Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
(State Bird of Missouri and New York)
SIALIA WILSONII, Swains.
PLATE CXXXIV.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
This lovely bird is found in all parts of our country, and is generally a
permanent resident of the Southern States. It adds to the delight imparted by
spring, and enlivens the dull days of winter. Full of innocent vivacity,
warbling its ever pleasing notes, and familiar as any bird can be in its natural
freedom, it is one of the most agreeable of our feathered favourites. The pure
azure of its mantle, and the beautiful glow of its breast, render it
conspicuous, as it flits through the orchards and gardens, crosses the fields or
meadows, or hops along by the road-side. Recollecting the little box made for
it, as it sits on the roof of the house, the barn, or the fence-stake, it
returns to it even during the winter, and its visits are always welcomed by
those who know it best.
When March returns, the male commences his courtship, manifesting as much
tenderness and affection towards his chosen one, as the dove itself. Martins
and House Wrens! be prepared to encounter his anger, or keep at a respectful
distance. Even the wily cat he will torment with querulous chirpings, whenever
he sees her in the path from which he wishes to pick up an insect for his mate.
The Blue-bird breeds in the Floridas as early as January, and pairs at
Charleston in that month, in Pennsylvania about the middle of April, and in the
State of Maine in June. It forms its nest in the box made expressly for the
purpose, or in any convenient hole or cavity it can find, often taking
possession of those abandoned by the Woodpecker. The eggs are from four to six,
of a pale blue colour. Two and often three broods are raised in the year.
While the female sits on the second set of eggs, the male takes charge of the
first brood, and so on to the end.
The food of this species consists of coleoptera, caterpillars, spiders, and
insects of various kinds, in procuring which it frequently alights against the
bark of trees. They are also fond of ripe fruits, such as figs, persimmons, and
grapes, and during the autumnal months they pounce on grasshoppers from the tops
of the great mullein, so frequent in the old fields. They are extremely fond of
newly ploughed land, on which, especially during winter and early spring, they
are often seen in search of the insects turned out of their burrows by the
The song of the Blue-bird is a soft agreeable warble, often repeated during
the love-season, when it seldom sings without a gentle quivering of the wings.
When the period of migration arrives, its voice consists merely of a tender and
plaintive note, perhaps denoting the reluctance with which it contemplates the
approach of winter. In November most of the individuals that have resided
during the summer in the Northern and Middle Districts, are seen high in the air
moving southward along with their families, or alighting to seek for food and
enjoy repose. But many are seen in winter, whenever a few days of fine weather
occur, so fond are they of their old haunts, and so easily can birds possessing
powers of flight like theirs, move from one place to another. Their return
takes place early in February or March, when they appear in parties of eight or
ten of both sexes. When they alight at this season, the joyous carols of the
males are heard from the tops of the early-blooming sassafras and maple.
During winter, they are extremely abundant in all the Southern States, and
more especially in the Floridas, where I found hundreds of them on all the
plantations that I visited. The species becomes rare in Maine, still more so in
Nova Scotia, and in Newfoundland and Labrador none were seen by our exploring
My excellent and learned friend Dr. RICHARD HARLAN of Philadelphia, told me
that one day, while in the neighbourhood of that city, sitting in the piazza of
a friend's house, he observed that a pair of Blue-birds had taken possession of
a hole cut out expressly for them in the end of the cornice above him. They had
young, and were very solicitous for their safety, insomuch that it was no
uncommon thing to see the male especially, fly at a person who happened to pass
by. A hen with her brood in the yard came within a few yards of the piazza.
The wrath of the Blue-bird rose to such a pitch that, notwithstanding its great
disparity of strength, it flew at the hen with violence, and continued to assail
her, until she was at length actually forced to retreat and seek refuge under a
distant shrub, when the little fellow returned exultingly to his nest, and there
carolled his victory with great animation.
This species has often reminded me of the Robin Redbreast of Europe, to
which it bears a considerable resemblance in form and habits. Like the
Blue-bird the Redbreast has large eyes, in which the power of its passions are
at times seen to be expressed. Like it also, he alights on the lower branches
of a tree, where, standing in the same position, he peeps sidewise at the
objects beneath and around, until spying a grub or an insect, he launches
lightly towards it, picks it up, and gazes around intent on discovering more,
then takes a few hops with a downward inclination of the body, stops, erects
himself, and should not another insect be near, returns to the branch, and tunes
his throat anew. Perhaps it may have been on account of having observed
something of this similarity of habits, that the first settlers in Massachusetts
named our bird the Blue Robin, a name which it still retains in that state.
I have not received any intimation of the occurrence of this interesting
bird to the west of the Rocky Mountains, although it was observed by Mr.
TOWNSEND on the head waters of the Missouri. Dr. RICHARDSON mentions it as
being found in summer to the eastward of the Rocky Mountains, up to the 48th
parallel of latitude, beyond which none were seen by the members of the
expedition. I found it abundant and breeding in the Texas. The eggs measure
seven and a half eighths of an inch in length, five-eighths and three-fourths in
breadth, and are rather more bulky than is usual in birds of this family. In
the United States, when in an uncultivated district, it forms its nest in the
hollow or hole of a tree.
BLUE-BIRD, Sylvia Sialis, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 56.
SAXICOLA SIALIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 39.
ERYTHACA (SIALIA) WILSONII, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,
vol. ii.p. 210.
BLUE-BIRD, Ampelis Sialis, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 444.
BLUE-BIRD, Sylvia Sialis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 84;
vol. v. p. 452.
Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight, broader than deep at the base,
compressed towards the end; upper mandible with the dorsal line convex, the tip
declinate, the edges sharp. Nostrils basal, oval. Head rather large, neck
short, body rather full. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus compressed,
covered anteriorly with a few long scutella, acute behind, scarcely longer than
the middle toe; toes scutellate above, the two lateral ones nearly equal; claws
arched, slender, compressed, that of the hind toe much larger.
Plumage soft and blended, slightly glossed. Wings of ordinary length,
broad, the first quill longest, the second scarcely shorter, the secondary
quills truncato-emarginate. Tail rather long, broad, nearly even, of twelve
broad, rounded feathers. Short bristle-pointed feathers at the base of the
Bill and feet black, the soles yellow, iris yellowish-brown. The general
colour of the upper parts is bright azure-blue, that of the lower
yellowish-brown, the belly white. Shafts of the quills and tail-feathers dusky.
Length 7 inches, extent of wing 10; bill along the ridge 1/2, along the
edge 3/4; tarsus 8/12.
The female has the upper part of a tint approaching to leaden, the foreneck
and sides yellowish-brown, but duller than in the male, the belly white.
Length 6 1/2 inches.
When fully fledged, the young have the upper part of the head, the back of
the neck, and a portion of the back broccoli-brown; the rest of the upper part
much as in the female. The lower parts are light grey, the feathers of the
breast and sides margined with brown.
In a male preserved in spirits, the roof of the mouth is flat, and similar
to that of the Thrushes; the tongue triangular, deeply emarginate and papillate
at the base, very thin, flat above, horny towards the end, tapering to a slit
point, and having the edges lacerated. The oesophagus,
[a b c], is 2 1/2 inches
long, its width at the upper part 4 twelfths; the proventriculus, [b c], large.
The stomach, [d e], is of moderate size, broadly elliptical, a little
compressed, 8 twelfths long, 7 twelfths broad; its muscles distinct, the lateral
of considerable thickness, the lower very thin, the tendons elliptical; the
epithelium tough, dense, with longitudinal rugae. The intestine, [e f g h i],
is rather short and wide, its length being 7 1/4 inches, its breadth in the
duodenal portion 2 3/4 twelfths, contracting to 2 twelfths; the rectum of the
same width at first, but enlarging into an oblong cloaca, [i], 5 twelfths wide;
the coeca, [h], 2 twelfths long, 1/2 twelfth broad, cylindrical, 1 inch 1
twelfth distant from the extremity. Elongated salivary glands.
The trachea is 1 inch 10 twelfths long, moderately flattened, its rings 65,
firm, with 2 additional half rings. There are four pairs of inferior laryngeal
muscles; the bronchi of about 15 half rings.
THE GREAT MULLEIN.
VERBASCUM THAPSUS, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. i. p. 1001.
Pursch, Flor. Amer., vol. i. p. 142. Smith, Engl. Flor., vol. i. p. 512.
--PENTANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.--SOLANEAE, Juss.
This plant, which is well known in Europe, is equally so in America; but
whether it has been accidentally or otherwise introduced into the latter
country, I cannot say. At present there is hardly an old field or abandoned
piece of ground on the borders of the roads that is not overgrown with it. In
the Middle and Southern Districts, it frequently attains a height of five or six
feet. The flowers are used in infusion for catarrhs, and a decoction of the
leaves is employed in chronic rheumatism.