Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
SPIZA CYANEA, Wils.
PLATE CLXX.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
The species here presented for inspection is best known to the Creoles of
Louisiana by the name of Petit Papebleu. This is in accordance with the general
practice of the first settlers of that State, who named all the Finches,
Buntings, and Orioles, Papes; and all the Warblers and Fly-catchers, Grassets.
They made an exception, however, in favour of the Rice-bird, which they honoured
with the name of Ortolan, an appellation given in the Island of St. Domingo to
the Ground Dove, which, however, is seldom seen near New Orleans.
The Indigo-bird arrives in the Southern States from the direction of
Mexico, along with its relative the Painted Finch, and is caught in trap-cages,
but with more difficulty than the latter bird. It spreads far and wide over the
United States, extending from the borders of our Atlantic shores to those of our
great lakes. It is not a forest bird, but prefers the skirts of the woods, the
little detached thickets in and along the fields, the meadows, the gardens, and
orchards, and is frequently seen hopping along, or perched on a fence, from
which it does not disdain to send forth its pretty little song. The highest top
of a detached tree is, however, preferred for this purpose, and the Indigo-bird
is to be observed perched on this pinnacle, singing at short intervals for half
an hour at a time. Its song is at first loud and clear, falling in cadences to
a very low key. The whole consists of eight or ten notes. The bird now and
then launches into the air, to cross a field, and sings until it has espied a
favourite spot amongst the clover, when it immediately becomes silent and dives
to the ground. The whole of this parade is performed by the male, which is
alone to be seen, the female at this season keeping amongst the grass or the
briars along the fields, where her humble plumage hides her in a great measure
from observation. Some persons have thought that this practice was changed
towards the latter part of summer, when, by a casual observer, only the females
are to be seen. The true reason of this, however, is, that the young birds of
both sexes resemble the mother during the first season.
The Indigo-bird is an active and lively little fellow, possesses much
elegance in his shape, and also a certain degree of firmness in his make, which
renders him equally a favourite with the Painted Finch, although he does not
possess the variegated plumage of the latter. When the male of the species now
before you is in full plumage, the richness of his apparel cannot fail to
attract and please the eye of any observer. It is highly glossy, and changes
from the brightest azure to green, when placed in a strong light. It requires
three years to attain this perfect state. The female continues in the same very
humble vesture which nature first accorded to her. The males, in the first
spring, and not unfrequently during the first autumn, are mottled with dull
light blue, interspersed among the original deep buff of their earlier stage.
The blue increases in extent, and acquires a deeper tint, as the age of the bird
advances. I have often seen males two years old which were still much inferior
in the beauty of their plumage to those which had passed through three springs.
Should the birds be caught when in full plumage, they gradually lose their
brilliant tints, which at length become extremely dull. A similar alteration is
observed to take place in Painted Finches which have been kept in cages for a
certain period, as well as in the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and in the
Bulfinch, Chaffinch, and other European birds.
The nest of the Indigo-bird is usually fixed amongst the rankest stalks of
weeds or crass, now and then amongst the stems of a briar, or even in a small
hollow in a decayed tree. In all cases its composition is the same; but when
amongst grass, clover, or briars, it is attached to two or three of the stalks
by its sides. It is formed of coarse grasses, hemp stalks, and flax, and is
lined with slender grasses. The female lays from four to six eggs, which are
blue, with a spot or two of purple at the larger end.
Towards fall, the young congregate into loose flocks or parties of eight or
ten individuals, and proceed southward. I think their migration, at both
periods of the year, is performed during night. Two broods are generally raised
in a season. The food of the Indigo-bird consists of small seeds of various
kinds, as well as insects, some of which it occasionally pursues on wing with
great vigour. They are fond of basking and rolling themselves in the roads,
from which they gather small particles of sand or gravel. I have frequently
seen live birds of this species offered for sale in Europe.
I have represented an adult female, two young males of the first and second
year, in autumn, and a male in the full beauty of its plumage. They are placed
on a plant usually called the wild sarsaparilla. It grows in Louisiana, on the
skirts of the forests, in low damp places, and along the fields, where the
Indigo-birds are to be found. It is a creeping plant, and is considered
valuable on account of its medicinal properties.
I observed this species breeding in the Texas late in April, and it would
appear from a note sent by my friend Dr. T. M. BREWER Of Boston, that it reaches
the neighbourhood of that city early in June, but does not commence its nest
there until the latter part of that month, or early in July. He further states
that it "is abundant near Boston, and when it arrives in spring generally
chooses the highest chimney-tops to alight upon. They appear much attached to
particular districts. A pair has now for five years in succession built in my
father's garden, but this year, something would seem to have befallen them, for
they have not made their appearance. One year they raised a second brood. This
is the only instance in which I have known them to do so. The nest is usually
placed in a bush or low tree, about three feet from the ground, and with us has
uniformly been built of Russia matting, purloined from our grape-vines, lined
with fine grass and hair. The eggs, four in number, are eleven-sixteenths of an
inch in length, seven-sixteenths in breadth, and of a uniform white colour,
without the slightest blotch or mark. I have never met with an egg having this
purple blotch at the larger end, which you and WILSON mention as existing there,
although my observations are taken from the contents of more than eight nests.
The second brood spoken of above was hatched in September."
I have before me at this moment an egg of the Indigo-bird procured by
myself, which has several dots toward the larger end, and of which the general
colour is not pure white, but, as described by NUTTALL, greenish-white, or
rather, as I would call it, lightish-blue.
Distributed throughout the United States during summer. Abundant.
INDIGO-BIRD, Fringilla cyanea, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 100.
FRINGILLA CYANEA, Bonap. Syn., p. 107.
INDIGO-BIRD, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 473.
INDIGO-BIRD, Fringilla cyanea, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 377; vol. v.p. 503.
Male in full plumage.
Bill short, robust, conical, a little bulging, straight, acute; upper
mandible broader, slightly declinate at the tip; gap-line a little declinate at
the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partially concealed by the frontal
feathers. Head rather large. Neck of ordinary size. Body ovate. Feet of
ordinary length, rather slender; tarsus covered anteriorly with a few scutella,
the uppermost long, posteriorly edged; toes free, scutellate above; claws
slender, compressed, arched, acute.
Plumage glossy, somewhat silky, blended. Wings of ordinary length, the
second and third quills longest. Tail of ordinary length, distinctly
emarginate, of twelve obtuse feathers.
Bill brownish-black, light blue beneath. Iris dark brown. Feet
yellowish-brown. The general colour is a rich sky-blue, deeper on the head,
lighter beneath, and in certain lights changing to verdigris-green. The quills,
larger wing-coverts, and tail-feathers dark brown, margined externally with
Length 5 1/4 inches, extent of wings 7 1/2; bill along the ridge 1/3, along
the gap nearly 1/2; tarsus 3/4.
Male in the second year.
Bill lighter, irides and feet as in the adult. Head, neck and body, blue,
but of a lighter tint; tail as in the adult; wings, including the lesser
coverts, dull brown, the secondary coverts and some of the quills margined with
Male in the first autumn.
Bill, irides and feet as in the last. Head and body of a lighter and
duller blue, interspersed with brown patches; wings brown, secondary coverts
tipped with whitish.
Bill light brown, tinged with blue. Iris hazel. Feet yellowish-brown.
The general colour is light yellowish-brown, the under parts and the sides of
the head lighter; the wings deep brown, margined with lighter. The female is
also considerably smaller.
THE WILD SARSAPARILLA.
SCHISANDRA COCCINEA, Mich., Flor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 218. Pursch, Flor.
Amer., vol. i. p. 212.--PENTANDRIA POLYGYNIA, Linn.
A climbing shrubby plant, distinguished by its carmine-coloured flowers,
consisting of nine sepals; its numerous, one-seeded berries, and
elliptico-lanceolate leaves, acute at both ends, and supported upon a long