Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
[Rufous-sided Towhee (see also Towhe Ground-Finch).]
PIPILO ARCTICUS, Swains.
PLATE CXCIV.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This handsome species was first described by Mr. SWAINSON in the Fauna
Boreali-Americana. Dr. RICHARDSON in the same work states, that it was observed
only on the plains of the Saskatchewan, where he supposes it breeds, as one
specimen was obtained late in July. It arrives there in the end of May, and
frequents shady and moist clumps of wood, being generally seen on the ground.
It feeds on grubs, and is solitary and retired. My friend Mr. NUTTALL has
furnished me with the following account of it:--
"We found this familiar bird entirely confined to the western side of the
Rocky Mountains. Like the common Towee, it is seen to frequent the forests
amidst bushes and thickets, where, flitting along or scratching up the dead
leaves, it seems intent on gaining a humble subsistence. It is much more shy
than the common kind, when observed flying off or skulking in the thickest
places, where it is with difficulty followed. In a few minutes, however, the
male, always accompanying his mate, creeps out, and at first calls in a low
whisper of recognition, when, if not immediately answered, he renews his
plaintive par par or pay payay, until joined by her; when, if the nest be
invaded, he comes out more boldly, and reiterates his complaint, while there
remains around him the least, cause of alarm. When undisturbed during the
period of incubation, he frequently mounts a low bush in the morning, and utters
at short intervals, for an hour at a time, his monotonous and quaint warble,
which is very similar to the notes of the Towee; but this latter note (towee) so
continually repeated by our humble and familiar Ground Robin, is never heard in
the western wilds, our present species uttering in its stead the common
complaint, and almost mew, of the Cat-bird. On the 14th of June, I saw the nest
of this species, situated in the shelter of a low undershrub, in a depression
scratched out for its reception. It was made of a rather copious lining of
clean wiry grass, with some dead leaves beneath, as a foundation. The eggs were
four, nearly hatched, very closely resembling those of the Towee, thickly
spotted over, but more so at the larger end, with very small, round, and
numerous reddish chocolate spots. As usual, the pair shewed a great solicitude
about their nest, the male in particular approaching, boldly to scold and lament
at the dangerous intrusion. This species extends into Upper California, and is
occasionally seen there with the brown species of Swainson, Pipilo fuscus."
Mr. TOWNSEND informs me, that it is called "Chlawa-th'l" by the Chinook
Indians, and is abundant on the banks of the Columbia, where it is found mostly
on the ground, or on bushes near the ground, rarely ascending trees. His
description of the nest and eggs agrees precisely with that of Mr. NUTTALL.
The eggs of this bird in my possession measure an inch and an eighth in
length, and seven-eighths in breadth. They are broadly rounded at the larger
end, and fall off rather abruptly at the other extremity. The spots and
markings are vermilion, intermixed with larger spots of neutral tint, on a pure
Male, 8 1/2; wing, 3 1/2. Female, 8; wing, 3 1/4.
Columbia river, and northward to the Fur Countries. Abundant. Migratory.
PYRGITA (PIPILO) ARCTICA, Arctic Ground-Finch, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 260.
ARCTIC GROUND-FINCH, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. P. 589.
ARCTIC GROUND-FINCH, Fringilla arctica, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 49.
Bill short, robust, narrower than the head, conical, somewhat compressed
toward the end, acute; upper mandible almost straight in its dorsal outline,
being very slightly convex, the ridge narrow and well-marked, the sides convex,
the edges somewhat inflected, the tip a little declinate; lower mandible with
the angle short and broad, the dorsal line slightly convex, the sides rounded,
the edges involute, the point acute. The nostrils basal, roundish, open,
partially concealed by the feathers. The gap-line nearly straight, a little
deflected at the base.
Head rather large, ovate; neck shortish; body robust. Legs of moderate
length, rather stout; tarsus of moderate length, compressed, covered anteriorly
with seven scutella; toes rather large, scutellate above, the first stronger,
the lateral nearly equal, the third and fourth connected at the base. Claws
rather long, moderately arched, slender, compressed, laterally grooved, acute.
Plumage full, soft, and blended. Wings of ordinary length, the fourth
quill the longest, the third and fifth next and nearly equal, the second shorter
than the sixth, the first seven and a half twelfths of an inch shorter than the
fourth. Tail long, rounded, of twelve strong feathers.
Bill brownish-black. Iris red. Feet and claws reddish-brown. The general
colour of the plumage is black, that colour extending over part of the breast,
the sides and lower tail-coverts orange-red, the central part of the breast and
abdomen white, the feathers of the tibiae, dusky, margined with whitish. An
elongated patch on the outer web of all the scapulars; a small terminal spot of
the same on the first row of small coverts and on the secondary coverts, and a
large patch at the end of the inner web of the outer three tail-feathers on each
Length to end of tail 8 1/2 inches, bill along the ridge 7/12, along the
edge of lower mandible (8 1/2)/12; wing from flexure 3 1/2; tail 4 2/12; tarsus
1 1/12; hind toe 5/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12; middle toe (8 1/2)/12, its claw
The female is smaller. The parts which are black in the male, are
blackish-grey, which on the fore part and sides of the Deck is tinged with
reddish-brown. In other respects there is not much difference in the plumage.
Length to end of tail 8 inches; bill along the ridge 7/12; wing from
flexure 3 1/4; tail 4; tarsus 1; hind toe (4 1/2)/12, its claw (5 1/2)/12;
middle toe (9 1/4)/12, its claw 3/12.
The male above described was shot by Mr. TOWNSEND on the Columbia river, on
the 14th of May, 1835; the female on the 11th of October, 1834.
In form, size, and colour, this bird is most closely allied to the Towhe
Finch, Fringilla erythrophthalma of Linnaeus, from which, however, it is at once
distinguishable by the spots of white on the scapulars and wing-coverts which
are wanting in that species. The latter on the other hand has a patch of white
on the basal part of the outer webs of the primaries, that part being black in
the present species.