Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
COCCOBORUS MELANOCEPHALUS, Swains.
PLATE CCVI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
The following account of this Grosbeak affords another proof of the ardent
zeal of my excellent friend THOMAS NUTTALL, who, thought more especially engaged
with botany on his recent journey to the Columbia, has not neglected
opportunities of noting many interesting facts relative to birds.
"On the central table-land of the Rocky Mountains, and on the upper
branches of the Colorado of the west, we first heard the powerful song of this
most delightful Finch. From thence, in the thick groves of all the streams on
our western course to the borders of the Columbia, and throughout the dense
forests of that river nearly to the sea, we were frequently cheered amidst the
wildest desolation by the inimitable voice of this melodious bird. Jealous of
all intrusion on his lonely and wild haunts, it was seldom that we had the
opportunity of witnessing this almost fairy musician, which gave a charm to the
saddest gloom, and made the very woods as it were re-echo to his untiring song.
With the modesty of superior merit, and almost with the solicitude of the
Nightingale, our favourite Finch seeks the darkest thicket of the deepest
forest. The moment his eye rests on the intruding observer he flits off in
haste, calls to his mate, and plunging into the thicket sits in silence till he
is satisfied of the restoration of solitude, when he again cautiously mounts the
twig and pours out afresh the oft-told but never-tiring tale of his affection
and devotion to the joys of nature. His song, which greatly resembles that of
the Red-breasted Grosbeak, is heard at early dawn, and at intervals nearly to
the close of night. It is a loud, varied, high-toned and melodious fife, which
rises and falls in the sweetest cadence; but always, like the song of the
Nightingale, leaves a sensation of pleasing sadness on the ear, which fascinates
more powerfully than the most cheering hilarity. In fact, the closing note of
our bird is often so querulous as to appear like the shrill cry of appealing
distress; it sinks at last so faintly, yet still so charmingly on the sense.
When seen, which is only by accident, he sits conspicuously on some lofty bough,
below the summit of the tree, and raising his head, and swelling his throat with
a rising motion, almost amounting to a flutter, he appears truly rapt in
ecstacy, and seems to enjoy his own powers of melody as much is the listener.
Even the cruel naturalist, ever eager to add another trophy to his favourite
science, feels arrested by his appeal, and connives at his escape from the
clutch of the collector.
"About the month of July, in the Rocky Mountains, I observed the female
feeding her fledged voting, and they also spent the summer in the thickest
branches, but with the nest and eggs I am unacquainted. The song, as I have
heard it, in the forests of Columbia, seems to be like the syllables, 'tait,
weet, teet, weowit, teet weowit, teet weeowit, verr, and sometimes terminating
weet, weet, weet, every note a loud tender trill of the utmost sweetness,
delivered in his own "wood-notes wild," mocking nothing, but still exulting in
his powers, which, while exerted, seem to silence every songster around. The
Robin seems almost his pupil in song and similarity of expression, but falls
short, and after our Orpheus, seems at best but a faltering scholar."
Male, 8 1/2, wing, 4 1/4.
Central table-land of Rocky Mountains. Common. Migratory.
BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, Fringilla melanocephala, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv.p. 519.
GUIRACA MELANOCEPHALA, Swainson.
Bill rather short, very robust, bulging at the base, conical, acute; upper
mandible with its dorsal outline a little convex, the sides rounded, the edges
sharp, ascending from the base to beyond the nostrils, then deflected with a
slight median festoon, and an obscure notch close to the tip; lower mandible
with the angle short and very broad, the dorsal line straight, the back very
broad at the base, the sides high and convex, the edges inflected, the tip
acute. Nostrils basal, roundish, partly concealed by the feathers.
Head large, roundish-ovate; neck short; body rather full. Legs of moderate
length, rather strong; tarsus anteriorly covered with seven scutella,
posteriorly with two plates forming a sharp edge; toes rather large, the first
stout, the lateral nearly equal, the middle toe much longer. Claws rather long,
arched, much compressed, acute.
Plumage soft and blended. Wings of moderate length, broad. The first
quill two-twelfths shorter than the second, which is longest, but scarcely
exceeds the third, the fourth longer than the first; secondaries slightly
emarginate. Tail rather long, nearly even.
Bill with the upper mandible dusky, the lower white. Iris hazel. Feet and
claws wood-brown. Head, cheeks, and a small portion of the throat black; the
upper parts brownish-black; the feathers on the lower part of the hind neck all
round, a streak over each eye, another along the middle of the hind head, the
greater part of the rump, and the lower parts generally, yellowish-red or
brownish-orange; the edges of some of the feathers on the back, a broad band
formed by the first row of small coverts, a narrow band formed by the tips of
the secondary coverts, a band on the base of the primaries, the outer web of the
first excepted, the margins of three of the primaries toward the end, and a spot
on the outer web of most of the secondaries at the end; a large patch on the
inner web of all the tail-feathers, excepting the two middle, and largest on the
outer, pure white; the middle of the breast and abdomen, with the axillaries and
lower wing-coverts, yellow.
Length to end of tail 8 1/2 inches; wing from flexure 4 1/4; tail 3 8/12;
bill along the ridge 9/12, along the edge of lower mandible 10/12; tarsus 11/12;
hind toe (4 1/2)/12, its claw 5/12; middle toe 8/12, its claw (3 1/2)/12.
The female is much less beautiful. The bill is of a lighter brown above,
brownish-white beneath, with the edges and tip of the lower mandible light
brown; the feet and claws wood-brown. The upper parts are wood-brown, the head
darker, with three longitudinal bands of brownish-white; a band of reddish-white
across the hind neck, the feathers of the back margined with whitish; the wings
marked as in the male, but with brownish-white; the tail without white spots.
The lower parts are of a much paler tint than those of the male; the axillars
and lower wing-coverts yellow.
Length to end of tail 8 1/4 inches; bill along the ridge 9/12; tarsus
11/12; middle toe and claw 1 3/12.