Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
WHITE MERGANSER.--SMEW, OR WHITE NUN.
MERGUS ALBELLUS, Linn.
PLATE CCCCXIV.--MALE, AND FEMALE.
The Smew is a bird of extremely rare occurrence in the United States,
insomuch that it must be considered merely as a transient or accidental visiter.
Indeed I have felt strong misgivings on reading WILSON'S article on this
species, and cannot but think that he is mistaken when he states that it "is
much more common on the coast of New England than farther south;" and again "in
the ponds of New England, and some of the lakes in the State of New York, where
the Smew is frequently observed--." Now, although I have made diligent inquiry,
not only in New England, but in every part of our country where I thought it
likely that the Smew might occur, I have not met with any person well acquainted
with birds of this family, who has seen it. WILSON, in short, was in all
probability misinformed, and it is my opinion that his figure was made from a
stuffed European specimen which was then in Peale's Museum in Philadelphia, and
that he had taken the Buffel-headed Duck, seen at a distance, for this species,
as I am aware has been the case with other individuals.
The only specimen procured by me was shot by myself on Lake Barataria, not
far from New Orleans, in the winter of 1819. It was an adult female in fine
plumage. How it had wandered so far south is an enigma to me; but having found
it, and made a drawing of it on the spot, I have taken the liberty to add one of
the other sex from an equally fine specimen. After all, the Smew can scarcely
be considered as belonging to the American Fauna, any more than our Fork-tailed
Hawk can with propriety be called a denizen of England; and in this I am
supported by all the great navigators of our Arctic Seas, such as ROSS, PARRY,
and FRANKLIN, none of whom, nor any of their companions, ever met with a single
individual of this beautiful bird.
SMEW or WHITE NUN, Mergus Albellus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 126.
MERGUS ALBELLUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 398.
SMEW or WHITE NUN, Nutt. Man. vol. ii. p. 467.
SMEW or WHITE NUN, Mergus Albellus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 350.
Male, 17 1/2, 27. Female, 15 1/2, 25.
Exceedingly rare in America, one specimen only having been procured at New
Bill rather shorter than the head, straight, rather slender, a little
higher than broad at the base, tapering, somewhat cylindrical toward the end.
Upper mandible with the dorsal outline sloping gently and slightly concave to
the middle, then straight, at the tip decurved, the ridge rather broad and flat
at the base, then convex, the sides sloping at the base, convex toward the end,
the edges serrate beneath, with about forty slightly reversed, compressed,
tapering, tooth-like lamellae, the unguis elliptical, much curved. Nasal groove
oblong, sub-basal, filled by a soft membrane; nostrils oblong, sub-medial,
direct, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle very narrow and extended to the
obovate, very convex unguis, the sides rounded, with a long groove, the edges
with about sixty perpendicular sharp lamellae.
Head of moderate size, oblong, compressed. Neck of moderate length. Body
full and depressed. Feet placed far behind, extremely short; tibia bare for a
quarter of an inch; tarsus extremely short, much compressed, anteriorly covered
with a series of very small scutella, and another row on the lower half
externally, the sides reticulate. Hind toe very small, with an inferior free
membrane; anterior toes double the length of the tarsus; the second shorter than
the fourth, which is nearly as long as the third; all connected by reticulated
webs, of which the outer is deeply emarginate. Claws short, considerably
curved, compressed, acute, that of the middle toe with a thin inner edge.
Plumage full, soft, and blended; feathers of the head and upper part of the
hind neck very slender, and elongated along the median line into a narrow
decurved crest; those of the shoulders obovate and abrupt, of the rest of the
upper parts ovate, of the lower elliptical. Wings very short, narrow, curved,
and pointed; primaries narrow, tapering, the first scarcely longer than the
second, the rest rapidly graduated; secondaries short, narrow, rounded, the
inner tapering to an obtuse point. Tail short, graduated, of sixteen rather
narrow, tapering feathers.
Bill dark greyish-blue. Iris bright red. Feet livid blue, claws dusky.
The general colour of the plumage is pure white; a short band on each side of
the hind neck bordering the crest, duck-green; a broad patch on the lore and
below the eye, a narrow band across the lower part of the hind neck, formed by
single bars near the tips of the feathers, the middle of the back in its whole
length, a short transverse bar under the fore edge of the wing, the anterior
margin of that organ to beyond the carpal joint, the outer edges of the
scapulars, the primary coverts, the secondary coverts, and the outer secondary
quills, excepting the tips of both, deep black. The quills are also black, but
of a less deep tint; the hind part of the back becomes tinged with grey, and the
rump and tail-feathers are dusky grey. The sides of the body and rump are
white, finely undulated with blackish-grey.
Length to end of tail 17 1/2 inches, to end of claws 18 1/4, to end of
wings 15 1/2; extent of wings 27; bill along the ridge 1 (3 1/2)/12, along the
edge of lower mandible 1 (7 1/2)/12; wing from flexure 7 3/4; tail 3 1/2; tarsus
1 (1 1/2)/12; first toe 1/2, its claw 2/12; second toe 1 1/2, its claw 4/12;
third toe 1 11/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12; fourth toe 1 10/12, its claw 3/12.
Weight 1 lb. 8 oz.
The female is much smaller. The feathers of the hind part of the head and
neck are also elongated so as to form a crest. The bill, iris, and feet, are
coloured as in the male. All the lower parts are white, excepting a broad band
of light grey across the middle of the neck, and a narrow portion of the sides,
which are of a deeper tint. There is a patch of brownish-black on the lore and
beneath the eye; the upper part of the head and half of the hind neck are light
reddish-brown; the rest of the hind neck, and all the upper parts, bluish-grey,
darker behind, and in the middle of the back approaching to black. The wings as
in the male, that is black, with a large patch of white, and two narrow
transverse bands of the same; the tail dusky grey.
Length to end of tail 15 1/4 inches, to end of claws 16 1/2, to end of
wings 14 1/2; extent of wings 25. Weight 1 lb. 4 oz.