Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE GREENSHANK TATLER.
TOTANUS GLOTTIS, Linn.
While on Sand Key, which is about six miles distant from Cape Sable of the
Floridas, in lat. 24 degrees 57 minutes north, and 81 degrees 45 minutes long.
west of Greenwich, I shot three birds of this species on the 28th of May, 1832.
I had at first supposed them to be Tell-tale Godwits, as they walked on the bars
and into the shallows much in the same manner, and, on obtaining them, imagined
they were new; but on shewing them to my assistant Mr. WARD, who was acquainted
with the Greenshank of Europe, he pronounced them to be of that species, and I
have since ascertained the fact by a comparison of specimens. They were all
male birds, and I observed no material difference in their plumage. We did not
find any afterwards; but it is probable that we had seen some previously,
although we did not endeavour to procure them, having supposed them to be
Tell-tales. Almost all the birds seen in the Floridas at this date had young or
eggs; and this circumstance increased my surprise at finding all the three
individuals to be males. They had been shot merely because they offered a
tempting opportunity, being all close together, and it is not often that one can
kill three Tell-tales at once. As I am not acquainted with the habits of this
species, I have applied to my friend Mr. MACGILLIVRAY, who has kindly furnished
me with the following notice of them as observed in the Hebrides.
"The Greenshank is seen in the Outer Hebrides early in spring, and
generally departs in October, although I have observed individuals there in
November. Previous to the commencement of the breeding-season, and after the
young are fledged, it resorts to the shores of the sea, frequenting pools of
brackish-water at the head of the sand-fords, and the shallow margins of bays
and creeks. Its habits are very similar to those of the Red-shank, with which
it associates in autumn. It is extremely shy and vigilant, insomuch that one
can very seldom shoot it, unless after it has deposited its eggs. Many
individuals remain during the summer, when they are to be found by the lakes in
the interior, of which the number in Uist, Harris, and Lewis is astonishing. At
that season it is very easily discovered, for when you are perhaps more than a
quarter of a mile distant, it rises into the air with clamorous cries, alarming
all the birds in its neighbourhood, flies round the place of its nest, now
wheeling off to a distance, again advancing towards you, and at intervals
alighting by the edge of the lake, when it continues its cries, vibrating its
body all the while. I once found a nest of this bird in the island of Harris.
It was at a considerable distance from the water, and consisted of a few
fragments of heath and some blades of grass, placed in a shallow cavity scraped
in the turf, in an exposed place. The nest, in fact, resembled that of the
Golden Plover, the Curlew, or the Lapwing. The eggs, placed with their narrow
ends together, were four in number, pyriform, larger than those of the Lapwing,
and smaller than those of the Golden Plover, equally pointed with the latter,
but proportionally broader and more rounded at the larger end than either. The
dimensions of one of them, still remaining with me, are two inches exactly, by
one inch and three-eighths; the ground colour is a very pale yellowish-green,
sprinkled all over with irregular spots of dark brown, intermixed with blotches
of light purplish-grey, the spots, and especially the blotches, more numerous on
the larger end. Although in summer these birds may be seen in many parts of the
islands, they are yet very rare, a pair being to be met with only at an interval
of several miles. In other parts of Scotland they are seen chiefly in autumn,
but are of rare occurrence."
It is curious how nearly by this account the habits of the Greenshank
correspond with those of the Tell-tale Godwit, Totanus vociferus.
SCOLOPAX GLOTTIS, Linn. Syst. Nat., vol. i. p. 245.
GREENSHANK, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 68.
GREENSHANK, Tetanus glottis,. Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 483.
Male, 11, wing, 7.
Only three procured on Sand Key, Florida.
Male in summer.
Bill long, slender, compressed, tapering, slightly recurved. Upper
mandible with the dorsal line very slightly curved upwards, the ridge convex,
the sides grooved nearly to the middle, afterwards convex, the edges inflected
and directly meeting those of the lower mandible, the tip narrowed and slightly
deflected. Nostrils basal, linear, pervious, nearer the edge than the dorsal
line. Lower mandible with the angle very narrow and medial, beyond it the
outline straight and ascending, the sides grooved as far as the angle and
convex, the edges sharp and inflected, the point very narrow.
Head small, oblong, narrowed before. Neck rather long, slender. Body
slender. Feet long and slender; tibia bare for half its length, scutellate
before and behind; tarsus long, slender, covered before and behind with numerous
scutella, the narrow lateral spaces with extremely small oblong scales. Toes
small, very slender, scutellate above, flat beneath, marginate, the middle toe
connected with the outer by a basal membrane, with the inner by an extremely
small one; first toe extremely small, second slightly shorter than fourth, third
considerably longer. Claws small, compressed, arched, rather obtuse, that of
third toe with a dilated inner edge.
Plumage soft and blended, on the fore part of the head very short, on the
neck short and almost downy. Wings rather long, very acute, narrow; primaries
tapering and rounded, the first longest, the second little shorter, the rest
rapidly graduated; secondaries obliquely rounded, the inner elongated and
tapering. Tail short, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers, the two middle ones
considerably longer than the rest.
Bill dusky-green, black at the end. Iris brown. Feet dull greenish-grey.
A broad band from the bill to the eye, all the lower parts, as well as the back,
excepting a small portion anteriorly, pure white; that colour, however, does not
appear on the back, when the wings are closed, it being covered over by the
scapulars. Loral space white, marked with small oblong spots of greyish-brown;
sides of the lower part of fore-neck and a portion of the breast faintly barred
with grey. The upper part of the head, and the hind part and sides of the neck
are greyish-white, with longitudinal central greyish-brown markings. The
scapulars and inner secondaries are greyish-brown, the feathers edged with
greyish-white, and lined or mottled with dark brown towards the margins; the
smaller wing-coverts plain, the larger darker near the edge and margined with
whitish, as are the outer secondaries; the primary quills and their coverts dark
brown, the shaft of the outer white. The tail is greyish-white, undulated with
light brown, the four outer feathers on each side with only a series of spots on
the outer edge, which on the outermost feathers is almost obliterated.
Length to end of tail 11 inches, to end of wings 12; wing from flexure 7;
tail 3; bill along the back 2 2/12, along the edge of lower mandible 2 1/12;
bare part of tibia 1 5/12; tarsus 2 5/12; middle toe 1 2/12, its claw 3/12.