Cedar Waxwing, or Cedar-bird

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Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


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[Cedar Waxwing.]

[Bombycilla cedrorum.]


Louisiana affords abundance of food and pleasant weather to this species, for nearly four months of the year, as the Cedar-birds reach that State about the beginning of November, and retire towards the Middle Districts in the beginning of March. The holly, the vines, the persimon, the pride-of-china, and various other trees, supply them with plenty of berries and fruits, on which they fatten, and become so tender and juicy as to be sought by every epicure for the table. I have known an instance of a basketful of these little birds having been forwarded to New Orleans as a Christmas present. The donor, however, was disappointed in his desire to please his friend in that city, for it was afterwards discovered that the steward of the steamer, in which they were shipped, made pies of them for the benefit of the passengers.

The appetite of the Cedar-bird is of so extraordinary a nature as to prompt it to devour every fruit or berry that comes in its way. In this manner they gorge themselves to such excess as sometimes to be unable to fly, and suffer themselves to be taken by the hand. Indeed I have seen some which, although wounded and confined in a cage, have eaten of apples until suffocation deprived them of life in the course of a few days. When opened afterwards, they were found to be gorged to the mouth.

It is a beautiful bird, but without any song, even during the breeding season, having only a note which it uses for the purpose of calling or rallying others of its species. This note is feeble, and as it were lisping, yet perfectly effectual, for when uttered by one in a flock within hearing of another party, the latter usually check their flight, and alight pellmell on the same tree.

Their flight is easy, continued, and often performed at a considerable height. The birds move in close bodies, sometimes amounting to large flocks, making various circumvolutions before they alight, and then coming down in such numbers together as to seem to be touching each other. At this particular moment, or while performing their evolutions, some dozens may be killed at a single shot; but if this opportunity is lost, the next moment after they alight, the whole group is in motion, dispersing over every bough to pick the berries which attracted them from the air. Their crest is now erected, their wings are seen constantly moving, and so eagerly do they grasp at the berries that they suffer many of them to fall. Every flock passing within hearing is invited to join in the feast, and in a few hours the tree is entirely stripped of its fruit. In this manner they search the whole of the forests, and towards winter are even satisfied with the berries of the dog-wood. As the cherries and mulberries ripen in the Middle Districts, the Cedar-bird pays them frequent visits, and when these are out of season, the blackberries and huckleberries have their turn. After this, the Cedars supply a new and favourite food. I think the name of Fruit-devourers would be more applicable to these birds than that of Chatterers, which they bear among naturalists.

They are excellent fly-catchers also, spending much of their time in the pursuit of winged insects. This is by way of dessert, and is not managed with the vivacity or suddenness of true fly-catchers, but with a kind of listlessness. They start from the branches, and give chase to the insects, ascending after them for a few yards, or move horizontally towards them, perhaps rather farther than when ascending, and as soon as the prey is secured, return to the spot, where they continue watching with slow motions of the head. Towards evening, this amusement is carried on for half an hour, or an hour at a time, and is continued longer at the approach of autumn, the berries then becoming scarcer.

These birds come from the north, but the furthest place from which they have started I am unable to tell. They reach the Middle Districts about the beginning of April, and begin to pair in the beginning of June, when thousands of young birds of other species have already left the nest. Their favourite place for their nest is generally the branch of an apple-tree in the orchard, its horizontal direction being apparently best adapted for their taste, although here they are frequently very insecure, the nest being seldom higher than ten feet from the ground, and often so low as to be seen into. It is composed of coarse grasses externally, and is lined with a finer kind. The female usually lays four eggs, of a purplish white, marked with black spots, which are larger towards the great end. The yoking are at first fed on insects, but after a week the parents procure different kinds of fruits for them. The Cedar-bird nestles less frequently in the low lands than it does in the upper parts of the country, preferring the immediate neighbourhood of mountains. These birds are more careful of themselves during the intrusion of strangers to their nest, than perhaps any other species, and sneak off, in a very unparental manner, quite out of sight, without ever evincing the least appearance of sorrow on the occasion. I have not been able to ascertain whether they raise more than one brood in a season.

When wounded by a shot, they fall to the ground as if dead, and remain there in a stiffened posture, as if absolutely stupid. When taken up in the hand, they merely open their bill, without ever attempting to bite, and will suffer a person to carry them in the open hand, without endeavouring to make off. Their crest at such times is laid flat and close to the head. It is lowered or raised at the will of the bird, but more usually stands erect. Their plumage is silky. The females do not exhibit the waxen appendages on the wings so soon as the males; but these appendages form no criterion as to the sex. I have seen males and females with them, both at the extremities of the scapulars and tail-feathers, seldom more than two or three attached to the latter, whilst there were five or six at the former. Very few of these birds remain the whole winter in the Middle States.

Now, kind reader, can you give a reason why these birds are so tardy in laying their eggs and rearing their young? It cannot be through want of fruit for the food of their progeny, as the young birds, being at first fed on insects, might continue to be so, at a season when these abound, and as the old birds themselves evince pleasure at seizing them on the wing on all occasions.

I am informed by Mr. TOWNSEND that this species is found about the Columbia river, where he procured specimens. Dr. RICHARDSON speaks of it as not having been observed to the north of the 54th parallel. Mr. DRUMMOND saw several small flocks on the south branch of the Saskatchewan, on the 27th of June. I found it very numerous in the Texas, in the early part of May. It is known to breed from Maryland to Nova Scotia, but none were seen by me in Labrador or Newfoundland. Dr. BREWER has sent me the following note respecting it. "This is almost, if not quite, the only one of our birds to which WILSON has been guilty of injustice. He has branded it as a thief, and denied it the possession of any redeeming quality. That it does not sing I admit, but that it is not deserving of our protection is not true. I forbear entering any plea in its behalf on account of the beauty of its plumage, or its bold defence of its young, which I can attest from actual observation, but I must commend it for the benefit which it confers, in this part of the country, on the farmer, by destroying thousands of the destructive cankerworm. I have watched it for hours together feasting on that deadly enemy to our orchards. It is very abundant, but does not breed until July. The eggs do not vary much in colour. It remains all the year round at Boston, and breeds abundantly in the orchards." The length of the egg is 9 twelfths, its breadth 7 twelfths.

BOMBYCILLA CAROLINENSIS, Briss., vol. ii. p. 337.
CEDAR BIRD, Ampelis americana, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 107.
CEDAR BIRD or CHERRY BIRD, Nutt. Man., vol. i.

CEDAR BIRD, Bombycilla carolinensis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 227;vol. v. p. 494.

General colour light greyish-brown, passing behind into ash-grey, before into pale brownish-red, of which colour is the upper part of the head; a black band on the forehead passing backwards over the eye to the occiput, and margined above and below by a narrow white band; feathers in the angle of the lower mandible black; abdomen pale yellow; lower tail-coverts white; wings and tail dull leaden-blue, darker toward the end; primaries with a very small pale yellow spot at the tip, secondaries tipped with an oblong wax-red appendage, as are the tail-feathers, of which the extremity is bright yellow. Female similar to the male, but somewhat smaller. The oblong appendages to the wings vary from nine to three. Young with the upper parts of a uniform dull greenish-brown, lower parts of the same colour, the throat pale buff, abdomen and lower tail-coverts yellowish-white.

Male, 6 3/4, 11.

From Texas northward to the Fur Countries. Westward to the Columbia river. Extremely abundant in Louisiana during winter.

In a male preserved in spirits, the roof of the mouth is slightly concave anteriorly, with three slight longitudinal ridges; the palate covered with small papillae; the posterior aperture of the nares linear-oblong, 4 twelfths in length, with the margin papillate; the tongue 4 twelfths long, triangular, sagittate and papillate at the base, concave above, the tip horny, deeply slit, with two slender points. The width of the mouth is 5 1/2 twelfths. The oesophagus, Fig. 1 [a b c d], is 2 inches 9 twelfths long, its width at the commencement 5 twelfths; it is presently enlarged to 7 twelfths, and increases to 8 twelfths, of which width it continues to the lower part of the neck, where it contracts to 3 twelfths; the proventriculus, [c d], is 3 1/2 twelfths in breadth. The stomach, [d e], is a small moderately muscular gizzard, of a roundish form, 7 1/2 twelfths in length, and 8 twelfths in breadth; its lateral muscles well defined, the right 3 twelfths, the left 2 1/2 twelfths thick; the tendons oblong and of moderate size; the epithelium dense, tough, longitudinally rugous, and of a reddish colour. The liver is extremely large, the right lobe 1 inch 8 twelfths in its greatest length, the left 8 twelfths. The intestine, [f g h i j], is short, and of excessive width, its length 7 1/2 inches, its breadth in the duodenal portion 4 1/2 twelfths, and so continuing with little diminution to the end. The duodenum, [f g h], curves at the distance of 1 1/4 inches, passes forwards, as usual, to beneath the liver, then runs down the right side, bends to the left, curves again to the right over the duodenum, and crossing to the right over the stomach, terminates in the rectum. The coeca, [i], are 2 1/2 twelfths long, and 1 1/2 twelfths in width; their distance from the extremity 8 twelfths. There is no decided cloacal enlargement. In the oesophagus are several small berries; the stomach is filled with berries and seeds, and the intestine contains a very great number of the latter, so that this bird evidently has not the power of pounding and digesting such as are hard. The same circumstance is observed in Woodpeckers, through the intestines of which seeds pass unchanged.

In another individual, the oesophagus is turgid with globular berries, 2 twelfths in diameter, so as to form an elongated crop, lying on the right side of the neck, and extending over it behind.

The trachea is 2 1/4 inches long, of the uniform width of 1 twelfth, considerably flattened, of 80 pretty firm entire, and 2 dimidiate rings. The muscles of the inferior larynx, although four in number, are remarkably small, compared with those of a Thrush. The bronchi are slender, of 18 half rings. The lateral muscles are very slender, as are the sterno-tracheal.

The intestine of this bird is proportionally wider than in any other examined. Its oesophagus assimilates it to the Finches and Buntings; its mouth, tongue, and intestine to the Swallows and Flycatchers. THE RED CEDAR.

JUNIPERUS VIRGENIANA, Willd. Sp. Pl., Vol. iv. p. 863, Mich. Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Septent., vol. iii. p. 42. Pl. 5.--DIOECIA MONADELPHIA, Linn.--CONIFERAE, Juss.

This plant is very generally distributed in the United States, and frequently attains a height of from forty to fifty feet, with a diameter of a foot or fifteen inches at the base. It is distinguished by its ternate leaves, which are adnate at the base, and imbricated. The berries are oval, small, and of a bluish colour. The wood is red, close-grained, very durable, and has a strong scent. Its growth is extremely slow, and this circumstance, together with the great destruction of the tree for various purposes, has rendered it difficult to procure cedar-wood of tolerable size in the more accessible parts of the country.

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