Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
TRINGA HIMANTOPUS, Bonap.
PLATE CCCXXXIV.--ADULT IN SPRING AND WINTER.
I have often spoken of the great differences as to size and colour that are
observed in birds of the same species, and which have frequently given rise to
mistakes, insomuch that the male, the female, and the young, have been
considered as so many distinct species. The Long-legged Sandpiper has been
treated in this manner, and has latterly reappeared under the name of Tringa
Douglassii, in the Fauna Boreali-Americana of my friends RICHARDSON and
SWAINSON. BONAPARTE was, in truth, the first who described this bird; and
although some differences might be found between his specimen and the one
described in the work just mentioned, they are trifling compared with those
which I have observed between seven or eight individuals all procured from the
same flock at a single shot. It is strange that neither BONAPARTE nor SWAINSON
have mentioned the sex of their specimen.
On the morning of the 4th of April, 1837, while seated among the drift wood
that had accumulated on the southern shore of the island of Barataria, forty
miles from the south-west pass of the Mississippi, and occupied in observing
some Pelicans, I saw a flock of about thirty Long-legged Sandpipers alight
within ten steps of me, near the water. They immediately scattered, following
the margin of the retiring and advancing waves, in search of food, which I could
see them procure by probing the wet sand in the manner of Curlews, that is, to
the full length of their bill, holding it for a short time in the sand, as if
engaged in sucking up what they found. In this way they continued feeding on an
extended line of shore of about thirty yards, and it was pleasing to see the
alacrity with which they simultaneously advanced and retreated, according to the
motions of the water. In about three quarters of an hour, during all which time
I had watched them with attention, they removed a few yards beyond the highest
wash of the waves, huddled close together, and began to plume and cleanse
themselves. All of a sudden they ceased their occupation, stood still, and
several of them emitted a sharp tweet-tweet, somewhat resembling the notes of
Totantus solitarius; immediately after which seven birds of the same species
passed close to me, and alighted near those which I had already watched. They
at once began to feed, and as I thought that the first flock might join them,
and that I might lose the opportunity of procuring specimens, in sufficient
number, I fired and killed eleven. The rest flew off, and were joined by the
second group, the whole flying to windward in a compact body, and emitting every
now and then their sharp tweet, tweet, until out of sight and hearing.
My son JOHN obtained several of these birds on the same island while they
were feeding on the margins of a fresh-water pond; and we saw them on almost
every island and bay on our way to the Texas, where we also procured some on
The flight of these Sandpipers is rapid and regular. They move compactly,
and often when about to alight, or after being disturbed, incline their bodies
to either side, shewing alternately the upper and lower parts. On foot they
move more like Curlews than Tringas, they being as it were more sedate in their
deportment. At times, on the approach of a person, they squat on the ground,
very much in the manner of the Esquimaux Curlew, Numenius borealis; and their
flesh is as delicate as that of the species just named. In the stomach of
several individuals I found small worms, minute shell-fish, and vegetable
substances, among which were the hard seeds of plants unknown to me. I suspect
that in summer and autumn they feed on small fruits and berries, though of this
I have no proof.
Among those which we procured, I found the differences in the colour of the
plumage quite as great as in Scolopax noveboracensis, some of the younger birds
being yet in their winter dress, while the older had already assumed a reddish
colour on the cheeks, the top of the head, and the breast. The females were all
larger than the males, and differed from each other not only in the markings of
the plumage, but also in the length of the bill, to the extent of a quarter of
an inch, and of the legs, to a still greater extent. Whether or not this
species assumes a uniform reddish tint in the breeding season, such as is
observed in the Curlew Sandpiper, Tringa subarquata, I am unable to say,
although I am much inclined to think that it does.
Their passage through the United States is very rapid, both in spring and
autumn. Some few spend the winter in Lower Louisiana, but nearly all proceed
southward beyond the Texas.
TRINGA HIMANTOPUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 316.
TRINGA DOUGLASSII, Swains. Douglass' Sandpiper, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 379.
TRINGA HIMANTOPUS, Slender-shank Sandpiper, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 380.
LONG-LEGGED SANDPIPER, Audubon's Stilt Sandpiper, Douglass' Stilt
Sandpiper, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. pp. 138, 140, 141.
LONG-LEGGED SANDPIPER, Tringa himantopus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 332.
Male, (7 1/2)-(8 3/4), (15 1/2)-17. Female (8 1/2)-(10 1/2), (16 1/2)-18.
Abundant in Texas in spring. Rare in the Middle Districts. Breeds in the
Fur Countries. Migratory.
Male in spring.
Bill much longer than the head, very slender, sub-cylindrical, very
slightly decurved, compressed at the base, the end rather depressed,
considerably enlarged. Upper mandible with the dorsal line almost straight,
being very slightly decurved towards the end, the ridge narrow, convex,
flattened towards the tip, the sides sloping, with a narrow groove extending
nearly to the end, the edges rather blunt and soft, the tip decurved. Nostrils
basal, linear, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle long and very narrow,
the dorsal line straight, towards the end slightly deflected, the sides sloping
outwards, with a long narrow groove, the tip a little broader.
Head small, oblong, compressed. Eyes small. Neck rather long. Body
slender. Feet long, very slender; tibia bare for an inch; tarsus long, slender,
compressed, covered before and behind with numerous small scutella; hind toe
very small, the rest of moderate length, slender, the second very slightly
longer than the fourth, the third very little longer; short basal webs, running
out along the margins, that between the third and fourth toes larger. Claws
rather long, very slender, slightly arched, tapering, compressed.
Plumage very soft, blended; the feathers somewhat distinct on the back.
Wings very long, pointed; primaries tapering, the first longest, the second
slightly shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; outer secondaries slightly
incurved, obliquely sinuate on the outer web towards the end, the inner web
rounded; inner secondaries very narrow, tapering, reaching to three-fourths of
an inch of the longest primary when the wing is closed. Tail of moderate
length, nearly even, but with the two middle feathers exceeding the rest by two
and a half twelfths of an inch, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers.
Bill black. Iris brown. Feet dull yellowish-green, claws black. The
upper parts are brownish-black, the feathers margined with reddish-white, the
edges of the scapulars with serriform markings of the same; rump and upper
tail-coverts white, transversely barred with dusky; tail light grey, the
feathers white at the base and along the middle. Primary quills and their
coverts brownish-black, the inner tinged with grey, the shaft of the outer
primary white, secondaries brownish-grey, margined with reddish-white, the inner
dusky. A broad whitish line over the eye; loral band dusky; auriculars pale
brownish-red; fore part and sides of neck greyish-white, tinged with red, and
longitudinally streaked with dusky; the rest of the lower parts pale
reddish-brown, transversely barred with dusky; the middle of the breast and the
abdomen without markings. Dimensions of five individuals.
Length to end of tail, . . . 8 3/4 8 1/4 7 3/4 8 7 1/2
Length to end of wings, . . . 9 1/4 8 3/8 8 1/4 8 3/4 8 3/4
Length to end of claws, . . . 11 1/4 10 5/8 10 10 1/2 10 7/8
Extent of wings,. . . . . . 16 3/4 16 15 1/2 17 16
Weight of an individual, . . . 2 3/4 oz.
The female is considerably larger, but otherwise resembles the male.
Dimensions of five individuals.
Length to end of tail, . . . 10 1/2 11 9 1/4 10 3/4 8 1/2
Length to end of wings, . . . 11 10 3/4 11 3/4 11 1/2 10 1/8
Length to end of claws, . . . 13 1/4 12 1/2 11 1/2 12 3/4 11 3/4
Extent of wings,. . . . . . 18 16 1/2 16 7/8 16 1/2 17 3/4
Weight of two individuals, 4 oz., 3 3/4 oz.
The winter plumage differs considerably; the bill, iris, and feet are as
above. The upper parts are brownish-grey, the head narrowly streaked with
dusky; the rump as in summer; the scapulars plainly margined with whitish; the
quills as in summer. The band over the eye lighter, the loral space grey; the
fore part and sides of the neck greyish-white, longitudinally streaked with
grey, the sides similar, and with the lower tail-coverts barred with grey, the
rest of the lower parts white.
Length to end of tail in a male 9 inches; extent of wings 16 1/2; wing from
flexure 5 1/4; tail 2 4/12; bill along the ridge along the edge of lower
mandible 1 7/12; bare part of tibia 1; tarsus 1 7/12; hind toe and claw
(4 1/4)12; middle toe (9 1/2)12, its claw (2 1/2)/12.
The roof of the mouth is flat, with three rows of papillae. The tongue is
1 inch 5 twelfths long, emarginate and papillate at the base, very slender,
concave above, tapering to a point. The oesophagus is 4 inches long, very
narrow, its diameter 2 twelfths. The proventriculus is oblong, 7 twelfths in
length, 3 1/2 twelfths in diameter. The stomach is a strong gizzard of a
roundish form, compressed, 8 twelfths long, 7 1/2 twelfths broad; its lateral
muscles large, its epithelium very dense, thick, longitudinally rugous, and of a
reddish-brown colour. The intestine is 12 1/2 inches long, its anterior part
2 3/4 twelfths in diameter, the hind part 1 1/2 twelfths. The rectum is 1 1/2
inches long; the coeca 11 twelfths long, 1 twelfth in diameter, obtuse.
The trachea is 3 inches long, slender, its diameter at the upper part 1 3/4
twelfths, gradually diminishing to the lower part, where it is 1 twelfth. The
rings, about 110 in number, are slender and unossified, the two last divided.
The bronchi have about 15 half rings. The contractor muscles are thin, the
sterno-tracheal slender; and there is a pair of inferior laryngeal muscles going
to the first bronchial rings.
In another individual, the intestine was 13 1/2 inches long, the rectum
1 1/2 inches, the coeca 1 inch.
The contents of the gizzard in both were fragments of shells, small black
seeds, and much sand and gravel.