Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
SCOLOPAX NOVEBORACENSIS, Gmel.
PLATE CCCLI.--ADULT IN SUMMER AND WINTER.
On our arrival at the mouths of the Mississippi, on the first of April,
1837, I observed large flocks of this species on their way eastward. They were
still in their winter plumage, and it was pleasing to see in how short a period
that garb was changed, as we had opportunities of observing during our progress.
At Grande Terre, on the 4th, several having reddish feathers scattered over
their lower parts were procured. On the 13th, at Cayo Island, the change of
colour was very considerable in some specimens, which I found to be old birds,
while the younger were quite grey above, and white beneath. At Derniere Isle on
the 16th, several were shot in as fine plumage as that represented in my plate,
and few, even of the younger birds, were without some of the markings peculiar
to the summer dress. Their numbers were exceedingly great, and continued
without diminution until we reached Galveston Bay in Texas, on the 26th of the
same month. How far they proceed beyond that place to spend the winter I am
unable to say; but their range over North America is known to be very extensive,
as they have been found on the Columbia river on the western coast, on the
borders of the great northern lakes, and over the whole extent of the Fur
Countries, from the time of their appearance in spring until that of their
return southward in autumn.
Although much more abundant along the coast, and in its vicinity, the
Red-breasted Snipe is not uncommon in many parts of the interior, especially in
autumn, and I have procured many individuals along the muddy margins of lakes,
more than three hundred miles in a direct line from the sea. Its migratory
movements are performed with uncommon celerity, as many are observed along the
coast of New Jersey early in April, and afterwards on the borders of the arctic
sea, in time to rear young, and return to our Eastern and Middle Districts
before the end of August.
This bird exhibits at times a manner of feeding which appeared to me
singular, and which I repeatedly witnessed while at Grande Terre in Louisiana.
While watching their manner of walking and wading along sand-bars and muddy
flats, I saw that as long as the water was not deeper than the length of their
bills, they probed the ground beneath them precisely in the manner of the
American Snipe, Scolopax Wilsoni; but when the water reached their bodies, they
immersed the head and a portion of the neck, and remained thus sufficiently long
to satisfy me that, while in this position, they probed several spots before
raising their head to breathe. On such grounds as are yet soft, although not
covered with water, they bore boles as deep as the soil will admit, and this
with surprising rapidity, occupying but a few moments in one spot, and probing
as they advance. I have watched some dozens at this work for half an hour at a
time, when I was completely concealed from their view. Godwits, which are also
borers, probe the mud or moist earth often in an oblique direction, whilst the
Woodcock, the Common Snipe, and the present species, thrust in their bills
perpendicularly. The latter bird also seizes many sorts of insects, and at
times small fry, as well as the seeds of plants that have dropped into the
water. Dr. RICHARDSON informs us that "individuals killed on the Saskatchewan
plains had the crops filled with leeches and fragments of coleoptera."
The flight of this bird is rapid, strong, and remarkably well-sustained.
When rising in large numbers, which they usually do simultaneously, they crowd
together, are apt to launch upwards in the air for awhile, and after performing
several evolutions in contrary directions, glide towards the ground, and wend
their way close to it, until finding a suitable place, they alight in a very
compact body, and stand for a moment. Sometimes, as if alarmed, they recommence
their meandering flight, and after awhile return to the same spot, alighting in
the same manner. Then is the time when the gunner may carry havoc amongst them;
but in two or three minutes they separate and search for food, when you must
either put them up to have a good shot, or wait the arrival of another flock at
the same place, which often happens, for these birds seldom suffer any of their
species to pass without sending them a note of invitation. It is not at all
uncommon to shoot twenty or thirty of them at once. I have been present when
127 were killed by discharging three barrels, and have heard of many dozens
having been procured at a shot. When wounded and brought to the water, they try
in vain to dive, and on reaching the nearest part of the shore, they usually run
a few steps and squat among the grass, when it becomes difficult to find them.
Those which have escaped unhurt often remain looking upon their dead companions,
sometimes waiting until shot at a second time. When they are fat, they afford
good eating, but their flesh is at no time so savoury as that of the common
The cry of this species when on wing is a single and rather mellow weet.
When on the ground I have heard them emit a continued guttural rolling sound,
such as is on certain occasions given out by the species last mentioned. Their
call-note resembles the soft and pleasing sound of a whistle; but I have never
heard them emit it while travelling. Nothing is known respecting their
breeding, and yet there can be little doubt that many of them must rear young
within the limits of the Union.
By the Creoles of Louisiana the Red-breasted Snipe is named "Becassine de
Mer," as well as "Carouk." In South Carolina it is more abundant in the
autumnal months than in spring, when I should think they fly directly across
from the Floridas toward Cape Hatteras, as my friend Dr. BACHMAN informs me that
he never saw one of them in spring in the vicinity of Charleston.
RED-BREASTED SNIPE:, Scolopax noveboracensis, Wils. Amer. Orn.,
vol. vii.p. 48.
SCOLOPAX GRISEA, Bonap. Syn., p. 330.
SCOLOPAX NOVEBORACENSIS, New York Godwit,
Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 398.
BROWN or RED-BREASTED SNIPE, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 181.
RED-BREASTED SNIPE, Scolopax noveboracensis, Aud. Orn. Biog.,
vol. iv.p. 285.
Adult, 10 1/4, 18 1/2.
Passes in immense numbers from Texas eastward and northward to the highest
latitudes, where it breeds, and returns in autumn. Occasionally seen in groups
through the interior. Columbia river.
Adult Male in summer.
Bill twice as long as the head, subulate, straight, compressed for more
than half its length, depressed towards the end. Upper mandible with the dorsal
line declinate at the base, then straight, at the end slightly arched, that part
being considerably enlarged, the ridge convex, towards the end flattened, the
sides with a narrow groove extending to near the tip, the edges soft and obtuse
or flattened, the tip narrowed but blunt. Nostrils basal, linear, very small.
Lower mandible with the angle extremely long and narrow, the sides nearly erect,
with a longitudinal groove, the edges flattened and directly meeting those of
the upper mandible, the extremity enlarged, the tip contracted and rather blunt.
Head rather small, oblong, narrowed anteriorly, the forehead elevated and
rounded. Neck rather short. Body rather full. Legs of moderate length,
slender; tibia bare below, scutellate before and behind; tarsus with numerous
scutella before, smaller ones behind, and reticulated sides; toes very slender,
free, with numerous scutella above, flattened and slightly marginate beneath;
first very small and elevated, third with its claw scarcely so long as the
tarsus, lateral toes nearly equal, the outer connected with the middle by a web.
Claws small, slightly arched, compressed, rather acute.
Plumage very soft, blended, rather dense, on the fore part of the head very
short. Wings long, narrow, pointed; primaries rather broad, tapering to an
obtuse point, the first longest, the rest rapidly graduated; secondaries broad,
obliquely terminated, with the inner web projecting beyond the outer; the inner
much elongated, one of them reaching to half an inch of the tip of the wing when
it is closed. Tail moderate, nearly even, the middle feathers a little longer,
of twelve rounded feathers.
Bill dark olive. Iris reddish-hazel. Feet light yellowish-olive, claws
black. Upper parts brownish-black, variegated with light brownish-red, the
feathers being margined and the scapulars obliquely barred with that colour.
Hind part of back, upper tail-coverts and tail-feathers light reddish-buff,
obliquely barred with black, the bars on the tail seven or eight, and its tip
white. Wing-coverts and secondaries greyish-brown, margined with greyish-white;
the secondary coverts tipped with white, the quills tipped and obliquely banded
with the same; alula, primary coverts and quills brownish-black, the shaft of
the first quill white. From the base of the bill to the eye, and surrounding
it, a dull reddish-white band; loral space dusky. All the lower parts dull
orange-red, with streaks and spots of black, more numerous along the sides, and
on the tail-coverts.
Length to end of tail 10 1/4 inches, to end of wings 10, to end of claws
11 1/2; extent of wings 18 1/8; wing from flexure 6 1/8; tail 2 1/2; bill along
the ridge 2 (1 1/2)/8; along the edge of lower mandible 2 (1/2)/8; bare part of
tibia 1/2; tarsus 1 (2 1/2)/8; middle toe and claw 1 (1 1/2)/8; hind toe and
claw (3 1/2)/8; inner toe and claw 1; outer toe and claw (7 1/2)/8. Weight
3 1/4 oz.
Adult in winter.
The bill, iris, and feet as in summer. Upper part of head and hind neck
dusky grey, with which the feathers of the fore part of the back, scapulars and
wing-coverts are margined, their central parts being brownish-black. A white
band from the bill over the eye; margins of eyelids also white. Hind part of
back and tail barred with dusky as in summer. Quills as in summer, the inner
marked with grey in place of brownish-red. Loral space, cheeks, and sides of
the neck, pale grey; throat and lower parts white; the sides, axillary feathers,
and lower tail-feathers, barred with dusky; lower wing-coverts dusky, edged with
white, and having a central streak of the same. Individuals exhibit great
differences in the length of the bills and tarsi.
On the upper mandible internally are three series of minute papillae, which
become larger on the palate. While the upper mandible is flat beneath, the
lower is deeply concave, and its crura elastic and capable of being separated
near the base to the distance of three-fourths of an inch. The tongue, which is
2 1/4 inches long, and of a slender form, carinate beneath, with the tip
pointed, lies in the deep hollow of the lower mandible, and being deeply concave
above, leaves a vacant space, by which, when the bill is immersed in the mud and
the tips separated, the food passes along. The oesophagus is 4 3/4 inches long,
1/4 inch in diameter, and nearly uniform. The proventriculus,
Fig. 1 [a, b, c], is
bulbiform, its diameter 6 twelfths. The stomach, [c, d, e, f], is an oblong
gizzard of moderate strength, with the lateral and inferior muscles decided, the
tendons large, its length 1 inch, its breadth 8 twelfths. The epithelium is
dense, tough, with numerous longitudinal rugae, and of a reddish colour. The
contents of the stomach were very small hard hemispherical seeds and vegetable
fibres. The intestine, [f, g, h], 19 1/2 inches long, its diameter 3 twelfths
in its upper part; the coeca 1 3/4 inches long, and from 1 to 2 twelfths in
diameter, with the extremity obtuse.
The trachea is wide, flattened, 3 1/2 inches long, 2 3/4 twelfths broad at
the top, gradually diminishing to 2 twelfths; the rings about 130. The
contractor muscles are very thin, the sterno-tracheal slender; and there is a
pair of inferior laryngeal. The bronchial half rings are about 25.