Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE WARBLING VIREO, OR GREENLET.
VIREO GILVUS, Vieill.
PLATE CCXLI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
While at the little village, now the city of Camden, in New Jersey, where I
had gone for the purpose of watching the passage of certain Warblers on their
way north early in the month of May, I took lodgings in a street ornamented with
a long avenue of tall Lombardy poplars, one of which almost touched my window.
On it too I had the pleasure shortly afterwards of finding the nest of this
interesting little bird. Never before had I seen it placed so low, and never
before had I an opportunity of examining it, or of observing the particular
habits of the species with so much advantage. The nest, although formed nearly
in the same manner as several others, which I have since obtained by cutting
them down with rifle balls, from the top twigs of the tall trees to which they
were attached, instead of being fastened in the fork of a twig, was fixed to the
body of the tree, and that of a branch coming off at a very acute angle. The
birds were engaged in constructing it during eight days, working chiefly in the
morning and evening. Previous to their selecting the spot, I frequently saw
them examining the tree, warbling together as if congratulating each other on
their good fortune in finding so snug a place. One morning I observed both of
them at work; they had already attached some slender blades of grass to the
knots on the branch and the bark of the trunk, and had given them a circular
disposition. They continued working downwards and outwards, until the structure
exhibited the form of their delicate tenement. Before the end of the second
day, bits of hornets' nests and particles of corn-husks had been attached to it
by pushing them between the rows of grass, and fixing them with silky
substances. On the third day, the birds were absent, nor could I hear them
anywhere in the neighbourhood, and thinking that a cat might have caught them
from the edge of the roof, I despaired of seeing them again. On the fourth
morning, however, their notes attracted my attention before I rose, and I had
the pleasure of finding them at their labours. The materials which they now
used consisted chiefly of extremely slender grasses, which the birds worked in a
circular form within the frame which they had previously made. The little
creatures were absent nearly an hour at a time, and returned together bringing
the grass, which I concluded they found at a considerable distance. Going into
the street to see in what direction they went, I watched them for some time, and
followed them as they flew from tree to tree towards the river. There they
stopped, and looked as if carefully watching me, on which I retired to a small
distance, when they resumed their journey, and led me quite out of the village,
to a large meadow, where stood an old hay-stack. They alighted on it, and in a
few minutes each had selected a blade of grass. Returning by the same route,
they moved so slowly from one tree to another, that my patience was severely
tried. Two other days were consumed in travelling for the same kind of grass.
On the seventh I saw only the female at work, using wool and horse-hair. The
eighth was almost entirely spent by both in smoothing the inside. They would
enter the nest, sit in it, turn round, and press the lining, I should suppose a
hundred times or more in the course of an hour. The male had ceased to warble,
and both birds exhibited great concern. They went off and returned so often
that I actually became quite tired of this lesson in the art of nest-building,
and perhaps I should not have looked at them more that day, had not the cat
belonging to the house made her appearance just over my head, on the roof,
within a few feet of the nest, and at times so very near the affrighted and
innocent creatures, that my interest was at once renewed. I gave chase to
grimalkin, and saved the Vireos at least for that season.
In the course of five days, an equal number of eggs was laid. They were
small, of a rather narrow oval form, white, thinly spotted with reddish-black at
the larger end. The birds sat alternately, though not with regularity as to
time, and on the twelfth day of incubation the young came out. I observed that
the male would bring insects to the female, and that after chopping and
macerating them with her beak, she placed them in the mouth of her young with a
care and delicacy which were not less curious than pleasing to me. Three or
four days after, the male fed them also, and I thought that I saw them grow
every time I turned from my drawing to peep at them.
On the fifteenth day, about eight in the morning, the little birds all
stood on the border of the nest, and were fed as usual. They continued there
the remainder of the day, and about sunset re-entered the nest. The old birds I
had frequently observed roosted within about a foot above them. On the
sixteenth day after their exclusion from the egg, they took to wing, and
ascended the branches of the tree, with surprising ease and firmness. They were
fed another day after, on the same tree, and roosted close together in a row on
a small twig, the parents just above them. The next morning they flew across
the street, and betook themselves to a fine peach-orchard several hundred yards
from my lodging. Never had HUBER watched the operations of his bees with more
intentness than I had employed on this occasion, and I bade them adieu at last
with great regret.
The principal food of this species consists of small black caterpillars,
which that season infested all the poplars in the street. They searched for
them in the manner of the Red-eyed Vireo and Blue-eyed Yellow Warbler, moving
sidewise along the twigs, like the latter, now and then balancing themselves on
the wing opposite their prey, and snapping it in the manner of the Muscicapa
Ruticilla, sometimes alighting sidewise on the tree, seldom sallying forth in
pursuit of insects more than a few yards, and always preferring to remain among
the branches. I never saw either of the old birds disgorge pellets, as I have
seen Pewees do.
I observed that they now and then stood in a stiffened attitude, balancing
their body from side to side on the joint of the tarsus and toes, as on a hinge,
but could not discover the import of this singular action. During the love days
of the pair mentioned above, the male would spread its little wings and tail,
and strut in short circles round the female, pouring out a low warble so sweet
and mellow that I can compare it only to the sounds of a good musical box. The
female received these attentions without coyness, and I have often thought that
these birds had been attached to each other before that season.
No name could have been imposed upon this species with more propriety than
that of the Warbling Vireo. The male sings from morning to night, so sweetly,
so tenderly, with so much mellowness and softness of tone, and yet with notes so
low, that one might think he sings only for his beloved, without the least
desire to attract the attention of rivals. In this he differs greatly from most
other birds. Even its chiding notes--tsche, tsche, were low and unobtruding.
The nestlings uttered a lisping sound, not unlike that of a young mouse. The
only time I saw the old birds ruffled, was on discovering a brown lizard
ascending their tree. They attacked it courageously, indeed furiously, and
although I did not see them strike it, compelled it to leave the place.
The flight of the Warbling Vireo is performed by gentle glidings, and
seldom extends to a greater length than a hundred yards at a time. I never saw
it on the ground.
It was never observed by me in Louisiana or Kentucky, nor does it pass
along the maritime districts of Georgia or the Carolinas; but from Virginia to
Maine it is not uncommon, although I saw none farther north. It arrives in the
Jerseys and Pennsylvania about the first of May, some years perhaps a little
earlier, and proceeds farther east as the season advances. I do not think that
it raises more than one brood each season, although I have observed it as late
as the 15th of October in the Middle Districts, where I believe the greater
number of these birds spend the summer. Not one could I see during the winter
in the Floridas, where, however, the White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos were
frequently heard in full song.
It is very surprising that this species, which is found on the Columbia
river, and in our Middle and Eastern Districts, enters, traverses, and leaves
the United States in a manner unknown to any one. When on my way to the Texas,
I met with most of our small birds, but with none of this species.
WARBLING FLYCATCHER, Muscicapa melodia, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. v. p. 85.
VIREO GILVUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 70.
WARBLING VIREO, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 309.
WARBLING FLYCATCHER or VIREO, Vireo gilvus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii.p. 114; vol. v. p. 433.
Upper parts light greenish-olive, the head and hind neck greyish-brown; a
white band over the eye; wings and tail brown, quills edged with green; lower
parts dull yellowish-white, the sides tinged with yellow.
Male, 5 1/4, 8 1/2.
From Texas to Maine, and in the interior to Columbia river. Abundant.
THE SWAMP MAGNOLIA.
MAGNOLIA GLAUCA, Willd., SP. Pl., vol. ii. p. 1256. Pursh, Flor. Amer.
Sept., vol. ii. p. 381. Mich., Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Septentr.,
vol. iii. p. 78, pl. 2.--POLYANDRIA POLYGYNIA, Linn.--MAGNOLIAE, Juss.
The swamp magnolia is abundant in all marshy places from Louisiana to
Connecticut, growing in groves in and around the swamps. It seldom exceeds
twenty feet in height, and is more usually eight or ten. The flowers have an
agreeable odour, but are of short duration, although the tree continues blooming
for several months. It is not unfrequent to find it, in the Southern States, in
flower during autumn. The species is characterized by its ovate leaves, which
are glaucous beneath, and its obovate petals, narrowed at the base. It bears
different names in the different States, such as swamp laurel, swamp sassafras,
sweet bay, white bay, &c.