Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
Plate XXV. The goosander. (Mergus merganser.), p. 24
24 GOOSANDER. as Sturnus Ludovicianus (sub-genus Sturnella); while others have placed it in the genera Turdus, Alanda, Sturnus, Cassicus, to all of which it is somewhat allied, but to none of them can it rank as a congerer. It is classed here as Sturnella, by which appellation it is known to most American ornithologists. This well-known bird, with his beautiful plumage, and his sweet- ness of voice, is a general favorite, and particularly to the inhab- itants of the rural districts. Although his song consists only of a few melodious notes, he always meets with a hearty greeting on his arrival. In the more rigorous regions of the North he is a regular bird of passage, though he is met with in the Middle States, occa- sionally in the heart of the severest winters, when the ground is covered with deep snow. I have found these birds in the month of January, during a deep snow, on the heights of the Alleghany Mountains, gleaning on the roadside together with a flock of snow- birds. They have been found in winter in South Carolina, among the rice plantations, running about the yards and out-houses, in com- pany with Killdeers and other birds, as unconcerned and showing as little appearance of fear as if they were completely domesticated. The range of the Meadow Lark is very extensive, they having been found from Upper Canada through most of the States of the Union down to the Gulf of Mexico. Their favorite places of re- sort are pasture fields and meadows, especially the latter, from which circumstance they claim their specific name. The reason of their preference for meadows is that these supply them most abun- dantly with the seeds and insects on which they chiefly subsist. They are never found in the depths of the woods, except in places where the ground, instead of underbrush, is covered with grass, where sometimes a single one or a pair may be found. They are seen most abundantly on the extensive prairies near St. Louis, and in similar localities below, on the Mississippi river. The Meadow Lark builds his nest in the month of May, in or below the thick tussock of grass. It is composed of fine dry grass bent and laid at the bottom, and wound all round, leaving only an arched entrance level with the ground. The inside is lined with stalks of the same material, and occasionally with a few horse- hairs and other fibrous substances, disposed with great regularity and care. The full complement of eggs consists of four, some- times, but rarely, of five; these are white, marked with specks, dots, and several larger blotches of a reddish brown color, chiefly at the rounder end. The young remain in the. nest until fully fledged, and are carefully fed by both parents. After the hatching season is over, they collect in flocks, but never fly in a compact body. Their flight somewhat resembles that of the Grouse and QCuail; it is laborious and steady, alternately chang- ing from a sailing to the renewed rapid motion of the wings. They alight on trees or bushes as well as on the ground, but in the former case always on the tops of the highest branches, preferring the dry ones, whence they send forth their long, clear, and somewhat melancholy notes, which, for sweetness and tenderness of expression, can not be surpassed by any of our best warbling birds. Some- times these long-strained notes are followed by a low chattering, which is the special call of the female, after which the clear and plaintive strain is repeated. The food of the Meadow Lark, or, as the Virginians call him, the Old Field Lark, consists chiefly of caterpillars, worms, beetles, and different grass seeds, mixed up with a considerable portion of fine gravel. Their flesh is of very good esteem. As the size of the bird is about that of the QCuail, while the taste of its flesh is not at all inferior to the latter, they are readily sought for and shot by our gunners, to whom they afford considerable sport, being easily shot on the wing. They frequently squat in the long grass and spring within gunshot. Our plate represents the male and female, the latter being distinguished from the male, in her outward appear- ance, by having the black crescent on the breast of a lighter black and more skirting with gray; the yellow on the breast is somewhat less; otherwise, the markings of her plumage differ but little from those of the male. PLATE XXV. The Goosander. (Mergus merganser.) This splendid bird is not only called Goosander, but also Water Pheasant, Sheldrake, Fisherman, Diver, Saw-bill, etc. He is a true representative of the second family of the sixth group, be- longing to the fourteenth order of the fifth class. Our plate rep- resents him in full plumage, or in his bridal dress. The goosander is an inhabitant of the northern part of this con- tinent, and also of the corresponding latitudes of Europe and Asia. In all these countries he is found in about equal numbers. The proper district of his range may be said to be the belt of the globe between the thirty-second and sixty-eighth degrees of north lati- tude. In his wanderings, which are more regular than with his kindred, he has sometimes been observed in northern parts of India and Southern China, and almost everywhere in North America. The Goosander is ranked as one of the most handsome among swimming birds. His splendid plumage, whose chief colors are beautifully contrasted, attracts the attention of all scientific and other observers. His unusual vivacity and his rapid motions in- crease this attraction. His proper element is the water, on which he is almost constantly seen, except about midday, which he gen- erally spends on a dry sandy spot on the shore, taking a rest. His walk on land is an unwieldy waddle; on wing in the air his flight appears to be quite swift, but it is performed with great exertion. He swims with the greatest ease, and dives noiselessly and as easily as he swims. When swimming quietly on the surface, he paddles with slow but powerful strokes of his broad webbed feet, and makes very good headway, but if he notices one of his asso- ciates has taken a fish and is about to swallow it, "1 he goes for him," and shoots over the water with almost the rapidity of an ar- row, producing a considerable splash. When swimming under the surface, the Goosander appeared to me like a fish, as he passed right under my canoe, for he shot for- ward with the like velocity. His stay under water is only about one minute, and at the longest, not much over two minutes; but even in this short time he often rises to the surface at the distance of over a hundred paces from the spot where he dived. This is quite a feat, when we take into account that he fishes under water, and is consequently obliged to make many zigzags. On coming to the surface he usually flaps his wings and immediately dives again. His voice is a peculiar humming or rattling sound, which bears some resemblance to the sound of a Jew's-harp. The single sounds are somewhat like " carr " and " corr;" but these sounds are so blended together that they are best represented by the notes of the Jew's-harp. His senses are very acute, and his observations very quickly made. In watching him one can not fail to be struck with his intelligence, caution, and peculiar shyness, together with his cunning and craftiness. He is not a sociable bird, and never asso- ciates with any of his relatives, but only with birds of his own kind. Even among themselves, Goosanders never take much notice of each other, except by showing constant signs of envy; but this does not prevent them from helping one another in fishing, as they dive all at the same time, and thereby drive the fish from one bird to another. The food of the Goosander consists chieflv of fish, and he always prefers the smaller ones, from three to six inches in length, though he will sometimes catch and devour larger ones. He also feeds on large aquatic insects. The pairing of these birds begins in the winter; but their nest- building is not commenced in the North until June. The nests are built in different places, often in hollows in the ground, sometimes under shrubbery, among rocks, in the stump of an old tree, or in an abandoned nest of a Crow or a Hawk. The nest is composed I wIlgS, staIes, grasses, rushes, leaves, and lichen, very ardessi) 24 GOOSANDER.
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