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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate IV. The rail. (Crex carolinus.),   pp. 3-4

Page 3

wheeling round, he again ascends with fresh activity, piping his
"quank, quank," as before. He is strangely attached to his native
forests and seldom forsakes them; amidst the rigors of the severest
winter weather his lively quank, quank is heard in the bleak and
leafless woods. Sometimes the rain, freezing as it falls, incloses
every twig and even the trunk of the trees in a hard transparent
coat or shell of ice; on such occasions we observe his anxiety and
dissatisfaction, as being with difficulty able to make his way along
the smooth surface. At such times he generally abandons the
woods and may be seen gleaning about the stables, around the
house, mixing among the fowls, entering the barn and examining
the beams and rafters and every place where he can pick up a
The name Nuthatch is very erroneously bestowed on this family
of birds. It was supposed that they could crack the hardest nuts
with their bills by repeated hammerings; soft-shelled nuts, such
as chestnuts, hazel-nuts, and a few more of this description, they
may perhaps be able to demolish, but I never have seen them do it.
Hard-shelled nuts, such as walnuts, hickory-nuts, etc., they are
perfectly incapable of breaking, as their bills are not at all shaped
for that kind of work. This absurd idea may have had its origin
in the circumstance that we frequently observe the Nuthatch busily
searching for insects in heaps of shells of broken nuts, lying on
some old stump of a tree, or around it, brought there or broken by
the squirrels, whilst ignorance ascribed the broken nuts to the
doings of the feeble little bird.
This bird builds his nest early in April, in the hole of a tree, in
a hollow rail of a fence, and sometimes in the wooden cornice
under the eaves; the female lays five eggs of a dull white, spotted
with brown at the greater end. The male is the most attentive
husband and supplies his beloved mate, while setting, regularly
with sustenance, stopping frequently at the mouth of the hole, call-
ing and offering her -what he has brought. At other times he
seems merely to stop and inquire how she is, and to cheer up the
tedious moments with his soothing chatter. He seldom goes far
from the spot, and when danger appears, regardless of his own
safety, he flies to alarm her. When both feed on the trunk of the
same tree or on adjoining ones, he is perpetually calling on her,
and from the momentary pauses he makes, it is evident that he
feels pleased to hear her reply.
The female differs very little from the male in color, the black
being only less deep on the head and wings.
The White or Whooping Crane. (Grus [Ardea] americana.)
In former times the Cranes were classed with the Herons, to which
they bear a certain alliance, but were afterward, with propriety,
separated from them, and now form a very natural division in that
great class. They are all at once distinguished from the Herons
(Ardese) by the bald head and the broad, waving, and pendulous
form of the greater coverts, and the shortness of the hind toe. The
Crane is found in every part of the world, but the group is, not-
withstanding, limited to a few species.
Our species, the Whooping Crane, is the tallest and most stately
of all the feathered tribes of North America. He is the watchful
inhabitant of extensive salt marshes, desolate swamps, and open
morasses in the neighborhood of the sea and large rivers. He is
migratory, and his migrations are regular and most extensive,
reaching from the shores and inundated tracts of South America
to the Arctic Circle. In these immense periodical wanderings,
they rise to such a height in the air as to be seldom observed, and
form at such times regular lines in about a sharp angle, frequently
changing their leader, or the one that flies foremost. They have,
however, their resting stages on the route to and from their usual
breeding-place, the more northern regions; and during their stay,
they wander along the muddy flats in search of worms, sailing
occasionally from place to place with a low and heavy flight a lit-
tle above the surface, and have at such times a very formidable
appearance. Their cry is loud and piercing, and may be heard
at a distance of two miles; they have various modulations of this
singular cry. When wounded, they attack the gunner or his dog
with great resolution, striking with their sharp and formidable
bills. They are extremely watchful, but not shy. When alone,
they are constantly on the alert, and a flock of them has always
regular guards. When alarmed, they never return to the same
place without sending out a number to reconnoiter. As cautiously
as he avoids man, he becomes as closely attached to him, when
once brought into his companionship; he learns to understand
every action of his master, knows his voice and shows his satisfac-
tion when he sees him: he not only regards him as his master,
but as his friend; society seems to be a necessity to him. One
that I received from Dubuque, Iowa, which was caught on the
Mississippi by a trapper, and has been living with me nearly four
years, was at first very ferocious and could only be approached
with great difficulty, but is now perfectly tame. It became in a
very short time reconciled to its imprisonment, and is now very
much attached to me.
The Cranes sometimes rise spirally in the air to a great height,
the mingled noise of their screaming, even when almost out of
sight, resembling that of a pack of hounds in full cry. On such
occasions they fly around in large circles, as if reconnoitering the
country to a vast extent for a fresh quarter to feed in. At other
times, they assemble in great masses, forming in regular lines and
standing erect, with their bills resting on the throat, whilst one will
step out, open his wings and dance in the most ridiculous way be-
fore the others-the people on the Mississippi call this " preach-
ing;" at other times several will dance regularly around each
other with outspread wings. They live chiefly on vegetable food,
such as Indian corn; but readily swallow mice, rats, moles, etc.,
with great avidity. They build their nest on the ground, about
one foot in height, and lay two pale blue eggs, spotted with brown,
as large as a goose egg, but more lengthened. The Cranes, as
above stated, are distinguished from the other families by the bald-
ness of their heads, the broad flag of plumage projecting over the
tail, and in general by their superior size. They also differ in
their internal organization, in the conformation of the windpipe,
which enters the breast in a cavity fitted to receive it, and after
several turns goes out again at the same place, and thence de-
scends to the lungs. Unlike the Herons, they have not the inner
side of the middle claw pectinated; and the hind toe is very short,
scarcely reaching the ground. The brown Crane (Grus Cana-
densis) is no other than the young of the Whooping Crane.
All the descriptions of former ornithologists are exactly corre-
spondent with the above. In a flock of ten or twelve Whooping
Cranes, three or four are usually of that tawny or reddish-brown
tint on the back, scapulars, and wing-coverts, but are evidently
yearlings of the Whooping Crane, and differ in nothing but in that
and in size from the others. They are generally five or six inches
shorter, and the primaries are of a brownish cast, and their legs
are also a trifle darker.
The Rail. (Crexcarolinus.)
Fig. 1, Male. Fig. 2, Female.
The Rail, or as it is called in Virginia, the Sora, and in South
Carolina the Coot, belongs to a genus of birds, of which, as nearly
as can be ascertained, about thirty-two different species are known
to naturalists, and those are distributed over almost every region of
the habitable parts of the globe. The general character of them
is everywhere the same. Thev run swiftly. but their fli-ht is
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