Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
KNOT OR ASH-COLOURED OR RED-BREASTED SANDPIPER.
TRINGA ISLANDICA, Linn.
PLATE CCCXXVIII.--ADULT IN SUMMER AND WINTER.
The Knot, good reader, is a handsome and interesting species, whether in
its spring or in its winter plumage, and, provided it be young and fat, is
always welcome to the palate of the connoisseur in dainties. As to its habits,
however, during the breeding season, I am sorry to inform you that I know
nothing at all, for in Labrador, whither I went to examine them, I did not find
a single individual. I have been informed that several students of nature have
visited its breeding places; but why they have given us no information on the
subject, seeing that not only you and I, but many persons besides, would be glad
to hear about it, is what we cannot account for.
I do not wish you to infer from these remarks, that the persons alluded to
are the only ones who have neglected to note down on the spot observations which
might be interesting and useful. I myself am very conscious of my own
remissness in this respect, and deeply regret the many opportunities of studying
nature which have been in a manner lost to me, on account of a temporary
supineness which has seized upon me, at the very moment when the objects of my
pursuit were placed within my reach by that bountiful Being to whom we owe all
our earthly enjoyments, and all our hopes of that future happiness which we
strive to merit.
I have traced the Knot along the shores of our Atlantic states, from Texas
to the entrance of the Bay of Fundy, in the months of April and May, and again
in the autumnal months. I have also found it in winter in East Florida, and
therefore feel confident that some of the species do not proceed beyond our
southern limits at that season. Whilst on the Bay of Galveston, in Texas, in
April 1837, I daily observed groups of Knots arriving there, and proceeding
eastward, meandering along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. In the interior of
the United States I never observed one, and for this reason I am inclined to
think that the species moves northward along the coast. But as I did not find
any in Nova Scotia, Labrador, or Newfoundland, I consider it probable that those
which betake themselves to the fur countries, turn off from our Atlantic shores
when they have reached the entrance of the Bay of Fundy. However this may be,
it is certain that they reach a very high latitude, and that some stop to breed
about Hudson's Bay, where Dr. RICHARDSON found them in summer.
On some few occasions I have observed the Knot associating with the
Tell-tale Godwit and Semi-palmated Snipe, about a mile from the sea, along the
margins of ponds of brackish water; but such localities seemed in a manner
unnatural to them, and it was seldom that more than two or three were seen
there. Along the shores, in spring, I have not unfrequently thought that they
seemed dull, as if they had lost themselves, for they would allow a person to go
very near, and seldom took to wing unless induced to do so by companions of
other species, who were better aware of their situation. In autumn, when they
at times collect into very large flocks, I have often followed them until I
obtained as many as I wished. WILSON has so beautifully described their
movements at such times, that, although I have often witnessed them myself, I
prefer giving his own words.
"In activity it is superior to the Turnstone; and traces the flowing and
recession of the waves along the sandy beach with great nimbleness, wading and
searching among the loosened particles for its favourite food, which is a small
thin oval bivalve shell-fish, of a white or pearl colour, and not larger than
the seed of an apple. These usually lie at a short distance below the surface;
but in some places are seen at low water in heaps, like masses of wet grain, in
quantities of more than a bushel together. During the latter part of summer and
autumn, these minute shell-fish constitute the food of almost all those busy
flocks that run with such activity along the sands, among the flowing and
retreating waves. They are universally swallowed whole; but the action of the
bird's stomach, assisted by the shells themselves, soon reduces them to a pulp.
Digging for these in the hard sand would be a work of considerable labour,
whereas, when the particles are loosened by the flowing of the sea, the birds
collect them with great ease and dexterity. It is amusing to observe with what
adroitness they follow and elude the tumbling surf, while at the same time they
seem wholly intent on collecting their food."
I have however seen the Knot probe the wet sands, on the borders of oozy
salt marshes, thrusting in its bill to the feathers on the forehead, and this
with the same dexterity as several other species. Its flight is swift, at times
rather elevated, and well sustained. At their first arrival in autumn, when
they are occasionally seen in great numbers in the same flock, their aerial
evolutions are very beautiful, for, like our Parrakeet, Passenger Pigeon,
Rice-bird, Red-winged Starling, and other birds, they follow each other in their
course with a celerity that seems almost incomprehensible, when the individuals
are so near each other that one might suppose it impossible for them to turn and
wheel without interfering with each other. At such times, their lower and upper
parts are alternately seen, the flock exhibiting now a dusky appearance, and
again gleaming like a meteor.
Many of these young birds continue mottled with dull reddish-orange on
their lower parts until the winter is far advanced. The old individuals have
their whole upper plumage of a uniform grey, and their lower parts white. As
those of the first year have their markings at that season handsomer than at any
other period of their lives, I have given the figure of one in preference to
that of an adult.
It has been supposed by some that two different species of Knot occur in
the United States, but I am of a different opinion. The dimensions of birds of
this family, as well as of many others, are extremely variable; and, on shooting
eight or ten Knots, it would be difficult to find two of them having exactly the
same size and proportions. If I add to this the very remarkable changes of
plumage exhibited by birds of this family before and after maturity, you will
not think it strange that WILSON should have mistaken the young of the Knot for
a separate species from the old bird in its spring dress. Indeed, I am obliged
to tell you that I have been much puzzled, when, on picking up several of these
birds from the same flock, I have found some having longer and thicker bills
than others, with as strange a difference in the size of their eyes. These
differences I have endeavoured to represent in my plate.
My friend JOHN BACHMAN states, that this species is quite abundant in South
Carolina, in its autumn and spring migrations, but that he has never seen it
there in full plumage. In that country it is called the "May-bird," which,
however, is a name also given to the Rice-bird. Along the coasts of our Middle
District, it is usually known by the name of "Grey-back."
ASH-COLOURED SANDPIPER, Tringa cinerea, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vii.p. 36. Winter.
RED-BREASTED SANDPIPER, Tringa rufa, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vii.p. 57. Summer.
TRINGA ISLANDICA, Bonap. Syn., p. 350.
TRINGA CINEREA, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 387.
KNOT or ASH-COLOURED SANDPIPER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 125.
KNOT or ASH-COLOURED SANDPIPER, Tringa islandica, Aud. Orn. Biog.,vol. iv. p. 130.
Male, 10 1/4, 21.
In autumn and spring ranges along the coast from Texas to Labrador. Breeds
in the Fur Countries, to a very high latitude. Common.
Adult Male in summer.
Bill rather longer than the head, slender, straight, compressed, tapering,
with the tip a little enlarged and blunt. Upper mandible with the dorsal line
straight, and slightly declinate, the ridge narrow and flattened until towards
the end, when it becomes considerably broader, the sides sloping, the tip convex
above and ending in a blunt point, the edges thick and flattened. Nasal groove
extending to near the tip; nostrils basal, linear, pervious. Lower mandible
with the angle long and very narrow, the dorsal line straight, the sides sloping
outwards, with a long narrow groove, the tip a little broader, but tapering.
Head rather small, oblong, compressed. Eyes of moderate size. Neck of
ordinary length. Body rather full. Feet rather long, slender; tibia bare a
third part of its length; tarsus somewhat compressed, anteriorly and posteriorly
with numerous small scutella; hind toe very small, the rest of moderate length,
slender, the fourth slightly longer than the second, the third longest; all
free, broadly marginate, flattened beneath, and with numerous scutella above.
Claws small, slightly arched, compressed, rather obtuse, that of the third toe
much larger, with the inner edge dilated.
Plumage very soft, blended on the head, neck, and lower parts, the feathers
rather distinct above. Wings very long and pointed; primaries tapering, obtuse,
the first longest, the second two-twelfths of an inch shorter, the rest rapidly
decreasing; outer secondaries slightly incurved, inner elongated, straight and
tapering, one of them extending when the wing is closed to an inch and a quarter
from its tip. Tail rather short, nearly even, of twelve rather broad feathers,
which taper to a broad point.
Bill and feet black. Iris dark hazel. Upper part of the head and hind
neck light grey, tinged with buff, and longitudinally streaked with dusky; fore
part of back and scapulars variegated with brownish-black and yellowish, and
each feather with several spots of the latter and tipped with whitish; the hind
part of the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts white, barred with black;
wing-coverts ash-grey, edged with paler. Alula and primary-coverts
brownish-black, tipped with white; primaries similar, their shafts and the outer
margins of all excepting the first three, white, the inner webs towards the base
light grey; secondaries and their coverts grey, margined with white.
Tail-feathers ash-grey, tinged with brown, and narrowly edged with white. The
sides of the head, fore part of neck, breast, and abdomen rich brownish-orange;
lower tail-coverts and feathers of the legs white, each of the former with a
central dusky narrow-shaped or elongated spot, axillaries white, barred with
dusky; lower wing-coverts dusky, with white margins.
Length to end of tail 10 1/4 inches, to end of wings 10 3/4, to end of
claws 11 1/2; extent of wings 21; wing from flexure 7; tail 2 9/12; bill along
the ridge 1 (4 1/2)/12; along the edge of lower mandible 1 (4 1/2)/12; tarsus
1 1/4; hind toe and claw 4/12; middle toe and claw 1 (1 1/2)/12. Weight 5 1/2
The female is similar to the male, but considerably larger.
Length to end of tail 10 3/4 inches. Weight 6 ounces.
Bill greenish-black, eye of a darker brown. Feet dull yellowish-green;
claws dusky. The upper parts are deep ash-grey, each feather margined with
whitish; feathers of the rump greyish-white, upper tail-coverts white, barred
with dusky. The quills and tail feathers as in summer. A band from the bill
over the eye to the hind part of head, white; loral space, cheeks, and sides of
neck pale grey, streaked with darker; throat and lower parts in general, white;
the sides, axillar feathers, and under wing-coverts, barred or spotted with
dusky; lower tail-coverts as in summer.
The young in autumn are of a dull light brownish-grey colour above, each
feather having a narrow whitish margin, within which is a dusky line. The fore
part and sides of the neck, and the fore part of the breast dull greyish-white,
with small dusky-grey longitudinal streaks; the band over the eye indistinct,
the loral space darker. The bill and feet are of a duller tint, and the eye
darker, than in the adult in winter. Weight 4 1/4 oz.
On the roof of the mouth is a double series of small blunt papillae. The
tongue is very slender, 1 1/12 inches long, emarginate and papillate at the
base, channelled above, horny beneath, the point rather acute. The oesophagus
is 4 3/4 inches long, narrow, its diameter 3 1/2 twelfths. The proventriculus
is oblong, 5 1/2 twelfths in diameter, 9 twelfths long. The stomach is an
extremely powerful gizzard, of a roundish form, 1 inch and 5 twelfths long, its
greatest breadth 1 1/4 inches; the cuticular lining thin, horny, with large
longitudinal rugae. The intestine 25 inches long, its average diameter 3 1/2
twelfths; coeca cylindrical, 3 twelfths long. The contents of the stomach are
fragments of mussels and gravel, with which part of the intestine is also
The trachea is 3 1/4 inches long, flattened, 2 1/2 twelfths broad at the
top, diminishing to 2 twelfths; its rings very slender and unossified, 98 in
number; the bronchial half-rings about 15. The lateral muscles very thin, the