Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE WHITE-THROATED FINCH.
FRINGILLA PENNSYLVANICA, Lath.
PLATE CXCI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This pretty little bird is a visitor of Louisiana and all the southern
districts, where it remains only a very short time. Its arrival in Louisiana
may be stated to take place in the beginning of November, and its departure in
the first days of March. In all the Middle States it remains longer. How it
comes and how it departs are to me quite unknown. I can only say, that, all of
a sudden, the edges of the fields bordering on creeks or swampy places, and
overgrown with different species of vines, sumach bushes, briars, and the taller
kinds of grasses, appear covered with these birds. They form groups, sometimes
containing from thirty to fifty individuals, and live together in harmony. They
are constantly moving up and down among these recesses, with frequent jerkings
of the tail, and uttering a note common to the tribe. From the hedges and
thickets they issue one by one in quick succession, and ramble to the distance
of eight or ten yards, hopping and scratching, in quest of small seeds, and
preserving the utmost silence. When the least noise is heard, or alarm given,
and frequently, as I thought, without any alarm at all, they all fly back to
their covert, pushing directly into the very thickest part of it. A moment
elapses, when they become reassured, and ascending to the highest branches and
twigs, open a little concert, which, although of short duration, is extremely
sweet. There is much plaintive softness in their note, which I wish, kind
reader, I could describe to you; but this is impossible, although it is yet
ringing in my ear, as if I were in those very fields where I have so often
listened to it with delight. No sooner is their music over than they return to
the field, and thus continue alternately sallying forth and retreating during
the greater part of the day. At the approach of night, they utter a sharper and
shriller note, consisting of a single twit, repeated in smart succession by the
whole group, and continuing until the first hooting of some owl frightens them
into silence. Yet, often during fine nights, I have heard the little creatures
emit here and there a twit, as if to assure each other that "all's well."
During the warmer days, they remove partially to the woods, but never out
of reach of their favourite briar thickets, ascend the tops of hollies, or such
other trees as are covered with tangled vines, and pick either a berry or a
winter grape. Their principal enemies in the day-time, are the little Sparrow
Hawk, the Slate-coloured or Sharp-shinned Hawk, and above all, the Hen-harrier
or Marsh Hawk. The latter passes over their little coteries with such light
wings, and so unlooked for, that he seldom fails in securing one of them.
No sooner does spring return, when our woods are covered with white
blossoms, in gay mimicry of the now melted snows, and the delighted eye is
attracted by the beautiful flowers of the dog-wood tree, than the White-throated
Sparrow bids farewell to the south, not to return till winter.
It is a plump bird, fattening almost to excess, whilst in Louisiana, and
affords delicious eating, for which purpose many are killed with blow-guns.
These instruments--should you not have seen them--are prepared by the Indians,
who cut the straightest canes, perforating them by forcing a hickory rod through
the internal partitions which intersect this species of bamboo, and render them
quite smooth within by passing the rod repeatedly through. The cane is then
kept perfectly straight, and is well dried, after which it is ready for use.
Splints of wood, or more frequently of cane, are then worked into tiny arrows,
quite sharp at one end, and at the other, instead of being feathered, covered
with squirrel hair or other soft substances, in the manner of a bottle-brush, so
as to fill the tube and receive the impulse imparted by a smart puff of breath,
which is sufficient to propel such an arrow with force enough to kill a small
bird at the distance of eight or ten paces. With these blow-guns or pipes,
several species of birds are killed in large quantities; and the Indians
sometimes procure even squirrels by means of them.
Dr. RICHARDSON informs us that this species reaches the Saskatchewan in the
middle of May, and spreads throughout the Fur Countries up to the 66th parallel.
On the 14th of June, he found a female sitting on four eggs, at Cumberland
House. The nest, which was placed under a fallen tree, was built of grass,
lined with deer's-hair and a few feathers. Another found at Great Bear Lake was
lined with the setae of bryum. The eggs were very pale mountain-green, thickly
marbled with reddish-brown. When the female was disturbed, she made her escape
by running silently off, in a crouching manner, like a Lark. I met with this
species in Labrador, in considerable numbers, but did not find its nest,
although the young were seen late in July.
When kept in an aviary, this bird, in the latter part of spring or about
May, sings at all hours of the night as joyously as when at liberty and
breeding. It arrives from the north in South Carolina about the first of
November, and departs in the end of March. In that State it is quite silent
until the approach of night, when it chirps, as I have already described.
The dog-wood, of which I have represented a twig in early spring, is a
small tree found nearly throughout the Union, but generally preferring such
lands as with us are called of second quality, although it occasionally makes
its appearance in the richest alluvial deposits. Its height seldom exceeds
twenty feet, or its diameter ten inches. It is scarcely ever straight to any
extent, but the wood, being extremely hard and compact, is useful for turning,
when well dried and free of wind-shakes, to which it is rather liable. Its
berries are eaten by various species of birds, and especially by our different
kinds of squirrels, all of which shew great partiality to them. Its flowers,
although so interesting in early spring, are destitute of odour, and of short
duration. The bark is used by the inhabitants in decoction as a remedy for
intermittent fevers, and the berries are employed by the housewife for dyeing
Male, 6 1/2, 9. Female, 6 1/4, 8 1/2
Winter resident from Louisiana to Maryland, and inland as far as Kentucky.
Breeds from Maine to the Fur Countries. Abundant.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, Fringilla albicollis, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii.p. 51.
FRINGILLA PENNSYLVANICA, Bonap. Syn., p. 108.
FRINGILLA (ZONOTRICHIA) PENNSYLVANICA, White-throated Finch, Swains. &
Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 256.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, Fringilla Pennsylvanica, Nutt. Man., vol. i.p. 481.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, Fringilla Pennsylvanica, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i.p. 42; vol. v. p. 497.
Bill short, robust, conical, acute; upper mandible broader than the lower,
scarcely declinate at the tip, almost straight in its dorsal outline, as is the
lower, both being rounded on the sides, and the lower with inflected, acute
edges; the gap-line nearly straight, a little deflected at the base, and not
extending to beneath the eye. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially
concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck shortish. Body robust.
Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered
anteriorly with a few longish scutella; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral
ones nearly equal; claws slender, arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind
toe rather large.
Plumage compact above, soft and blended beneath. Wings short and curved,
rounded, the third and fourth quills longest, the first much shorter, the
secondaries long. Tail longish, forked, the lateral feathers curved outwards
towards the tip.
Upper mandible dark brown, its edges and the lower mandible light blue.
Iris hazel. Feet flesh-coloured, claws light brown. Upper part of the head
black, with a narrow white stripe from the forehead to the upper part of the
neck. A broader white stripe, anteriorly passing into bright orange, over each
eye, margined by a narrow black stripe extending from the eye down the neck.
Upper part of the back, and the lesser wing-coverts, bright bay, variegated with
black; lower back and tail-coverts brownish-grey. Quills and large coverts
blackish, margined with bay, the latter, as well as the next series, tipped with
white, forming two conspicuous bands on the wing. Tail dusky brown. Throat
white; sides and fore-part of the neck and breast bluish-grey; the rest of the
under parts greyish-white.
Length 6 1/4 inches, extent of wings 9; bill 5/12 along the ridge, 7/12
along the gap; tarsus 1 1/4, middle toe 1.
In the female, the colours are similarly arranged, but much duller, the
bright bay of the male being chanced into reddish-brown, the black into dark
brown, and the white into greyish-white. The white streak above the eye is
narrower, shorter, and anteriorly less yellow, the greyish-blue of the breast
paler, and the white spot on the throat less defined.
Length 6 1/2 inches, extent of wings 8 1/2; bill 1/3 along the ridge, 1/2
along the gap.
CORNUS FLORIDA, Willd., Sp. Plant., Vol. i. p. 661. Michaux, Abr. Forest.
de l'Amer. Sept. t. iii. p. 138, Pl. iii. Pursch, Flora Americ.,
P. 108.--TETRANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.--CAPRIFOLIA, Juss.
A beautiful small tree, generally about twenty feet in height, with very
hard wood; dark grey bark, cracked into squarish compartments; ovate-elliptical,
acuminate leaves, which are light green above, whitish beneath; large, obcordate
involucral leaves; and bright-red oval berries.