Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO.
[Yellow-billed Cuckoo (see also Yellow-billed Cuckoo).]
COCCYZUS ERYTHROPHTHALMUS, Wils.
PLATE CCLXXVI.--MALE and FEMALE.
I have not met with this species in the State of Louisiana more than half a
dozen times; nor indeed have I seen it at all in the Western States, excepting
that of Ohio, where I have occasionally observed an individual, apparently out
of its usual range. Some of these individuals were probably bound for the Upper
Lakes. The woody sides of the sea are the places to which this species usually
resorts. It passes from the south early in March, and continues its route
through Florida, Georgia, and all the other States verging on the Atlantic,
beginning to rest and to breed in North Carolina, and extending its travels to
the Province of Maine.
The flight of this species is swifter than that of its near relative, the
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, for which bird it is easily mistaken by ordinary
observers. It does not so much frequent the interior of woods, but appears
along their margins, on the edges of creeks and damp places. But the most
remarkable distinction between this species and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, is,
that the former, instead of feeding principally on insects and fruits, procures
fresh-water shellfish and aquatic larvae for its sustenance. It is, therefore,
more frequently seen on the ground, near the edges of the water, or descending
along the drooping branches of trees to their extremities, to seize the insects
in the water beneath them.
The nest of this bird is built in places similar to those chosen by the
other species, and is formed of the same materials, arranged with quite as
little art. The females lay from four to six eggs, of a greenish-blue, nearly
equal at both ends, but rather smaller than those of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
It retires southward fully a fortnight before the latter.
The observations respecting the curious manners of our Yellow-billed
Cuckoo, the subject of the last article, might be repeated here, for the present
species is similar in this respect, as has been ascertained by Dr. T. M. BREWER
of Boston. Its eggs are not only smaller than those of the other species, but
also rounder, and of a much deeper tint of green; they measure one inch and half
an eighth in length, and seven-eighths in breadth.
The Black-billed Cuckoo is rare in all the Southern States, my friend Dr.
BACHMAN never having seen it in the maritime districts of South Carolina, nor
myself in any part of Georgia, although WILSON, who first distinguished this
Species, says that Mr. ABBOT of Georgia found it there, and was well aware of
its being distinct from the yellow-billed species. I met with it in Texas,
arriving from the south; and found some individuals in winter, in the central
parts of the southern districts of Florida. On the other hand, it is not
uncommon in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and we saw a few in Labrador, amid the
clumps of low trees a few miles from the shore of the Gulf in secluded and
pleasant valleys. It does not appear that it reaches the Fur Countries, or the
Rocky Mountains, as no mention is made of it by Dr. RICHARDSON or Mr. TOWNSEND.
It being so scarce a species in Louisiana, I have honoured it by placing a
pair on a branch of magnolia in bloom, although the birds represented were not
shot on one of these trees, but in a swamp near some, where the birds were in
pursuit of such flies as you see figured, probably to amuse themselves.
BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, Cuculus erythrophthalmus, Wils. Amer. Orn.,
vol. iv.p. 15.
COCCYZUS ERYTHROPHTHALMUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 42.
ST. DOMINGO CUCKOO, Coccyzus dominicus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 556.
BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, Coccyzus erythrophthalmus, Aud. Orn. Biog.,
vol. i.p. 170; vol. v. p. 523.
Male, 11 1/2, 15.
From Texas to Nova Scotia, and in the interior to Kentucky. Rather common.
Bill as long as the head, compressed, slightly arched, acute, not more
robust than that of many Sylviae; upper mandible carinated above, its margins
acute and entire; lower mandible carinated beneath, acute. Nostrils basal,
lateral, linear-elliptical, half-closed by a membrane. Head and neck of
ordinary size. Body rather slender. Feet short and small; tarsus scutellate
before and behind; toes two before, separated; two behind, one of which is
versatile; the sole flat; claws slender, compressed, arched.
Plumage blended, soft, slightly glossed. Wings long, the first quill
short, the third longest. Tail long, graduated, of ten feathers, which are
rather narrow and rounded.
Upper mandible brownish-black; lower bluish. Iris hazel. A bare space of
a deep scarlet tint around the eye. Feet dull blue. The general colour of the
upper parts is light greenish-brown. Cheeks and forehead tinged with
greyish-blue. Tail-feathers, excepting the two middle ones, tipped with white.
Under parts brownish-white.
Length 11 1/2 inches, extent of wings 15; beak along the ridge 5/6, along
the gap 1 1/4.
The female differs very little in external appearance from the male, and is
nearly of the same dimensions.
A male preserved in spirits measures to end of tail 12 inches, to end of
wings 8 1/2, to end of claws 8; extent of wings 15 1/2; wing from flexure 5 1/2;
tail 5 1/4.
The interior of the mouth presents the same appearances as that of the
other species, its width 7 twelfths; the tongue 8 twelfths long, of the same
form, but black, as is the whole of the mouth. The oesophagus is 6 twelfths in
width at the commencement, and gradually contracts to 3 twelfths; but the
proventriculus is 6 twelfths in breadth; its glands smaller than in the other
species, and forming a belt 1/2 inch in breadth. The stomach is similar to that
of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo; its tendons about 4 twelfths in length, and 3
twelfths in breadth; the inner surface soft, with faint longitudinal rugae,
although quite smooth. Pylorus small, with a semilunar margin. The lobes of
the liver are very unequal, the left 5 twelfths, the right 10 twelfths in
length. The contents of the stomach are remains of insects, with a few short
hairs scattered here and there over its internal surface. The intestine is
11 1/4 inches long, very slender, its width from 2 1/2 twelfths to 1 1/2
twelfths; the cloaca oblong, 5 twelfths in width; the coeca,
fig. 2. p. 522, 1 inch 1 twelfth long, their
greatest width about the middle 2 1/2 twelfths,
narrowed toward the extremity. The trachea is 2 inches 2 twelfths long,
moderately flattened, from 1 1/2 twelfths to 1 twelfth in breadth; its rings 58,
with 5 additional dimidiate rings. Bronchi of about 10 half rings. The muscles
as in the other species.
THE GREAT MAGNOLIA.
MAGNOLIA GRANDIFLORA, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. ii. P. 1255.