Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
(State Bird of Idaho and Nevada)
SIALIA ARCTICA, Swains.
PLATE CXXXVI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This beautiful species, first introduced to the notice of ornithologists by
Dr. RICHARDSON, who procured a single specimen at Fort Franklin in July 1825,
is merely a summer visitor to the Fur Countries. Both the male and the female
are represented in my plate. The latter I believe has not hitherto been
figured. Mr. NUTTALL'S notice respecting this interesting bird, so closely
allied to Sialia Wilsoni, is as follows:
"Sialia arctica. Ultramarine Blue-bird. About fifty or sixty miles
north-west of the usual crossing place of that branch of the Platte called
Larimie's Fork, in the early part of June, this species of Sialia is not
uncommon. The female utters a low plaint when her nest is approached, the place
for which is indifferently chosen in a hole in a clay cliff, or in that of the
trunk of a decayed cedar. At this time the young were hatched. The nest is
made of the usual material of dry grass in very insignificant quantity. They
are more shy than the common species, and have the same mode of feeding by
watching on some low bush or plant, and descending for an insect. We afterwards
saw a nest of this species on a cliff of the Sandy river, a branch of the
Colorado of the West. The female and male were both feeding their brood. The
former chirped and appeared uneasy at my approach, and at intervals uttered a
plaintive yeow. The male sings more quaintly and monotonously than the common
kind, but in the same general tone and manner."
To this Mr. TOWNSEND adds that it is found in the "Forests on the banks of
the Platte river, in the vicinity of the Black Hills, and in the same situations
on the banks of the Columbia. This species," he continues, "was observed in the
winter at Fort Vancouver, associating with S. occidentalis. They confine
themselves chiefly to the fences in the neighbourhood of the Fort, occasionally
flying to the ground, and scratching in the earth for minute insects, the
fragments of which were found in their stomachs. After procuring an insect, the
male usually returned to the fence, and warbled for a minute most delightfully.
Its note, although like that of our common Sialia, is still so different as to
be easily recognised. It is equally sweet and clear, but of so little power (at
least at this season) as to be heard only at a short distance. In the spring it
is louder and bolder, but is at all times much less strong than that of the
ERYTHACA (SIALIA) ARCTICA, Arctic Blue-bird, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 209.
ARCTIC BLUE-BIRD, Sialia Arctica, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 573.
ARCTIC BLUE-BIRD, Sylvia Arctica, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 38.
Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight, broader than high at the base,
compressed towards the end; upper mandible with the dorsal line straight and
declinate, until near the end, when it becomes convex, the ridge narrow, the
sides convex towards the end, the edges direct and overlapping, with a distinct
notch close to the narrow deflected tip; lower mandible with the angle of
moderate length and narrow, the dorsal line straight, the sides convex, the
edges direct, the tip narrow. Nostrils basal, oval.
Head rather large; neck short; body moderately full. Feet of ordinary
length, slender; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly with seven long scutella,
posteriorly with two very long plates meeting so as to form a sharp edge; toes
of moderate length; the first stouter, the second and fourth nearly equal, the
third much longer; claws moderate, well curved, slender, compressed, laterally
grooved, tapering to a fine point.
Plumage soft and blended, with considerable gloss; short bristles at the
base of the upper mandible. Wings very long; the first quill very small, being
only seven-twelfths of an inch long, the second one-twelfth shorter than the
third, which is longest, but exceeds the fourth only by half a twelfth, the
other primaries rapidly graduated; the outer secondaries emarginate, the inner
not elongated. Tail long, deeply emarginate, of twelve strong feathers, of
which the medial are five-twelfths shorter than the lateral.
Bill and feet black; iris brown. The general colour of the upper parts is
light azure blue, approaching to smalt blue; the quills and larger coverts dark
greyish-brown, the outer tinged with blue, the primaries broadly margined with
light blue, the secondaries with greyish-blue, the inner chiefly with dull
white. The tail-feathers are also brown, gradually more blue toward the base,
and all broadly margined externally with that colour. The sides of the head,
the fore part and sides of the neck, and the anterior half of the breast, light
greenish-blue; that colour gradually fading on the hind part of the breast; the
abdomen and lower tail-coverts greyish-white.
Length to end of tail 7 1/4 inches; bill along the ridge 6/12, along the
edge of lower mandible (7 3/4)/12; wing from flexure 4 (7 1/2)/12; tail 2 11/12;
tarsus (10 1/2)/12, hind toe 4/12, its claw 4/12; middle toe (7 1/2)/12, its
claw (2 3/4)/12.
The female differs greatly. The parts which retain the same colour are the
rump, wings, and tail, of which, however, the blue edgings are less pure and of
less extent, and the outer primary and outer tail-feathers are margined
externally with white. The upper part of the head, the hind neck, the back,
scapulars, and wing-coverts are light greyish-brown, margined with pale
greenish-blue; the cheeks and sides of the neck are paler; the fore part of the
neck and the anterior portion of the breast are light greyish-brown, on the
breast tinged with red; the rest of the lower parts of an undecided
brownish-white tint; the lower wing-coverts pale greyish-brown, edged with
white, the lower tail-coverts with a medial dusky streak.
Length to end of tail 6 3/4 inches; bill along the ridge (6 1/2)/12; wing
from flexure 4 2/12; tail 2 7/12; tarsus 10/12; hind toe 4/12, its claw
(4 1/4)/12, middle toe (6 3/4)/12, its claw (3 1/4)/12.
The above descriptions are taken from skins procured by Mr. TOWNSEND on the
Columbia river. That of the male is from a specimen shot in June 1835; and that
of the female from one shot on the 26th of the same month and year. Of two
other specimens in my possession, a male agrees with that described, but has the
blue of the upper parts deeper, and of a tint approaching to that of the common
species. The female is also similar to that described, but has a dull white
spot before, the eye, and the upper part of the throat brownish-white.