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

Plate XV. The gray or sea eagle. (HaliaĆ«tus leucocephalus.),   pp. 15-16

Page 15

-~ ~ ~~~~ELTL-E EALE          1
These birds are quite helpless on the surface of the ground, which
they avoid as much as possible. They can not walk as other birds
do, or even hardly stand upright. They crawl along instead of
walking, supporting themselves by their bills and using their wings
to aid a forward movement. Their flight is much better than one
would suppose it could be, with their heavy bodies and small
wings. To get fairly on the wing, they make a long preliminary
movement; but as soon as they have gained a certain height, they
speed quickly forward, although compelled to flap their short wings
in rapid succession. Loons are distinguished from all other sea-
birds by their loud and sonorous voice. Many ornithologists speak
-f the voice as harsh and disagreeable; but the writer can not avoid
confessing to a partiality for the loud morning call of the Loon.
Its voice, especially at night, resembles a long drawn out "Aaweek I
Aaweek I" So penetrating is it as sometimes to produce an echo
in the surrounding rocks or mountains, sounding like the cry of
a man in imminent peril of life.
Loons are shy and cautious, trusting no one. Strange creatures
they avoid as much as possible, and do not seem to care much even
for their own kind. They are often found single, and, during
the breeding season, in pairs, greatly attached to each other. It is
seldom that two pairs are seen on the same pond, and more rarely
still can even a single pair be seen on a pond occupied by other
birds. During their migrations, or when in captivity, they always
keep at a distance from other birds, and snap at them if they come
near. When brought to bay, Loons fiercely defend themselves,
inflicting ugly wounds with their strong, sharp bills.
They swallow small fish whole; but, as such as are of the size
of the herring cause them trouble, larger ones are torn into small
pieces and so devoured. It has been observed that captive Loons
never pick up a dead fish; while freshly caught birds, placed in a
large reservoir well stocked with fish, commence immediately to
dive, chase, and catch and eat the fish. Fishermen on Lake Erie
are in the habit of inclosing a small piece of water, three or four
feet deep, with a kind of network reaching above the surface, for
the purpose of keeping fish for market. Oftentimes, a Loon,
attracted by the multitude of fish, alights in one of these inclos-
ures, and is easily caught, as it can not again get on the wing, for
want of a place from which to make its launch into the air.
These birds select for their breeding-places quiet fresh-water
ponds or lakes, often preferring those situated at a considerable ele-
vation above the level of the sea. During the breeding season,
their loud, sonorous voices are oftener heard than at other times.
The nests are usually found on small islands, but in case there are
no such islands, the birds build nests on the shore near the border
of the rushes, constructing them of rushes and rank grass, carelessly
put together. No attempt is made at concealment, and the female
bird, sitting on the nest, can be seen from a great distance. She
lays two eggs of an oblong shape, with a coarse-grained shell, and
of an oil green color, sprinkled with dark gray and reddish brown
specks and dots. Both the male and female sit alternately on the
eggs, and mutually feed and take care of their offspring. The
eggs are usually laid in the latter part of May, and the young are
to be seen by the end of June. If food is lacking in the pond or
lake where the nest is located, one of the parents takes care of the
young while the other flies off to some point on a fishing excur-
sion. As soon as the young birds are fledged, they leave the home
of their infancy, and follow their parents to the larger lakes or the
The flesh of the Looi is unfit for human food; it is rancid to the
taste, and its odor is disgusting. The natives of Greenland use the
skins of these birds for clothing, and the Indians about Hudson's
Bay adorn their heads with circlets of Loon feathers. Lewis and
Clarke's exploring party saw, at the mouth of the Columbia river,
robes made of Loon skins. While they wintered at Fort Clatsop,
on that river, they observed great numbers of these birds.
The female is smaller than the male Loon. The bill is yel-
lowish, and only the upper ridge and the top black, or of a black-
ish horn color; the crown, back, and part of the neck and the
whole upper parts are pale brown; the plumage of a part of the
back and scapulars is tipped with pale ash; the throat, lower side
of the neck, and the whole underparts are white, but not so purely
white as in the male, as these parts in the female have a dirty yel-
lowish tinge. The quill feathers are dark brown. The female
has neither the streaked bands on her neck nor the white spots on
her body.
The Tell-tale, Tattler, or Godwit. (Gambetta 3felano Zeuca.)
Fig. 2.
This bird is well known to our gunners along the sea-coast and
marshes. They stigmatize it with the name of Tell-tale, for its
faithful vigilance in alarming the Ducks on the approach of the
hunter, with its loud and shrill cry. This cry consists of four notes,
uttered in rapid succession, and so loud and shrill as to alarm any
Duck within hearing. But gunners, aware of this fact, look out
in the first instance, for this bird, and often hush its warning voice
forever, before it is aware of their stealthy approach.
This elegantly formed bird appears on our coasts about the be-
ginning of April, breeds in the marshes, and leaves for the South
in the middle of November. Not only do these birds build nests
in salt-water marshes, but also in fresh-water swamps; sometimes
on the dry ground, and even in an old stump. The nest is simply
a hollow, made usually in a tussock of rank grass, inlaid with a
few dry leaves of grass, a little moss, and with pine needles or
leaves. The eggs, four in number, are proportionally large, pear-
shaped, and of an oil green color, sprinkled with brownish gray
specks and dots. The female bird hatches the eggs; but her mate
is always at hand and on the watch. The young run about, fol-
lowing their parents, as soon as they are out of the shell, and con-
ceal themselves, as all their kindred do, on the approach of danger,
by lying flat on the ground, or in the grass or weeds. As soon as
they are full-fledged, they look out for themselves, but remain with
the old birds, flying at will from place to place, making longer and
longer excursions, and at length, on some fine evening, setting out
for a grand wandering tour.
In their winter-quarters, Tattlers associate with many other birds,
but seldom form large flocks. It seems as if the company of
strangers suited them better than that of their own kind. Their
manner is pleasing; their walk elegant, quick, and striding, and
their flight easy and rapid. They wade in deep water, and swim
if necessary. They are generally seen, either searching for food
or standing on the watch, alternately raising and lowering the head,
and, on the least approach of danger, uttering a shrill whistle, their
warning cry, and then rising on the wing, -generally accompanied
by all the shore birds in the vicinity. Occasionally they rise to a
great height, and their whistle can be distinctly heard, when the
birds are beyond the reach of the eye. They become very fat in
the fall, and their flesh is in high esteem for the table.
Nature seems to have intended this bird as a kind of guardian
or sentinel for all other shore or aquatic birds. They feed on the
shore, or in the bogs or marshes, with a feeling of perfect security,
so long as the Tattler is at hand, and is silent; but the moment his
whistle is heard, there is a general commotion, and directly not a
bird is to be seen, the disappointed gunner, in his vexation, uttering
between his teeth something the reverse of a prayer.
The Gray or Sea Eagle. (Ha/iaetus leucocepha/u,.)
This formidable Eagle lives in the same countries, on the same
fooa, and frequents the same localities as the Bald or White-headed

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