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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

Plate XXXIV. The red-headed duck. (Aythya americana.),   p. 46


Page 46


RED-F1EADEMD DUCK.
whose food being nearly the same, would swell the amount of ver-
min destroyed to twelve thousand millions. But the number of
young birds may be fairly estimated at double that of their parents;
and, as these are constantly fed on larve for at least three weeks,
making only the same allowance for them as for the old ones, their
share would amount to four thousand two hundred millions of nox-
ious insects destroyed in the space of four months by this single
species I The combined ravages of such a hideous host of vermin
would be sufficient to spread famine and desolation over a wide
extent of the richest and best cultivated country on earth. All
this, it may be said, is mere supposition. It is, however, supposi-
tion founded on known and acknowledged facts. I have never
dissected one of these birds in spring without receiving the most
striking and satisfactory proofs of those facts; and though, in a
matter of this kind, it is impossible to ascertain precisely the
amount of the benefits derived by agriculture from this and many
other species of our birds, yet, in the present case, I can not resist
the belief that the services of this species in spring are far more
important and beneficial than the value of all that portion of corn
which a careful and active farmer permits himself to lose by it.
The great range of country frequented by this bird extends from
Mexico, on the south, to Labrador. Our late enterprising travel-
ers across the continent to the Pacific ocean, observed it in great
numbers in several of the valleys, at a great distance up the Mis-
souri. When taken alive, or reared from the nest, it soon becomes
familiar, and sings frequently,bristling out its feathers, something in
the manner of the Cow Bunting. Their notes, though not remark-
ably various, are very peculiar. The most common one resembles
the syllables conk-querr~e; others, the shrill sounds produced by
filing a saw; some are more guttural, and others remarkably clear.
The usual note of both male and female is a single chuck. In-
stances have been produced where they have been taught to articu-
late several words distinctly; and, contrary to what is observed of
many birds, the male loses little of the brilliancy of his plumage
by confinement. A very remarkable trait of this bird is, the great
difference of size between the male and female; the former being
nearly two inches longer than the latter, and of proportionate mag-
nitude. They are known by various names in the different States
of the Union; such as the Swaamp Blackbird, Marsh Blackbird,
Red-winged Blackbird, Corn or Afaize Thief, Starling, etc.
Many of them have been carried from this to different parts of
Europe; and Edwards relates that one of them, which had no
doubt escaped from a cage, was shot in the neighborhood of Lon-
don; and, on being opened, its stomach was found to be filled with
grub-worms, caterpillars, and beetles, which Buffon seems to won-
der at, as in their own country, he observes, they feed exclusively
on grain and maize.- Wilson.
The Red-winged Starling, or Red-shouldered Marsh Blackbird,
is so well known as being a bird of the most nefarious propensities,
that in the United States one can hardly mention its name without
hearing such an account of its pilferings as might induce the
young student of nature to conceive that it had been created for
the purpose of annoying the farmer. That it destroys an aston-
ishing quantity of corn, rice, and other kinds of grain, can not be
denied; but that before it commences its ravages, it has proved
highly serviceable to the crops, is equally certain.
The dispersion of this bird over the whole of the United States,
the far countries beyond the limits of the inhabitation of the human
species, the great Western plains, the Rocky Mountains, and even
the shores of the Columbia river, where it was procured by Mr.
Townsend, forms a remarkable part of its history. Our surprise
becomes greatly increased by the knowledge of its breeding in
great numbers in every part of this vast extent. I found the
islands about Galveston Bay most plentifully supplied with it, as
well as the grassy margins of the pools and bayous of the main-
land, where it was seen breeding, sometimes within a few yards
of houses. The same occurred on the Florida Keys. The only
part of the country visited by me in which I found it wa
Labrador, although it is known to breed in some portion
interior of Newfoundland. In many instances, I found it
in the Floridas on mangroves and low bushes, in the vicinil
nests of Cormorants and our smaller Herons, and even soi
in the midst of them.
This bird is beautifully marked and colored. The bill
paratively long, cone-shaped, a little compressed, and ver
pointed. Its body is powerful. The wing of medium leng
second and third primaries are the most extended. The ta
long and rounded; the plumage soft and glossy. The c
his bridal dress are of a deep black, but on the shoulders a
scarlet-red, terminating in yellowish-red. The iris of the
deep brown, almost black; the bill, legs, and feet are
black; its length about nine inches; in extent, about thirt
a half inches; length of wing, four and a half inches; le
tail, three and a quarter inches. The female, on the upr
is blackish-brown, and on the lower side grayish-brow
feather more or less seamed with yellowish-gray; the
and the cheeks are of a light-grayish ground color, s
longitudinally with darker color.
The flesh of the Red-winged Starling is in little esteem, 1
are very often kept in cages on account of their beauty of I
and vivacity. In captivity, they may easily be brought tc
PLATE XXXIV.
The Red-headed Duck. (Aythya americana.)
Fig. x, Male. Fig. 2, Female. Fig. 3, Young Male.
This beautiful and, by sportsmen, eagerly sought-for bird is
abundant throughout North America. In length, he measures
about twenty-one inches, wings usually one-half the length of the
body. Bill as long as the head, dull blue in color, with a black
belt at the end. The color of the head, from which his name is
derived, is a rich, pure chestnut, glossed with a lustrous bronzy-
red. Back, grayish-brown, barred with minute white lines. Be-
neath, abdomen white, darker toward the vent, where it is barred
with dusky wavy lines. The range of the Red-head is very ex-
tensive, breeding in the fur countries to their most northern limits.
They frequent the waters of the Chesapeake in immense numbers.
According to Audubon, they are found in immense quantities around
New Orleans, arriving there, from their northern haunts, in No-
vember, and departing in April. Their food consists of small
fish, young tadpoles, small water-lizards, and the tender roots and
leaves of various aquatic grasses. They are known to dive very
deep in search of food, but haunt, by preference, shallow waters,
and show great attachment to certain localities. Their flesh is
very highly esteemed, ranking next to that of the Canvas-back,
and is eagerly sought for by the epicure. When caught, they take
readily to confinement. Their notes are very coarse and unmu-
sical, while their flight is hurried, starting up from the water in
sort of flurry, producing with their wings a clear whistling sound.
According to Nuttall, they are said to walk awkwardly and with
difficulty. It is also added that their cry more resembles the hol-
low hiss of a serpent than the voice of a bird. Their flight is
more rapid than that of the common Wild Duck, and the noise of
their wings very different. The troop forms a close body in the
air, but they do not proceed in angular lines or obey any particu-
lar leader, nor have they any call sufficient for the purpose.
According to Bogardus, the Red-heads are ranked among the
best of the Ducks which are found in the Western States; and
that very able and well-informed author, Dr. Sharpless, of Phila-
delphia, stated that he could never distinguish much difference in
flavor between Canvas-backs and Red-heads, and that many of the
latter were sold as Canvas-backs, and eaten as such by those who
professed to know all about the divine flavor.
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