Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE ORCHARD ORIOLE, OR HANG-NEST.
ICTERUS SPURIUS, Gmel.
PLATE CCXIX.--MALE, YOUNG MALE, FEMALE and NEST.
The plumage of many species of our birds undergoes at times very
extraordinary changes. Some, such as the male Tanagers, which during the summer
months exhibit the most vivid scarlet and velvety black, assume a dingy green
before they leave the country, on their way southward. The Goldfinch nearly
changes to the same colour, after having been seen in a gay apparel of yellow
and black. The Rice-bird loses its lively brightness until the return of
spring. Others take several years before they complete their plumage, so as to
shew the true place which they hold amongst the other species, as is the case
with the Ibis, the Flamingo, and many other Waders, as well as with several of
our land birds, among which, kind reader, the species now under your
consideration is probably that in which these gradual improvements are most
observable by such persons as reside in the country inhabited by them.
The plumage of the young birds of this species, when they leave the nest,
resembles that of the female parent, although rather less decided in point of
colouring, and both males and females retain this colour until the approach of
the following spring, when the former exhibit a portion of black on the chin,
the females never altering. In birds kept in cages, this portion of black
remains without farther augmentation for two years; but in those which are at
liberty, a curious mixture of dull orange or deep chestnut peeps out through a
considerable increase of black-coloured feathers over the body and wings,
intermixed with the yellowish-green hue which the bird had when it left the
nest. The third spring brings him nearer towards perfection, as at that time
the deep chestnut colour has taken possession of the lower parts, the black has
deepened on the upper parts, and over the whole head, as well as on the whigs
and tail-feathers. Yet the garb with which it is ultimately to be covered
requires another return of spring before it is completed, after which it remains
as exhibited in the adult male, represented in the plate.
These extraordinary changes are quite sufficient of themselves to lead
naturalists abroad into error, as they give rise to singular arguments even with
some persons in America, who maintain that the differences of colour are
indicative of different species. But, since the habits of these birds under all
these singular changes of plumage are ascertained to be precisely the same, the
argument no longer holds good. I shall now endeavour to describe these habits
with all the accuracy supplied by long observation.
The migration of the Orchard Oriole from south to north is performed by
day, and singly, as is that of its relative the Baltimore Oriole, the males
appearing a week or ten days sooner than the females. Their flight is lower
than that of the Baltimore, and considerably shorter in its continuance, the
Orchard Oriole alighting more frequently on the tops of the trees, to rest or to
feed. They exhibit a greater repetition of motions of the wings, although
sliding through the air for a few yards only at a time, and whilst about to
alight, as well as afterwards, perform strong and well marked jettings of the
tail. This the Baltimore seldom does. No sooner have they reached the portion
of the country in which they intend to remain during the time of raising their
young, than these birds exhibit all the liveliness and vivacity belonging to
their nature. The male is seen rising in the air for ten or twenty yards in an
indirect manner, jerking his tail and body, flapping his wings, and singing with
remarkable impetuosity, as if under the influence of haste, and anxious to
return to the tree from which he has departed. He accordingly descends with the
same motions of the body and tail, repeating his pleasant song as he alights.
These gambols and carollings are performed frequently during the day, the
intervals being employed in ascending or descending along the branches and twigs
of different trees, in search of insects or larvae. In doing this, they rise on
their legs, seldom without jetting the tail, stretch their neck, seize the prey,
and emit a single note, which is sweet and mellow, although in power much
inferior to that of the Baltimore. At other times, it is seen bending its body
downwards, in a curved posture, with the head greatly inclined upwards, to peep
at the under parts of the leaves, so as not to suffer any grub to escape its
vigilance. It now alights on the ground, where it has espied a crawling insect,
and again flies towards the blossoms, in which man are lurking, and devours
hundreds of them each day, thus contributing to secure to the farmer the hopes
which he has of the productiveness of his orchard.
The arrival of the females is marked with all due regard, and the males
immediately use every effort in their power to procure from them a return of
attention. Their singings and tricks are performed with redoubled ardour, until
they are paired, when nidification is attended to with the utmost activity.
They resort to the meadows, or search along the fences for the finest, longest,
and toughest grasses they can find, and having previously fixed on a spot either
on an apple tree, or amidst the drooping branches of the weeping willow, they
begin by attaching the grass firmly and neatly to the twigs more immediately
around the chosen place. The filaments are twisted, passed over and under, and
interwoven in such a manner as almost to defy the eye of man to follow their
windings. All this is done by the bill of the bird, in the manner used by the
Baltimore Oriole. The nest is of a hemispherical form, and is supported by the
margin only. It seldom exceeds three or four inches in depth, is open almost to
the full extent of its largest diameter at the top or entrance, and finished on
all sides, as well as within, with the long slender grasses already mentioned.
Some of these go round the nest several times, as if coarsely woven together.
This is the manner in which the nest is constructed in Louisiana; in the Middle
Districts it is usually lined with soft and warm materials. The female lays
from four to six eggs, of a bluish-white tint, sprinkled with dark brown, and
raises only a single brood in the season. The young follow the parents for
several weeks, and many birds congregate towards autumn, but the males soon
separate from the females, and set out by themselves as they arrived in spring.
The sociality of the Orchard Oriole is quite remarkable, and in this
respect that bird differs widely from the Baltimore, which will not suffer any
other bird of its species to build a nest, or to remain within a considerable
distance from the spot which it has selected for its own; whereas many nests of
the species now before you may be observed in the same garden or orchard, and
often within a few yards of the house. I have counted as many as nine of these
nests on a few acres of ground, and the different pairs to which they belonged
lived in great harmony.
Although the food of the Orchard Orioles consists principally of insects of
various kinds, it is not composed exclusively of them. They are fond of
different sorts of fruits and berries. Figs are also much relished by them, as
well as mulberries and strawberries, but not to such a degree as to draw the
attention of the gardener or husbandman towards their depredations.
This species makes its first appearance in Louisiana early in March, and
remains until October, being seen for several weeks after the Baltimore Oriole
has set out. It reaches the Middle Districts in the beginning of April. I have
met with it as far as the State of Maine and the head waters of the Mississippi.
It is fond of high ground and the neighbourhood of mountains during the breeding
season, after which it removes to the meadows and prairies in considerable
numbers. Whilst in these meadows, it feeds principally upon a small species of
cricket, ground spiders and small grasshoppers. Their flesh is very good late
in the season, and is much esteemed by the Creoles of Louisiana.
The French of that State give it the name of Pape de Prairie, while they
designate the Baltimore Oriole by that of Pape de Bois, which arises no doubt
from the marked preference which the former manifests to the plains in autumn,
where a great number are shot or caught in trap cages. It is easily kept in
cages, where it sings with all the liveliness which it shews in its wild state,
and may be fed on rice and dry fruits, when fresh ones cannot be procured. I
have known one of these birds, a beautiful male, kept for upwards of four years
by a friend of mine at New Orleans. It had been raised from the nest, and
having passed through the different changes of its plumage, had become perfect,
was full of action, and sung delightfully.
The nest represented in the plate was drawn in Louisiana, and was entirely
composed of grass. It may be looked upon as a sample of the usual form and
construction. The branch of honey locust on which you see these birds belongs
to a tree which sometimes grows to a great height, without much apparent choice
of situation. It is more abundant to the west of the Alleghanies, and towards
the Southern Districts, than in the Middle States. The wood is brittle and
seldom used. The trunk and branches are frequently covered with innumerable
long, sharp, and extremely hard spines, protruded in every direction, and in
some instances placed so near to each other as to preclude the possibility of
any person's climbing them. It bears a long pod, containing a sweet substance,
not unlike that of the honey of bees, and which is eaten by children, when it
becomes quite ripe. The spines are made use of by tobacconists for the purpose
of fastening together the different twists of their rolls.
Dr. BACHMAN informs me, that he has kept this bird in aviaries for several
years, and that although the birds of this genus are supposed to be of a plain
colour in winter, he has ascertained that this species at least preserves
throughout the winter the plumage it possessed in summer.
In a male preserved in spirits, the roof of the mouth is slightly
ascending, with two longitudinal ridges; the posterior aperture of the nares
oblongo-linear, with the edges papillate; the upper mandible with three
prominent lines, and four grooves; the tongue is 6 twelfths long, sagittate and
papillate at the base, narrow, channelled above, the tip deeply slit and
lacerated. The oesophagus is 2 inches 2 twelfths long, its greatest breadth 3
twelfths. The stomach is very small, roundish, compressed, 5 twelfths long, 1/2
twelfth broad; its muscles thick, the epithelium thin, tough, longitudinally
rugous, reddish-brown. The contents of the stomach are insects. The intestine
is 6 inches long, from 1 1/2 twelfths to 1 twelfth in breadth. The coeca 1
twelfth long, 1/4 twelfth broad, 8 twelfths from the extremity.
The trachea is 1 1/4 inches long, much flattened, 1 twelfth broad at the
upper part; its rings 65, with 2 dimidiate. Bronchi of about 10 half rings.
The muscles as in the other species of this group.
ORCHARD ORIOLE:, Oriolus Mutatus Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 64.
ICTERUS SPURIUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 51.
SPURIOUS or ORCHARD ORIOLE, Icterus spurius, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 165.
ORCHARD ORIOLE, Icterus spurius, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 221; vol. v.p. 485.
Male, 6 1/2, 9.
From Texas to Connecticut, over the valley of the Mississippi, Kentucky,
and Ohio. Abundant. Rare in Massachusetts and Maine. Missouri to the bases of
the Rocky Mountains. Migratory.
Male in complete plumage.
Bill conical, slender, longish, compressed, a little curved, very acute,
with inflected acute margins; upper mandible obtuse above, lower broadly obtuse
beneath. Nostrils oval, covered by a membrane above, basal. Head and neck of
ordinary size. Body rather slender. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus a little
tonger than the middle toe; inner toe little shorter than the outer; claws
arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe twice the size of the others.
Plumage soft, blended, glossy. Wings of ordinary length, the second and
third primaries longest. Tail long, rounded, of twelve rounded feathers.
Bill black above, with light blue margins, light blue beneath. Iris
reddish-brown. Feet light blue. Head, neck, and upper back black; the rest of
the body dusky orange-red, approaching to chestnut. Quills and larger coverts
black, margined with yellow, the latter tipped with yellowish-white; tail black.
Length 6 1/2 inches, extent of wings 9; bill along the ridge 7/12, along
the gap 3/4; tarsus 1, middle toe 5/6.
Bill, feet and iris as in the male. Head and upper parts brownish-green.
Wings and tail greenish-brown; wing-coverts tipped with white throat white,
sides of the neck and under parts generally greyish-yellow. The young of both
sexes resemble the female.
Male in the second year.
Irregularly spotted with black, yellow, and reddish-orange on the head,
neck, and back; the other parts nearly as in the adult male.
THE HONEY LOCUST.
GLEDITSCHIA TRIACANTHOS, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. iv. p. 1097. Pursh, Flor.
Amer., vol. i. p. 221. Mich., Arbr. Forest., vol. iii. p. 164, pl. 10.
--POLYGAMIA DIOECIA,--Linn.--LEGUMINOSAE, Juss.
This tree, when growing in situations most favourable to it, sometimes
attains a height of sixty or eighty feet, and a diameter of three or four. The
bark is detached in large plates, and the trunk is marked with several broad
furrows. The flowers, which are small and of a greenish colour, are succeeded
by long, flat, pendant, generally tortuous pods, of a brown colour. The wood is
very hard, but porous and brittle. This species is distinguished by its
numerous, generally tripartite spines, its linear-oblong leaflets, and its
many-seeded, compressed legumes.