Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE PURPLE FINCH.
(State Bird of New Hampshire)
ERYTHROSPIZA PURPUREA, Gmel.
PLATE CXCVI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
From the beginning of November until April, flocks of the Purple Finch,
consisting of from six to twenty individuals, are seen throughout the whole of
Louisiana and the adjoining States. They fly compactly, with an undulating
motion, similar to that of the Common Greenfinch of Europe. They alight all at
once, and after a moment of rest, and as if frightened, all take to wing again,
make a circuit of no great extent, and return to the tree from which they had
thus started, or settle upon one near it. Immediately after this, every
individual is seen making its way toward the extremities of the branches,
husking the buds with great tact, and eating their internal portion. In doing
this, they hang like so many Titmice, or stretch out their necks to reach the
buds below. Although they are quite friendly among themselves during their
flight, or while sitting without looking after food, yet, when they are feeding,
the moment one goes near another, it is strenuously warned to keep off by
certain unequivocal marks of displeasure, such as the erection of the feathers
of the head and the opening of the mouth. Should this intimation be
disregarded, the stronger or more daring, of the two drives off the other to a
different part of the tree. They feed in this manner principally in the
morning, and afterwards retire to the interior of the woods. Towards sunset
they reappear, fly about the skirts of the fields and along the woods, until,
having made choice of a tree, they alight, and, as soon as each bird has chosen
a situation, stand still, look about them, plume themselves, and make short
sallies after flies and other insects, but without interfering with each other.
They frequently utter a single rather mellow clink, and are seen occupied in
this manner until near sunset, when they again fly off to the interior of the
forest. I one night surprised a party of them roosting in a small holly tree,
as I happened to be brushing by it. In their consternation they suddenly
started all together, and in the same direction, when, not knowing what birds
they were, I shot at them and brought down two.
It is remarkable that, at this season, males in full beauty of plumage are
as numerous as during the summer months in far more northern parts, where they
breed; and you may see different gradations of plumage, from the dingy
greenish-brown of the female and young to the richest tints of the oldest and
handsomest male; while along with these there are others which, by my habit of
examining birds, I knew to be old, and which are of a yellowish-green, neither
the colour of the young males, nor that of the females, but a mixture of all.
The song of the Purple Finch is sweet and continued, and I have enjoyed it
much during the spring and summer months, in the mountainous parts of
Pennsylvania, where it occasionally breeds, particularly about the Great Pine
Forest, where, although I did not find any nests, I saw pairs of these birds
flying about and feeding their young, which could not have been many days out,
and were not fully fledged. The food which they carried to their young
consisted of insects, small berries, and the juicy part of the cones of the
They frequently associate with the Common Cross-bills, feeding on the same
trees, and like them are at times fond of alighting against the mud used for
closing the log-houses. They are seldom seen on the ground, although their
motions there are by no means embarrassed. They are considered as destructive
birds by some farmers, who accuse them of committing great depredations on the
blossoms of their fruit-trees. I never observed this in Louisiana, where they
remain long after the peach and pear trees are in full bloom. I have eaten many
of them, and consider their flesh equal to that of any other small bird,
excepting the Rice Bunting.
This species was seen by Dr. RICHARDSON on the banks of the Saskatchewan
river only, where it feeds on willow-buds. It arrives there in May, and resides
during the summer. The eggs have been procured in the State of Massachusetts by
my friend Dr. T. M. BREWER. They measure seven-eighths and a quarter in length,
four-eighths and a half in breadth, and are thus of an elongated form, rather
pointed. Their ground-colour is a bright emerald-green, sparingly marked with
dots and a few streaks of black, accumulated near the apex, and some large marks
of dull purple here and there over the whole surface. The following, note is
from the same gentleman:--"The passage of the Purple Finch through this State on
its way north, is so rapid, and the number of those that stop to breed here so
small, that I can furnish nothing respecting its habits, except that there is
good reason to believe the accusation which has been brought against it, of
injuring the blossoms of fruit trees. Last year, the trees were in full bloom
at the time this bird was migrating, and I saw them plainly clinging to the
branches, and at work upon the blossoms; so that under some trees the ground was
literally strewed with the result of their destructiveness, although they did
not appear to feed on the blossoms. I have had the good fortune to meet with
its nest and eggs this season. Mr. CABOT found another, and is probably the
first naturalist who has done so. The nest which I found was built in a cedar
tree, at the distance of five feet from the ground. The tree stood by itself in
a small sandy pasture, which was sparingly covered with half-grown cedars. The
nest itself was rudely constructed: it was composed externally of coarse grass
and weeds, lined with fine roots of the same, and little care seemed to have
been bestowed on its completion. The diameter of the exterior was 9 inches, the
brim 3 inches, the depth 1 inch, the external depth 2 inches, giving it thus a
shallow or flattish appearance. The eggs, four in number, were of a bright
I have found this species from Labrador to the Texas. Mr. NUTTALL and Mr.
TOWNSEND met with it on the Columbia river, and all the way to St. Louis. In
South Carolina, where it appears only during severe winters, it feeds on the
berries of the Virginian juniper, commonly called the red cedar; and when the
berries fall to the ground, it alights to secure them. Dr. BACHMAN has kept it
in aviaries, where it became very fat, silent, and only uttered its usual simple
feeble note. After moulting, the males assumed the plumage of the females. The
next spring a very slight appearance of red was seen, but they never recovered
their original brilliancy, and it was difficult to distinguish the sexes. It
breeds sparingly in the northern parts of the State of New York. In June 1837,
I met with three pairs, within a few miles of Waterford, that evidently had
nests in the neighbourhood.
Palate gently ascending; upper mandible considerably concave, with three
prominent lines, of which the two lateral are much larger; mandibles nearly
equal in breadth, the lower deeply concave. Width of mouth 5 twelfths. Tongue
5 twelfths long, sagittate and papillate at the base, much compressed, being
higher than broad, channelled above, the channel becoming somewhat dilated
toward the end, and approaching to that of the Pine Grosbeak and the Crossbills.
OEsophagus 2 inches 2 twelfths in length, its greatest width 4 twelfths.
Stomach 5 1/2 twelfths long, 4 1/2 twelfths broad; its lateral muscles of
moderate size, the epithelium tough and longitudinally rugous. Contents of
stomach, seeds of various sorts. Intestine 8 3/4 inches long, its width from
1 1/2 twelfths to 3/4 twelfth; coeca 1/2 twelfth long, 1/4 twelfth broad 9
twelfths distant from the extremity.
Trachea 1 inch 7 1/2 twelfths long, flattened, nearly 1 twelfth in breadth;
the rings 66 and 2 additional; bronchial rings 12; muscles as usual in this
family; as are the salivary glands.
Male, 6, 9.
During winter, from Texas to the Carolinas, and northward to Kentucky. In
summer, from St. Louis to the Columbia, and in the Fur Countries. Abundant.
PURPLE FINCH, Fringilla purpurea, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol., i. p. 119.
PURPLE FINCH, Bonap. Syn., p. 114.
FRINGILLA PURPUREA WILSON, Crested Purple Finch, Swains. and Rich. F.
Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 264.
PURPLE FINCH, Fringilla purpurea, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 24;vol. v. p. 500.
Bill Shortish, robust, bulging, conical, acute; upper mandible with its
dorsal outline a little convex, under mandible with its outline also slightly
convex, both broadly convex transversely, the edges straight to near the base,
where they are a little deflected. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially
concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short and thick. Body
full. Legs of moderate size; tarsus of the same length as the middle toe,
covered anteriorly with a longitudinal plate above and a few transverse scutella
below, posteriorly with an acutely angular longitudinal plate; toes scutellate
above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, arched, compressed,
acute, that of the hind toe not much larger.
Plumage compact above, blended beneath, wings of moderate length, third
and fourth primaries longest, second and first very little shorter.
Tail forked. The lateral feathers curved outwards toward the tip.
Bill deep brown above, paler and tined with blue beneath. Iris
blackish-brown. Feet and claws brown. Head, neck, breast, back, and upper
tail-coverts of a rich deep lake, approaching to crimson on the head and neck,
and fading into rose-colour on the belly. Fore part of the back streaked with
brown. Quills and larger coverts deep brown, margined externally and tipped
with red. Tail feathers deep brown, similarly margined. A narrow band of
cream-colour across the forehead, margining the base of the upper mandible.
Length 6 inches, extent of wings 9, beak along the ridge 5/12, along the
gap 7/12, tarsus 2/3.
The young bird so closely resembles the adult female, that the same
description will answer for both. The general colour of the upper parts is
brownish-olive, streaked with dark brown. There is a broadish white line over
the eye, and another from the commissure of the gap backwards. The under parts
are greyish-white, the sides streaked with brown. The quills and tail-feathers
are dark brown, margined with olive.
THE RED LARCH.
LARIX AMERICANA, Pursch, Fl. Amer., vol. ii. p. 645. Mich., Arbr. Forest.
de l'amer. Sept., vol. iii. p. 137, pl. 4.--MONOECIA POLYANDRIA, Linn.
This species of larch, which is distinguished by its short, deciduous,
fasciculate leaves, and short ovate cones, occurs in the more northern parts of
the United States, and in the mountainous regions of the middle states. It
attains a height of sixty feet, and a diameter sometimes of two feet. The wood
is highly esteemed on account of its excellent qualities.