Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
WILLOW PTARMIGAN.--WILLOW GROUSE
(State Bird of Alaska)
LAGOPUS ALBUS, Gmel.
PLATE CCXCIX.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
Although I have not seen this beautiful bird within the limits of the
United States, I feel assured that it exists in the State of Maine, as well as
in the northern districts bordering on the great lakes. THEODORE LINCOLN, Esq.,
of Dennisville in Maine, shot seven one day, not many miles from that village;
and the hunter who guided me to the breeding-grounds of the Canada Grouse
assured me that he also knew where the "Red-necked Partridge" was to be found.
The places which he described as frequented by them, seemed to bear as near a
resemblance to those in which I found the species in Labrador and Newfoundland,
as the difference of latitude and vegetation could admit. I have also seen
several skins of individuals that were killed near Lake Michigan.
The Willow Grouse differs in its habits from the Canada Grouse in several
remarkable circumstances. In the first place, neither myself nor any of my
party ever found the former solitary or single. The males were always in the
immediate vicinity of the nest while the females were sitting, and accompanied
them and the young from the time the latter were hatched until they were
full-grown; and whenever we met with them, we observed that the males and the
females manifested the strongest attachment towards each other, as well as
towards their young. In fact, so much was this the case, that when a covey
happened to come in our way, the parents would fly directly towards us with so
much boldness, that some were actually killed on the wing with the rods of our
guns, as they flew about in the agonies of rage and despair, with all their
feathers raised and ruffled. In the mean time, the little ones dispersed and
made off through the deep moss and tangled creeping plants with great rapidity,
squatting and keeping close to the ground, when it became extremely difficult to
find them. This is the only American species of Grouse I am acquainted with
that possesses these habits; in all others found in the United States, the male
not only leaves the female as soon as incubation has commenced, but both fly
from man and urge their young to do the same from their earliest age.
The Willow Ptarmigan, moreover, join their broods whenever an opportunity
offers, and we found flocks of old and young, in which the latter were of very
different sizes. This species rarely if ever alights on bushes or trees after
being frilly grown, and appears to resort at all times by preference to the
ground, living among the naked rocks of the open morasses.
The young birds do not acquire their full summer plumage before they are
two years old. Many of these middle-aged birds, as I would call them, which our
party procured early in the month of July, differed greatly from the older
birds, which had their broods then quite small. They were much lighter in
colour, their tails were shorter, and they weighed less, but afforded much
better eating. Some of them had young, but their broods were much smaller in
point of number, seldom exceeding four or five, while the old birds frequently
had a dozen or more.
The flight of the Willow Grouse resembles that of the Red Grouse of
Scotland, being regular, swift, and on occasion protracted to a very great
distance. They have no whirring sound of their wings, even when put up by
sudden surprise. Whenever we found a pair without young, they were extremely
shy, and would fly from one hill to another often at a great distance. If
pursued, they would be seen standing erect, and boldly watching our approach,
until we got to the distance of a few hundred yards from them, when they would
run from the naked rocks into the moss, and there squat so close, that unless
one of the party happened to walk almost over them, they remained unseen, and
could not be raised. When discovered and put up, they were easily shot, on
account of the beautiful regularity of their flight. In rising from the
ground, they utter a loud and quickly repeated chuck, which is continued for
eight or ten yards.
Young birds shot in Newfoundland, on the 11th of August, weighed 6 1/4
ounces, and were fully fledged. Their primaries were of a sullied white, but
their legs were not closely covered with hair-like feathers, as in the old
birds. Although this species breeds in the districts inhabited by the Canada
Grouse, it never enters the thickets to which the latter resorts, but always
remains in the open grounds.
One day, while in search of young Wild Geese, in a large, oozy, and miry
flat, covered with a floating bed of tangled herbage, we were much surprised at
finding there several Willow Grouse. They were extremely shy, and flew from one
part of the marsh to another. We procured with great difficulty two, which
proved to be barren females.
To give you an idea of the difficulties we had occasionally to encounter,
in our endeavours to procure such birds as breed in that country, it will
suffice to say, that one of us was so mired in the flat just mentioned, that it
was with extreme difficulty another of us succeeded in extricating him, to the
great danger of being himself swamped, in which case we must all have perished,
had no aid arrived. We were completely smeared with black mud, and so fatigued,
that when we returned, we found it impossible to proceed more than a few yards
before we were forced to sit down on the dangerous sward, which at every step
shook for a considerable space around, so that we were obliged to keep at a
distance from each other, and move many yards apart, constantly fearing that the
least increase of weight would have burst the thin layer that supported us, and
sent us into a depth from which we could not have been extricated. But once out
of the bog, we were delighted with the success of our enterprise, and as we
refreshed ourselves from our scanty stores, when we had reached the rocky shores
of the sea, we laughed heartily at what had happened, although only a few hours
before it was considered a most serious accident.
As I am speaking of fowling in Labrador, allow me to relate an incident
connected with the Willow Grouse. Among our crew was a sailor, who was somewhat
of a wag. He was a "man-of-war's-man," and had seen a good deal of service in
our navy, an expert sailor, perhaps the best diver I have seen, always willing
to work hard, and always full of fun. This sailor and another had the rowing of
our gig on an excursion after Grouse and other wild birds. THOMAS LINCOLN and
my son JOHN WOODHOUSE, managed the boat. The gig having landed on the main, the
sailors, who had guns, went one way, and the young travellers another. They all
returned, as was previously agreed upon, at the same hour, and produced the
birds which they had procured. The sailors had none, and were laughed at.
While rowing towards the Ripley, we heard the cries of birds as if in the air;
the rowing ceased, but nothing could be seen, and we proceeded. Again the
sounds of birds were distinctly heard, but again none could be seen, and what
seemed strange was, that they were heard only at each pull of the oars. The
young men taxed the tar with producing the noises, as they saw him as if
employed in doing so with his mouth; however, the thing still remained a
mystery. Sometime after we had got on board, the provision basket was called
for, and was produced by Master BILL, who, grinning from ear to ear, drew out of
it two fine old Grouse, and a whole covey of young ones, in all the exultation
of one who had outwitted what he called his betters.
While at the harbour of Bras d'Or, I was told by persons who had resided in
the country for many years, that, during the winter, when the snow covers the
ground, and the Grouse are obliged to scratch through it, in order to get at the
mosses and lichens, they are so abundant that a hundred or more can be shot in a
day, and congregate in flocks of immense numbers, now and then mixed with the
smaller species, called there the Rock Grouse, (Lagopus rupestris.) Their flesh
is then salted for summer use. At that season they are of a pure white, except
the tail, which retains its jetty blackness. I was further informed that their
flesh is then dry, and not to be compared with what it is in summer, when I
found it tender, and having an agreeable aromatic flavour.
The Willow Grouse breeds in Labrador about the beginning of June. The
female conceals her nest under the creeping branches of the low firs. It
consists of bits of dry twigs and mosses drawn into a form. The eggs are from
five to fourteen, according to the age of the bird, and are marbled with
irregular spots of reddish-brown, on a dull fawn-colour or rufous ground. They
raise only one brood in the season.
The pair represented in the plate, with their young, were procured by my
friend GEORGE SHATTUCK, Esq. of Boston, one of my party, who shot the first pair
found by us in Labrador. They were in their full summer plumage. I think these
birds, as well as the Canada Grouse, have what I call a continued moult, young
feathers being found upon them at all seasons.
TETRAO (LAGOPUS) SALICETI, Willow Grouse, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 351.
WILLOW GROUSE, or LARGE PTARMIGAN, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 674.
WILLOW GROUSE, Tetrao saliceti, Aud. Orn. Bio., vol. ii. p. 528.
Male, 17, 26 1/2. Female, 16, 26.
In Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, during winter. Breeds
plentifully in Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Fur Countries. Rocky Mountains.
Adult Male, in summer.
Bill short, robust; upper mandible with the dorsal outline curved, the
edges overlapping, the tip declinate and rounded, the basal part with a deep
sinus on each side; lower mandible convex, broad, with the tip rounded.
Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head small, neck rather
long, body bulky. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus feathered, as are the toes,
excepting towards the end, where they are covered with small scales and three
terminal scutella; hind toe extremely short, two lateral equal; claws slightly
arched, depressed, broad, with thin edges, and rounded.
Plumage compact, the feathers generally rounded, those of the head and
upper neck narrow and proportionally short. The legs and toes covered with
hair-like feathers. Wings short, the primaries strong, narrow, tapering,
curved; third longest, second and fourth little shorter. Tail short, even, or
very slightly rounded, of fourteen broad feathers, and four narrower central
ones, which are superior.
Bill black. Iris brown. Toes and claws dark brown, the edges of the
latter yellowish-grey. Head and neck bright chestnut, the feathers on the back
part of the latter and crown of the head barred with black, and tipped with
whitish. The back, some of the wing-coverts, the nearer secondary quills, the
four upper tail-feathers, the anterior part of the breast, and part of the sides
under the wings, variegated with brownish-black, chestnut and white, the
feathers being of the first colour in the middle, and transversely barred with
the second towards the end, while the terminal margin is of the last. Most of
the coverts, all the primaries, and the greater number of the secondaries, with
the whole under surface of the wings, the middle of the breast, the abdomen,
legs and feet, pure white, the shafts of the primaries are more or less brown,
excepting towards the ends. The fourteen tail-feathers are brownish-black, with
the tips white, as is the basal portion of the outer web of the outermost. The
superciliary membranes are vermilion.
Length 17 inches, extent of wings 26 1/2; bill along the ridge 3/4; tarsus
1 1/2; middle toe with the nail 1 7/12; weight 1 1/4 lbs.
Adult Female, in summer.
In the female the superciliary membrane is much smaller, but of the same
colour, as are the wings and tail. The head, neck, breast, abdomen, sides, as
well as the upper parts, are variegated in a manner resembling the back of the
male, but with the black spots larger, and the transverse bars of light
brownish-red broader and less numerous; the lower surface much lighter.
Length 16 inches, extent of wings 25; weight 1 lb.
Young a few days old.
The young are covered with a dense elastic down, of a yellowish tint,
variegated above with a few large streaks of dark brown, on a light brown
ground; the top of the head with a longitudinal brown patch margined with black.
The young when fully fledged resemble the female.
THE LABRADOR TEA PLANT.
LEDUM LATIFOLIUM, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. ii. p. 602. Pursh, Fl. Amer.
Sept., vol. i. p. 301.--DECANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.--RHODODENDRA, JUSS.
The Labrador Tea Plant springs up among the rich and thick moss that
everywhere covers the country of Labrador. I was informed that the fishermen
and Indians frequently make use of it instead of tea.
It is a small shrub, about a foot in height, with linear oblong leaves,
which are folded back at the margin, and covered on the back with a
rust-coloured down. The flowers are white.
THE SEA PEA.
PISUM MARITIMUM, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. iii. p. 1071. Pursh, Flor. Amer.
Sept., vol. ii. p. 470.--DIADELPHIA DECANDRIA, Linn.--LEGUMINOSAE, Juss.
This species of Pea grows in the same country, generally in the vicinity of
the sea. It has an angular stem, with sagittate stipules, and many-flowered
peduncles, with large purple, blue and red flowers.