed-seeds and 
insects they destroy. The fox and the hawk, next to man, are their 
worst enemies. A note of alarm sends the fledgelings half-running, 
half-flying, to huddle up close to the mother; or when a cold wind 
blows, a soft, low, caressing twitter summons the babies to shelter 
beneath her short wings, that barely cover the large brood. 

Later, the young scatter and hide among the grass, while 
the parents, feigning lameness and the usual pathetic artifices 
familiar to one who has ever disturbed a family of young birds, 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

dare all things for their dear sakes. Should some accident befall 
the female during incubation, the male faithfully covers the eggs 
and ministers to every want of his happily precocious family; and 
in the south, where the female frequently begins to lay again 
when her first brood is but a few weeks old, it is the father, 
a pattern of all domestic virtues, that then assumes its full 
care. When the second brood leaves the shell, one large happy 
family, known in sportsman's parlance as a bevy or covey, makes 
as charming a picture as one is likely to meet in a year's tramp. 
Southern sportsmen, especially, sometimes express surprise at 
finding birds still in pin feathers and unable to fly in November, 
when part of the brood, at least, may not be distinguished from 
adults ; but these most prolific of all game birds not infrequently 
devote six months to nursery duties. Bob Whites are eminently 
affectionate, and a covey never willingly disperses until the spring 
pairing season. 

"It is a glorious day : come, let us kill something ! " says 
London Pitiicli 's famous sportsman ; and when the splendor of 
autumn glorifies our fields and woods, domed by a sky of clear- 
est, most intense blue, and the keen, frosty, sparkling air invigo- 
rates both mind and body, the American sportsman likewise takes 
down his light, short gun and some shells loaded with No. 8 shot, 
whistles up his dog, which nearly twists himself inside out with 
happiness, and at sunrise is off. Now the coveys are feeding in 
the field of buckwheat — a favorite resort — or in the stubble of the 
corn, rye, or oat fields, or along the ditches and clearings fringed 
with undergrowth, or in the vineyard or orchard — just where it 
is the dog's business, not the author's, to disclose. The seed of 
the locust, wild pease, tick, trefoil, sunflower, smartweed, par- 
tridge berry, wintergreen and nanny berries, acorns, and beech- 
nuts do not complete the Bob Whites' ■menu. Late in the fore- 
noon, the hearty breakfast having at length ended, a bevy of 
birds will first slake their thirst before huddling together to 
preen and dust their feathers and enjoy a midday siesta on a 
sunny slope. They keep near water during droughts ; but after 
long rains, look for them on the dry uplands and along the sun- 
niest coverts, not too early on a frosty morning, when they are 
likely to remain huddled together late to keep warm until the 
hoar frost melts in the sunshine. These birds have a unique 
manner of sleeping : forming a circle on the ground, in a sheltered 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

open, beyond thickets where prowling fox and weasel lurk, they 
squat close together as they can huddle to save heat, and with 
their tails toward the centre, and their heads pointing outward to 
detect danger from every possible direction, rest secure through 
the night and sometimes part of cold and stormy days, the male 
parent usually remaining outside the ring to act as sentinel. As 
winter approaches, they leave the open, cultivated fields to with- 
draw into sheltered thickets and bottom lands, sometimes to alder 
swamps. Now, when hunger often pinches cruelly, the food 
scattered for barnyard fowls is fearlessly picked up ; indeed, these 
birds haunt the outskirts of farms at all seasons, following the 
pioneer and railroad westward, and ever going more than half 
way in establishing friendly relations between themselves and 
mankind. While all efforts to domesticate them have ended in 
runaways when the nesting season came around and wild birds 
whistled enticing notes of happiness and freedom, protection 
from the shooters, and a few handfuls of buckwheat scattered 
about for them in the bitter weather are all the encouragement 
these appreciative little neighbors need to keep them about the 
form. Like the ruffed grouse they will allow the snow to bury 
them, or voluntarily bury themselves in it to escape extreme 
cold ; but an ice crust forming over a sleeping covey often im- 
prisons it, alas ! and not until a thaw is the tragedy revealed in a 
circle of feathered skeletons. 

A loud ivhir-r-r-r-r-r-r, as a flushed flock rises to wing, 
indicates something of the speed at which the Bob Whites rush 
through the air. They are not migratory, usually remaining 
resident wherever found, although from the northern boundary 
of their range coveys seen travelling afoot in autumn certainly 
appear to be going toward warmer winter quarters. Rising at a 
considerable angle from the ground, on stiff, set, short wings, after 
a flushing, the birds, heading for a wooded cover, are off in a 
strung out line that only the tyro imagines makes an easy target. 
Suddenly dropping all at once and not far from each other, 
squatting close, in the confidence inspired by the perfect mimicry 
of their plumage with their surroundings, each bird must be 
almost trodden upon before it will rise to wing. Very rarely they 
take refuge in trees. It has been said a Bob White can retain its 
odor voluntarily, since the best of pointers often fails to findit even 
when within a few feet. When lying close, the wings are pressed 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

against the side, every feather clings tightly with a tension pro- 
duced by fear, in all probability, rather than by any voluntary 
act ; but the result is that by flying upward, rather than running 
and giving the scent to the dogs, and by compressing its feathers on 
dropping to the ground again, brave little Bob White often gives 
the sportsman a lively chase for his game. After much shooting, 
birds become "educated." Wonderfully clever they are in match- 
ing the sportsman's tricks with better ones. They school the wing 
shots finely until the crack marksman confesses his chagrin. 
The best trained dog may bushwhack an entire slope, where they 
are known to be scattered, without flushing one ; for vainly does 
the dog draw now. His usefulness was greatest in standing a 
covey before the reports from the gun gave fair warning that no 
one-sided sport had begun. 

Once the firing ceases, sweet minor scatter calls — quoi-hee, 
quoi-hee — reunite the diminished members of a flock. A soli- 
tary survivor has been known to wander about the country 
through an entire winter, calling mournfully and almost inces- 
santly for the missing brothers and sisters, until a farmer, whose 
family had feasted on their delicate white flesh, unable to listen 
to the cry that sounded to him like the voice of an accusing con- 
science, again picked up his gun and put the mourner out of 

Among the thousands upon thousands of "quail" shot 
annually, some sportsman finds either an albino or some other 
freak wearing plumage that he is certain belongs to a distinct 
species; but the Texan and the Florida birds alone are true, but 
merely climatic, variations of our own Bob White. The former is 
distinguished by its paler, more grayish tone of the upper parts, 
that are marked with tawny, while the Florida bird has darker, 
richer coloring, with heavier black markings, and a longer, jet 
black bill. 

Several allied "quail" (partridges) are of too local a distribu- 
tion on the Pacific slope and in the southwest to be included in a 
book that avowedly excludes "local and rare birds." Wherever 
the prolific Bob Whites have been introduced and protected in the 
west, they have so quickly spread as to encourage the hope that 
since true sportsmen everywhere are taking active measures to 
stay the hand of bird butchers, our national game bird may some 
day regain the vast numbers brutally destroyed. 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

Dusky Grouse 

( Dendragapus obscurus) 


Length — 20 to 24 inches ; length variable. 

Male — Upper parts blacl<ish brown, finely zigzagged with 
slatey gray mixed with lighter brown, and sometimes 
coarsely mottled with gray, especially on wings; forehead 
dull reddish brown; back of head blackish, the feathers 
tipped with rusty; sides of head black; shoulders streaked 
with white; long feathers on sides have white ends and 
shaft stripes; throat white, finely speckled with black; under 
parts bluish gray or slate, varied with white on flanks and 
underneath. Tail rounded, the twenty broad feathers black- 
ish-brown, marbled with gray, and broadly banded across 
end with slate gray ; legs covered to toes with pale brown 
feathers; a comb over eye; bill horn color. 

Female — Smaller, lighter, more mottled, or blotched with blackish 
and tawny or buff, the feathers generally edged with white; 
slate gray under parts, and tail broadly banded with same; 
the flanks tipped with white and mottled with black and 

Range — Rocky and other mountain ranges in western United 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Two variations of the dusky grouse, known as Richardson's 
grouse and the sooty grouse — constantly confused in reports — 
make it somewhat difficult to define the exact habitat of this 
splendid game bird, so well known in one form or another by 
sportsmen throughout the western half of the United States, from 
New Mexico to Alaska and British Columbia. The habits of all 
three birds being practically the same, their plumage differing 
chiefly in degrees of duskiness, and their boundary lines con- 
stantly overlapping, it is small wonder the untrained observer 
confuses both their names and ranges. The Rocky Mountains, 
from central Montana and southeastern Idaho to New Mexico 
and Arizona, eastward to the Black Hills, South Dakota, and 
westward to East Humboldt Mountains, Nevada, is the range set 
down for the dusky grouse by the A. O. U., and a more westerly 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

district, including California, for the sooty grouse; while Richard- 
son's bird confines itself chiefly to the eastern slope of the 
Rockies. The latter is to be distinguished by its rather longer, 
square tail, with broader feathers, only slightly banded with gray, 
if at all, and its blacker throat. The sooty grouse, even darker 
still, and with a broad band on its tail, is minutely freckled with 
gray and rusty on its upper parts and very dark lead color below; 
the hen being particularly richly marked with rusty red and chest- 
nut brown. 

Taking the place in the western sportsman's heart of the 
ruffed grouse cherished in New England and the middle states, 
the dusky grouse, very like it in some habits and tastes, is a 
much larger bird, covered with a dense suit of feathers to 
resist the extreme cold of high altitudes, and weighing between 
three and four pounds. Next to the sage cock, this is the largest 
grouse in the United States. Possibly because it is so cumbrous, 
but more likely because its haunts are far removed from men, 
keeping it in ignorance, far from blissful, of his passion for hunt- 
ing birds, this long-suffering recluse appears stupid to many. 
"Until almost fully grown," says a Colorado observer, "they 
are very foolish; flushed, they will tree at once, in the silly 
belief that they are out of danger, and will quietly suffer them- 
selves to be pelted with clubs and stones until they are struck 
down one after another. With a shot gun, of course, the whole 
covey is bagged without much trouble; and as they are, in my 
opinion, the most delicious of all grouse for the table, they are 
gathered up unsparingly." When carnage like this masquerades 
under the title of "sport," evidently the extinction of the blue 
grouse, like that of many another choice game bird, is imminent. 
From an altitude of about seven thousand feet to timber line, 
coming down to the side hills and lower gulches, where food is 
more abundant for young broods in summer, the dusky grouse 
usually haunts rough slopes covered with dense forests of spruce 
and pine, and neither migrates nor strays far from its birthplace, 
though constantly roving. Solitary for part of the year, or found 
in small parties of three or four adults at most, it is chiefly while 
the young are partly dependent on the mother — for the male is 
an indifferent father — that one meets a covey of from seven to 
ten feeding on bearberries, raspberries, and other wild fruits, 
insects, especially grasshoppers, tender leaves, and leaf buds, 


■ ' "> 'is. 

Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

reserving the buds of the pine and the scales or seeds of its cones 
for winter f;ire, when nearly all other food is buried under snow. 
Heavy snowfalls send the grouse to roost in the evergreens, their 
dusky plumage, that blends perfectly with the sombre coloring 
of the pines as they squat on the limbs, making them all but 
invisible. Only early in the summer, when the young are unable 
to fly into the branches, do these tree-loving mountaineers roost 
on the ground. Approach a covey suddenly, and the beautiful, 
downy, nimble-footed chicks, that are by no means fools, scatter 
and hide among the bushes and under leaves, while the mother, 
flying in an opposite direction, alights in a tree, quite as if she 
had no family to be looked for; so why waste time in the search 
when she is in evidence.? Moving her head from side to side, and 
looking at the disturber of her peace with first one eye, then the 
other, she will remain squatting on the limb just overhead with 
apparent apathy, or what passes for stupidity, but what may be 
the most intelligent self-sacrifice for her brood. Molest her, and 
she flies away very rapidly with a loud cackle of alarm. It is she 
that forms a depression in the ground, near an old log, in the 
underbrush, or in the stubble of an open field just as likely, but 
never far from water, after pressing down some fine grass, pine 
needles, or leaves to line the rude cradle. A clutch consists of 
from eight to ten creamy, buff eggs, dotted, spotted, and some- 
times blotched with brown. Confining herself very closely for 
three weeks or longer, she at length leads forth a brood in June to 
call it by clucks and otherwise care for it precisely as the do- 
mestic hen looks after her chicks. The nesting begins about the 
middle of May, though dates differ with the severity of the season 
and the altitude. Only one brood is raised in a year. 

While there is anything like work connected with raising a 
young family the f;Uher absents himself, to rejoin it only when 
the covey has agreeable society to offer and makes no demands. 
Yet this is the cock that in the mating season gave himself the 
airs of a turkey gobbler as he strutted along the mountain road in 
front of your wagon, tail spread to its fullest, wings dropped 
until they trailed over the ground — a picture of self-importance. 
This is the season when he woos his mate with booming thunder 
on a small scale, which passes for a love song. A small sac of 
loose, orange-colored skin, surrounded by a white frill of feathers 
edged with dusky, at either side of the neck, may now be 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

inflated at will ; and as the air escapes, a strange grumbling, 
groaning sound comes forth, seemingly from quite a distance, 
when perhaps very near, or, at least, from just the direction 
that it seems not to come from. This sound, that has been aptly 
likened to the distant laboring of a "small mountain sawmill 
wrestling in agony with some cross-grained log," may be uttered 
from a stump or rock, or in the air as the cock flies about from 
limb to limb of the evergreens. When disturbed, he has the habit 
of erecting the feathers on the back of his neck, a feeble showing 
as compared with the imposing black frill of the ruffed grouse. 

Canada Grouse 

( Dendragapiis canadensis) 


Length — 14 to 15 inches. 

Male — Upper parts ashy waved with black, gray, and grayish- 
brown. A few white streaks on shoulders; tail black, slightly 
rounded, and tipped with orange-brown ; under parts black 
and white, the black throat divided from the black breast by 
a mottled black and white and ashy circular band; flanks 
pale brown, mottled or lined across with black; legs feath- 
ered to toes; bill black; a yellow or reddish comb over eye. 

Female — Upper parts barred with black, gray, and buff, or pale 
rufous, the black predominating, except on grayish lower 
back; tail black, mottled and more narrowly tipped with 
orange brown than male's; under parts tawny barred with 
black; sides mottled with black and tawny; below black, 
the feathers broadly tipped with white. 

Range — prom northern New England, New York, Michigan, 
and Minnesota, westward to Alaska, and north so far as 
trees grow. 

Season — Permanent resident; not a migrant, although a rover. 

Only along the northern boundary of the United States may 
one hope to meet this small, hardy grouse walking about with 
the nimble steps of a Bob White, over the mossy bogs, in groves 
of evergreens and thickets of hackmatack — everywhere its favorite 
haunt; but in Canada it becomes increasingly abundant, and the 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

habitants and voyageurs who penetrate the dark, swampy forests 
far to the north know it with that degree of intimacy which — per- 
haps because it furnishes the most interesting stories, that are at 
once the admiration and the despair of city-bred ornithologists — 
is discredited by them as "unscientific." There is a French 
Canadian, a native of the Laurentian Mountains, whose fleet 
ponies take many Americans to the Grand Discharge for the oua 
naniche fishing, who will lead his patrons to a nest beside a 
fallen log, show them the "drumming trees" where the cocks 
fly down and captivate their mates with a noise resembling dis- 
tant thunder, point out a dusky figure in the sombre evergreens 
that no untrained eye could find as the buckboard rattles swiftly 
over the corduroy road, and at the camp-fire needs little persuasion 
to tell more about the Canada grouse than can be learned in the 

Very early in spring the cocks begin to strut and give them- 
selves grand airs. At this season especially, although the birds 
are never shy, the male exposes himself before an admiring ob- 
server with amusing abandon. With tail well up, and contracted 
and expanded at each step until the quills rustle like silk; with 
drooped wings, head erect, the black and white breast feathers 
standing out in regular rows, and those in the back of the neck 
correspondingly depressed; the combs over each eye enlarged at 
will and glowing red — a miniature impersonation of self-conceit 
struts through the forest, across one's path, flies into a low limb 
to attract more attention to his handsome body, and has been 
known to alight on a man's shoulder and thump his collar! 
Ordinarily he thumps any hard substance with his bill. Some- 
times, with plumage arranged as above described, he will sit with 
his breast almost touching the earth and make peculiar nodding, 
circular motions of the head. To drum, he chooses some favorite 
tree inclined away from the perpendicular, and, commencing at 
the base, flutters slowly upward, very rapidly beating his wings 
to make the rumbling noise. Then, having ascended fifteen or 
twenty feet, he glides quietly to the ground, struts, and repeats the 
noisy ascent. A good "drumming tree," well known to woods- 
men, often has its bark worn by the small thunderers. Apparently 
there are many more cocks than hens in every tamarack swamp. 

Mr. Watson Bishop, of Nova Scotia, who succeeded in 
domesticating this grouse, tells many interesting fresh facts 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

about it. A sitting hen, after scratching a depression in the 
ground, first lays three or four eggs before placing any nesting 
material in the cavity; then she has the absurd habit of picking 
up straws, leaves, etc., as she leaves the nest, and tossing them 
backward over her head, to land perhaps on the nest, or perhaps 
just in the opposite direction if she has faced about with head 
toward the eggs to secure some inviting material. When a quan- 
tity of litter has been collected, she will then sit on the eggs, reach 
out to gather it in and place it about her until the cradle is very 
deep and nicely bordered with grass and leaves. Jealousy, a ruling 
passion with hens at the nesting season, often leads them to 
steal one another's eggs. One nest should properly contain about 
a dozen, more or less, the ground color buff or pale brown, the 
spots and speckles reddish brown or umber ; but so great is the 
variation of color and markings that some eggs have no markings 
at all, while others are beautifully and clearly decorated. It is 
possible to rub or wash off markings from many fresh-laid eggs. 
Laying commences about the first week of June ; incubation lasts 
seventeen days, and by the middle of July the precocious chicks 
are able to reach the low branches of the evergreens in their first 
flights and move about on them like the adults that would make 
expert tight-rope walkers. Tender terminal spruce buds, hack- 
matack needles, the berries of Solomon's seal, pine needles and 
cones, and such fare give this grouse's flesh a dark color and a 
bitter, resinous flavor that tempts only the hungriest woodsmen ; 
although in the berry season, when the birds leave the evergreens 
to feed on tender leaf buds and fruit, the rich reddish meat is 
much sought. An immense quantity of gravel is swallowed to 
aid digestion. Indians tell of following great packs of these 
grouse that furnished meat to a tribe for weeks ; but a bevy of 
five or six birds is the largest recorded by scientists. 

Ruffed Grouse 

CBonasa iimbellus) 


Length — 16 to i8 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts chestnut varied with grayish and 
yellowish brown, white, and black ; head slightly crested ; 


RUFFED grouse; 

Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

yellow line over eye ; sides of neck of male with huge tufts 
of glossy greenish black feathers tipped with light brown, 
much restricted or wanting and dull in female ; long tail, 
which may be spread fan-like, yellowish brown or gray or 
rusty, beautifully and finely barred with irregular bands half 
buff, half black ; a broad subterminal band of black between 
gray bands ; throat and breast buff, the former unmarked ; 
underneath whitish, all barred with brown, strongly on 
sides, less distinctly on breast and below ; legs feathered to 
heel ; bill horn color. 

Range — Eastern United States and southern Canada west to 
Minnesota, south to northern Georgia, Mississippi, and Ar- 

Season — Permanent but roving resident. 

Neither a " partridge " nor a " pheasant," it is by the former 
name that this superb game bird is best known to the New 
Englanders, and by the latter that it is commonly called in the 
middle and southern states; but this most typical grouse (whose 
Latin name describes two striking characteristics : Bonasiis, a 
bison, referring to the bellowing bull-like noise produced by the 
male; and nmbelliis, to the umbrella-like tufts on his neck) ap- 
pears in literature and the market stalls alike as a " partridge," a 
misnomer shared by the Bob White, which strictly belongs to a 
race of European birds of which we have no counterparts on 
this side of the Atlantic. What's in a name ? That which we 
call a grouse by any other name doth taste as sweet. 

Partial to hill country interspersed with cultivated meadows 
and dingles, or to mountains, rocky, inaccessible, thickly tim- 
bered, and well watered with bush-grown streams, it is only 
rarely, and then chiefly in autumn, that coveys leave high alti- 
tudes to feed along the edges of milder valleys and enter the 
swamps. The dainties preferred include crickets, grasshoppers, 
the larvae of caterpillars, beechnuts, chestnuts, acorns o^ the 
chestnut oak and the white oak, strawberries, blueberries, rasp- 
berries, elderberries, wintergreen and partridge berries with their 
foliage, cranberries, the bright fruit of the black alder and dog- 
wood, sumach berries (including the poisonous varieties, which 
do the grouse no injury), wild grapes, grain dropped in the stubble 
of harvested fields, the foliage of many plants, and the leaf buds 
of numerous shrubs and trees — a varied menu indeed, responsible 
alike for the bird's luscious, tender flesh and its roving disposition. 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

The "drumming" of a male ruffed grouse, its most famous 
characteristic, is surely as remarkable a bird call as is heard in all 
nature. A thumping, rolling tattoo, like the deep, muffled beat- 
ing of a drum, sonorous, crepitating, ventriloqual, admirably 

written down by Mr. Ernest Seton Thompson, thump thump 

thump — thump, thump; thump, thiimp-rup, nip, nip, r-r-r- 

r-r-r-r-r-r, announces the presence of a cock hopeful of attracting 
the attention of some shy female hidden in the underbrush. Any 
one will do, for he is a sadly erring mate, a flagrant polygamist, 
in spite of much that has been said to whiten his character. On 
a fallen log, a wall, or broad stump that has been used as a drum- 
ming ground perhaps for many years, and well known to the 
hens as a trysting place, the male puffs out his feathers until, 
like a turkey cock, he looks twice his natural size, ruffs his neck 
frills, raises his crest, spreads and elevates his tail, droops his 
trailing wings beside him, and, with head drawn backward, struts 
along the surface with the most affected jerking, dandified gait. 
Suddenly he halts, distends his head and neck, and beats the air 
with his wings, slowly at first, then fiister and faster, until there 
is simply a blur where wings should be, so marvelously fast do 
they go. Because they vibrate at a speed at which the human 
eye can scarcely follow, the method of drumming is a vexed 
question among the most reliable observers. Thoreau was ready 
to swear that he had seen the ruffed grouse strike its wings to- 
gether behind its back to produce the sound, Audubon to the 
contrary notwithstanding. Most woodsmen will tell you either 
that the male strikes the log on which he is standing, or the sides 
of his body; but the strongest scientific judgment now favors 
the abundant testimony that the bird beats nothing but the air; 
its wings neither meet behind the back, nor do they touch its 
sides, nor strike against any substance whatsoever. The drum- 
ming may occur at any season, most frequently and vigorously 
at nesting time, of course; but besides being a love "song," it is 
doubtless also a challenge to rival cocks, that fight like gamesters 
until blood and feathers strew the ground; or it may be simply 
an outlet to the bird's inordinate vanity and vigorous animal 
spirits. In a lesser degree the sound is precisely the same as 
when the grouse begins its flight. 

Quite ignored by her lover when maternal duties approach, 
the female scratches a slight hollow in some secluded place, usu- 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

ally at the foot of an old stump or log or rock, often near a 
stream among the underbrush ; but many nests in unprotected 
open stretches are recorded. A few wisps of dry grass, dead 
leaves, pine needles, or any convenient material, line the hollow 
in which a full set of eggs — from ten to fifteen rich buff, dotted 
with different sized spots of pale chestnut brown — has been found 
as early as April first, a full month earlier than the regular time. 
Since the markings can be easily rubbed off a fresh laid egg, one 
sometimes hears that the grouse's egg is plain buff. Only one 
brood is raised in a season, the exceptions to the rule being very 
rare. For nearly four weeks the hen closely confines herself, 
and, like the sitting Bob White, relies upon her plumage's perfect 
mimicry of her surroundings to protect her from notice. The 
coloring of a ruffed grouse tells of a long ancestry passed under 
deciduous trees. Seated among last year's leaves she looks all 
of a piece with the carpeting of the woods, and neither stirs a 
feather nor winks an eye, though you stand within two feet of 
her, to lead you to think otherwise. Mr. D. G. Elliot, among 
others, believes she hides her nest from the male as well as from 
all her other enemies. The fox, weasel, squirrel, hawk, owl, 
and above all the breech-loader, are the grouse's deadliest foes; 
and a species of woodtick that inserts its triangular head beneath 
the skin, sometimes destroying entire broods. Bird lice, and a 
botworm that resembles a maggot and penetrates the flesh, like- 
wise prove fatal, particularly to chicks. The dust baths commonly 
indulged in are taken to rid themselves of vermin. Heavy rains 
that drench the fledgelings not infrequently kill them, too, until 
one wonders there are any ruffed grouse left. The precocious, 
downy brown balls, that run at once from the shell, are managed 
precisely as a domestic hen cares for her brood, even to the 
clucking, hen-like call that summons them beneath her wings, 
where they sleep until old enough to roost in trees like adults. 
The mother grouse when suddenly startled gives a shrill squeal, 
apparently the signal for the covey to scatter and hide among the 
leaves and tangle, while, by feigning lameness and other hack- 
neyed devices for diverting an intruder's attention from the chicks 
to herself, she remains in their neighborhood, they motionless in 
their hiding places, until the reassuring cluck calls the happy 
family together again. When the young need no further care in 
autumn, the males selfishly join the covey, rarely consisting of 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

more than six or eight birds; for, unhke the pinnated grouse, 
this species does not pack. 

"The ruffed grouse, by reason of its sudden bursts from cover, 
its bold, strong, swift flight, the rugged nature of its favorite 
cover, its proud, erect carriage, its handsome garb and its wide 
distribution is easily the king of American game birds," says Mr. 
G. O. Shields, "and has therefore been chosen as the emblem 
of the League of American Sportsmen." 

In the brisk, golden days of autumn the sportsman finds 
sport indeed in hunting the wily, clever grouse, "educated" by 
much persecution from an almost tame denizen of the mountain 
farm into a woodland recluse that constantly challenges admira- 
tion for its cunning. It will seldom lie well to a dog, but sneaks 
away so swiftly through the underbrush that either the dog or 
its master usually gets left. By flying low, then dropping to run 
again, the strong scent is broken. 

Bob Whites, that have a power of withholding their scent 
by tightly compressing their feathers — a trick not known to the 
grouse apparently — do not escape detection any better than they. 
Many skilled sportsmen, armed with the most approved breech- 
loaders, and aided by the best trained dogs that bushwhack a 
region where grouse are known to be abundant, return home 
with light bags. No bird that flies, unless it is the Jack snipe, is 
so seldom hit. A tremendous whir-r-r-r of rapidly beaten wings 
startles the tyro out of a good aim. Unusually strong chest 
muscles for concentrated but limited exertion, and especially stiff 
wings, enable the grouse to hurl themselves into the air with a 
thunderous velocity ; but, like all their allies, they can steal away 
as silently as Arabs, if necessary. Darting away directly opposite 
from the sportsman, a well " educated " bird quickly places a tree 
between itself and the shooter, threading a tortuous maze in 
and out through the woods, higher and higher, until, having 
cleared the tree tops, it is off to freedom. Fear, not a natural, but 
an acquired state of mind, has not yet blasted the peace of grouse 
in regions where they have never been molested; and knowing 
no worse enemy there than a fox, from which they are safe when 
roosting in a tree, and mistaking the sportsman's dog for one, 
they have been sometimes credited with stupidity because by 
remaining on the perch they allow a man to rake the covey. 
But such assault and battery is happily rare. Certain hawks and 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

owls do awful execution. Snares of silk and horsehair, poacher's 
traps, and "twitch-ups" of young saplings bent by the farmer's 
boy, do much to spoil the sport, that becomes shockingly rarer 
year by year. To escape pursuit a grouse will often dive into 
the snow; and although dense feathers cover its body and legs, 
it will make a similar plunge to keep warm in extremely cold 
weather, a solitary shiverer, unlike the Bob Whites, that bury 
themselves in cosy, snug family parties; but, like them, it, too, 
sometimes gets imprisoned by an impenetrable ice crust, and so 
perishes miserably. 

The Canadian Ruffed Grouse {Bonasa umbellus togata), to be 
distinguished from the preceding by the prevailing gray, instead 
of chestnut, of its upper parts, its grayer tail, and its more dis- 
tinctly barred under parts, almost as clear on the breast and 
underneath as on the sides, is doubtless simply a climatic varia- 
tion, only the systematists seeing a sufficient difference in the 
two birds to justify their separation into two distinct species. 
Their habits and eggs are identical. Often no difference can be 
detected by sportsmen who bring home both species in their 
game bags. The spruce forests of northern New York and New 
England and the British provinces, westward to Northern Ore- 
gon, Idaho, and Washington to British Columbia, north to James 
Bay, is the Canadian ruffed grouse's range. 

The Gray Ruffed Grouse {Bonasa umbellus umbelloides), a 
still paler variation, in which the gray tints predominate, ranges 
from the Rocky Mountain region of the United States and British 
America north to Alaska and east to Manitoba. Considering the 
altitudes of from seven to ten thousand feet at which it usually 
lives, the lonely caRons it frequents, and its rare persecution at 
the hands of men, it is surprisingly shy, according to Captain 
Bendire. Otherwise it has no trait, apparently, not already 
touched upon in the life history of the ruffed grouse. 

The Oregon, or Red Ruffed Grouse {Bonasa umbellus sabini), 
the darkest, handsomest variation of the ruffed grouse anywhere 
found, roams over the coast mountains of Northern California, 
Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, reaching Alaska and 
many of the Pacific Coast islands, and occasionally straying inta 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

Colorado, Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. Where the Canadian 
variety encroaches its territory, however, little or no difference 
in the plumage may be detected. The account of the ruffed 
grouse's habits, nest, etc., should be read to avoid repetition, 
since the Oregon bird is simply a climatic variation of the eastern 

Prairie Chicken 

(Tympanuchus americanus) 


Lengt/i — About i6 to 1 8 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts brown, barred with black, chest- 
nut, ochre, and whitish, the latter chiefly on wings; sides of 
the neck tufted with ten or more narrow, stiff feathers, 
rounded at end, which may be erected like conventional 
Cupid's wings above the head. Their color black, with buff 
centres, frequently chestnut on inner webs; bare, yellow, 
loose skin below these feathers may be inflated at will; the 
dusky, brown, white tipped tail rounded, the inner feathers 
somewhat mottled with buff; chin and throat buff; breast 
and underneath whitish, evenly barred with black. Head 
slightly crested; legs scantily feathered in front only. Fe- 
male smaller, the neck tufts much restricted, no inflated 
sacs below them; the tail feathers with numerous distinct 
buff bars. 

Range — "Prairies of the Mississippi Valley; south to Louisiana 
and Texas; east to Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and 
Ontario; west through eastern portions of North Dakota, 
South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Indian Territory; 
north to Manitoba; general tendency to extension of range 
westward and contraction eastward ; migration north and 
south in Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri." — A. O. U. 

Season — Permanent resident; only locally a migrant at northern 
limit of range. 

Westward the prairie chicken, like the course of empire, 
takes its way ; for although it may increase at the pioneer stage of 
civilization, it halts at the introduction of the steam plough and 
railroad, to disappear forever where villages run together into cities. 
Doubtless its range was once far east — just how far is not certain, 
since the early writers confused it with the heath hen, once 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

enormously abundant, but now confined to Martha's Vineyard, 
where in 1890 there were about one hundred of the birds left, and 
now, for the want of sufficient protection, even this pitiful rem- 
nant has diminished to very near the extinction point. So it 
will be inevitably with the prairie chicken. Modern farming 
machines destroy thousands of eggs and young annually as they 
steam over the prairies; in the small, new settlements there is 
little respect paid to game laws when a dull monotony of salt 
pork sets up a craving for fresh meat; and since the prairie 
chicken has strong preferences for certain habitats, and will not or 
cannot live in others, evidently the day is not far distant when 
either missionary effort on behalf of this and many other birds 
must be vigorously applied, or they will certainly perish from 
the face of the earth. Since the coyote, or prairie wolf which 
has preyed on this grouse, is being killed off, and sportsmen are 
endeavoring to enforce the law against trapping the birds in 
winter, and to induce farmers to burn off their fields in autumn 
instead of in May, there is still hope that its extinction may be at 
least postponed. 

Early in the morning in spring the booming of males assem- 
bled on the " scratching ground " — some slight elevation of the 
prairie — summons the hens from that territory to witness their 
extraordinary performances until the whole region reechoes 
with the soft though powerful sound, like deep tones from a 
church organ — harmonious, penetrating, more impressive to the 
human listener than to the apparently indifferent females. Inflat- 
ing the loose yellow sacs on the sides of their head, that stand out 
like two oranges; erecting and throwing forward their Cupid- 
like feathers at the back of the neck; ruffling the plumage until it 
stands out straight; drooping the wings and spreading the erect 
tails, the males present an imposing picture of pompous display 
and magnificence that melts not the flinty hearts of the coquetting 
spectators. Now the proud cock, incited to nobler deeds by the 
indifference of his chosen sweetheart, rushes madly forward, 
letting the air out of his cheek sacs as he goes, to produce the 
booming noise, repeating the rush toward her and the boom until 
she gives some sign that his mad endeavors to win her awaken 
some response in her cold little heart. Toward the end of court- 
ship she moves about quickly among the performers, then stands 
perfectly still for a time, evidently taking note of the fine points 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

of the numerous lovers that embarrass her choice. Shortly after 
the sun rises, the circus and concert end for the day, to be 
repeated the next morning, and the next, for a week or longer, at 
the end of which time the inflamed cocks usually fall to fighting, 
clawing at each other as they leap into the air and scatter blood 
and feathers. To the victor belongs the sweetheart. The note 
of the male bird is closely imitated by many farmers' boys. It 
may be written, uck-ah-nmh-boo-oo-oo-oo. 

It must be owned these birds show no great intelligence in 
the selection of nesting sites, large numbers of homes placed in the 
short grass of dry localities being destroyed by prairie fires annu- 
ally, others on cultivated lands are crushed by mowing machines, 
and those built along the marshes or sloughs are often inundated 
in a wet season. A slight excavation, sometimes thickly, but 
more often sparsely, lined with grasses and feathers plucked from 
the mother's body, receives from ten to twenty eggs, ranging 
from cream to pale brown, regularly marked with fine red- 
dish brown dots, the coloring and spotting differing, however, 
on almost every egg in a clutch. It is the female that bears the 
entire burden of incubation, lasting from twenty-three days to 
four weeks. So perfectly does her plumage mimic her surround- 
ings that one may almost step on a nest without seeing her. 
Like all her tribe, she is a model mother, she alone caring for 
the downy chicks, leading them where grasshoppers and other 
insect fare abounds, and protecting them with courageous and 
artful tactics. 

The young are marvelously cunning in hiding in the grass. 
Now they lie very close to a dog, and since their flesh is white 
and toothsome, whereas that of old birds is dark and less 
esteemed, they fill the game bags after the fifteenth of August. 
Toward the end of summer, when there is no nursery work left 
to do, the selfish father joins his fiimily; other families join his, 
or pack, until in regions where the birds have not been perse- 
cuted several scores roam over the prairie together to feed in the 
grain fields and on small berries and seeds. Now the grouse 
become wilder, and, except when gorged to indolence, will fly a 
mile or more, perhaps, so that little sport can be had with them 
over dogs. 

"The true manner of shooting prairie fowl," says Mr. 
Charles E. Whitehead in "Sport with Rod and Gun," "is to 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

drive over the prairie in a light wagon, letting the dogs range far 
and wide on either side. . . . When one scents the birds he 
will come to a point suddenly . . . as if he saw a ghost. The 
wagon drives near him, the other dogs coming up and backing 
him. The sportsmen then alight and take their shots. Rarely the 
whole covey is flushed together, and frequently the old birds lie 
until the last, and while the sportsman is loading his gun will 
dash away uttering their quick-repeated cry of cluk-cluk-diih- 
cluh, and looking back over their wings at the sportsman 
who marks them down half a mile away. As one goes to retrieve 
the dead bird, still another and another will rise, and it is only 
until one has been carefully over the tleld that he feels secure 
that all the birds are up." 

Unlike the rest of their kin, the prairie chickens can fly long 
distances, though not with such concentrated power as to pro- 
duce the thunder-like roar of the ruffed grouse, for example. 
Their flight may not be so swift, for it is accomplished with less 
flapping and more easy, graceful sailing. They migrate regularly, 
or, at least, the females do, leaving the hardier males to brave the 
intense cold at the northern limit of their range. In November 
and December flocks descend from northern Iowa and Minnesota 
to settle for the winter in southern Iowa and northern Missouri, 
the size of the south bound flocks being influenced by the severity 
of the cold, just as the return of the migrants in March and April 
depends upon the warmth of spring. Most of the pinnated 
grouse's life is passed on the fertile open prairies, sleety storms, 
high winds, and deep snow alone driving a pack to shelter in 
timbered lands. 

Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse 

(Pedioca'tes phasianellus campesiris) 


Length — 17.50 to 20 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts yellowish buff, irregularly barred 
and blotched with black; the shoulders streaked and the tips 
of wing coverts conspicuously spotted with white; crown 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

and back of neck more finely barred than the back; no neck 
tufts; head of male slightly crested, and his neck has con- 
cealed reddish distensible skin; space in front of and below 
eye buff, like the throat; breast has V-shaped brownish 
marks; sides irregularly barred or spotted with blackish 
or buff; underneath, including wing linings, white. Tail 
barred with black and buff, the central feathers longest, but 
shorter in female than in male; legs full feathered to the first 
joint of toes; bill horn color. Female smaller. 

Range — Plains and prairies east of the Rocky Mountains, north to 
Manitoba, east to Wisconsin and Illinois, and south to New 

Season — Permanent resident, or partially migratory in cold 

Three variations of one species of sharp-tailed grouse greatly 
extend its range until in one form or another it has come to be 
among the best known of our western game birds ; the Columbian, 
the true sharp-tail, and the prairie varieties not being generally 
separated by sportsmen either in the United States or Canada, 
as they are by the systematists. 

A most hilarious "dance" that precedes the nesting season, 
as in the case of the pinnated grouse, begins early in spring, at 
the gray of dawn, when the sharp-tails meet on a hillock that 
very likely has been a fiivorite with their ancestors, too. They 
behave like rational fowls until suddenly a male lowers his head, 
distends the sacs on either side of his neck that look like oranges 
fastened there, ruffles up his feathers to appear twice his natural 
siz'e, erects and spreads his tail, droops his wings, and, rushing 
across the arena, "takes the floor." Now the ball is opened in- 
deed. Out rush other dancers, stamping the ground hard as 
their feet beat a quick tattoo; the air escaping from their bright 
sacs making a "sort of bubbling crow," quite different from the 
deep organ tone of the pinnated grouse ; the rustling of the 
vibrating wings and tail furnishing extra music. Now all join 
in ; at first there is dignified decorum, but the fun grows fast 
and furious, then still ftister and still more furious ; the crazy 
birds twist and twirl, stamp and leap over each other in their 
frenzy, every moment making more noise, until their energy 
finally spent, they calm down into sane creatures again. They 
move quietly about over the well worn space (a "chicken's 
stamping ground," measuring from fifty to one hundred feet 


\ »4 

.WW , .1. „.. 


''-> :>^ ' 

Bob Vi/hites, Grouse, etc. 

across, according to Mr. Ernest Seton Thompson), when, without 
warning, some male has a fresh seizure that soon starts another 
saturnalia. "The whole performance reminds one so strongly 
of a ' Cree dance,' "says Mr. Thompson, "as to suggest the 
possibility of its being the prototype of the Indian exercise. . . . 
The dancing is indulged in at any time of the morning or even- 
ing in May, but it is usually at its height before sunrise. Its 
erotic character can hardly be questioned, but 1 cannot fix its 
place or value in the nuptial ceremonies. The fact that 1 have 
several times noticed the birds join for a brief ' set to ' in the late 
fall merely emphasizes its parallelism to the drumming and strut- 
ting of the ruffed grouse as well as the singing of small birds." 

After pairing, the male, in the usual selfish fashion of his 
tribe, allows his mate to seek some place of concealment, scratch 
out an excavation screened by grasses, and attend to all nurs- 
ery duties, while he joins a club of loafers that most scientists 
consider tlagrant polygamists too. From ten to sixteen eggs, 
very small for so large a bird, and of a brown or buff shade with 
a few dark spots, hatch, after about twenty-one days of close 
sitting, into golden yellow, speckled chicks, admirably clothed, to 
escape detection from prowling hawks, as they squat in the grass. 
This species, too, is a conspicuous sufferer from the mowing 
machine and prairie fire. If farmers would only burn all their 
fields in autumn instead of in May and June, when birds are nest- 
ing, thousands of grouse might be spared annually. 

All young grouse feed largely on insects, especially grass- 
hoppers, at first, but sharp-tails become almost dependent at any 
time on the hips of the wild rose, the stony seeds that likewise 
do the work of gravel being a staple every month in the year ; 
willow and birch browse, various seeds, cereals, and berries en- 
larging a long nu'iiii. Such dainty fare makes delicate, luscious 
flesh, so tender, indeed, that young birds falling at the aim of the 
sportsman's gun have been burst asunder when they reached 
the ground, and their feathers loosened. With increased age the 
flesh grows dark and less palatable. These grouse, hunted in 
the same fashion that the pinnated grouse is, generally lie well to 
a dog. A single bird rising with a cackling cry when flushed 
at a point, flies swiftly straight away, now beating the wings, 
now sailing with them stiffly set and decurved, still cackling as 
it goes. Later in the year, when coveys unite to form a dense 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

pack, the eyes, turned in all directions at once, on the perpet- 
ual lookout, it is a skilled sportsman who can steal a march on 
them before they run swiftly away and finally take to wing to flap 
and sail far, far beyond reach of his gun. When cold blasts, high 
winds, and deep snow drive these prairie lovers into timbered 
lands and sheltered ravines, a covey spends much time roosting 
in trees and walking along the branches, where the sharp-tails' 
nature apparently undergoes a change; for it is said they are 
almost stupidly unsuspicious now, and will sit still and look on 
at the destruction of their companions. Odd that they should 
shun man and his habitations ! A partial migration of females to 
warmer, or at least more sheltered winter quarters, doubtless 
accounts for the variation of the species. 

The Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse {Pediocaies phasianellus 
canipestris). also called by the various popular names by which 
the prairie sharp-tail is known since few see any difference be- 
tween the two varieties, has its upper parts more grayish instead 
of yellowish buff, possibly with less conspicuous white spots on 
its wings and shoulders, and its whitish under parts, including 
flanks, marked with black U or V shaped lines. In habits there 
appears to be little or no difference between this variety and its 
prototypes ; therefore the account of the prairie sharp-tail need 
not be repeated. As its name implies, the region about the Co- 
lumbia River is this grouse's chosen habitat; but the northwest- 
ern part of the United States, including northeastern California, 
northern Nevada, and Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Wash- 
ington, and from west of the Rocky Mountains northward 
through British Columbia to central Alaska, is the area over 
which it is distributed. As man, whom it shuns (unlike the 
pinnated grouse), appears on its territory, it recedes before him 
into wilder, remote districts, until plains where coveys were 
abundant only five years ago now know them no more. 

The Sharp-tailed Grouse {Pedioccetes phasianellus), a bird 
that never shows its dark, rich plumage within the United States, 
however commonly the paler, yellower prairie, and the grayer 
Columbian varieties of this handsome grouse are called by its 
name, ranges over the interior of British America to Fort Simp- 
son, and is comparatively little known. Reversing the usual rule, 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

the plumage of this one species grows gradually darker as the 
birds range northward, until the true sharp-tail has black for its 
prevailing color. 

Sage Grouse 

(Centrocercus urophasianus) 


Length — 20 to }2 inches ; largest of the grouse. 

Male — Upper parts ashy gray barred with brown, black, and 
darker gray; some white streaks on wings; tail of twenty 
stiff feathers graduated to a threadlike point, the central ones 
like back, the outer ones black and partly barred with buff; 
top of head and neck grayish buff. (" Neck susceptible of 
enormous distention by means of air sacs covered with naked, 
livid skin, not regularly hemispherical and lateral like those 
of the pinnated grouse, but forming a great protuberance in 
front of irregular contour; surmounted by a fringe of hairiike 
filaments several inches long, springing from a mass of erect, 
white feathers; covered below with a solid set of sharp, 
white, horny feathers like fish scales. The affair ... is 
constantly changing with the wear of the feathers." — Dr. 
Elliott Coues). This neck decoration is fully displayed only 
at the pairing season. Fore neck black speckled with grayish ; 
breast gray; flanks broadly barred with blackish brown and 
pale buff, or sometimes mottled with black; underneath 
black; wing linings white. 

Female — One-third smaller than male; chin and throat white; no 
neck decoration ; a softer, shorter tail. 

Range — Sage covered and sterile plains of British Columbia, 
Assiniboia, the two Dakotas, Nebraska, Colorado, southward 
to New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada; west to California, 
Oregon, and Washington. 

Season — Permanent resident, or partly migatory at some points. 

Several peculiarities make this species noteworthy; next to 
the turkey it is the largest game bird in the United States, as it 
is the largest of the grouse clan, a full grown male weighing 
often eight pounds, while his smaller mate may be only a little 
over half that weight, the size of sage fowls differing greatly. 
Another distinction it possesses in being the only one of the gal- 
linaceous or scratching birds without a gizzard, what answers for 
one being merely a soft, membraneous bag; hence gravel, prairie 
rose seeds, and other hard substances are never swallowed. Be- 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

cause sage grouse are commonly found in regions where tiie bush 
that lends them its name abounds, there is a popular impression 
that its leaves are their sole diet; but while they certainly form its 
staple in winter, at least, immense numbers of grasshoppers, 
crickets, berries, grain, seeds of grasses, and leguminous plants so 
change the character of the bird's flesh, ordinarily bitter and 
astringent, as to make it truly palatable to the fastidious in many 
sections where only the sharpest appetite could relish it under 
the sage circumstances. But even then a young bird should be 
drawn immediately after death. 

Since the sage bush (Artemisia) grows to a height of only 
two or three feet, a partial migration of a winter pack sometimes 
becomes necessary when the plant is hopelessly buried under 
snow, however willing this as well as other grouse may be to 
plunge into shallow drifts. Intense cold, common to the high 
altitudes, and intense heat to the alkali regions it inhabits, bliz- 
zards or scorching winds, apparently do not affect this hardy 
bird. The food supply is its first consideration ; after that a drink 
morning and evening from some clear mountain stream. At the 
approach of winter, coveys of seven or eight birds begin to pack 
into flocks, sometimes numbering a hundred, whose strong, clan- 
nish feeling leads them to live much as the Bob Whites do, though 
the males are no such models of the domestic virtues. Forming 
in a circle, the grouse squat and huddle for mutual warmth and 
protection, tails toward the centre of the ring, heads pointing 
outward to detect danger that may come from any direction. 
Yet they are not suspicious birds, or wild; they generally walk 
quietly away from an intruder, or run and hide among the sage 
bushes, where, owing to the mimicry of their plumage, it is diffi- 
cult indeed to detect them. Their nature is terrestrial. Flying, 
at the outset a laborious performance, will not be resorted to 
except as a last expedient. The sage cock with effort lifts his 
heavy body from the ground by much wing flapping; his balance 
is unsteady until fairly launched; but once off, on he goes, alter- 
nately flapping with five or six quick strokes, then smoothly 
sailing, cackling his alarm as he flies, until far beyond sight. 
Wheat found in the crop of a bird killed early in the morning 
eight miles from a cultivated field, proves to what a distance this 
grouse is willing to fly for a good breakfast. Mr. D. G. Elliot 
says it requires a heavy blow to bring a bird down, large shot 


Bob Whites, Grouse, etc. 

being necessary to kill one; for it is capable, even if severely 
wounded, of carrying away large quantities of lead, and will fly 
a long distance, probably not dropping until life is extinct. Like 
the prairie hen and the sharp-tailed grouse, only one bird will 
flush at a time, the others lying close in concealment. 

Like these birds, too, the sage cock goes through some 
amusing pre-nuptial performances early in spring. Inflating his 
large saffron colored air sacs until they rise above his head and 
all but conceal it, the spring feathers along the edges standing 
straight out, his pheasant-shaped tail spread like a great, pointed 
fan, the wings trailing beside him, his breast rubbing the ground 
until often the feathers are worn threadbare, he moves around 
the object of his affections with mincing, gingerly steps, while 
the air escaping from the sacs produces a guttural, purring sound 
that seems to voice his entire satisftiction with himself. Notwith- 
standing his protestations of devotion, he leaves his mate to 
scratch out a nest under some sage bush or in a grass tussock, 
and here she confines herself very closely — for she is a model 
mother — for three weeks or more. Knowing how perfectly her 
feathers conceal her from the sharpest eyes, she remains on the 
nest until sometimes almost stepped on, and shows the marvel- 
ously clever tricks of protecting her chicks common to ail this 
highly intelligent clan. It is the coyote that is her deadliest 
enemy. When the brood is fully able to take care of itself, the 
neglectful father, that has passed the early summer with other 
cocks as selfishly indolent as he, for the first time becomes 
acquainted with his children. 



(Family PhasianidceJ 

Wild Turkey 

(Meleagris gallopavo) 

Length — About four feet ; largest of the game birds. 

Male — Head and upper neck naked ; plumage with metallic 
bronze, copper, and green reflections, the feathers tipped 
with black; secondaries green barred with whitish, the 
primaries black barred with white. (The wild turkey to be 
distinguished from the domestic bird chiefly by the chestnut, 
instead of white, tips to the tail and upper tail coverts.) A 
long bunch of bristles hangs from centre of breast; bill red, 
like the head ; legs red and spurred. 

Female — Smaller, dull of plumage, and without the breast bristles. 

Range — United States, from the Chesapeake to the Gulf coast, 
and westward to the Plains. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Once abundant so far north as Maine, Ontario, and Dakota, 
this noble game bird, now hunted to very near the extinction 
point, has had its range so restricted by the advance of civiliza- 
tion, for which it has a well grounded antipathy, that the most 
inaccessible mountains or swampy bottom lands, the borders 
of woodland streams that have never echoed to the whistle 
of a steamboat, are not too remote a habitation. Originally no 
more suspicious and wild than a heath hen, according to the 
testimony of early New Englanders, much persecution has finally 
made it the most cunning and wary, the most unapproachable 
bird to be found ; but what possible chance of escape has any 
wild creature once man, with the manifold aids of civilization at 
his disposal, determines to possess it ? It cannot be long at the 
present rate of shrinkage before the turkey, in spite of its marvel- 
ous cleverness, will follow the great auk to extinction. 


Va Life-size- 

Pheasants and Turkeys 

It is the Mexican turkey, introduced into Europe early in the 
sixteenth century, that still abundantly flourishes in poultry yards 
everywhere, and furnishes our Thanksgiving feasts. Another 
bird of the southwest, the Rio Grande turkey, that ranges over 
northeastern Mexico and southeastern Texas, and a fourth and 
smaller variety, confined to southern Florida, show constant, if 
slight variations in plumage, but little in nature, which awakens 
the hope that if American sportsmen were to introduce the 
southern races where the present species has been killed off, and 
protect the birds, magnificent sport might be indefinitely pre- 

Beginning at early dawn in spring, and before leaving his 
perch, the male turkey gobbles a shrill, clear love song, quite 
different at this season, before fat chokes his utterance, from the 
coarse gobble of the domestic turkey. The females now roost 
apart, but in the same vicinity. By imitating the hoot of the 
barred owl, and by skilful counterfeits of the female's plaintive 
yelp, produced by old sportsmen with the aid of a turkey wing- 
bone, or a vibrating leaf placed on the lips, among other devices, 
the turkey may be lured within gun range, if his education has 
not gone far. Sailing to the ground from his perch, in the hope 
of having attracted some hen to his breakfast ground, the cock, 
at sight of one, displays every charm he possesses : his widely 
spread tail, his dewlap and warty neck charged with bright red 
blood ; and drooping his wings as he struts before her, he sucks 
air into his windbag, only to discharge it with a pulmonic puff, 
that he evidently considers irresistibly fiiscinating. Dandified, 
overwhelmingly conceited, ruffled up with self-importance, he 
struts and puffs, until suddenly an infuriated rival rushing at him 
gives battle at once; spurs, claws, beaks, make blood and feathers 
fly, and the vanquished sultan retires discomfited, leaving the foe 
in possession of the harem. The turkey is ever a sad polygamist. 
Once the nesting season, lasting about three months, is over, the 
male stops gobbling, and not until the young need no care does 
he rejoin the females and see his well grown offspring for the 
first time, having enjoyed an idle club life with other selfish 
males while there was any real work to do. 

The turkey-hen, happy in his exile, even takes pains to hide 
herself and nest from his lordship, for he becomes frightfully 
jealous of anything that distracts her attention from him, and will 
19 289 

Pheasants and Turkeys 

destroy eggs or chicks in a fit of passion. Evidently jealousy is 
unknown to her, however, for many nests — or the area of ground 
that answers as such — have been reported where two hens de- 
posited their cream colored eggs, finely and evenly speckled with 
brown, thus doubling the ordinary clutch into one of two dozen 
eggs or over. It is thought that, in such cases, the good-natured 
incubators relieve each other. Snakes, hawks, and other enemies 
in search of so toothsome a morsel as a turkey chick, and heavy 
rains that chill the delicate, downy fledgelings, decimate a brood, 
however faithfully tended by a devoted mother. It is not until 
they are able to fly into high roosts that her mind is relieved of 
many anxieties ; and only when some dire calamity sweeps away 
her entire family does she attempt to raise a second brood. 
Insects, especially grasshoppers, appear to be the approved diet 
for all young gallinaceous fowl ; the more extensive bill of fare 
of fruits, grain, nuts, seeds, and leaf buds comes later, when a 
toughened gizzard may receive the quantities of gravel necessary 
to grind the grain. Quit, quit, call the feeding birds, though, 
like domestic fowls, to quit is the last thing they seem ready to do. 
Where food is abundant they may wander far, but never from a 
chosen region, for they are not migratory; nevertheless the pointer 
that scents a small flock in autumn, when the innocence of young 
birds makes shooting a possibility to the expert, leads his master 
a rough and wearisome chase before a shot is offered at this 
peerless game bird. 






(Order Columbce) 

Pigeons and Doves 

(Family Coliimbidce) 

Of three hundred birds of this order known to scientists, 
over one hundred are confined to the Malay Archipelago, yet 
there are only twenty-eight in India, fewer still in Australia, only 
twelve species in the whole of North America, and of that num- 
ber but two pigeons and one dove now stray far enough beyond 
the Florida Keys and southern borders to come within the scope 
of this book. 

Passenger, or Wild Pigeon. 

Band-tailed Pigeon. 

Mourning Dove. 



(Family ColumbidceJ 

Passenger Pigeon 

(Ectopistes migratorius) 

Called also : WILD PIGEON 

Length — 16 to 25 inches. 

Male — Upper parts bluish slate shaded with olive gray on back 
and shoulders, and with metallic violet, gold, and greenish 
reflections on back and sides of head; the wing coverts with 
velvety black spots; throat bluish slate, quickly shading into 
a rich reddish buff on breast, and paling into white under- 
neath; two middle tail feathers blackish; others fading from 
pearl to white. Eyes red, like the feet; bill black. 

Female — Similar, but upper parts washed with more olive brown; 
less iridescence; breast pale grayish brown fading to white 

Range — Eastern North America, nesting chiefly north of or along 
the northern borders of United States as far west as the 
Dakotas and Manitoba, and north to Hudson Bay. 

Season — Chiefly a transient visitor in the United States of late years. 

The wild pigeon barely survives to refute the adage, "In 
union there is strength." No birds have shown greater gregari- 
ousness, the flocks once numbering not hundreds nor thousands 
but millions of birds; Wilson in 1808 mentioning a flock seen 
by him near Frankfort, Kentucky, which he conservatively esti- 
mated at over two billion, and Audubon told of flights so dense 
that they darkened the sky, and streamed across it like mighty 
rivers. So late as our Centennial year one nesting ground in 
Michigan extended over an area twenty-eight miles in length by 
three or four in width. The modern mind, accustomed to deal 
only with pitiful remnants of feathered races, can scarcely grasp 
the vast numbers that once made our land the sportsman's para- 


Pig^eons and Doves 

disc. Union for once has been fatal. Unlimited netting, even 
during thie entire nesting season, has resulted in sending over one 
million pigeons to market from a single roost in one year, leaving 
perhaps as many more wounded birds and starving, helpless, 
naked squabs behind, until the poultry stalls became so glutted 
with pigeons that the low price per barrel scarcely paid for their 
transportation, and they were fed to the hogs. This abominable 
practice of netting pigeons, discontinued only because there are 
no flocks left to capture, has driven the birds either to nest north 
of the United States, or, when within its borders, to change their 
habits and live in couples chiefly. Captain Bendire, than whom 
no writer ever expressed an opinion out of fuller knowledge, said 
in 1892: "The extermination of the passenger pigeon has pro- 
gressed so rapidly during the past twenty years that it looks now 
as if their (sic) total extermination might be accomplished within 
the present century." Already they are scarce as the great auk in 
the Atlantic states. 

One, or at most two white eggs, laid on a rickety platform of 
sticks in a tree, where they are visible from below, would scarcely 
account for the myriads of pigeons once seen, were not frequent 
nestings common throughout the summer; and it is said the birds 
lay again on their return south. Both of the devoted mates take 
regular turns at incubating, the female between two o'clock in 
the afternoon and nine or ten the next morning, daily, leaving the 
male only four or five hours sitting, according to Mr. William 
Brewster. "The males feed twice each day," he says, "namely, 
from daylight to about eight a.m., and again late in the afternoon. 
The females feed only in the forenoon. The change is made 
with great regularity as to time, all the males being on the nest 
by ten o'clock a.m. . . . The sitting bird does not leave the 
nest until the bill of its incoming mate nearly touches its tail, the 
former slipping off as the latter takes its place. . . . Five 
weeks are consumed by a single nesting. . . . Usually the 
male pushes the young off the nest by force. The latter struggles 
and squeals precisely like a tame squab, but is finally crowded 
out along the branch, and after further feeble resistance flutters 
down to the ground. Three or four days elapse before it is able 
to fly well. Upon leaving the nest it is often fatter and heavier 
than the old birds; but it quickly becomes thinner and lighter, 
despite the enormous quantity of food it consumes." Before it 


Pigeons and Doves 

leaves the nest it is nourished with food brought up from the 
parents' crops, where, mixed with a peculiar whitish fluid, it 
passes among the credulous as "pigeon's milk." Is not this 
the nearest approach among birds to the mammals' method of 
feeding their young? 

Patterns of all the domestic virtues, proverbially loving, 
gentle birds, anatomists tell us their blandness is due not to 
the cultivation of their moral nature, but to the absence of the 

The Band-tailed, or White-collared Pigeon (Columba fasci- 
ata), a large, stout species distributed over the western United 
States and from British Columbia to Mexico, inhabits chiefly those 
mountainous regions where acorns, its favorite food, can be 
secured. The male has head, neck, and under parts purplish 
wine red, fading below ; a distinct white half collar, with some 
exquisite metallic scales on it ; his lower back, sides of body, and 
wing linings slaty blue ; the back and shoulders lustrous dark 
greenish brown ; yellow feet and bill; a red ring around eye; and 
the bluish ash tail crossed at the middle with a black bar. The 
female either lacks the white collar or it is obscure, and her gen- 
eral coloring is much duller. Like the passenger pigeon, this 
bird sometimes lives in flocks of vast extent, its habits generally 
according with those previously described. 

Mourning Dove* 

(Zenaidura macroura) 


Length^\2 to 13 inches. 

Male — Grayish brown or fawn color above, varying to bluish 
gray. Crown and upper part of head greenish blue, with 
green and golden metallic reflections on sides of neck. A 
black spot under each ear. Forehead and breast reddish 
buff ; lighter underneath. (General impression of color, 
bluish fawn.) Bill black, with tumid, fleshy covering; feet 

* The account of the Mourning Dove, which, in a work scientifically classified, 
belongs in its present position, is reprinted from the author's " Bird Neighbors," which 
was written without a plan for a supplementary companion volume. 


Pigeons and Doves 

red; two middle tail feathers longest; all others banded with 
black and tipped with ashy white. Wing coverts sparsely 
spotted with black. Flanks and underneath the wings 
Female — Duller and without iridescent reflections on neck. 

Range— ^oxX\\ America, from Quebec to Panama, and westward 
to Arizona. Most common in temperate climate, east of 
Rocky Mountains. 

Season — March to November. Common summer resident ; not 
migratory south of Virginia. 

The beautiful, soft colored plumage of this incessant and 
rather melancholy love-maker is not on public exhibition. To see 
it we must trace the a-coo-o, coo-o, coo-oo, coo-o to its source in 
the thick foliage in some tree in an out-of-the-way corner of the 
farm, or to an evergreen near the edge of the woods. The slow, 
plaintive notes, more like a dirge than a love song, penetrate to 
a surprising distance. They may not always be the same lovers 
we hear from April to the end of summer, but surely the sound 
seems to indicate that they are. The dove is a shy bird, attached 
to its gentle and refined mate with a devotion that has passed 
into a proverb, but caring little or nothing for the society of other 
feathered friends, and very little for its own kind, unless after the 
nesting season has passed. In this respect it differs widely from 
its cousins, the wild pigeons, flocks of which, numbering many 
millions, are recorded by Wilson and other early writers before 
the days when netting these birds became so fatally profitable. 

What the dove finds to ardently adore in the "shiftless 
housewife," as Mrs. Wright calls his lady-love, must pass the 
comprehension of the phoebe, which constructs such an exquisite 
home, or of a bustling, energetic Jenny Wren, that " looketh well 
to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idle- 
ness." She is a flabby, spineless bundle of flesh and pretty 
feathers, gentle and refined in manners, but slack and incompe- 
tent in all she does. Her nest consists of a few loose sticks, 
without rim or lining ; and when her two babies emerge from 
the white eggs, that somehow do not fall through or roll out of 
the rickety lattice, their tender little naked bodies must suffer 
from many bruises. We are almost inclined to blame the incon- 
siderate mother for allowing her offspring to enter the world 
unclothed— obviously not her fault, though she is capable of just 


Pigeons and Doves 

such negligence. Fortunate are the baby doves when their lazy 
mother scatters her makeshift nest on top of one that a robin has 
deserted, as she frequently does. It is almost excusable to take 
her young birds and rear them in captivity, where they invariably 
thrive, mate, and live happily, unless death comes to one, when 
the other often refuses food and grieves its life away. 

In the wild state, when the nesting season approaches, both 
birds make curious acrobatic flights above the tree-tops; then, 
after a short sail in midair, they return to their perch. This 
appears to be their only giddiness and frivolity, unless a dust- 
bath in the country road might be considered a dissipation. 

In the autumn a few pairs of doves show slight gregarious 
tendencies, feeding amiably together in the grain fields and retir- 
ing to the same roost at sundown. 











(Order Raptor es) 

These rapacious birds, whose entire structure indicates 
strength, ferocity, carnivorous appetite, and powerful flight, 
have, for their diagnostic features, strong, hooked bills, covered 
toward the base with a cere, or membrane, through which the 
nostrils open; four long, strong toes, flexibly jointed to secure 
greatest grasping power, and fitted with sharp, curved nails or 
talons; long, ample wings and muscular legs, partly feathered. 
The young, though not naked when hatched, as are most altri- 
cial birds, remain in the nest, dependent on their parents, for a 
long time. 

American Vultures 

( FamUy CathartidtrJ 

Two of the eight vultures found in the western hemisphere 
live chiefly in the southern part of the United States. These 
birds have head and neck bare of feathers or covered only with 
down; toes and tarsus bare likewise; claws not much incurved 
and not very sharp; perfectly developed wings for continuous, 
majestic flight; and strong digestive organs adapted to carrion, 
since these birds are most active scavengers. Vultures are gre- 
garious. They alone, among the birds of prey, feed their young 
by disgorging food. 

Turkey Vulture 

Black Vulture 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles 

(Family Falconida:) 

A loud, startling cry; powerful legs and feet for striking at 
prey; the hind fourth toe as long as the others, for grasping; 


Birds of Prey 

sharp, decurved nails or talons, indicate the extreme of ferocity 
among the feathered tribes. Small mammals, reptiles, batra- 
chians, and insects make up a far larger proportion of this 
family's food than birds and poultry, although agriculturists 
generally little appreciate its great service in protecting their 
crops. Solitary birds of freedom, they hold themselves high 
aloof from the world; nevertheless, eagerly vigilant, their won- 
derfully acute eyes keep constantly alert for food. Flocks are 
occasionally seen, but in the act of migrating only, for they are 
not truly gregarious, like vultures. Some species remain mated for 
life, and become strongly attached to a nesting site, where they 
return year after year, a pair preempting an entire neighborhood. 

Swallow-tailed Kite 

Marsh Hawk or Harrier 

Sharp-shinned Hawk 

Cooper's Hawk 

American Goshawk 

Red-tailed Hawk 

Red-shouldered Hawk 

Swainson's Hawk 

Broad-winged Hawk 

Rough-legged Hawk 

Golden Eagle 

Bald Eagle 

Duck Hawk 

Pigeon Hawk 

American Sparrow Hawk 

American Osprey, or Fish Hawk 

Barn Owls 

(Family Strigidce) 

A broad, triangular, facial disc ; a jagged edged middle toe 
nail, and some peculiarities of bone structure, separate these 
birds from the other owls. They have also very long, pointed 
wings, reaching beyond the tail; soft, downy, speckled plum- 
age; legs feathered to toes; extremely acute, long claws, and 
comparatively small eyes among other outer characteristics; but 
in habits they differ little from their kin. 

American Barn, or Monkey-faced Owl 

Birds of Prey 

Horned and Hoot Owls 

(Family Bubonida'J 

Like the osprey in the hawi< group, owls have a peculiarly 
flexible, reversible hind toe; eyes not capable of being rolled but 
set firmly in the sockets, necessitating the turning of the head to 
see in different directions; feathered discs around the eyes; 
loose, mottled plumage, some species with feathered ear tufts 
(horns), others without; hooked beaks and muscular feet for 
perching and for grasping prey: — these are their chief charac- 
teristics. Birds of the woodland, more rarely of grassy marshes 
and plains, nearly all nocturnal in habits, since their food con- 
sists mostly of small mammals that steal abroad at night to 
destroy the farmer's crops, the owls are among the most val- 
uable of birds to the agriculturist. Unless too large, the prey 
is bolted entire — the hair, claws, bones, etc., being afterward 
ejected in matted pellets. 

American Long-eared Owl 

American Short-eared Owl 

Barred or Hoot Owl 

Saw-whet or Acadian Owl 

Screech Owl 

Great Horned Owl 

Snowy Owl 

American Hawk Owl 

Burrowing Owl 



(Family Cathartidce) 

Turkey Vulture 

(Cathartes aura) 


Length — ^o inches; wing spread about 6 feet. 

Male and Female — Blaci<ish brown ; wing coverts and linings 
grayish; head and necli nal<ed and red, from livid crimson 
to pale cinnamon, and usually with white specks; base of 
bill red, and end dead white; feet flesh colored. Head 
of female covered with grayish brown, fur-like feathers. 
Young darker than adults; bill and skin of head dark and 
the latter downy. Nestlings of yellowish white. 

Range — Temperate North America, from Atlantic to Pacific, 
rarely so far north as British Columbia; southward to Pata- 
gonia and Falkland Islands. Casual in New England. 

Season — Permanent resident, except at extreme northern limit 
of range. 

Floating high in air, with never a perceptible movement of 
its widespread wings, as it circles with majestic, unimpas- 
sioned grace in a great spiral, this common buzzard of our 
southern states suggests by its flight the very poetry of motion, 
while its terrestrial habits of scavenger are surely the very prose 
of existence. In the air the bird is unsurpassed for grace, as, 
rising with the wind, with only the slightest motion of its great, 
flexible, upturned wings, it sails around and around, for hours at a 
time, at a height of two or three hundred feet; then descending in 
a lor»g sweep, rises again with the same calm, effortless soaring 
that often carries it beyond our sight through the thin, summer 
clouds. Humboldt recorded that not even the condor reaches 
greater heights beyond the summits of the Andes than this 
buzzard, which often joins its South American relative in its 



dizzy sport. Since the buzzard is gregarious, there are usually 
a dozen great birds amusing themselves by wheeling through 
space in pursuit of pleasure, and abandoning themselves to the 
amusement with tireless ecstasy. Is it not probable that so 
much exercise is taken to help digest the enormous amount of 
carrion bolted ? For this reason, it is thought, the wood ibis soars 
and gyrates. 

Other birds have utilitarian motives for keeping in the 
air; several of the hawks, for example, do indeed sail about in a 
similar graceful spiral flight, notably the red-tailed species, but 
a sudden swoop or dive proves that its slow gyrations were 
made with an eye directly fastened on a dinner. The crow 
soars to fight the hawk that carries off its young; the king- 
bird dashes upward to pursue the crow; but, amidst the quarrels 
and cruelties of other birds, the turkey buzzard sails serenely 
on its way, molested by none, since it attacks none, and 
makes no enemies, feeding as it does, for the most part, on 
carrion that none grudge it. The youngest chickens in the 
barnyard show no alarm when a turkey buzzard alights in their 
midst. They know that no more harmless creature exists. 
It is the most common bird in the South, being protected 
there by law in consideration of its service to the cities' street 
cleaning departments, which, in some places where Colonel 
Waring's methods are unheard of, it constitutes in the main. 
Every field has its buzzards soaring overhead and casting 
their shadows, like clouds, on the grain below. Depending 
on their services, the farmers allow the dead horse, or pig, or 
chicken to lie where it drops, for the vultures to peck at until 
the bones are as clean as if purified by an antiseptic. Fresh 
meat has no attractions for them; their preference is for flesh 
sufficiently foetid to aid their sight in searching for food, and on 
such they will gorge until often unable to rise from the ground. 
When disturbed in the act of overhauling a rubbish heap in the 
environs of the city, for the bits of garbage that no goat would 
touch, they express displeasure at a greedy rival by blowing 
through the nose, making a low, hissing sound or grunt, the 
only noise they ever utter, and by lifting their wings in a threat- 
ening attitude. With both beak and claws capable of inflicting 
painful injury, the buzzard resorts to the loathsome trick of 
disgorging the foul contents of its stomach on an intruder. 



This automatic performance is practised even by the youngest 
fledglings when disturbed in the nest. It certainly is a most ef- 
fective protection. Petrels also practise it, but not so commonly. 

The turkey buzzard shows a decided preference for warm 
latitudes, never nesting farther north than New Jersey on the 
Atlantic coast, though, strangely enough, it has penetrated into 
the interior so far as British Columbia. Lewis and Clarke met it 
about the falls of the Oregon, and it is still not uncommon on 
the Pacific slope. Nevertheless, it is about the shambles of 
towns in the West Indies and other hot countries that the buz- 
zard finds life the pleasantest. It has the tropical vice of laziness, 
so closely allied to cowardliness, and lives where there is the 
least possible necessity for exercising the stronger virtues. Our 
soldiers in the war with Spain tell of the final touch of horror 
given to the Cuban battle-fields where their wounded and dead 
comrades fell, by the gruesome vultures that often were the first 
to detect a corpse lying unseen among the tall grass. 

As night approaches, one buzzard after another flies toward 
favorite perches in the trees, preferably dead ones, and settles, 
with much flapping of wings, on the middle branches ; 
then stretching its body and walking along the roost like 
a turkey, until it arrives at the chosen spot, it hisses or 
grunts through its nostrils at the next arrival, whose additional 
weight frequently snaps the dead branch and compels a number 
of the great birds to repeat the prolonged process of settling to 
sleep. But, very frequently, the traveller in the South notices 
buzzards perched, like dark spectres, on the chimneys of houses, 
at night, especially in winter, in order to warm their sensitive 
bodies by the rising smoke, and, after a rain, they often spread 
their wings over the flues to dry their water-soaked feathers. 
This spread-eagle attitude is also taken, anywhere the bird hap- 
pens to be, when the sun comes out after a drenching shower. 

Without exerting themselves to form a nest, the buzzards 
seek out a secluded swamp, palmetto "scrub," sycamore 
grove, or steep and sunny hillside, and deposit from one to 
three eggs, usually two, in the cavity of a stump, or lay them 
directly on the ground, under a bush, or on a rock — any- 
where, in fact, that necessity urges. Rotten wood is a favorite 
receptacle, but the angular bricks of ruined chimneys are not 
disdained. The eggs are of a dull yellowish white, irregularly 



blotched with chocolate brown markings, chiefly at the larger 
end. Very rarely eggs are found without these markings. 
Laying aside, for a time, his slothful ways, the male carefully 
attends his sitting mate. As a colony of buzzards, when nest- 
ing, indulges its offensive defensive action most relentlessly, 
few, except scientists, care to make a close study of the birds' 
nesting habits. 

Black Vulture 

(Catharista atrata) 

Called also: CARRION CROW 

Length — About 24 inches. Wing spread over four feet. 

Male and Female — Dull black ; under part of point of wings 

silvery gray; head, neck, and base of bill dusky; tip of bill 

and feet flesh colored or grayish ; head and neck bare. 
Range — Common in South Atlantic and Gulf states, through 

Mexico to South America. Occasional in Western states. 

Rare north of Ohio. 
Season — Permanent resident. 

With a heavier, more thickset body than the turkey buz- 
zard's and shorter wings, this very common "carrion crow" 
may be identified in mid-air by its comparative lack of grace in 
flight, its frequent wing flapping, and its smaller size, which is 
more apparent than real, however, since its stocky build offsets 
its narrower wing-spread. Five or six quick, vigorous flaps of 
the wings send the bird sailing off horizontally ; another series 
of wing flappings carries it up higher for another sail ; but the 
flight is heavy and labored when compared with the majestic 
spiral floating of the buzzard, and it lacks the fascination that 
characterizes that other vulture's motion. Seen on the ground, 
the dusky head of the carrion crow is alone sufficient to differen- 
tiate it from the red-headed buzzard. It is also black instead of 
brown ; and its tail is short and rounded. 

A more southerly range and a decided preference for the sea- 
coast, and for the habitations of men, again distinguish it; but in 
nesting and other habits than those noted these two vultures are 
almost identical. From North Carolina southward, every city 
and village contains a horde of these dusky scavengers, walking 



about the streets as familiarly as chicl<ens to pick up the scraps 
of food that so quickly become putrid in a warm climate ; or, 
perched upon the chimney tops, drying and warming their grim, 
spectre-lil<e bodies. Every market place is haunted by them 
more persistently than by the turkey buzzard ; for the carrion 
crows will be walked on by the crowd rather than leave the 
refuse of the butcher's stalls. One bird in Charleston, S. C, has 
visited a certain butcher regularly for twenty years. While both 
species are cowards, it is the black vulture that invariably secures 
the tidbit in the refuse heap from under the very beak of the 
turkey buzzard that stands in ridiculous awe of its heavy weight. 
But it is only at feeding time that these two vultures associate. 
The black vulture is decidedly the more gregarious. A carcass 
of horse or hog will sometimes be entirely concealed under an 
animate mass of these sable scavengers, perhaps two hundred or 
more fiercely clawing at the loathsome food. They gave the 
final touch of horror to the scene after the destruction of the 
Spanish fleet at Santiago when the sailors were washed ashore, 
and to the battlefields where our own dead soldiers lay. One of 
the Rough Riders who had shown magnificent courage in the 
presence of the enemy, went into violent hysterics at the sight 
of the vultures hovering over his fallen friends in the underbrush 
about Baiquiri. 



(Family Falconidce) 

Swallow-tailed Kite 

(ElanoiJes forficatus) 


Letigth — About 24 inches, or according to development of tail. 
Wing spread about 4 feet. 

Male and Female — Head, neck, under parts, including wing 
linings, band across lower back, snow white ; rest of plum- 
age glossy black, showing violet and green reflections. Bill 
bluish black; feet and very short legs, light. Tail 14 inches 
long and cleft like a swallow's for half its length. 

Hange — United States, especially in the interior, from Pennsyl- 
vania and the great plains southward to Central and South 
America. Casual in New England, Minnesota, Manitoba, 
and Assiniboia; nesting irregularly throughout its range; 
winters chiefly south of United States. 

Season — Summer resident. April to October. 

Not excepting even the turkey vulture, the tern or the 
swallow, no bird moves through the sky with more exquisite 
grace and buoyancy than this beautiful black and white, sharp 
winged kite, whose motion combines the special fascinations 
of each of its three close rivals. Soaring upward, buzzard 
fashion, until it sometimes fades from sight, or floating like it on 
motionless pinions; now swooping with the dash of a tern and 
catching itself suddenly just above the earth to skim along the 
surface like a swallow; swaying its trim body with a cut of the 
wing and the lashing of its long forked tail, it pauses neither for 
rest nor food, but apparently spends every waking moment in the 
air. It is supposed it even sleeps while it floats, so little con- 
scious effort is evident in its flight; and it feeds a-wing by tear- 
ing off bits of the snake, or other prey, firmly grasped in its 
small feet. This has been seized while passing and without 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

pause. In this way too the bird takes a drink. Because they 
are so little used for walking, for one almost never sees this kite 
on the ground, its legs are very short and all but invisible. 

Most abundant in the western division of the Gulf states and 
above the great plains, the numbers of this bird — let it be 
recorded — nowhere seem to have diminished, since it feeds almost 
exclusively on snakes, lizards, and the larger insects such as 
locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers, and never on other birds. 
Even the dullest mind recognizes it as harmless and beneficent. 
Naturally a bird so little persecuted shows no great fear of man. 
Its shrill, penetrating wee-wee-wee has been uttered in the very 
ears of a picnic party within sight of a huge hotel in Minnesota. 

But when the nesting season arrives, these kites seek out 
uninhabited, inaccessible regions where it is well worth while to 
follow them, however, since their flight, always charming, dash- 
ing, and elegant, now assumes matchless perfection impossible 
to describe. Even their wooing is done on the wing. Several 
pairs may build in a neighborhood, which is usually a dense wood 
near water that attracts their prey within easy reach ; and at the 
top of some tall, straight tree, anywhere from sixty to one hundred 
and forty feet from the ground, an irregular nest of large loose 
twigs, lined or unlined with moss, may likely as not rise from the 
foundations of one used the previous year. From two to four white 
eggs, boldly spotted or blotched with different shades of brown, 
are laid any time from April to June, accordingto the latitude. It is 
thought both kites take turns at the incubating, which is closely 
attended to ; or at least the male is particularly devoted to his 
sitting mate, always being seen near by. In leaving the nest a 
bird rises upward suddenly as if sent up by a spring, instead of 
flying sidewise as most birds do; and in alighting it first poises 
itself directly above the eggs, then descends on apparently 
motionless wings so softly and lightly the large body might be 
a single feather dropping from the sky. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

Marsh Hawk 

(Circus Hiuisoiiitis) 



Length — Male 19 inches; female 22 inches. 

Male — Upper parts gray or bluish ash, washed with brownish; 
upper tail coverts pure white; silver gray tail feathers with 
five or six dusky bars, the outer primaries darkest; upper 
breast pearl gray, shading into white underneath, where 
the plumage is sparsely spotted with rufous. Hooked bill, 
and feet black. 

Female and Young — Upper parts dark amber; the head and neck 
streaked, other parts margined or spotted with reddish 
brown; upper tail coverts white; middle tail feathers 
barred with gray and black, others barred with pale yellow 
and black. Under parts rusty buff, widely streaked on 
breast and more narrowly underneath with dusky. The 
younger the bird the heavier its blackish and rufous colora- 
tion, many phases of plumage being shown before emerging 
into the gray and white adult males. 

Range — North America in general, to Panama and Cuba; nests 
throughout North American range; winters in southern 
half of it. 

Season — Summer resident at northern half of range. 

Close along the ground skims the marsh hawk, since field 
mice and other small mammals, frogs, and the larger insects 
that hide among the grass are what it is ever seeking as it 
swerves this way and that, turns, goes over its course, "quar- 
tering " the ground like a well trained dog on the scent of a 
hare — the peculiarity of tlight that has earned it the hare-hound 
or harrier's name. A few easy strokes in succession, then a 
graceful sail on motionless wings, make its flight appear leis- 
urely, even slow and spiritless, as compared with the impetuous 
dash of a hawk that pursues feathered game; hence this is counted 
an " ignoble " hawk in the scornful eyes of falconers used to the 
noble sport of hawking. Open stretches of country, wide 
fields, salt and fresh water marshes, ponds, and the banks of 
small streams, whose sides are not thickly wooded, since trees 
simply impede this low flier's progress, are its favorite hunting 
grounds; and it will sometimes alight on a low stump, or in the 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

grass itself, for it is a low percher too. Because its quarry is 
humble, and farmers, on the whole, appreciate its service in de- 
stroying meadow mice, crickets, grasshoppers, and other pests, 
this bird suffers comparatively little persecution, and still remains 
one of the most widely distributed and common of its tribe. 
That it occasionally preys upon small birds, when other food 
fails, cannot be denied; but nearly one-half of all the stomachs 
examined by Mr. Fisher, for the Department of Agriculture, con- 
tained mice. 

In the nesting season especially, the harrier belies that 
name, but, proving his title to Circus, his Latin one, wheels 
round and round and floats high above the earth, describing some 
beautiful evolutions as he goes, that are calculated simply to 
stimulate afresh the ardor of his well beloved, since evidence 
strongly points to a life partnership between the mates. Soaring 
in the sky, suddenly he falls, turning several somersaults in the 
descent. "At other times," says Mr. Ernest Seton Thompson, " he 
flies across the marsh in a course which would outline a gigantic 
saw, each of the descending parts being done in a somersault, 
and accompanied by screeching notes which form the only love 
song within the range of his limited powers." All hawks have 
a screaming, harsh cry, not distinctly different in the different 
species to serve as a clew to identity except to those well up in 
field practice; but the white lower back of the harrier, its long 
tail, and its terrestrial habits serve to identify it in any phase of 
plumage. Owing to its long wings, it appears much larger in 
the air than on the ground. Four to six dull or bluish white eggs, 
unmarked, are laid in May, in a nest built of twigs, hay, and 
weeds, on the ground; yet the clumsy affair was the joint effort 
of the mates, that also take turns in sitting and in feeding the 

Sharp-shinned Hawk 

( Accipiter velox) 


Length — Male lo to 12 inches; female 12 to 14 inches. 
Male and Female — Upper parts slaty gray. Tail, which is about 3 
inches longer than tips of wings and nearly square, is ashy 



Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

gray, barred with blackish, and with a whitish tip ; throat 
white, streal<ed with blackish. Other under parts whitish, 
barred on sides and breast with rusty, buff, and brown, 
lining of wings white, spotted with dusky; head small; 
tarsus slender and feathered half way ; feet slender. Imma- 
ture birds have dusky upper parts, margined with rufous; 
tail resembling adults'. Under parts buffer whitish, streaked 
or spotted with rusty or blackish. 

Jiange — North America in general; nesting throughout the United 
States and wintering from Massachusetts to Guatemala. 

Season — Permanent resident, except at northern parts of range. 

A smaller edition of Cooper's hawk (to be distinguished 
from it chiefly by its square, instead of rounded, tail), like it, 
dashes through the air with a speed and audacity that spread 
consternation among the little song and game birds and poultry, 
once it appears, like a flash of "feathered lightning," in their 
midst. Cries of terror from many sympathizers when a spar- 
row, a goldfinch, a warbler, or some tiny victim is making 
desperate efforts to escape, first attract one's notice; but of what 
avail are the stones hurled after a hawk that swoops and dodges, 
twists and turns, in imitation of every movement of the panic 
stricken bird he presses after, closer and closer, until, at the end 
of a long chase, when it is exhausted and almost worried to 
death, he strikes it with talons so sharp and long that they 
penetrate to the very vitals ? Now alighting on the ground, 
he rends the warm flesh from its bones with a beak as savage as 
the talons. If the little bird had but known enough to remain 
in the thicket! A race for life in the open seems to give the 
pursuing villain a fiendish satisfaction : let his little prey but 
dash toward the woods, where he knows as well as it does that 
it is safe, and one fell swoop cuts the journey short. There can 
be little said in praise of a marauder that boldly enters the 
poultry yard and devours dozens of chicks, attacks and worsts 
game birds quite as large as itself and that eats very few mice 
and insects and an overwhelming proportion of birds of the 
greatest value and charm. The so called "hen-hawks" and 
"chicken-hawks" — much slandered birds — do not begin to be 
so destructive as this little reprobate that, like its larger proto- 
type and the equally villainous goshawk, too often escape the 
charge of shot they so richly deserve. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

Unhappily, the sharp-shinned hawk is one of the most 
abundant species we have. Doubtless because it is small and 
looks inoffensive enough, as it soars in narrow circles overhead, 
its worse than useless life is often spared. 

Cac, cac, cac, very much like one of the flicker's calls, is 
this hawk's love song apparently, for it seldom, if ever, lifts its 
voice, except at the nesting season. Now it seeks the woods to 
make a foirly well constructed nest of twigs, lined with smaller 
ones, or strips of bark, with the help of its larger mate, from fif- 
teen to forty feet from the ground. Strangely enough, the nest 
is not a common find, however abundant the bird, neither 
Nuttall nor Wilson having discovered one in all their tireless wan- 
derings. Dense evergreens, the favorite nesting localities, con- 
ceal the nest, large as it is — much too large for so small a bird, 
one would think. A pair of these hawks may sometimes repair 
their last season's home, but will never appropriate an old tene- 
ment belonging to others, as many hawks do. Late in May, 
or even so late as June, from three to six bluish or greenish 
white eggs, heavily blotched or washed with cinnamon red or 
chocolate brown, keep both parents busy incubating and, later, 
feeding a hungry family. Climb up to the nursery, and angry, 
fearless birds dash and strike at an intruder as if he were no 
larger than a goldfinch. 

Cooper's Hawk 

( Accipiter Cooperi) 


Length — Male 15. 50 inches; female 19 inches. 

Male, Female and Young — To be distinguished from the sharp- 
shinned species only by their larger size, darker, blackish 
crowns, and rounded, instead of square, tails. 

Hange — Temperate North America, nesting throughout its United 
States range; some birds wintering in Mexico and the 
southern states. 

Season — Permanent resident except at northern limits of range, 
where it is a summer or transient visitor. 

Like the sharp-shinned hawk in habits as in plumage, this, 
its larger double, lives by devouring birds of so much greater 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

value than itself that the law of the survival of the fittest should 
be enforced by lead until these villains, from being the commonest 
of their generally useful tribe, adorn museum cases only. Captain 
Bendire, writing for the Government, says: "Cooper's hawk must 
be considered as one of the few really injurious Raptores found 
within our limits, and as it is fairly common at all seasons 
throughout the greater part of the United States, it does in the 
aggregate far more harm than all other hawks. It is well known 
to be the most audacious robber the farmer has to contend with 
in the protection of his poultry, and is the equal in every way, 
both in spirit and dash, as well as in bloodthirstiness, of its larger 
relative, the goshawk, lacking, however, the strength of the latter, 
owing to its much smaller size. It is by far the worst enemy of 
all the smaller game birds, living to a great extent on them as 
well as on small birds generally. It does not appear to be 
especially fond of the smaller rodents; these, as well as reptiles, 
batrachians, and insects, seem to enter only to a limited extent 
into its daily bill of fare, and unfortunately it is only too often the 
case that many of our harmless and really beneficial hawks have 
to suffer for the depredations of these daring thieves." 

American Goshawk 

(Accipiter atricapillus) 


Length — Male 22 inches ; female 24 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts bluish slate, darkest or blackish on 
head ; white line over and behind eye; tail like back and 
banded with blackish bars, the last one the broadest, and 
the tip whitish. Entire under parts evenly marked with 
irregular wavy lines of gray and white, the barring usually 
most heavy on the flanks and underneath. Immature birds 
have dusky upper parts margined with chestnut, the tail 
brownish gray barred with black, the under parts white or 
buff streaked with black. Bill dark bluish. Feet yellow. 

Range — Northern North America; nests from northern United 
States northward; winters so far south as Virginia. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Another villain of deepest dye; what good can be said of it 
beyond that it wears handsome feathers, is a devoted mate and 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

parent, a fearless hunter, and of some small, if disproportionate, 
value to the farmer in occasionally eating field mice and insects ? 
Whitewashing is useless in the case of a bird known to 
be the most destructive creature on wings. No more daring 
marauder prowls above the poultry yards than the goshawk 
that drops like a thunderbolt from a clear sky at the farmer's 
very feet and carries off his chickens before his eyes. Grouse, 
Bob Whites, ducks, and rabbits: — in fact, all the sportsmen's pets 
and innumerable songbirds, are hunted down with a dash and 
spirit worthy of a better motive. Bloodthirsty, delighting in 
killing what it often cannot eat, marvellously keen sighted, a 
powerful, swift flyer, aggressive, and constantly on the alert, it 
is small wonder all lesser birds become panic-stricken when this 
murderer sails within striking distance. Without a quiver of its 
wings it will sail and sail, apparently with the most innocent 
intent. Again, with strong wing beats, it will rush through 
the air and overtake a duck that flies at the rate of a hundred 
miles an hour, seize it by the throat, sever its windpipe and 
fly off with its burden. One very rarely sees the goshawk 
perching and waiting for prey to come to it. When it does so, 
it holds itself erect, elegant and spirited as ever. After tearing 
the legs off a ruffed grouse, and plucking every feather, this 
villain has been known to prepare another and another until 
five were ready for an orgie, which consisted of only fragments 
of each, torn with its savage beak. Mr. H. D. Minot tells of 
watching a goshawk press into a company of pine grosbeaks 
and seize one in each foot. Happily the agony is short, for a 
hawk's talons penetrate the vitals. 

Although a northern ranger, the goshawk nests early — in 
April or early May — and placing a quantity of twigs and grasses 
close to the trunk of a tree, anywhere from fifteen to seventy 
feet from the ground, both mates take turns in attending to the 
nursery duties after from two to four pale bluish green eggs 
(that fade to dull white) have been laid. Now the hawks are 
more audacious and vicious than ever, as their piercing cries 
indicate, and it is an irrepressible collector who dares rob them. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

Red-tailed Hawk 

(Buteo borealisj 


Length — Male 20 inches; female 25 inches. 

Male a?id Female — Upper parts dark grayish brown; the feathers 
edged with rufous, white, gray, and tawny; the wing cov- 
erts lack the rufous shade ; tail rusty red, tipped with 
white and with a narrow black band near its end, but 
silvery gray on the under side. Under parts buff or whit- 
ish, with heaviest brown or blackish markings on the flanks 
and underneath, often forming an imperfect band across the 
lower breast. Immature birds lack the red tail, their tails 
being grayish, or like the back, with numerous black bars. 

Range — Eastern United States, west to the great plains; nesting 
throughout its range. 

Season — Permanent resident; partly migratory. 

With a wing spread of four feet, the red-tailed hawk, no less 
than the red-shouldered species, is a conspicuous object in the 
sky, especially in August and September, when all hawks 
appear to be less hungry and vicious than usual, and constantly 
and serenely sailing and gyrating high overhead, beyond 
thought of mundane concerns. Lacking the dash and address of 
Cooper's hawk, this f\ir larger, heavier buzzard is rather leis- 
urely, not to say slow, of movement. Mounting higher and 
higher in a spiral till it appears a mere speck in the blue, it will 
sail and float, ascending, descending, in long undulations, then, 
when rising and circling, with no perceptible vibration of its 
wings, it will suddenly lift them to a point above the back and 
shoot earthward like a meteor. Catching itself just as you 
believe it must certainly dash itself to pieces, again it rises, with 
bounds, on broad wings to enjoy the stratum of cooler air, high 
above the tree tops, all these hardy birds delight in. One hawk 
was watched in the air, without once alighting, from seven in 
the morning till four in the afternoon. 

When not in the act of sailing, the most likely position to 
find this majestic air king in is perched on a tree at the edge of a 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

patch of woods, a dead limb near water, or above low open fields 
or swamps, and there, intent and eager, it will wait hours and 
hours for its quarry to come within range. Then, like feathered 
lightning, down it flashes and strikes its prey. One never sees 
this hawk dashing through the air in pursuit of a victim, as the 
sharp-shinned. Cooper's hawk and the goshawk do. It may 
sometimes pounce upon a bird a-wing, but humbler quarry gen- 
erally takes it to earth. Of the five hundred and sixty-two 
stomachs of red-tailed hawks examined by Mr. Fisher for the 
Department of Agriculture, one-half contained mice, about one- 
third other mammals, fifty-four contained poultry or game birds; 
and batrachians or reptiles, insects, etc., filled part of the re- 
mainder, eighty-nine being empty. Captain Bendire, in his 
valuable book prepared for the Government, says : "Unfortu- 
nately the red-tailed hawk has a for worse reputation with the 
average farmer than it really deserves; granting that it does cap- 
ture a chicken or one of the smaller game birds now and then — 
and this seems to be the case only in winter, when such food as 
they usually subsist on is scarce — it can be readily proved that it 
is far more beneficial than otherwise, and really deserves protec- 
tion, instead of having a bounty placed on its head, as has been 
the case in several states." 

Around the nest especially, though one sometimes hears its 
squealing whistle, like "escaping steam," as it floats overhead, 
at any season, the red-tail becomes more noisy, but its voice is 
rather weak, considering the size of the bird. About eighty per 
cent, of all nests found have been in birch trees, and placed from 
sixty to seventy feet from the ground. A large bundle of sticks, 
lined with strips of bark, twigs, and feathers from the birds 
themselves, is placed usually where some large limb branches 
off from the trunk; and so dear does this rude cradle become to 
the mates that jointly prepare it, it will be used year after year 
if the hawks are unmolested. From two to four dull white 
eggs, with rough, granulated shells, often scantily and irregularly 
marked with shades of cinnamon, take about four weeks of close 
incubation, in which both the devoted lovers and parents assist. 
It is believed these birds, like most of their kin, remain mated 
for life. The helpless, downy young remain in the nest until 
fully able to fly. Hawks usually bolt their food, and around a 
nest are abundant traces of the hearty appetite of a young family, 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

the tufts of mouse hair and pellets of other disgorged, indigestible 
material plentifully besprinkling the ground. 

The Western Red-tail (Btiteo horealis calurus), a darker 
colored race than the preceding, differs from it in no essential 

Red-shouldered Hawk 

(Buteo lineahis) 


Length — Male 1 8 to 20 inches; female 20 to 22 inches. 

Male and Female — Rich dark reddish brown above, the feathers 
more or less edged with rufous, buff and whitish; lesser 
wing coverts rusty red, forming a conspicuous patch on 
shoulders; four outer feathers of wings notched and all 
barred with black and white; tail dark with white bars; 
under parts rusty or buff, the throat streaked with blackish, 
elsewhere irregularly barred with white; feet and nostrils 
yellow. Immature birds plain dark brown above, the wing 
patch sometimes indicated, sometimes not; head, neck, 
and under parts pale buff, fully streaked with dark brown; 
wing and tail quills crossed with many light and dark bars. 

Range — Eastern North America from Manitoba and Nova Scotia 
to the Gulf states and Mexico, westward to Texas and the 
great plains; nests throughout its range. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

To shoot this commonest of the hawks has long been 
regarded as a virtue among farmers in the unfounded belief that 
it is an enemy to their prosperity; but the Department of Agri- 
culture has prepared a special bulletin on the hawks and owls for 
their enlightenment, and the two so-called "hen hawks" have 
proved to be among the most valuable allies the farmer has. Of 
two hundred and twenty stomachs of the red-shouldered hawk 
examined by Mr. Fisher, only three contained remains of poul- 
try; one hundred and two contained mice; ninety-two insects; 
forty, moles and other small mammals; thirty-nine, batrachians; 
twenty, reptiles; sixteen, spiders; twelve, birds; seven, craw- 
fish; three, fish; two, offal; one, earthworms: and fourteen 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

were empty. Let the guns be turned toward those bloodthirsty, 
audacious miscreants. Cooper's, the sharp-shinned hawi<, and 
the goshawk, and away from the red-tailed and red-shouldered 
species, beneficent, majestic kings of the air! Longfellow, in 
"The Birds of Killingworth," among the "Tales of a Wayside 
Inn," has written a defence of the hawks, among other birds, 
that the Audubon societies might well use as a tract. 

Sailing in wide circles overhead like the larger red-tail, the 
red-shouldered buzzard is a picture of repose in motion. Rising, 
falling in long undulations, floating, balancing in a strong current 
of the cool stratum of air far above the earth all this hardy tribe 
delight in, now stationary on motionless wings, and again with 
a superb swoop a very meteor for speed, the flight of this 
hawk has been familiar to us all from childhood, yet who ever 
tires watching its fascinating grace ? Serenely the hawk pursues 
its way, ignoring the impudence of the small kingbird in pursuit 
and the indignities of the crow that may not reach the dizzy 
heights toward which it soars in wide spirals. While the mates 
are nesting from April to August, the helpless fledglings give 
them little opportunity to enjoy these leisurely sails; but toward 
the end of August, particularly in September, and throughout the 
winter, they are birds of freedom indeed. Keeyou, keeyoti, they 
scream as they sail — a cry the blue jay out of pure mischief has 
learned to imitate to perfection. It is the red-tail, however, that 
screams most a-wing. 

"Toward man the 'hen hawks' are naturally shy," says 
Minot; "but it is generally easy to approach them when gorged, 
or at other times to do so in a vehicle or on horseback. On 
a horse I have actually passed under one. They frequently leave 
their food when approached, instead of carrying it off in the 
manner of many hawks. Like other barbarians, they refuse to 
show signs of suffering, or to allow their spirit to become 
subdued. When shot and mortally wounded they usually sail 
on unconcernedly while their strength lasts, until obliged to fall. 
If not dead, they turn upon their rump, and fight till the last, like 
others of their tribe. Their eyes gleam savagely and they defend 
themselves with both bill and talons. With these latter, if 
incautiously treated, they can inflict severe wounds, and thev 
sometimes seize a stick with such tenacity that I have seen one 
carried half a mile through his persistent grasp." 


V-j Life-size. 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

The red-shouldered hawk spends most of its life perching, 
usually on some distended dead limb where, like an eagle in 
its dignity, it watches for mice and moles to creep through the 
meadow, chipmunks to run along stone walls, gophers and 
young rabbits to play about the edges of woods, frogs, snakes, 
etc., to move along the sluggish streams of low woodlands, its 
favorite hunting grounds. It is not shy, and when it perches 
may be quite closely approached and watched as it descends like 
a thunderbolt to strike its humble quarry, that is usually borne 
aloft to be devoured piecemeal. One never sees this hawk 
chasing a bird through the air as the tyrannical Cooper's hawk 
does. In nesting habits there is no noteworthy difference from 
the red-tails', beyond that the eggs are a trifle smaller. 

Swainson's Hawk or Buzzard {Buteo Swainsoni) , an infrequent 
visitor east of the Mississippi, is nevertheless the commonest of 
all its tribe in some sections of the West. In the many phases of 
plumage shown between infancy and old age, this large, amiable 
fellow may always be distinguished by the three notched outer 
primaries of his wings taken in connection with his size, about 
twenty inches, and his dusky brown upper parts more or less 
margined with rufous or buff; the unbarred primaries of wings; 
his grayish tail indistinctly barred with blackish, which shows 
more plainly from the underside; the large rusty patch on his 
breast, and by the white or buff under parts that are streaked, 
spotted, or barred with blackish, rusty, or buff. Preeminently 
a prairie bird, it prefers the watercourses of lowlands that are 
scantily timbered and the cultivated fields for hunting grounds, 
since mice, gophers, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, and such fare 
— rarely if ever a bird — are what it is ever seeking. Therefore 
from the most selfish of economic standpoints it should enjoy the 
fullest protection. Gentle, unsuspicious, living on excellent 
terms with its humblest feathered neighbor, mated for life to its 
larger spouse, and an unselfish, devoted parent, Swainson's 
hawk has more than the average number of virtues to commend 
it to mankind. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

Broad-winged Hawk 

(Buteo liitissiiuiis) 

Length — Male 14 inches; female 16 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dusky grayish brown more or less 
bordered with rusty and buff; blackish tail with two bars 
and the tip grayish white; three outer primaries of wings 
notched; under parts heavily barred with white or buff 
and dull chestnut brown, the dark in excess on the front 
parts, the white predominant underneath; most of the feath- 
ers black shafted, giving the effect of pencilling, particularly 
on white throat; wing linings white with some reddish or 
blackish spotting. 

Range — Eastern North America from New Brunswick and the 
Saskatchewan to the Gulf of Mexico, northern South America 
and the West Indies; nests throughout its United States 

Season — Summer resident. May to October. 

This is the hawk of the Adirondacks among other favorite 
resorts, and since it comes north chiefly to nest, no place is too 
inaccessible for it to seek out, no retreat too lonely for these 
devoted mates, that ever delight most of all in each other's 
company. While its range is wide, it is locally common in a few 
places and rare in others, a lover of wild, unvisited regions while 
it has serious concerns to attend to, and only during the spring 
and autumn migrations, therefore is it much in evidence; but no- 
where and at no time so common about farms and the habita- 
tions of men as the red-tailed and the red-shouldered "chicken 
hawks" that, on the contrary, have nothing to do with mountain 

Yet the broad-winged species is perhaps the least suspicious 
and approachable hawk we have ; gentle and never offering to 
strike at an intruder no matter in what distress of mind concern- 
ing its nest; inoffensive to its smallest feathered neighbor; 
lacking in the spirit and dash of a Cooper's hawk, and also in 
that murderer's bloodthirstiness; and quiet except just near its 
home. There one sometimes hears the chee-e-e-e of one mate 
sitting on some distended dead limb, answered by the other lover 
for hours at a time during the nesting season. Like most of its 
tribe, both mates construct a bulky nest of twigs high in some tree 
close to the trunk, and, if necessary, will repair an old nest from 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

year to year rather than leave a beloved home. From two to 
four dull or buff white eggs spotted, blotched, or washed with 
yellow or cinnamon brown, keep both parents closely confined 
by turns during the four weeks of early summer that must elapse 
before the downy helpless fledglings begin to clamor for grass- 
hoppers, beetles, crickets, mice, gophers, squirrels, shrews, 
small snakes and frogs (very rarely small birds), that must be 
consumed in large quantities judging from the quantity of pellets 
of hair and other indigestible material found below the cradle. 
The farmer has every reason to protect so valuable an ally. 

Although it appears sluggish, and even stupid, when perch- 
ing after a gorge, the broad-winged hawk naturally would be a 
graceful, easy flyer. Gliding through the air in spirals so high 
that one sometimes loses sight of its heavy, broad body, it has 
been seen swooping suddenly to earth, like a meteor; then catch- 
ing itself before dashing its body to pieces on the mountain side, 
it will fly off, with short, rapid strokes, at high speed. 

The Rough-legged Hawk ( Archibuteo lagopus sancti-johan- 
nis) — the hare-footed hawk of St. John, New Brunswick — is 
almost too variable in plumage to be briefly described, but whether 
in its dark, almost blackish, phase, when it is known as the black 
hawk; or in the light phase, when its dusky upper parts are 
mixed with much white and buff, and its whitish under parts 
are streaked and spotted with black to form a band across the 
lower chest, it may always be known by its fully feathered legs. 
In the United States it is chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, 
or a winter visitor, for it goes to the fur countries to nest. The 
material for a cradle, usually placed on a cliff, would till a 
wheelbarrow. Its range is over the whole United States, Alaska, 
and the British possessions. One occasionally meets this large, 
heavy prowler at the dusk of evening, when mice and the other 
small rodents, crickets and such humble quarry creep timidly 
forth, flying with noiseless, measured, owl-like pace, quite low 
along the ground, like the harrier, and ready to pounce upon a 
victim. Or again, it may be sitting on a low branch, sluggishly 
waiting for its prey to come within striking distance. Its choice 
of food is calculated to win for the hawk the friendship of the 
intelligent farmer. 


Kites. Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

Golden Eagle 

( Aquila chrysaetos) 



Length — Male 30 to 35 inches; female 5 inches longer. 

Male and Female — Back of the head and nape pale yellow; lower 
two-thirds of tail white, leaving a broad, dark band across 
end; legs entirely feathered with white; rest of plumage 
dusky brown. Immature birds are similar, darker; base of 
tail has broken grayish bars, and feathers on legs and under 
tail coverts are buff. Perfect plumage not developed under 
three years. Birds "grow gray" with age. 

Jiange—Hor\.\\ America, south to Mexico; nesting within United 
States, Europe, and Northern Asia. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

" He clasps the crag with hooked hands; 
Close to the sun, in lonely lands, 
Ringed with the azure world he stands. 
The wrinl<led sea beneath him crawls: 
He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls." 

— Tennyson. 

Restricted chiefly to the mountainous parts of unsettled 
regions on three continents, this magnificent bird is best known 
on this one to the Indians, who write no bird books, however. 
It is their emblem for whatever is courageous, fierce, and suc- 
cessful in war. All birds of prey typify these qualities to the 
Indian mind, it is true, but the eagle stands at the lead; its feath- 
ers, fit head-dress for any chief, were chosen to inspire him with 
the bird's prowess. The buzzards and eagles represent their old 
men — those sages who have little hair, or those whose locks are 
white — hence to these birds have the secrets and the wisdom of 
ages been confided, and a respect akin to worship is shown 
them. What the imperial eagle meant to the terrorized ancients 
we can little guess in these days of democratic ideals. From the 
bird's majestic soaring, what more natural than to suppose it 
communicated directly with the gods on Mount Olympus, and 
was Jove's favored messenger } Certain Asiatic tribes believe 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

that arrows plumed with eagle quills certainly reach the heart of 
an enemy; but what connection there may or may not be be- 
tween these beliefs and those of our redskins no ethnologist has 

Larger than the European golden eagle, and in every way 
"better," our golden eagle "is a clean, trim-looking, handsome 
bird," says Captain Bendire, "keen sighted, rather shy and wary 
at all times, even in thinly settled parts of the country, swift of 
flight, strong and powerful of body, and more than a match for 
any animal of similar size. In the West, where food is still 
plenty, their bill of fare is quite varied. This, I am informed, in- 
cludes, occasionally, young fawns of antelope and deer, but 
more frequently small mammals of different kinds, as the yellow- 
bellied marmot, prairie dogs, hares, wood rats, squirrels, and 
smaller rodents, water fowl, from wild geese to the smaller 
ducks and waders, grouse and sage fowl. On the extensive 
sheep ranches they are said to be occasionally quite destructive 
to young lambs." Several seemingly well authenticated cases 
of the golden eagle carrying off very young children are recorded 
in this country and Europe, but our authorities sneer at them. 

Strangely enough, a pair of eagles, instead of being fiercely 
aggressive, as one would suppose, when their nest is ap- 
proached, are quite indifferent and will circle around at a great 
height and watch the intruder with unimpassioned calm, or 
else entirely disappear. Trees or rocky cliffs seem to be chosen 
for nesting sites indiscriminately, the abundance of food in any 
vicinity being their first consideration in the choice of a home. 
Each pair of eagles have their fixed range of five or six miles, or 
more, and become so attached to it only persistent persecution 
will drive them away. Some nests are quite five feet in diam- 
eter, and contain twigs, weeds, hay, cattle hair, and feathers 
enough to fill a wagon ; others are no larger than a hen hawk's ; 
nearly all are flat on top, with just enough depression to bring 
the top of the egg on a level with the side. For a few days 
before the eggs are laid, a pair of eagles will perch, side by side, 
hours at a time, an attitude common to many birds of prey at 
this tender season. Two or three dull white, roughly granu- 
lated eggs, sometimes plain, more often blotched or speckled 
with brown, appear at an interval of two or three days, or even 
a week; after four weeks of constant incubating by both par- 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

ents, the Huffy white brood appear; but, although they grow 
rapidly, it is fully two months before they leave the eyrie. Just 
as soon as they can fly and secure a living, the old birds cast 
them off. They are three years in perfecting their plumage, it is 
said, and they may live a century. 

Bald Eagle 

(Halicetus leucocephalus) 


Length — Male 30 to 33 inches; female 35 to 40 inches. 

Male and Female — Head, neck, and tail white; after third year 
rest of plumage dusky brown, the feathers paler on edges; 
bill and feet yellow; legs bare of feathers. Immature birds 
are almost black the first year ("black eagles "); the bases of 
feathers white; bill black. Second year they are "gray 
eagles " and are then actually larger than adults. The third 
year, they come into possession of "bald" heads and white 

Range — North America, nesting throughout range. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Emblem of the republic, standing for freedom to enjoy life, 
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it must be owned that our 
national bird is a piratical parasite whenever he gets the chance. 
"The majority of the Falconidce have an attractive physique and 
superior strength as well as a haughty bearing," says Mr. Cham- 
berlain. "They are handsome, stalwart ruffians, but they are 
nothing more. They are neither the most intelligent nor most 
enterprising of birds, nor the bravest. They are not even the 
swiftest or most dexterous on the wing; and in bearing, proudly 
as they carry themselves, are not supreme." With every pro- 
vision of nature for noble deeds: keenest sight, superb strength, 
hardihood, fully developed wings, it is seldom that the American 
eagle obtains a bite to eat in a legitimate way, but almost 
invariably by stratagem and plunder. Near the sea and other 
large bodies of water he sits in majesty upon a cliff, or on the 
naked limb of some tree commanding a wide view, and watches 
the osprey — a conspicuous sufferer — and other water fowl course 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

patiently over the waves up and down the coast for a fish. 
Instantly one is caught, down falls the eagle like Jove's thunder- 
bolt from Mount Olympus, and as escape from so overpowering 
a foe is impossible, the successful fisher quickly drops its prey, while 
the eagle, dexterously catching it before it touches the water, 
makes off to his eyrie among the clouds to enjoy it at leisure. 
Dead fish cast up on the beach, carrion disgorged by intimidated 
vultures, sea and shore birds (particularly in the South) are 
devoured by this rapacious feeder. Ducks, geese, gulls, and 
notably coots, that he condescends to catch himself, are fiivorite 
morsels when fish fail. It is said wounded birds suit this 
unsportsmanlike hunter best. These are picked clean of feathers 
before the flesh is torn from their bones. In the interior young 
domestic animals are carried off, but scientists raise their eye- 
brows at tales of children being borne away by eagles; yet it 
would seem that some rare instances are well authenticated. 
Audubon had an adult male in captivity that weighed only 
fourteen and a half pounds, and although it ate enormously one 
may grant that an uncaged bird might weigh twenty pounds; 
still a young child often exceeds that figure, and there is the 
great resistance of the air to be overcome as well. 

When the nesting season approaches, which in the south 
begins in February and at the far north in May, the eagles may 
be seen hunting in couples and soaring in great spirals with 
majestic calm at a dizzy height. As they swoop earthward, the 
tops of the trees over which they pass sway in the current of air 
they create. These birds, like most of their class, remain mated 
throughout their long life, but often quarrel at other seasons than 
this, when one encroaches upon the prescribed territory where 
the other is hunting. Now they are especially noisy : cac-cac- 
cac screams the male, a sound too like a maniac's laugh to be 
pleasant. The cry of the female is more harsh and broken, 
sufficiently different for one well up in field practice to tell the sex 
of the bird by its voice. 

A tall pine tree near water is, of all nesting sites, the favorite. 
Next to that a rocky ledge of some bold, inaccessible cliff, or that 
failing too, the bulky cradle may be laid directly on the ground ; 
but whatever site may be chosen, that forever remains home, a 
shelter at all seasons, the dearest spot on earth. An immense 
accumulation of sticks, sod, weeds, corn stalks, hay, pine tops, 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

moss, and other coarse materials make a flat structure four or 
five feet in breadth and sometimes of even greater height after a 
succession of annual repairs. While the two or three large, 
rough, dull white eggs are being incubated by both mates, and 
especially after the young appear, these eagles, unlike the golden 
species, become truly magnificent in the fierce defence of their 
treasures; yet a rooster is easily a match for the cowardly eagle 
at other times. Immense quantities of food must be carried to the 
helpless young for the three or four months while they remain in 
the nest, and for weeks after they learn to fly. Because imma- 
ture birds reverse nature's order and are larger than adults, and 
their plumage undergoes three changes before they appear at the 
close of the third year in white heads and tails, some early 
writers described the black eagle, Washington's eagle, and the 
bald-headed eagle as three distinct birds, even Audubon and 
Nuttall treating this one species as two. In whatever phase of 
plumage, one may know our national bird by its unfeathered 
tarsi. It is safe to say any eagle seen in the eastern United States 
is the bald-head, which name, of course, does not indicate that 
the bird is actually bald like the vultures, but simply hooded 
with white feathers. 

Duck Hawk 

(Falco peregrinus anatum) 


Length — Male, i6 inches ; female, 19 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dark bluish ash, the edges of 
feathers paler ; under parts varying from dull tawny to whit- 
ish, barred and spotted with black, except on throat and 
breast. A black patch on each cheek gives appearance of 
moustache. Wings stiff, long, thin, and pointed. Tail and 
upper coverts regularly barred with blackish and ashy gray. 
Bill bluish, toothed, notched ; the cere yellow. Talons long 
and black. 

Range — North America at large. South to Chile. Nests locally 
throughout its United States range. 

Season — Chiefly a winter visitor, but a perpetual rover. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

The falconers of Europe divided birds employed in their sport 
into two classes, those of falconry and those of hawking; the lat- 
ter class containing such "ignoble " birds as our goshawk, broad 
winged buzzard, the sparrow hawk, and those of their kin that 
dart upon their quarry by a side glance ; the true falcons being 
"noble " birds, because they soar to heights unseen, and drop from 
a perpendicular like a thunderbolt on a selected victim. It was 
the European counterpart of our duck hawk that furnished royal 
sport in the Middle Ages. 

American sportsmen best know how unerring is the marks- 
manship of this marauder. The teal, one of the swiftest travellers 
on wings, will be whistling its way above the sloughs, when, 
quicker than thought, its throat is seized by an unseen, unsus- 
pected foe dropped from the clouds. It is choked to death even 
while both birds are falling to the ground ; and in less time than 
its takes to tell, the "noble" falcon will have torn the feathers 
from the duck's warm breast, and begun a bloody orgy. Only 
the fortunate duck attacked above water, into which it may 
plunge and swim below the surface, stands a reasonable chance 
of escape. Geese and the larger fowls may be stunned by the 
blow as the falcon falls upon them ; but not until the assassin, 
after repeated onslaughts, finally strangles its prey, does the 
plucky bird cease its heroic fight for life. Little birds are eaten 
entire, but the entrails of larger ones remain untouched. Follow- 
ing the immense flocks of water-fowl in their migrations, the fal- 
con makes sad havoc among them. It is amazing how large a 
bird the villain can bear away with ease. Pigeons, Bob Whites, 
grouse, meadow larks, hares, and herons are conspicuous victims ; 
but even the courageous crow becomes a limp coward in the 
neighborhood of this most audacious, fleet-winged, strong-footed 
rascal. "No bird is more daring," says Mr. Chapman ; " I have 
had duck hawks dart down to rob me of wounded snipe lying 
almost at my feet, nor did my ineffective shots prevent them 
from returning." Ospreys often band together to wreak their 
vengeance on the eagle, but apparently the falcon pursues his 
bloody career unmolested. In his presence every bird quakes. 

The nest, built on rocky cliffs or in the hollow limbs of tall 
trees, contains three or four creamy white or f;iwn colored eggs 
irregularly blotched, smeared, and streaked with brown and 
brownish red. 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

The Pigeon Hawk {Falco columban'us), a much smaller fili- 
buster than the preceding, being a foot or less in length, bears 
some resemblance to it in habits. Without hesitation it will 
attack a bird of its own or greater size, strangle it, pluck it, and 
feast upon its breast. Following in the wake of migrant song 
birds, it keeps an interested eye on a weak or wounded robin, 
bobolink, or blackbird, to pounce upon it the instant it straggles 
behind the flock. In the air and when perching, it so closely re- 
sembles the passenger pigeon that it has not infrequently been 
mistaken and shot for one. The pigeon hawk is an equally rapid 
flyer, and, of course, far more dashing than that rather spiritless 
bird. As if to be avenged for the misdirected shots that kill its 
race instead of the pigeons, the hawk eats them whenever it has 
an opportunity. Open country and the edges of woods, particu- 
larly near water, are its favorite hunting grounds throughout a 
range extending over the whole of North America. As it nests 
chiefly north of the United States, and spends its winters south, 
even touching northern South America and the West Indies, it 
is as a spring and autumn migrant that we know the pigeon 
hawk here. Its upper parts vary between slaty blue and brown- 
ish gray, with a broken rusty or buff collar ; its primaries are 
barred with white ; the under parts are buff or pale fawn color, 
almost white on the throat ; the breast and sides have large ob- 
long brown spots, and the tail has three or four grayish white 
bars and a white tip. As the bird is far from shy, it is not diffi- 
cult to get a glimpse at the plumage while it perches on a low 
branch waiting for its prey to heave in sight. 

American Sparrow Hawk 

(Falco sparverius) 


Length — lo to 1 1 inches. Sexes the same size. 

Male — Top of head slaty blue, generally with a reddish spot on 
crown, and several black patches on sides and nape; back 
rufous, with a few black spots or none; wing coverts ashy 
blue with or without black spots; tail bright rufous, white 


5i Life-size. 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

tipped, and with a broad black band below it, the outer 
feathers white with black bars; under parts white or bufT, 
sometimes spotted with black. 

Female — Back, wing coverts, and tail rufous with numerous black 
bars; under parts plentifully streaked with dark brown. 

Range — Eastern North America, from Great Slave Lake to north- 
ern South America. Nests from northern limits of range to 
Florida; winters from New Jersey southward. 

Season — Summer resident in the northern United States and 
Canada; March to October; winter or permanent resident 
south of New Jersey. 

Perched on a high dead limb, the crossbar of a telegraph 
pole, a fence post, or some distended branch — such a point of 
vantage as a shrike would choose for similar reasons — the beauti- 
ful little sparrow hawk eagerly scans the field below for grass- 
hoppers, mice, hair sparrows, and other small quarry to come 
within range. The instant its prey is sighted, it launches itself 
into the air, hovers over its victim, then drops like a stone, 
seizes it in its talons, and flies back to its perch to feast. It 
is amusing to watch it handle a grasshopper, very much as a 
squirrel might eat a nut if he had but two legs. Or, becom- 
ing dissatisfied with its hunting grounds, it will fly off over the 
fields gracefully, swiftly, now pausing on quivering wings to 
reconnoitre, now on again, past the thickets on the outskirts of 
woods, through the orchard and about the farm, suddenly 
arresting flight to pounce on its tiny prey. Its flight is not 
protracted nor soaring. Never so hurried, so swift, or so fierce 
as other small hawks, it is none the less active, and its charm- 
ing hovering posture gives its flight a special grace. Kill-ee- 
hill-ee-hill-ee it shrilly calls as it flies above the grass. Every 
farmer's boy knows the voice of the killy hawk. Less shy of 
men than others of its tribe, showing the familiarity of a robin 
toward us, and it is certainly more social than most hawks, for 
one frequently sees several little hunters on the same acre, espe- 
cially around the bird roosts in the spring and autumn migrations. 
The sparrow hawk would be a universal favorite were it not for 
its rascality in devouring little birds. So long as there is a grass- 
hopper or a meadow mouse to eat, it will let feathered prey alone; 
but these failing, it is a past master in dropping like a thunderbolt 
upon the tree sparrows, juncos, thrushes, and other small birds 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

found on the ground in thickets and the borders of woods. But 
it does not eat the farmer's broilers : the little sharp-shinned and 
the Cooper's hawk attend to them. However, the average farmer, 
who confounds the sins of the former with the far slighter 
offences of the sparrow hawk, shoots the bird that destroys 
more enemies to his prosperity than he could guess. Of the 
three hundred and twenty stomachs of the sparrow hawk ex- 
amined by Mr. Fisher for the Department of Agriculture, two 
hundred and fifteen contained grasshoppers or other large insects, 
eighty-nine contained mice, and not one contained poultry. 

Unlike other birds of prey, the sparrow hawk builds no nest, 
but lays in the hollows of trees, crevices of rocks, or even about 
outbuildings on a farm; but a deserted woodpecker's hole is its 
ideal home. Although this bird arrives from the south in March, 
it does not nest until May, when from three to seven cream or 
fawn-colored eggs, finely and evenly marked with reddish brown, 
are carefully tended by both the mates that remain lovers for life. 

American Osprey 

(Pandion halia'etus carolinensis) 

Called aho: FISH HAWK 

Length — Male 2 feet, or a trifle less ; female larger. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dusky brown, the feathers edged 
with white as a bird grows old; head and nape varied with 
white and a dark stripe on side of head; under parts white; 
the breast of male sometimes slightly, that of female always, 
spotted with grayish brown; tail with six or eight obscure 
dark bars. Bill blackish and with long hook; iris red or 
yellow; long, powerful feet, grayish blue. 

Range— Wox\\\ America from Hudson Bay and Alaska to northern 
South America and the West Indies; nesting throughout its 
North American range. 

Season — Summer resident, March to October, except in southern 
part of range. 

Is there a more exhilarating sight in the bird kingdom than 
the plunge of the osprey ? From the height where it has been 
circling and coursing above the water, it will quickly check itself 
and hover for an instant at sight of a fish swimming near the 


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

surface; then, closing its great wings, it darts like a strealt of 
feathered lightning, and with unerring aim strikes the water with 
a loud splash. Perhaps it will disappear below for a second 
before it rises, scattering spray about it in its struggles to clear the 
surface, and fly upward with its prey grasped in its powerful 
talons. The fish is never carried tail end foremost; if caught so, 
the hawk has been seen turning it about in mid air. Small fry 
are usually eaten a-wing; larger game are borne off to a perch, to 
be devoured at leisure; and it is said that when an osprey strikes 
its talons through the flesh of a fish too heavy to be lifted from 
the water, the prey turns captor and drowns his tormentor, 
whose claws reaching his vitals soon end his life, when bird and 
fish, locked in a death grasp, are washed ashore. The osprey 
rarely touches fish of value for the table; catfish, suckers, and 
such prey as no one grudges it, form its staple food, it also eats 
with relish dead fish lying on the beach. 

The bald eagle, perched at a high point of vantage, takes 
instant note of the successful fisher, and with a majestic swoop 
arrives before the osprey has a chance to devour its prey. Now 
a desperate chase begins if the intimidated bird has not already 
relaxed its grasp of the prize; and pursuing the hawk higher and 
higher, the eagle relentlessly torments it until it is glad to drop 
the fish for the pirate to seize and bear away, leaving it temporary 
peace. Again the industrious osprey secures a glistening, wrig- 
gling victim; again the eagle pursues his unwilling purveyor. 
After unmerciful persecution, a number of fish hawks will band 
together and drive away the robber. 

Birds of this order show strong affection for their life-long 
mates and the young, and for an old nest that is often a true 
home at all seasons, and to which they return year after year if 
unmolested, simply repairing damages inflicted by winter storms. 
The osprey also shows a marked preference for a certain perch to 
which it carries its prey, and there it will sit sometimes for hours 
at a time. The ground below is heavily strewn with bones, 
scales, and other indigestible parts offish. An immense accumu- 
lation of sticks, rushes, weed stalks, shredded bark, salt hay, 
odds and ends gathered among the rubbish of seaside cottages, 
feathers, and mud make old nests, with their annual additions, 
bulky, conspicuous affairs in the tree tops. New nests are often 
rather small, considering the size of the bird. Both mates incu- 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, etc. 

bate the eggs, which are from two to four, extremely variable in 
size and coloration, sometimes plain dull white, sometimes almost 
wholly chocolate brown, but normally buff, heavily marked with 
chocolate, especially around the larger end. Colonies of nesters 
are frequently reported along our coasts, and instances of a pair 
of grackles utilizing a corner of the osprey's ample cradle for 
theirs are not rare. In four weeks or less after their eggs are laid, 
the fish hawks are kept busy shredding food for their downy, 
helpless young. 


% Life size. 


(Family StrigidceJ 

American Barn Owl 

(Strix pratincola) 

Called also: MONKEY FACED OWL 

Length — 15 to 18 inches: female the larger. 

Male and J^emale— Upper parts mottled gray and buff finely 
speckled with black and white; heart-shaped facial disks 
and under parts whitish or buff, the latter with small round 
black spots; tail white or buff, mottled with black, and 
sometimes with three or four narrow black bars like the 
wings; eyes small, black; no horns; long, feathered legs; 
long, pointed wings reaching beyond tail. 

Range — United States, rarely reaching Canada, south to Mexico, 
nesting from New York state southward. 

Season — Permanent resident, except at northern limit of range. 

The American counterpart of "wise Minerva's only fowl," 
known best by its startling scream, keeps its odd, triangular face, 
its speckled and mottled downy feathers, and its body, that looks 
more slender than it really is, owing to its long wings, well con- 
cealed by day; and so silently does it move about at night that 
only in the moonlight can one hope for a passing glimpse as the 
barn owl sails about on wide-spread, tapering wings, and with a 
hawk-like movement, from tree to tree. "The face looks like 
that of a toothless, hooked-nosed old woman, shrouded in a 
closely fitting hood," says Mrs. Wright, "and has a half-simple, 
half-sly expression that gives it a mysterious air." Periodically a 
very old hoax is played on a credulous public by some newspaper 
reporter who declares that in such a town, by such a man, a curi- 
ous creature has just been caught, half-bird and half-monkey ! 

By day, all owls look sleepy and sad ; but at dusk, when rats 


Barn Owls 

and mice creep timidly forth, the barn owl, now thoroughly 
awake, sallies from its hole and does greater execution before 
morning than all the traps in town. Shrews, bats, frogs, grass- 
hoppers, and beetles enlarge its bill of fare. A pair of these 
mousers that had their nest in an old apple tree near a hayrick 
that concealed the spectator, brought eight mice to their brood in 
the hollow trunk in less than an hour. 

The head of a mouse, the favorite tid-bit, is devoured first; 
then follows the body, bolted whole if not too large. One foot 
usually holds the smaller quarry; but a rat must be firmly grasped 
with both feet, and torn apart before it is bolted. Since owls 
swallow skin, bones, and all, these indigestible parts are afterward 
ejected in pellets. Disturb the owls at their orgy, and they click 
their bills and hiss in the most successful attempt they ever make 
to be ferocious. They are not quarrelsome even among them- 
selves when feeding, and the smallest songster can safely tease 
them to a point that would goad a less amiable bird to rashness. 
A querulous, quavering cry frequently repeated, h-r-r-r-r-r-r-ik, 
suggesting the night jar's call, is sometimes more frequently heard 
than the wild, peevish scream usually associated with this owl. 

In spite of civilization's tempting offers, a hollow tree has 
ever remained the favorite home of the barn owl, that nevertheless 
deserves its name, for barns and other outbuildings on the farm, 
steeples, and abandoned dove cots become equally dear to it once 
they have sheltered a brood. A pair of these owls have nested for 
years in one of the towers of the Smithsonian Institution; many 
eggs have been laid directly on roofs of dwellings ; some in mining 
shafts; others in deserted burrows of ground squirrels and other 
rodents; in fact, all manner of queer sites are chosen. Strictly 
speaking, the barn owl builds no nest, unless the accumulation of 
decayed wood, disgorged bones of mice, etc., among which the 
eggs are dropped, could be honored with such a name. From five 
to eleven pure dull white eggs, more decidedly pointed than those 
of most owls, are incubated by both mates, sometimes by both at 
once, as they sit huddled together through the hours of unwel- 
come sunshine. They can scarcely multiply too fast. The barn 
owl does not eat poultry, although it is constantly shot because 
of an unfounded belief that it does, prevalent among farmers. 
From an economic standpoint, it would be difficult to name a 
more valuable bird. 



(Family 'BubonidceJ 

American Long-eared Owl 

(Asio wilsonianus) 

Called also: CAT OWL 

Length — 14 to 16 inches; female the larger. 

Male and Female — Conspicuous blackish ear tufts bordered by 
white and buff; upper parts dusky brown, finely mottled 
with ash and dull orange; facial disk pale reddish brown 
with darker inner circle and yellow eyes; under parts mixed 
white and buff, the breast with long brown stripes, the sides 
and underneath irregularly barred with dusky; dark broken 
bands on wings and tail; legs and feet completely feathered; 
bill and claws blackish. 

Range — Temperate North America; nesting throughout its range. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

A strictly nocturnal prowler, unlike its short-eared relative 
that hunts much by day, the long-eared owl keeps concealed 
through the hours of sunshine in the woods, the alder swamps, 
or high, dry, shady undergrowth, giving no hint by sign or 
sound of its hiding place. Come upon one suddenly, and by 
pressing its feathers close to its body, erecting its ear tufts, and 
sitting erect, it doubtless hopes to be overlooked as a part of the 
weather-beaten tree on which it is perching, since its thick, 
downy, mottled plumage might readily be mistaken for rough 
bark; but as it blinks its staring eyes knowingly, it looks amus- 
ingly like a mischievous, round-faced joker, half bird, half 
human. It is not easily frightened away, and is ever peaceably 
disposed. To look formidable when liberties are taken with it, 
it may ruffle up its feathers until its circumference is doubled; but 
nothing happens, unless it be a noiseless gliding off among the 
trees to another perch. 

22 337 

Horned and Hoot Owls 

At nightfall, it flies with almost uncanny softness, skimming 
along the ground, exploring leafy avenues and grassy meadows 
and swamps; its wide, staring eyes, immovably fixed in the 
sockets, scanning the hunting ground, as the head, inclined down- 
ward, turns now this way, now that. Shy, skulking mice, 
pounced upon unawares by the silent prowler, other small mam- 
mals, and very rarely a bird, are carried off in the talons, to be 
devoured at leisure. Like other owls, this species flies slowly 
and almost uncertainly, but with a buoyancy that gives no sug- 
gestion of effort. 

About three-fourths of all nests reported are those built by 
crows and afterward permanently appropriated by the cat owl. 
It almost never builds for itself; even a squirrel's nest is prefer- 
able to one of its own construction. Three to six white eggs 
require about three weeks of close incubation. 

It is chiefly at the nesting season that these usually silent 
birds lift up their voices. "When at ease and not molested," 
says Captain Bendire, "the few notes which 1 have heard them 
utter are low toned and rather pleasing than otherwise. One of 
these is a soft-toned wu-hitiih, zvu-hunk, slowly and several 
times repeated. . . . Another is a low, twittering, whistling 
note, like d/cky, dicky, dicky, quite different from anything usu- 
ally expected from the owl family. In the early spring they hoot 
somewhat like a screech owl, and may often be heard on a still 
evening; but their notes are more subdued than those of the lat- 
ter." The most common cry of the long-eared owl, the one 
that has given it its popular name, is a prolonged me-ow-ow-ow, 
so like a cat's cry that it would seem folly for a bird that lives 
chiefly on mice to utter it. 

Short-Eared Owl 

(Asio accipitrinus) 



Length — 14 to 17 inches ; female the larger. 

Male and Female — Ear tufts inconspicuous ; face disk white, or 
nearly so, minutely speckled with blackish, and with large 
black eye patches and yellow eyes; upper parts dusky brown, 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

the feathers' margined with yellow; under parts whitish or 
buff, the breast broadly streaked, never mottled, with brown, 
and underneath more finely and sparingly streaked ; tail 
barred with buff and dusky bands of equal width. Bill and 
claws dusky blue black; legs feathered with buff. 

Range — Nearly cosmopolitan ; throughout North America, and 
nesting from Virginia northward. 

Seasoti — Chiefly a migratory visitor ; April, November ; also a 
resident in many sections. 

Here is an owl that breaks through several fomily traditions, 
for it does not live in woods, neither does it confine its hunting 
excursions to the dark hours; but, living in the marshes or grassy 
meadows, it flies abroad much by day, especially in cloudy 
weather, after two o'clock in the afternoon, as well as at night. 
Another unconventional trait it has: it makes its nest of hay and 
sticks on the ground instead of in hollow trees or upper parts 
of buildings; and one nest that contained six white eggs, dis- 
covered in a lonely marsh where the least bittern was the owl's 
nearest neighbor, was in a tussock quite surrounded by water. 
The bittern, that misanthropic recluse, springing into the air, 
was off at once, dangling its legs behind it ; whereas the marsh 
owl, that is not at all shy, simply stared and blinked, with a half 
human expression of wonder on its face, until the intruder became 
too impertinent and lifted it off its nest. Even then it did 
nothing more spiteful than to sharply click its bill as it circled 
about just overhead. Yet there seems to be a popular impression 
that this owl is fierce. Even Nuttall has said it will attack a 
man ! In the west the burrows of ground squirrels and rabbits or 
the hole of a muskrat have been utilized, since none of the owls 
is overscrupulous about appropriating other creatures' homes, 
however much attached a pair may become to a spot that 
has once cradled their brood. " As useless as a last year's nest" 
can have no meaning to owls. Still another peculiarity of this owl 
is that it is almost never seen to alight on a tree; the ground is its 
usual resting place, a stump or knoll a high enough point of van- 
tage. Mice, gophers, and insects of various kinds, which are its 
food, keep this hunter close to earth; and as it flies low, and does 
not take to wing until fairly stepped on, it encourages close 
acquaintance, thereby earning a reputation for being the most 
abundant species in the United States. Its alleged superiority of 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

numbers may also be accounted for by the fact that during the 
migrations it is sometimes found in floci<s numbering a hundred. 
Aside from a quavering, mouse-like squeak, the marsh owl 
apparently makes no sound. Its flight is positively uncanny in 
its silence. Like the barn and the long-eared owls, this invalu- 
able ally earns the fullest protection from the farmers. 

Barred Owl 

(Syrnium nebulosum) 

Called also: HOOT OWL; WOOD OWL 

Length — 1 8 to 20 inches ; female the larger. 

Male and Female — Upper parts grayish brown, each feather with 
two or three white or bulT bars ; facial disk gray, finely 
barred or mottled with dusky; eyes bluish black, and bill yel- 
low; under parts white washed with buff; the breast barred; 
the sides and underneath streaked with dusky ; legs and feet 
feathered to nails ; wings and tail barred with brown; no 
ear tufts. 

Range — Eastern United States to Nova Scotia and Manitoba; west 
to Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas; nesting through- 
out range. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Whoo-'whoo-too-ii'hoo-too-o-o, with endless variation, a deep 
toned, guttural, weird, startling sound, and haiv-haw-hoo-hoo, 
like a coarse, mocking laugh, come from the noisy hoot owl be- 
tween dusk and midnight, rarely at sunrise, more rarely still by 
day, sometimes from a solitary hooter, sometimes in a duet 
sung out of time. Every one knows the hoot. One hears it 
most frequently at the nesting season. Once in a very great 
while this owl gives a shriek to make one's blood curdle. Many 
of us have attracted the bird by imitating its notes. Because 
the voice of the great horned owl, that "tiger among birds," 
is so like it, the barred owl is credited with its larger kinsman's 
atrocities and shot. Its own talons are not wholly guiltless of 
innocent blood, to be sure, since out of one hundred and nine 
stomachs examined by Dr. Fisher for the Department of Agri- 
culture, five contained young poultry or game, and thirteen other 
birds ; but over one-third contained mice and other small mam- 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

mals; frogs, fish, lizards, and insects filled the remainder, which 
goes to prove that, in spite of the average farmer's belief to 
the contrary, this owl renders him positive service. To see the 
barred owl is to identify it at once by its smooth, bland, almost 
human face, its mild blue black eyes, and the absence of horns 
from its round head. 

Woods, waysides, and sheltered farms are the barred owl's 
hunting grounds; and because it so frequently lodges through the 
sunny hours in hay lofts and stacks, many people call it the barn 
owl, a name which should be discouraged by disuse to save the 
endless confusion arising by the application of the same popular 
name to two or more different species. True barn owls are not 
only a distinct species, but constitute a separate family. The un- 
earthly, weird voices of several owls make each one indifferently 
a " hoot owl " to the average listener. 

In February, the barred owl loses his unsocial, hermit-like in- 
stinct, and for his mate's society, at least, shows a devoted prefer- 
ence. The pair go about looking for a natural cavity in a tree in 
dense or swampy woods; but that fiiiling them, they unscrupu- 
lously take possession of a hawk's or crow's nest, tenaciously 
holding it year after year, as all owls do their homes. They rarely 
build a nest of their own, or take pains to line a cavity or to alter 
an appropriated tenement unless it should need repairs. Mr. C. 
L. Rawson has found a set of eggs lying on a solid cake of ice 
near Norwich, Conn., so early is the nesting done. A camera 
can take no more amusing picture than a group of owlets perch- 
ing on a naked limb near their cradle, their downy feathers 
ruffled by the March wind, a surprised, comical expression on 
their faces, their bodies closely huddled together to save warmth. 

The Great Gray, or Spectral Owl {Scotiaptex cinereum), the 
largest owl in the world, is dusky, mottled with white on its up- 
per parts, and the white under parts are broadly streaked on the 
breast, and on the sides and underneath irregularly barred and 
streaked with dusky. It has no ear tufts; its legs and feet are 
heavily feathered, and both bill and eyes are yellow, it is a very 
rare visitor from the far north, and as it keeps to dense woods, 
few bird students have been so fortunate as Dr. Dall, who has 
caught it in his hands. He declares it is "a stupid bird." Nc> 
owl that is heavy with sleep while humans are wide awake is 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

credited with great cleverness, and modern ornithologists con- 
sider that Minerva made a mistake when she chose the owl to 
typify that wisdom for which she was revered. 

Saw-Whet Owl 

(Nydala acadia) 

Called also: ACADIAN OWL 

Length — 7. 50 to 8 inches ; smallest of the eastern owls. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dark reddish brown, the head 
streaked, the back and wings spotted with light brown and 
white; under parts white, heavily streaked with dark rusty 
brown; tail with three or four broken white bars; facial disk 
almost white, but blackened around the yellow eyes; legs 
buff feathered ; no ear tufts; bill and claws dark. 

Range — North America at large, nesting from the middle states 
northward, and in western mountainous regions south to 

Season — Chiefly a winter visitor in middle states; locally a per- 
manent resident. 

Birds that prey on skulking mice must needs be night 
prowlers; but the theory has been seriously advanced that those 
owls which remain in sleepy seclusion all day, like the little saw- 
whet owl, are those that have suffered endless persecution from 
other birds whenever they ventured abroad in the sunlight, which 
is the reason they choose to hunt when others sleep — an interest- 
ing theory, if nothing more. Nocturnal birds are naturally 
counted rarities, even where they are not. This little owl, by no 
means uncommon, is a very sound sleeper, and makes no sign 
of its existence, though one may be passing beneath its perch. 
So sunk in oblivion is it, and so heavy-eyed with sleep when 
roused, that many specimens may be taken with the hand. 
Hence the expression, "As stupid as an owl." Because it is 
small enough to crowd on a woman's hat, this is a little victim 
commonly worn, sometimes with wings and tail outspread, or 
again with only its head, like a Cheshire cat's, appearing in a 
cloud of trimming. A woman who loudly applauded Dr. Van 
Dyke's famous epigram, " A bird in the bush is worth two in the 
hat," at an Audubon Society's meeting held in the Museum of 



>i '7 Life-size. 

Horned and Hoot Owls 

Natural History, New York, in the winter of 1898, had the entire 
plumage of a saw-whet owl spread over her turban! At this 
same meeting another woman with self-righteous superiority 
was overhead boasting that she never wore birds, only wings, in 
her hats! 

Saw-whet, saw-whet, the love notes of this owl, most fre- 
quently heard in March and April, have a rasping quality hke 
the sound heard in a mill when the file is sharpening the teeth of 
a saw; not an agreeable noise, perhaps, yet because of the ven- 
triloqual power of the bird's voice, and at the distance we think 
we hear it, it has a certain fascination. 

Dense woodlands, particularly evergreen forests, for it dearly 
loves a dark retreat, are where the owl passes its days; coming 
out at night, when its flight, surprisingly like a woodcock's, has 
deceived others than Dr. Fisher into making a worse than wasted 
shot. Since it feeds almost exclusively on mice and insects, it is 
folly to destroy so valuable a bird. Mr. Nelson says that a dozen 
specimens have been taken in the most frequented streets in the 
residence portion of Chicago within two years. 

The majority of nests recorded have been deserted wood- 
pecker's holes, some in squirrel's excavations, most of them near 
water, a few in stumps; but very rarely do the saw- whet owls 
appropriate an open nest, and more rarely still build one of their 

Screech Owl 

fMegascops asio) 



Length — 8. 50 to 9. 50 inches. 

Male and Female — Brownish red phase: Upper parts rusty red, 
finely streaked with blackish brown and mottled with light 
brown; under parts whitish or buff, the feathers centrally 
streaked with black and with irregular rusty bars. Eyes 
yellow; legs and feet covered with short feathers; prominent 
ear tufts. Gray phase: Upper parts ashen gray streaked 
with black and finely mottled with yellow; under parts 
white, finely streaked and barred irregularly with black, more 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

or less bordered with rusty. Immature birds have entire 
plumage regularly barred with rusty, gray, and white. 

Range — Eastern North America. 

Season — Permanent resident. 

Why this little owl should wear such freaky plumage, rusty 
red one time, mottled gray and black another, without reference 
to age, sex, or season, is one of the bird mysteries awaiting solu- 
tion. Frequently birds of the same brood will be wearing differ- 
ent feathers. In the transition from one phase to another, many 
variations of color and markings appear; but however clothed, 
we may certainly know the little screech owl by its prominent 
ear tufts or horns, taken in connection with its small size. Like 
the little saw-whet owl, which, however, wears no horns, people 
who live in cities are most familiar with it on women's hats, worn 
entire or cut up in sections. 

A weird, melancholy, whistled tremulo from under our very 
windows startles us, as the uncanny voices of all owls do, however 
familiar we may be with the little screecher. Are any super- 
stitions more absurd than those associated with these harmless 
birds? Because it makes its home so near ours, often in some 
crevice of them, in fact, in the hollow of a tree in the orchard, 
or around the barn lofts, this is probably the most familiar owl to 
the majority of Canadians and Americans. It keeps closely con- 
cealed by day, often in a dense evergreen or in its favorite hollow; 
and except for the persecutions of the blue jay, that takes a mis- 
chievous delight in routing it from its nap and driving it abroad 
for all the saucy birds in the orchard to pursue and peck at, we 
should never know of its presence. In the early spring especially 
it lifts up its voice — too doleful a love song to be effective, one 
would think ; yet the screecher's mate apparently considers it 
entrancing, since she remains mated for life. In the southern and 
central portions of its range, nesting begins in March; in the New 
England and northern parts some time between the middle of 
April and the first of IVlay. A natural cavity in a hollow tree, or an 
abandoned woodpecker's hole are favorite nooks, and boxes nailed 
up under the dark eaves of outbuildings on the farm or in dense 
evergreen trees where light cannot strike the owl's sensitive eyes, 
have been promptly appropriated in many instances. 

It is generally known that all owls go through some strange 




Horned and Hoot Owls 

performances to woo their mates, but few have been so fortunate 
as Mr. Lynds Jones, who watched a pair of screech owls mating. 
"The female was perched in a dark, leafy tree," he says, "appar- 
ently oblivious of the presence of her mate, who made frantic 
efforts, through a series of bowings, wing-raisings, and snappings, 
to attract her attention. Those antics were continued for some 
time, varied by hops from branch to branch near her, accompanied 
by that forlorn, almost despairing wink peculiar to this bird. 
Once or twice 1 thought 1 detected sounds of inward groanings, 
as he, beside himself with his unsuccessful approaches, sat in 
utter dejection. At last his mistress lowered her haughty head." 
When hunting, the owl moves like a shadow, so silently 
does it pass in the darkness. Insects, cut worms, and mice are 
what it is ever seeking; but sharp hunger in winter has sometimes 
led it into butchery of little birds. Of two hundred and fifty-five 
stomachs of screech owls examined by Dr. Fisher for the Depart- 
ment of Agriculture, one hundred contained insects; ninety-one, 
mice; thirty-eight, birds; eleven, other mammals than mice; nine, 
crawfish; seven, miscellaneous food; live, spiders; four, batra- 
chians; two, lizards; two, scorpions; two, earth worms; one, 
poultry; one, fish; and forty-three were empty. Why in the 
name of all that is economic and humane, should this valuable 
ally ui the farmer be so persistently shot ? 

Great Horned Owl 

(Bubo virginianus) 

Called also: HOOT OWL; CAT OWL 

Length — Male 19 to 23 inches; female 21 to 26 inches. 

Male and Female — Long ear tufts; upper parts variegated brown. 

tawny, pale buff, and white; facial disk buff; eyes yellow; 

throat white; under parts buff or whitish, finely barred with 

black ; legs and feet feathered. 
Range — Eastern North America, west to the Mississippi, and from 

Labrador to Costa Rica. 
Season — Permanent resident. 

The lord high executioner of the owl tribe, remaining a per- 
manent resident, except at the extreme northern limit of his range, 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

does more damage than all other species put together. Although 
actually shorter than the great gray and snowy owls, his ponder- 
ous body gives him more impressive size and power, earned 
through constant exercise of savage instincts. No one ever finds 
this hunter in poor condition; diligent and overpowering in the 
chase, he feasts where others starve, bringing down upon the 
innocent heads of several members of his tribe the punishment 
of sins of his commission by undiscriminating farmers. Only the 
sharp-shinned, the Cooper's hawk, and the goshawk among the 
birds of prey can show a bloodier record. 

By day this "tiger among birds" keeps concealed in the 
woods, particularly among evergreens near water, in cloudy 
weather sometimes sallying forth for food, but generally not 
until dusk; then, with uncanny silence and hawklike swiftness 
of flight, he begins his nefarious work. Chickens, ducks, geese, 
turkeys, and pigeons on the farm will be decapitated if too large 
to eat entire, for the brains of victims are the tid-bits this 
executioner delights in. Dr. Hart Merriam tells of one of these 
owls that took the heads off three turkeys and several chickens 
in a single night, leaving their bodies uninjured and fit for the 
table. Coops and dove cots are boldly entered; entire coveys 
of Bob Whites destroyed; grouse, woodcock, water-fowl, and 
snipe know no more relentless enemy; song birds do not escape 
the stealthy murderer that picks them from the perch as they 
sleep; and all the rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and other mam- 
mals eaten cannot offset the valuable birds destroyed. 

A piercing scream as of a woman being strangled, the most 
blood-curdling sound heard in the woods, a rare but all too 
frequent sound, is a fitting vocal expression of a character so 

" Silence, ye wolves ! while Ralpli to Cynthia howls 
And makes night hideous ; — answer him, ye owls." 

A deep-toned to-whoo-hoo-hoo, fo-zvhoo-whoo, as of a hound 
baying in the distance, louder than the barred owl's hoot, and 
the syllables all on one note, is the sound so familiar as to scarcely 
need description. Like all owls, this one seems particularly at- 
tracted by the camp-fire, and every sportsman knows how 
dismally it punctuates the silence of the woods. 

Unsocial, solitary, except at the nesting season, unapproach- 


3 ; Liife-size. 

Horned and Hoot Owls 

able by men, unlike several of his kin that may be taken in the 
hand when sleeping, the great horned owl gives one little oppor- 
tunity for close acquaintance in his wild state, and because he 
is an irreclaimable savage in captivity few keep him caged. 
With eyes closed so as to leave only a crack to peek through, 
one might think he did not see the intruder; but go to right or 
left, and the head turns around so far to note every step that it 
must seemingly drop off. All owls have eyes immovably fixed 
in the sockets, which is the reason they must almost wring 
their necks when they attempt to look around. The large, yellow 
iris of this owl is capable of extraordinary contraction; but before 
you can fairly see its interesting operations, the great bird spreads 
his wings and moves through the trees with the silence of a 
shadow of a passing cloud. 

In February, when the nesting season begins — for it is sup- 
posed this owl breaks the family rule and does not remain mated 
for life — he singles out some sweetheart, always larger and more 
formidable than himself, and undertakes the difficult task of 
wooing her. At first remaining an indifferent spectator of his 
ludicrous leaps and bounds on the earth and from tree to tree, 
his eccentric evolutions in the air, and the rapid snappings of his 
bill, she finally relents and goes house hunting with her attentive 
escort. Hollow trees with entrance large enough for their bodies 
are scarce; and when not to be found, an old crow's, hawk's, or 
squirrel's nest is utilized. Two or three dull white eggs are laid 
so early in the year that ice not infrequently makes them sterile, 
in which case they simply contribute to the accumulation of 
rubbish at the bottom of the nest, on which a new set is laid. 
Oftentimes the nesting is over with in time to allow the rightful 
owner of the cradle, or one of the larger hawks, to use it. A 
careful observer tells of finding in a nest containing two young 
owls "a mouse, a young muskrat, two eels, four bullheads, a 
woodcock, four ruffed grouse, one rabbit, and eleven rats. The 
food taken out of the nest weighed eighteen pounds. A curious 
fact connected with these captives was that the heads were eaten 
off, the bodies being untouched." 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

Snowy Owl 

(Nyctea vyctea) 

Length — About 2 feet. 

Male and Female — White, more or less barred or spotted with 
dusi<y; some specimens almost entirely white, the female 
usually the more heavily barred; the face, throat, and feet 
being in all birds the whitest parts; legs and feet thickly 
feathered; iris yellow; bill and claws black; no ear tufts. 

j?««^^—" Northern portions of northern hemisphere. In North 
America breeding wholly north of the United States; in 
winter migrating south to the middle states, straggling to 
South Carolina, Texas, California, and Bermuda." A. O. U. 

Season — Winter visitor. 

No Arctic explorer has yet penetrated too far north to find the 
Snowy Owl. Private Long of the Greely expedition, who raised 
six of these owlets, released them only because food became scarce 
enough for men during the second winter of hardship, much 
less for such greedy pets. "They had inordinate appetites," says 
the commander, " and from the time they were caught, as young 
owlets, swallowed anything given to them. 1 remember one 
bolting whole a sandpiper about half his own size. Over a hun- 
dred and fifty skuas (robber gulls) were killed and fed to these 
owls. It was interesting to note that, although they had never 
used their wings, the owls flew well." In another volume. Gen- 
eral Greely describes the snowy owl's egg as "somewhat larger 
than, though closely resembling, the white egg of a hen. Ser- 
geant Israel found it very palatable. The male bird showed signs 
of fight when the egg was taken, while the female looked on 
from about one hundred yards. The first owl observed was on 
April 29th, since then one or more have been frequently seen. 
The nest is a mere hole hollowed out on the summit of a com- 
manding knoll, and furnished with a few scattered feathers, 
grass, etc." 

The lemming, ptarmigan, ducks, and other water-fowl are 
the snowy owl's main dependence. It is an expert fisher, too, 
and borne up by the seaweed, it patiently waits for finny prey 
to swim among the rocks, when, quicker than thought, they are 
captured. The Arctic hare, though double its own weight, is 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

pounced upon and immediately lifted off its feet lest it use its 
strong hind legs to escape from its captor. The ptarmigan, on 
the contrary, is "crushed to earth," but, unlike truth, it may not 
rise again; for the owl, spreading its great wings to render those 
of its victim useless, soon ends its struggles. A bird must be 
a swift flyer, indeed, that can overtake a duck in the air or a 
hare afoot. The former it strikes down after the manner of the 

But when food begins to fail at the far north, this hardy owl 
that is able to endure the most intense cold — since all do not 
migrate by any means — leaves the moss and lichen-covered tun- 
dras, and, joining a band of travellers bound southward, appears 
in the United States sometimes in considerable numbers, espe- 
cially in the Atlantic states. A northeasterly storm drives many 
migrants ashore. Some morning when trees and earth are cov- 
ered with a snowy mantle that the high winds toss and blow, 
you may see a wraith, a ghostly apparition, gleaming at you with 
fiery eyes from the evergreen. Here is a miracle of nature: the 
snow is alive! Winter incarnate sits before you. Juncos and 
snow buntings whirl about among the snowflakes in scattered 
flocks; and the wraith, as silently as any spectre, its downy 
wings outspread, floats off from its high point of vantage in easy 
circles, then suddenly swooping, seizes a hapless bird in its talons. 
In boldness and grace of flight it is far more like a hawk than an 
owl; and, moreover, it is a diurnal bird of prey, comparatively 
little of its hunting for mice and other food being done at night. 

The Hawk Owl {Siirnia Jiliila caparoch), another northern 
species that occasionally visits the United States border or be- 
yond, as far as Pennsylvania, in winter, is of medium size (fifteen 
inches) and without horns. Its upper parts are ashen brown, the 
head and nape spotted with white, and the back and some wing 
feathers barred with white; the remarkably long tail has rounded 
white bars. A dusky spot and below it a white one mark the 
middle throat, while the sides of the neck and upper breast are 
streaked with dusky, and the rest of the under parts are barred 
with dusky and white. The legs and feet are feathered, and the 
wings when folded fall far short of the end of the tail. Like a 
hawk in habits, as in appearance, it is nevertheless an owl, though 
doubtless the connecting link between the families. While it 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

hunts its prey chiefly by daylight, it flies with the ghostlike 
silence characteristic of its clan, yet with a swiftness, boldness, and 
dash which would lead the uninitiated to suppose it a true hawk. 
"When the hunters are shooting grouse," says Dr. Richardson, 
"this bird is occasionally attracted by the report of a gun, and is 
often bold enough, on a bird being killed, to pounce down upon 
it, though it may be unable from its size to carry it off. It is also 
known to hover around the fires made by the natives at night." 
Its note is said to be a shrill cry, which is generally uttered while 
the bird is on the wing. 

Burrowing Owl 

(Speotyto cunicularia hypogceaj 

Called a/so; PRAIRIE OWL 

Length — 9. 50 inches. 

Male and Female — Upper parts dull grayish brown spotted with 
white; wing quills and tail marked with cross rows of spots, 
sometimes confluent into bars; eyebrow, chin, and throat 
white, the two latter divided by a dark brown collar ; under 
parts white or pale buff barred with brown spots. Tail 
short; head smooth, with no ear tufts; facial disk incom- 
plete; legs extremely long and slim, with few or no feathers. 

Rayige — Western United States, from the Pacific coast east through 
the Great Plains, north into Canada, south to Central America; 
accidental in New York and Massachusetts. 

Season — Permanent resident; or winter visitor at the southern end 
of its range. 

Amusing fictions of this tiny owl living in brotherly love 
with prairie dogs and rattlesnakes had a serious explosion when 
Dr. Coues published his " Birds of the Northwest; " but fictions 
die lingering deaths, and one still reads of "happy families," 
with the prairie owl cutting a conspicuous figure — groups that 
Barnum would have certainly secured for the Greatest Show on 
Earth had they ever existed. "From an extended acquaintance 
with the habits of the burrowing owl," says Captain Bendire, 
writing for the government, "I can most positively assert, from 
personal experience and investigation, that there is no foundation 
based on actual facts for these stories, and that no such happy 



Horned and Hoot Owls 

families exist in reality. I am fully convinced that the burrowing 
owl, small as it is, is more than a match for the average prairie 
dog, and the rattlesnake as well; it is by no means the peaceful 
and spiritless bird that it is generally believed to be, and it subsists, 
to some extent at least, on young dogs, if not also on the old 

Enlarging the deserted burrows of numerous small quad- 
rupeds, especially of ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and badgers, 
but never living with them, the burrowing owl begins at the far end 
of the tunnel to loose the earth and send it backward with vigor- 
ous kicks until all is clear. Now dry horse or cow dung is carried 
to the burrow, broken up in little pieces, and scattered over the 
nesting chamber, which may be eight or even ten feet from the 
entrance. In California, dry grass, feathers, weed stalks, and such 
material may serve as a carpet; but however lined, a prairie owl's 
nest is sure to abound in fleas. These sometimes speckle the 
eggs until no one who had not washed them would suspect they 
were normally a clear, glossy white. As many as eleven eggs 
have been taken from a chamber where they were found arranged 
in the form of a horse-shoe — which is usual — or piled in a double 
layer when the set is exceedingly large; and so skilfully do both 
mates cover the eggs, that only very rarely does one become 
addled. The devoted mates remain paired for life. 

Except when they have nursery duties to house them — and 
these are usually ended by June — one may expect to see the funny, 
top-heavy little owls around the entrance to their homes at any 
hour of the day, for they are diurnal in habits, and not night 
prowlers only, although their activities greatly increase after sun- 
down. Bowing toward you as you approach — your entertainer 
is not shy — a little gnome-like creature nearly twists its head 
off its neck in its attempt to follow your movements with its 
immovable eyes. Approach too near, and off it flies, chattering, 
but not often further than a neighbor's burrow. Small colonies 
of these owls live in perfect harmony. Doubtless it is the chatter- 
ing of a disturbed bird, which does sound something like the rattle 
of a snake, that has given rise to the yarn about rattlesnakes living 
in owl burrows. Quite a concert of mellow coo-c-o-o-o-os, the 
love note of the species, is kept up by several pairs, sometimes 
for an hour or m.ore. These notes are uttered only when the 
birds are at rest and happy. Zip, ^ip, they shrilly cry when 


Horned and Hoot Owls 

alarmed ; and besides these sounds, they sharply and rapidly click 
their bills when excited and enraged, just as all owls do. 

A great many colonies are purposely located on the outskirts 
of prairie dog towns for obvious reasons. The amount of food 
required by a family of eight or ten hungry owls, any one of 
which eats more than its weight in a day, is enormous; and after 
sundown, one sees the busy hunters on the chase, now poised in 
mid air, like the sparrow hawk, above their prey; now swooping 
downward on swift, noiseless wings to grasp it in their talons and 
bear it away. A few well directed blows with the beak, that 
break the vertebrae of the neck, quiet the struggling victim for- 
ever. It is amazing how large the prey is that one of these bold 
little owls will quickly overcome. The brains are the favorite 
tid-bits, and often all other parts remain untouched. "Noxious 
vermin," that is, mice, squirrels, gophers, and such humble quarry, 
are the prairie owl's staple food, which lays the western farmer 
under special obligation to see that his rapacious ally receives the 
fullest protection. 



The figures in black-faced type indicate the page upon which the life 
history of the bird is given. 

Arrie, 21. 

Auk, Great, 24. 

Little, 25. 

Razor-billed, 7, 23. 
Auks, The, 5, 6, 18. 
Avocet, American, ig2, 198, 209. 
Avocets, The, 192, 19S. 

Baldpate, 84, 100. 
Beetle-head, 194, 237. 
Black-head, 118. 

Ring-billed, 120, 

Ring-necked, 120. 
Bird, Beach, 219. 

Bog, 201. 

Brant, 249. 

Brown, 212. 

Devil's, 68. 

Doe (Eskimo Curlew), 193, 236. 

Doe (Marbled Godwit), 221. 

Dough, 236. 

Dun, 131. 

Egg, 21. 

Frost, 239. 

Hay, 212. 

Heart, 249. 

Ice, 25. 

Qua, 166. 

Shad, 204. 

Tortoise-shell, 159. 
Birds, Columbine, 293. 

Diving, 5-26. 

Gallinaceous Game, 2S9> 

Marsh, 171. 

of Prey, 30 1. 

Shore, 191. 

Surf, igi, 194, 249. 
Bittern, American, 152, 157' 

Booming, 157- 

Least, 152, 159, 339. 

Little, 159. 
Bitterns, The, 152, 157. 
Black Breast, 217. 


Bluebill, 118. 

Little, 120. 

Marsh, 120. 
Blue Peter, 186. 
Blue Stocking, 198. 
Bob White, 260, 261, 273. 

Florida, 266. 

Texan, 266. 
Bob Whites, The, 259, 261. 
Bog-sucker, 201. 
Booby, 130. 
Brant, 86, 14O. 

Black, 86, 142. 

Black (White-fronted Goose), 134. 

Gray, 134. 

Prairie, 134. 

White, 136. 
Brent, 140. 
Broadbill (Greater Scaup Duck), 1 18. 

(Shoveler), 85, 107. 

Bastard, 1 20. 

Creek, 85, 120. 
Brown Back, 206. 
Brown Jack, 206. 
Bufflehead, 85, 91, 124. 
Bull, Bog, 157. 

Bull-head (Black-breasted Plover), 237. 
Bull-neck, 116. 
Burgomaster, 30, 36. 
Butter-ball, 85, 124. 
Butter-box, 124. 
Buzzard, Red-shouldered, 319. 

Red-tailed, 317. 

Swainson's, 321. 

Turkey, 155, 304. 

Calico-back, 194, 249. 

Chalkline, 164. 

Chicken, Mother Carey's, 68. 

Prairie (Pinnated Grouse), 260, 278. 

Prairie (Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse), 
Chuckle-head, 164. 



Cobb, 37. 

Cock, Black spotted Heath, 270. 

May, 237. 

of the Plains, 260, 285. 

Sage, 285. 
Cockawee, 125. 
Coffin Carrier, 37. 
Coot, 162. 

American, 173, 186. 

Black, 85, 130. 

Broad-billed, 130. 

Butter-billed, 130. 

Cinerous, 186. 

Sea, 130. 

White-billed, 186. 

White-winged, 13I. 
Coots, The, 171, 172, 177. 
Cormorant, Double-crested, 76, 77* 
Cormorants, The, 75* 
Coulterneb, 18. 
Crake (Little Black Rail), 183. 

(Sora), 180. 
Crane, Blue, 152, 161. 

Brown, 172, 174. 

Sandhill, 138, 172, 174. 

Sandhill (Great Blue Heron), 161. 

White, 176. 

Whooping, 172, 176. 
Cranes, The, 171, 174. 
Crooked-bill, 235. 
Crow, Carrion, 307. 
Cu-Cu, Large, 223. 

Little, 224. 
Curlew, Buzzard, 234* 

Eskimo, 193, 236. 

Hudsonian, 235. 

Jack, 193, 235. 

Little, 236. 

Long-billed, 193, 234- 

Red, 221. 

Short-billed (Eskimo Curlew), 236. 

Short-billed (Whimbrel), 235. 

Spanish (Long-billed Curlew), 234. 

Spanish (White Ibis), 151, 153. 

Straight-billed, 221. 
Cut-Water, 59. 

Dabchick,6, II. 
Darter, Big Blue, 314. 

Little Blue, 312. 
Diedapper, II. 
Dipchick, II. 
Dipper (Horned Grebe), 9. 

Little, 124. 

(Pied-billed Grebe), II. 
Diver, Dun, 87. 

Great Northern, 14, 16. 

Hell (Horned Grebe), 9. 

Hell (Pied-billed Grebe), II. 

Pigeon, 25. 

Red-throated, 16. 

Divers, Lobe-footed, 8. 
Dove, Carolina, 296. 

Greenland, 25. 

Mourning, 293, 296. 

Sea, 7, 25. 

Turtle, 296. 
Doves, The, 293, 294. 
Dovekie, 7, 25. 
Dowitchee, 206. 
Dcwitcher, 193, 206. 

Long-billed, 193, 208. 

Western, 208. 
Duck, Acorn, III. 

Barrow's Golden-eye, 123. 

Black, 84, 97. 

Bridal, III. 

Buffalo-headed, 124. 

Canvasback, 85, lOI, 114, I16. 

Crow, 186. 

Domestic, 93. 

Dusky, 84, 97. 

Dusky Mallard, 97. 

Eider, 85, 128. 

Eishing, 87. 

Golden-eye, 85, 91, 121. 

Gray, 84, 98. 

Greater Scaup, 85, 1 18. 

Harlequin, 85, 127. 

Lesser Scaup, 85, 120. 

Long-tailed, 1 25. 

Mallard, 84, 93. 

Old Squaw, 85, 125. 

Pintail, 84, 109. 

Raft, 118. 

Red-headed, 85, I14. 

Ring-necked, 85, 120. 

Ruddy, 85, 131. 

Scaup, 118. 

Sea, 128. 

Spine-tailed, 131. 

Spirit (BufFlehead), 124. 

Spirit (Horned Grebe), 9. 

Sprigtail, 109. 

Summer, III. 

Teal, Blue-winged, 84, 105. 
Cinnamon, 105. 
Green-winged, 84, 103. 
Salt Water, 131. 
Summer, 105. 
White-faced, I05. 

Tree, ill. 

Velvet, 131. 

Wild, 93. 

Winter, 109. 

Wood, 84, gi. III. 
Ducks, Fishing, 83, 87. 

River and Pond, S3, 84, 93, 187. 

Sea and Bay, 83, 84, 114. 
Dunlin, 217. 

Eagle, American, 326. 



Eagle, Bald, 302, 326, 333. 

Bald Sea, 326. 

Black, 326. 

European (lolden, 325. 

Golden, 302, 324. 

Gray, 326. 

Mountain, 324. 

Ring-tailed, 324. 

War, 324. 

Washington, 326. 

White-headed, 326. 
Eagles, The, 301. 
Egret, Blue, 152, 163. 

White, 152, 156, 164. 
Egrets, The, 151. 

Falcon, Mountain, 328. 

Peregrine, 328. 

Rock, 328. 

Rusty-crowned, 330. 

Wandering, 328. 

Winter, 319. 
Falconry, 329. 
Fowl. Flocking, 1 18. 

Jungle, 260. 
Flamingoes, 151. 
Fly-up-the-Creek (Least Bittern), 159. 

(Little Green Heron), 164. 
Fute, 236. 

Gadwall, 84, 98. 

Gallinule, Common, 173, 184. 

Florida, 173, 184. 

Purple, 173, 186. 
GaUinules, The, 171, 172, 177. 
Garbill, 89. 
Garrot, 121. 
Geese, The, 85, 134. 
Godwit, Great Marbled, 221. 

Hudsonian, 222. 

Marbled, 193, 221. 

Red-breasted, 222. 

Rose-breasted, 222. 

White-rumped, 222. 
Goosander, 83, 87. 
Goose, Barnacle, 140. 

Blue-winged, 136. 

Brant, 140. 

Canada, 86, 137. 

Diving, 87. 

Gray, 137. 

Laughing, 134. 

Lesser Snow, 86, 137. 

Sea, 196. 

Snow, 86, 136. 

White-fronted, 86, 134. 

Wild, 86, 137. 
Goshawk, American, 302, 3IS' 
Gray Back, 209. 
Great Head, 121. 
Grebe, Carolina, 11. 

Grebe, Dusky, 9. 

European, Red-necked, 8. 

Holbrell's, 6, 8. 

Horned, 6, 9. 

Little, II. 

Pied-billed, 6, II. 

Red-necked, 8. 
Grebes, The, 5, 8, 10, 13. 
Greenback, 239. 
Green Head, 93. 
Grouse, Blue, 260, 267. 

Canada, 260, 270. 

Canadian Ruffed, 260. 277- 

Columbian Sharp-tailed, 260, 282, 

Dusky, 260, 267. 

Family, 259, 261. 

Fool, 267. 

Gray, 267. 

Gray Ruffed. 260, 277. 

Mountain, 267. 

Oregon, 260, 277- 

Pine, 267. 

Pinnated, 260, 278. 

Pin-tailed, 281. 

Prairie Sharp-tailed, 260, 281. 

Red Ruffed, 260, 277. 

Richardson's, 267. 

Ruffed, 260, 261, 272. 

Sage, 260, 285. 

Sharp-tailed, 260, 282, 284, 

Sooty, 267, 268. 

Spotted, 270. 

Spruce, 270. 

Willow, 281. 

Wood, 270. 
Guillemot, 22. 

Black, 7, 20. 

BrUnnich's, 21. 

Foolish, 21, 23. 
Gull, Black-headed, 42. 

Bonaparte's, 30, 44. 

Burgomaster, 30, 36. 

Flood, 251. 

Glaucous, 30, 36. 

Great Black-backed, 30, 37. 

Herring, 30, 39, 42. 

Ice, 36. 

Iceland, 37. 

Kittiwake, 30, 32, 35. 

Laughing, 30, 42. 

Mackerel, 49. 

Ring-billed, 30, 41. 

Risible, 42. 

Rosy, 44. 

Summer, 49. 

Winter, 39. 
Gulls, The, 29, 30, 35, 43, 50. 

Hagdon, 66. 
Hairy Head, 91. 



Harrier, 302, 311. 

Marsh, 31 1. 
Hawk, 162. 

Blue, 311. 

Blue Hen, 315. 

Broad-winged, 302, 322. 

Chicken (Cooper's), 314. 

Chicken (Red-shouldered), 319. 

Chicken (Red-tailed), 317. 

Cooper's, 302, 313, 3'4- 

Duck, 302, 328. 

Fish, 302, 332. 

Great Footed, 328. 

Hare-footed, 323. 

Hen (Red-shouldered), 319. 

Hen (Red-tailed), 317. 

Killy, 330. 

Marsh, 302, 311. 

Mouse (Marsh Hawk), 311. 

Mouse (Sparrow Hawk), 330. 

Partridge, 315. 

Pigeon, 302, 330. 

Pigeon (Sharp-shinned ?Ia\vk), 

Red, 317. 

Red-shouldered, 302, 317, 319. 

Red-tailed, 302, 317. 

Rough-legged, 302, 323. 

Sharp-shinned, 302, 312. 

Snake, 309. 

Sparrow, 302, 33". 

Swainson's, 302, 32I. 

Western Red-tailed, 319. 

Winter, 319. 
Hawks, The, 301. 
Hawking, 329. 
Hen, Fresh-water Marsh, 178. 

Fresh-water Mud, 179. 

Indian, 157- 

Marsh, (American Bittern), 


Marsh (Clapper Rail), 177. 

Marsh (King Rail), 173. 

Meadow, 186. 

Moor, 186. 

Mud (American Coot), 173, 186, 

Mud (Clapper Rail), 177. 

Mud (Sora Rail), 180. 

Night, 147. 

Pine, 267. 

Prairie, 278. 

Red-billed Mud, 184. 

Salt-water Meadow, 177- 

Water, 1 84. 
Hern, 162. 
Heron, Black-crowned, Night, 152, 

Freckled, 137. 

Great Blue, 152, 156, 161, 174, 

Green, 152, 164. 

Little Blue, 152, 163. 

Snowy, 152, 164. 

Tribe, 151, 171. 




Herons, The, 152, 157. 
Holopode, Lobe-footed, 196. 
Honker, 137- 

Ibis, White, 151, 153. 

Wood, 152, 155. 
Ibises, The, 151, 153. 

Wood, 151, 155. 

Jaeger, Arctic, 32. 

Long-tailed, 29, 34. 

Parasitic, 29, 32. 

Pomarine, 29, 34. 

Pomatorhine, 34* 

Richardson's, 32. 
Jaegers, The, 29. 

Kestrel, American, 330. 
Kildee, 242. 
Kildeer, 194, 242. 
Kite, Fork-tailed, 309. 

Swallow-tailed, 302, 309. 
Kites, The, 301. 
Knot, 193, 209. 
Krieker, 212, 

Lark, Sand, 232. 
Lawyer, 199. 
Leadback, 217. 
Longshanks, 199* 
Look-up, 157- 
Loom, 14. 
Loon, 14. 

Black-throated, 6, 16. 

Common, 6, 14. 

Red-throated, 6, 16. 

Sprat, 16. 
Loons, The, 5, 6, 14. 
Lords and Ladies, 127. 

Man-of-War, 32. 
Marlin, 221. 

Brown, 193, 221. 

Ring-tailed, 222. 
Merganser, American, 83, 87. 

Hooded, 83, 91. 

Red-breasted, S3, 89. 
Mergansers, The, 83, 87. 
Murre, Briinnich's, 7, 21. 

Californian, 7, 23. 

Common, 7, 22. 
Murres, The, 5, 6, 18. 

Night Peck, 201. 

Old Billy, 125. 
Old Injun, 125. 
Old Molly, 125. 
Old Squaw, 125. 
Old Wife, 125. 
Ortolan (Sora rail), 180. 



Ortolan (Reed Bird), iSi. 
Osprey, American. 302, 303, 332. 
Owl, Acadian, 303, 342. 

Barn, 302, 335. 

Barred, 303, 340. 

Burrowing, 303, 350. 

Cat (Great Horned Owl), 345. 

Cat (Long-eared Owl), 337. 

Great Gray, 341. 

Great Homed, 303, 345. 

Hawk, 303, 349. 

Hoot (Barred Owl), 303, 340. 

Hoot (Great Horned Owl), 345. 

Little Homed, 343. 

Long-eared, 303, 337. 

Marsh, 338. 

Meadow, 338. 

Monkey-faced, 302, 335. 

Mottled, 343. 

Prairie (I'.urrowinj; Owl), 350. 

Prairie (Short-eared Owl), 338. 

Red, 343. 

Saw-whet, 303, 342. 

Screech, 303, 343. 

Short-eared, 303, 338. 

Snowy, 303, 348. 

Spectral, 341. 

Wood, 340. 
Owls, Barn, The, 302, 335. 

Horned and Hoot, The, 303, 337, 

344, 347- 
Oyster-Catcher, American, iqs, 251. 

Brown-backed, 251. 
Oyster-Catchers, The, 193, 251. 
Ox-Bird, 217. 
Ox-eye (Black-breasted Plover), 237. 

Meadow, 215. 

Sand, 216. 

Pale-Breast, 239. 
Parrot, Sea, 7, 18. 
Partridge (Bob White), 261. 

(Ruffed Grouse), 272. 

Birch, 272. 

Black, 270. 

Night, 201. 

Spruce, 260, 270. 

Swamp, 270. 

Virginia, 261. 
Partridges, New World, 25g. 

Old World, 259, 262. 
Peacock, 260. 
Peep (Least Sandpiper), 215. 

(Semipalmated Sandpiper), 2l6. 
Peet-weet, 232. 
Penguin, 21, 23. 
Petrel, Fork-tailed, 71. 

Leach's, 66, 71. 

White-rumped, 71- 

Wilson's Stormy, 66, 68. 
Petrels, The, 65, 68. 

Pewee (Woodcock), 201. 
Phalarope, Northern, 192, 197. 

Wilson's, 192, 196. 
Phalaropes, The, 191, ig6. 
Pheasant, 261, 272. 

Water, 91. 
Pheasants, The, 260. 
Pigeon, Band-tailed, 293, 296. 

Passenger, 293. 

Prairie (Bartramian Sandpiper), 229. 

Prairie (Golden Plover), 239. 

Sea, 20. 

White-collared, 296. 

Wild, 294. 
Pigeons, The, 293, 294, 330. 
Plover, Belted Piping, 194, 247. 

Black-bellied, 237. 

Black-breasted, 194, 237. 

Chicken, 249. 

Field (Bartramian Sandpiper), 229. 

P'ield (Golden Plover), 239. 

Golden, 194, 239. 

Grass, 229. 

Green, 239. 

Highland, 229. 

Kildeer, 194, 242. 

Mountain, 247. 

Piping, 194, 245. 

Red-legged, 249. 

Ring, 244. 

Ring-necked, 194, 244. 

Ruddy, 219. 

Semipalmated, 194, 242. 

.Swiss, 237. 

Upland, 193, 229. 

Whistling Field, 237. 

Wilson's, 194, 247. 
Plovers, The, 191, 194. 
Pochard, American, 114. 
Poke (American Bittern), 157- 

(Little Green Heron), 152, 164. 
Ptarmigan, 348. 
Puffin, 7, 18. 

Masking, 18. 
Puffins, The, 5, 6, 18. 
Purre, 217. 

Quail, 260, 261. 

California, 266. 

Florida, 266. 

Old World, 259, 262. 

Texan, 266. 
Quaily, 229. 
Quawk, 152, 166. 

Rail, Big, 177. 
Blue, 184. 
Carolina, 173, 180. 
Clapper, 173, 177- 
Common, 180. 
King, 173, 178. 



Rail, Lesser Clapper, 179. 

Little Black, 173, 183. 

Little Red, 179. 

New York, 182. 

Red-breasted, 178. 

Sora, 173, 180. 

Virginia, 173, 179. 

Yellow, 173, 182. 

Yellow-breasted, 182, 
Rails, The, 171, 172, 177. 
Ring-neck, Pale, 245. 
Robin, Beach, 209, 

Sabre-bill, 234. 
Saddle-back, 37. 
Sanderling, 193, 219. 
Sandpeep, 215. 
Sandpiper, Ash-colored, 209* 

Baird's, 193, 214. 

Bartramian (Upland Plover), 193, 

Black-bellied, 217. 

Bonaparte's, 213. 

Buff-breasted, 193, 231. 

Green, 225. 

Least, 193, 215. 

Long-legged, 208. 

Pectoral, 193, 212. 

Purple, 211. 

Red-backed, 193, 217. 

Red-breasted, 209. 

Robin, 209. 

Schinz's, 213. 

Semipalmated, 193, 216. 

Solitary, 193, 225. 

Spotted, 193, 232. 

Stilt, 193, 208. 

Swimming, 196. 

Western Semipalmated, 193, 217, 

White-rumped, 193, 213. 
Sandpipers, The, 191, 192, 201. 
Saw-bill (American Merganser), 87. 

(Red-breasted Merganser), 89. 
Scissor-bill, 31, 59. 
Scolder, 1 25. 
Scooper, 198. 
Scoter, American, 85, 130. 

Black, 130. 

Surf, 85, 131. 

White -winged, 85, 131. 
Sea Swallows, The, 46. 
Shag, 77. 
Shearwater, Common Atlantic, 66. 

Greater, 66. 

Wandering, 66, 
Shearwaters, The, 65, 68. 
Shelldrake (American Merganser), 87. 

Buff-breasted, 87. 

Hooded, 91. 

Pied, 89. 

Red-breasted Merganser, 89. 

Short Neck, 212. 
Shoveler, 84, 107. 
Shuffler, 1 18. 
Sickle-bill, 234. 
Skimmer, Black, 31, 59. 
Skimmers, The, 31, 59. 
.Skua, Buffon's, 34. 
Skuas, The, 29. 
Snipe, 191, 192, 201. 

American, 204. 

Big-headed, 201. 

Blind, 201. 

Brant, 217. 

Checkered, 249. 

Common, 204. 

Cow, 212. 

Deutscher, 206. 

English, 204. 

Fall, 217. 

German, 206. 

Grass, 212. 

Gray (Dowitcher), 206. 

Gray (Knot), 209. 

Horsefoot, 249. 

Jack (Pectoral Sandpiper), 212. 

Jack (Wilson's Snipe), 193, 204. 

Little Stone, 224. 

Meadow, 212. 

Mud, 201. 

Prairie, 229. 

Quail, 206. 

Red-breasted, 206. 

Robin (Dowitcher), 206. 

Robin (Knot), 193. 209. 

Rock, 211. 

Sea, 196. 

Stone, 223. 

Surf, 193, 219. 

Telltale (Greater Yellowlegs), 223. 

Telltale (Yellowlegs), 224. 

Wall-eyed, 201. 

Whistling, 201. 

White (American Avocet), 198. 

White (Black-necked Stilt), 199. 

Wilson's, 193, 204. 

Winter, 209. 

Winter (Red-backed Sandpiper), 

Wood, 201. 
Sora, 173, 180. 
.Soree, 180. 

South Southerly, 85, 125. 
.Speckle-belly, 134. 
Speckled Belly, 281. 
Spike-tail, 281. 
Spoonbill, 107. 

Roseate, 156. 
Spoonbills, The, 151. 
Squealer, 239. 
Stake Driver, 157. 
Stib, 217. 



Stilt, Black-necked, 192, 199. 
Stilts, 192, igS. 
Stint, 215. 

Wilson's, 215. 
Stork, Wood, 155. 
Storks, 151, 155. 
Striker, Clannet, 47. 

Little, 54. 
Striped-head, 235. 
Swallow, Sea, 49. 
Swallows, Sea, 31. 
Swan, American, 143. 

Trumpeter, 86, 145. 

Whistling, S6, 143. 
Swans, The, 86, 143. 
Swimmers, Fully webbed, 75-79. 

Lamellirostral, 83-145. 

Long-winged, 29-61. 

Plate-billed, 83-145. 

Totipalmate, 75-79. 

Tube-nosed, 65-72. 

Tattler, Bartram's, 229. 

(Greater Yellowlegs), 223. 

Semipalmated, 227. 

(Solitary Sandpiper), 193, 225. 

Wood, 225. 
Teal (sc- Duck). 
Teaser, 32. 
Teeter, 232. 
Teeter-tail, 232. 
Telltale, 223. 

Lesser, 224. 
Tern, Arctic, 31, 53, 55. 

Black, 31, 47, 56. 

Caspian, 48. 

Cayenne, 47. 

Common, 31, 49, 55. 

Gull-billed, 46. 

Least, 31, 54. 

Marsh, 31, 46. 

Paradise, 52. 

Roseate, 31, 52, 55. 

Royal, 31, 47. 

Short-tailed, 56. 

Silvery, 54. 

Sooty, 57. 

Tern, Wilson's 31, 49. 

Terns, The, 29, 30, 35, 46, 48, 50. 

Tildillo, 199. 

Tilt, 199. 

Tilt-up, 232. 

Timber Doodle, 20I, 

Tinker, 23. 

Toad-head, 239. 

Turkey, Colorado, 155, 

Me.xican, 260, 289. 

Rio Grande, 289. 

Water, 155. 

Wild, 260, 288. 
Turkeys, The, 260, 288, 289. 
Turnstone, 194, 249. 
Turnstones, 194, 249. 

Vulture, Black, 301, 307. 

Turkey, 301, 304, 307. 
Vultures, American, 301, 304. 

W^avey, 136. 
Weaser, 87. 
Whimbrel, 235. 
Whistle Wing, 121. 
Whistler, Brass-eyed, 121. 

(Golden-eye Duck), 85, 121. 

(Red-breasted Merganser), 89. 
White Back, 1 16. 
White Belly, 281. 
Widgeon, American, 84, lOO. 

European, 102. 

Wood, III. 
Willet, 193, 227. 
Witch, Water (Horned Grebe), 9. 

Water (Pied-billed Grebe), II. 
Woodcock, 193, 201. 

Yellowlegs, 193, 224. 

Big, 223. 

Greater, 193, 223. 

Summer, 224. 

Winter, 223. 
Yellow Shanks, 223. 
Yellow Shins, Lesser, 224. 
Yelper (Yellowlegs), 224. 

(Greater Yellowlegs), 223. 



A boxed edition of" Bird Neighbors " and " Birds that Hunt and 
are Hunted." These two volumes cover all of our well-known birds. 
Text by Neltje Blanchan, annotated and with introductions by John 
Burroughs and G. O. Shields. The lOO colored plates present an un- 
exampled series of bird pictures, being colored photographs from the 
birds themselves. 2 vols., octavo, boxed, $4.00. 

yusr ISSUED 
Birds that Hunt and are Hunted 

Annotated and with an introduction by G. O. Shields, "Coquina"; 
a companion volume to " Bird Neighbors." This new book gives 
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of lyo of our game and water birds and birds of prey, and contains 
48 colored plates. 

Specifications : — Size, 73^x10^ ; Pages, 250; Strong green cloth binding; Type, ii-point\ 
Printed on fine paper, full margins for notes, ifi colored plates. Price, %z.oo. 

Bird Neighbors 


" 'Through certain unique 
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simple and positi've even 
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Boston Times. 


" The fifty colored plates 

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and accurate. . 

. . Such 

books as this one 

add neiv 

interest to li/e."- 



An introductory acquaintance with 150 of our common birds, with 
52 superb full-page pictures in color photography from the birds them- 
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annotated the text, says of the colored plates, in his introduction : 

" IV hen I began the study of birds I had access to a copy of Audubon^ which greatly 
stimulated my interest in the pursuit., but I did not have the opera glass, and I could 
not take Audubon with me on my lualks, as the reader may this volume, and he will 
find these colored plates quite as helpful as those of Audubon or U ibon." 

This book makes the identification of our birds simple and positive, 
even to the uninitiated, through certain unique features. 

Specifications ; — -Size, yJ^xioJ.^ ; Pages, 250 ; Strong green cloth binding; Type, ii-point; 
Printed on fine paper, full margins for notes. ^z colored plates. Price, $1.00. 

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO., Publishers, 
34 Union Square, New York. 


The Butterfly Book 

By W.J. Holland, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D. 

This is " A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Butterflies of 
North America," telling of their life and habits, and how they may be 
identified, collected and studied. Dr. Holland is Chancellor of the 
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Flashlights on Nature By Grant Allen 

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TyP^t Il-point. Price, $1.50. 

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO., Publishers, 
34 Union Square, New York. 

3 9088 00017 3500 



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