Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
HIMANTOPUS NIGRICOLLIS, Vieill.
PLATE CCCLIV.--ADULT MALE.
A few individuals of this singular species occasionally pass the winter in
the lower parts of Louisiana, especially in the section called Oppellousas. I
have also found it at the same period in the Floridas, but the greater number
follow the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and proceed beyond our southern limits.
In April 1837, I observed their first appearance at Galveston Bay in Texas,
where many remained until our departure. They were in small flocks, seldom
composed of more than seven or eight individuals, which almost immediately
separated into parties of two or three, and commenced their search for food.
They kept about the small shallow brackish ponds on the islands of the bay, and
now and then were observed following the sinuosities of bayous in company with
other birds. They were much more shy than they are while breeding, and it was
with some difficulty that we procured specimens. When one was killed, the rest
would fly to a considerable distance, sometimes from one island to another, in a
rapid manner, with regular beats of the wings, their necks and legs extended.
On such occasions they uttered a whistling cry, different from the cleek, cleek,
cleek, which they emit when they have nests or young.
All the writers who have described the habits of this bird, allege that it
walks with a "staggering gait;" but this is by no means the case, for they
appeared to us to walk as firmly as other long-legged birds, such as Herons,
Curlews, and the American Avoset; and I had many opportunities of observing
them, as had my friend EDWARD HARRIS, my son, and all the members of our party.
Toward the end of April, flocks of this bird reach the Middle Districts, by
following the coast, for they are very rarely met with at any great distance
from the sea-shore. They generally betake themselves to extensive marshes
abounding in muddy inlets and small ponds, in the vicinity of which they usually
place their nests. About the middle of May, parties of from ten to twenty
collect, and are seen wading sometimes up to their breast, in search of food,
which is extremely abundant in such places. They are now paired, and select
suitable spots for their nests, which are generally not far distant from each
other, and near the margins of the ponds, or on small islets. The nest is very
similar to that of the Willet, or Semi-palmated Snipe, Totanus semipalmatus,
being rather large, and formed of dry weeds and the twigs of small shrubs. I
have never observed the singular manner of augmenting and raising their
tenements, described by ALEXANDER WILSON, although, like him, I have found and
examined several in the very same districts. The eggs are always four, placed
with the smaller ends together, pyriform, almost 2 inches long, with the smaller
end rounded, 1 3/8 in their greatest breadth, of a pale yellowish-clay colour,
and plentifully marked with large irregular blotches and lines of
While the females are sitting, the males pay them much attention, acting in
this respect like those of the American Avoset, watching the approach of
intruders, giving chase to the Red-winged Starlings, as well as to the Fishing
and American Crows, and assailing the truant young gunner or egger. When there
is no appearance of annoyance, they sometimes roam as far as the sea-beach.
When the young are hatched, they leave the nest, and follow their parents
through the grass, but on the appearance of danger squat and remain motionless.
About the beginning of September, young and old commence their journey
This species is rather scarce along the shores of the Carolinas; nor is it
abundant in any part of the United States, and is seldom seen to the eastward
beyond Long Island. Its food consists of insects, small crustacea, worms, and
young fry of fishes. I have frequently observed them running after flies, and
attempting to seize the smaller Libellulae. When wounded so as to fall on the
water, they are unable to dive, but on reaching the shore they run nimbly off
and hide themselves.
I feel confident that in spring the males migrate apart from the females,
but in autumn in company with them. The flesh of this species is not decidedly
good or bad, being of ordinary quality. The males are larger than the females,
and individuals of both sexes vary considerably in size.
LONG-LEGGED AVOCET, Recurvirostra Himantopus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vii.p. 48.
HIMANTOPUS NIGRICOLLIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 322.
BLACK-NECKED STILT, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 8.
BLACK-NECKED STILT, Himantopus nigricollis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv.p. 247.
Male, 14 1/2, 27. Female, 14, 25 3/4.
Rather common in Texas during spring. Breeds on different parts of the
Atlantic coast, as far as Long Island. A few spend the winter about the mouths
of the Mississippi. Migratory.
Bill about twice as long as the head, very slender, roundish, tapering,
slightly recurved. Upper mandible with its outline very slightly curved
upwards, at the tip declinate; the ridge convex, the sides convex, the edges
sharp and inflected, the tip narrow and rather acute. Nasal groove nearly half
the length of the bill; nostrils linear, direct, sub-basal, pervious. Lower
mandible with the angle very long and narrow, the sides grooved as far as the
angle, the edges sharp and inflected, the tip narrow.
Head small, ovate, rounded above; neck very long and slender; body rather
compact. Legs extremely elongated and slender; tibia bare for more than half
its length, covered anteriorly with large curved scutella; tarsus very long,
moderately compressed, scutellate before, reticulate on the sides; toes of
moderate length, slender; hind toe wanting, outer a little longer than inner,
and connected with the middle toe by a web extending nearly to the second joint;
the inner toe also connected with the middle by a very short web. Claws small,
nearly straight, moderately compressed.
Plumage ordinary, the feathers ovate and rounded. Wings very long, of
moderate breadth, acute, the first quill longest, the other primaries rapidly
graduated. Tail short, even, of twelve feathers.
Bill black, iris bright carmine; feet lake-coloured, claws dusky.
Forehead, a spot above the eye, another below it, fore part and sides of the
neck, and all the other lower parts, pure white. Upper part of head, hind neck,
and upper parts, bluish-black, glossed with green; tail white.
Length to end of tail 14 1/2 inches, to end of wings 16 1/2, to end of
claws 21 3/4; extent of wings 27; wing from flexure 9; tail 2 10/12; bill along
the ridge 2 8/12, along the edge of lower mandible 2 11/12; bare part of tibia
3 1/4; tarsus 4 (2 1/2)/12; middle toe 1 1/2, its claw 3/12. Weight 6 1/4 oz.
The Female is smaller than the male but otherwise similar.
Length to end of tail 14 inches, to end of wings 15 1/4, to end of claws
20; extent of wings 25 3/4. Weight 5 oz.
The median ridge of the anterior part of the roof of the mouth is furnished
with a few short papillae. The tongue is 1 inch 2 twelfths long, slender,
tapering, emarginate and papillate at the base. The oesophagus is 7 inches
long, with an average diameter of 4 twelfths; the proventriculus 9 twelfths
long, and 6 twelfths in diameter. The stomach is elliptical, 1 inch in length,
8 1/2 twelfths in breadth; its lateral muscles of moderate strength, the right
being 4 twelfths thick; the inner coat or epithelium dense, longitudinally
rugous, and of a brownish-red colour. The intestine is 20 inches long, its
diameter varying from 3 to 11 twelfths. The coeca are 1 1/2 inches long, 1/12
in diameter at the base, 2 twelfths towards the end, which is blunt.
The trachea is 5 1/4 inches long, rather wide, its diameter at the upper
part 3 twelfths, gradually diminishing to 11 twelfths; the rings 120,
unossified, excepting a few at the lower part. The contractor muscles are
feeble; the sterno-tracheal slender. The bronchi are very short, with about 10
The Prince of MUSIGNANO has introduced into his lately published list a
species of this genus, under the name of Himantopus Mexicanus. I have received
from Florida two skins, which from their large size might at first sight be
thought to differ from the common kind; but after closely comparing them with my
other specimens, I can find no difference indicative of a distinction of
species. Nor have I ever met with individuals in North America of any other
species than that above described.