Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
CHARADRIUS WILSONIUS, Ord.
PLATE CCCXIX.--MALE AND FEMALE.
Reader, imagine yourself standing motionless on some of the sandy shores
between South Carolina and the extremity of Florida, waiting with impatience for
the return of day;--or, if you dislike the idea, imagine me there. The air is
warm and pleasant, the smooth sea reflects the feeble glimmerings of the fading
stars, the sound of living thing is not heard; nature, universal nature, is at
rest. And here am I, inhaling the grateful sea-air, with eyes intent on the dim
distance. See the bright blaze that issues from the verge of the waters! and
now the sun himself appears, and all is life, or seems to be; for, as the
influence of the Divinity is to the universe, so is that of the sun to the
things of this world. Far away beyond that treacherous reef, floats a gallant
bark, that seems slumbering on the bosom of the waters like a silvery sea-bird.
Gentle breezes now creep over the ocean, and ruffle its surface into tiny
wavelets. The ship glides along, the fishes leap with joy, and on my ear comes
the well known note of the bird which bears the name of one whom every
ornithologist must honour. Long have I known the bird myself, and yet desirous
of knowing it better, I have returned to this beach many successive seasons for
the purpose of observing its ways, examining its nest, marking the care with
which it rears its young, and the attachment which it manifests to its mate.
Well, let the scene vanish! and let me present you with the results of my
WILSON's Plover! I love the name because of the respect I hear towards him
to whose memory the bird has been dedicated. How pleasing, I have thought, it
would have been to me, to have met with him on such an excursion, and, after
having procured a few of his own birds, to have listened to him as he would
speak of a thousand interesting facts connected with his favourite science and
my ever-pleasing pursuits. How delightful to have talked, among other things,
of the probable use of the double claws which I have found attached to the toes
of the species which goes by his name, and which are also seen in other groups
of shore and sea birds. Perhaps he might have informed me why the claws of some
birds are pectinated on one toe and not on the rest, and why that toe itself is
so cut. But alas! WILSON was with me only a few times, and then nothing worthy
of his attention was procured.
This interesting species, which always looks to me as if in form a
miniature copy of the Black-bellied Plover, is a constant resident in the
southern districts of the Union. There it breeds, and there too it spends the
winter. Many individuals, no doubt, move farther south, but great numbers are
at all times to be met with from Carolina to the mouths of the Mississippi, and
in all these places I have found it the whole year round. Some go as far to the
eastward as Long Island in the State of New York, where, however, they are
considered as rarities; but beyond this, none, I believe, are seen along our
eastern shores. This circumstance has seemed the more surprising to me, that
its relative the Piping Plover proceeds as far as the Magdeleine Islands; and
that the latter bird should also breed in the Carolinas a month earlier than
WILSON's Plover ever does, seems to me not less astonishing.
WILSON's Plover begins to lay its eggs about the time when the young of the
Piping Plover are running after their parents. Twenty or thirty yards from the
uppermost beat of the waves, on the first of June, or some day not distant from
it, the female may be seen scratching a small cavity in the shelly sand, in
which she deposits four eggs, placing them carefully with the broad end
outermost. The eggs, which measure an inch and a quarter by seven and a half
eighths, are of a dull cream colour, sparingly sprinkled all over with dots of
pale purple and spots of dark brown. The eggs vary somewhat in size, and in
their ground colour, but less than those of many other species of the genus.
The young follow their parents as soon as they are hatched, and the latter
employ every artifice common to birds of this family, to entice their enemies to
follow them and thus save their offspring.
The flight of this species is rapid, elegant, and protracted. While
travelling from one sand-beach or island to another, they fly low over the land
or water, emitting a fine clear soft note. Now and then, when after the
breeding season they form into flocks of twenty or thirty, they perform various
evolutions in the air, cutting backwards and forwards, as if inspecting the spot
on which they wish to alight, and then suddenly descend, sometimes on the
sea-beach, and sometimes on the more elevated sands at a little distance from
it. They do not run so nimbly as the Piping Plovers, nor are they nearly so
shy. I have in fact frequently walked up so as to be within ten yards or so of
them. They seldom mix with other species, and they shew a decided preference to
solitary uninhabited spots.
Their food consists principally of small marine insects, minute shell-fish,
and sand-worms, with which they mix particles of sand. Towards autumn they
become almost silent, and being then very plump, afford delicious eating. They
feed fully as much by night as by day, and the large eyes of this as of other
species of the genus, seem to fit them for nocturnal searchings.
The young birds assemble together, and spend the winter months apart from
the old ones, which are easily recognised by their lighter tints. While in the
Floridas, near St. Augustine, in the months of December and January, I found
this species much more abundant than any other; and there were few of the Keys
that had a sandy beach, or a rocky shore, on which one or more pairs were not
WILSON'S PLOVER, Charadrius Wilsonius, Ord, Amer. Orn. vol. ix. p. 77.
CHARADRIUS WILSONIUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 296.
WILSON'S PLOVER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 21.
WILSON'S PLOVER, Charadrius Wilsonius, Aud. Orn. Biog.,
vol. iii. p. 73;vol. v. p. 577.
Male, 7 8/12, 14 1/4.
Common, and breeds from Texas along the coast to Long Island. Resident in
the Southern States.
Bill as long as the head, stout, straight, cylindrical, obtuse, and
somewhat turgid at the tip. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight until
towards the end, when it is slightly arched and declinate, the sides convex, the
edges sharp and slightly inflected. Nasal groove extending to about half the
length of the bill; nostrils lateral, linear, direct, in the lover part of the
bare membrane. Lower mandible with the angle rounded, the dorsal line convex
and ascending, the back broad, the sides convex, the edges inflected.
Head large, a little compressed, the forehead prominent; eyes large. Neck
short. Body rather full. Wings long. Legs rather long, slender; tibia bare a
little above the joint; tarsus of ordinary length, somewhat compressed, covered
with angular scales; toes small and slender, covered above with numerous small
scutella, first toe wanting, fourth longer than second, third longest, the two
outer connected at the base by a pretty large web; claws small, slightly arched,
much compressed, obtuse.
Plumage soft and rather blended. Wings long, narrow, primaries nearly
straight, narrow and tapering, the first longest, second a little shorter, the
rest rapidly graduated; outer secondaries very short, inner elongated so as to
extend as far as the second primary. Tail of moderate length, straight,
rounded, of twelve feathers.
Bill black. Edges of eyelids grey; iris reddish-brown. Feet light
flesh-coloured; claws dusky. The general colour of the plumage above is light
brownish-grey. Lower part of forehead and a broad streak over the eyes white;
throat white, that colour extending narrow behind so as to form a collar, below
which is another of the general tint of the back across the fore neck. The rest
of the lower parts white. Quills and tail of a deeper greyish-brown, the shafts
white, the two lateral tail-feathers whitish.
Length to end of tail 7 8/12 inches, to end of wings 7 7/12, to end of
claws 8 8/12; extent of wings 14 1/4; wing from flexure 5; tail 2 1/4; bill
along the back (9 1/2)/12, along the edges 1; tarsus 1 2/12; middle toe 10/12,
its claw 2/12.
Young Male in winter plumage.
The adult male is similar in colouring to the female, as described above,
but the lore is dusky, the white band on the forehead is surmounted by one of
brownish-black, and there is a half collar of the same colour across the neck in
The palate as in the other species, but at its anterior part commence three
prominent ridges, which run to the end of the upper mandible. The tongue is 8
twelfths long, rather fleshy, narrow, flattened above, with a median groove, the
point narrow, but rounded, with a thin horny edge. The width of the mouth is 44
twelfths. The oesophagus, Fig. 1 [a b c],
is 3 inches 4 twelfths long, much wider than
in the two preceding species, its breadth at the top being 5 twelfths, at the
distance of 1 inch 4 twelfths; the proventriculus, [b c], 4 twelfths in breadth,
its glandules forming a belt 6 twelfths in breadth. The stomach, [c d e], is
rather large, roundish, compressed, 9 twelfths in length, 10 twelfths in
breadth; the lateral muscles 5 twelfths in thickness; the epithelium remarkably
dense, thick, with two broad granulated ridges on each side, forming grinding
surfaces. The intestine, [e f g h], is rather short, and wider than in the
other species; its length 9 1/2 inches, its width at the upper part 4 twelfths,
diminishing to 2 twelfths. Coeca 1 inch 4 twelfths long, cylindrical, 1 twelfth
in width; their distance from the extremity 1 1/4 inches. Trachea 2 1/4 inches
long, flattened, from 2 twelfths to 1 twelfth in breadth; its rings about 90,
cartilaginous. Bronchial half rings about 15. Lateral and sterno-tracheal
muscles strong; a single pair of inferior laryngeal muscles. Adult male.