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

[Plate XLV. The turnstone. (Strepsilas interpres.) cont.],   pp. 61-62


Page 61


CU RLtWS.
Their cry, which is shrill and penetrating, is uttered with such
various degrees of rapidity as to produce very different effects.
They are also very cautious, and unusually shy.
Audubon states that he had ocular demonstration of the fact that,
as its name imports, this species actually turns over stones and
other objects to search for food, and gives the following interesting
account of the proceedings of four of these birds, which he observed
on the beach of Galveston island: " They merely," he says, "
ran
a little distance out of our course, and, on our returning, came
back immediately to the same place. This they did four different
times, and after we were done, remained busily engaged in search-
ing for food. None of them were more than fifteen or twenty
yards distant, and I was delighted to see the ingenuity with which
they turned over the oyster-shells, clods of mud, and other small
bodies left exposed by the retiring tide. Whenever the object was
not too large, the bird bent its-legs to half their length, placed its
bill beneath it, and with a sudden, quick jerk of the head, pushed
it off, when it quickly picked up the food which was thus exposed
to view, and walked deliberately to the next shell to perform the
same operation. In some instances, when the clusters of oyster-
shells or clods of mud were too heavy to be removed in the ordi-
nary manner, they would not only use the bill and head, but also
the breast, pushing the object with all their strength, and remind-
ing me of the labor which I have undergone in turning over a
large turtle. Among the sea-weeds, which had been cast on the
shore, they used only the bill, tossing the garbage from side to side
with a dexterity extremely pleasant to behold."
Upon the coast of Cape May and Egg Harbor this species is
known by the name of the " Horse-foot Snipe," from the fact that
it subsists during a portion of the summer almost entirely on the
spawn and eggs of the great " king crab," called by the common
people the " horse-foot." This spawn may often be seen by bushels
in the hollows and eddies on the coast. This species is nine inches
long and eighteen across the span of the wing; the wing measures
six inches and the tail six inches and a half. In the young the
plumage is a mixture of blackish-brown and rust-yellow, the fore
part of the body being grayish-black.
The Esquimaux Curlew, or Dough-bird. (AVumenius borealis.)
Fig. 2.
This species is an occasional visitant to almost every part of the
North American continent, and in the course of its migrations it
penetrates into the remote territories of the West, along the great val-
ley of the Mississippi, and extending its wanderings into the south-
ern hemisphere as far as Brazil and Paraguay. It winters in the
South, and arrives at the eastern sea-coasts early in May. It ap-
pears more or less numerous in flocks in the salt marshes, on the
muddy shores, and about the inlets, and is also found near the
so-called mud-flats at low water, mingling with other wading
birds. According to Dr. Coues: "The Curlews associate in
flocks of every size, from three to as many thousand, but they
generally fly in so loose and straggling a manner that it is rare to
kill more than half a dozen at a shot. When they wheel, how-
ever, in any of their many beautiful evolutions, they close together
in a more compact body, and offer q more favorable opportunity
to the gunner. Their flight is firm, direct, very swift, when nec-
essary much protracted, and is performed with regular, rapid
beats. They never sail, except when about to alight, when the
wings are much incurved downward, in the manner of most
waders. As their feet touch the ground, their long, pointed
wings are raised over the back, until the tips almost touch, and
then deliberately folded, much in the manner of the Solitary Sand-
piper (Rhyacophilus solitarius). Their note is an often-repeated,
soft, mellow, though clear whistle, which may be easily imitated.
By this means they can readily be decoyed within shot, if the im-
itation is good and the gunner is careful to keep concealed. The
smaller the flock the more easily are they allured, and a single
individual rarely fails to turn his course toward the spot whence
the sound proceeds. When in very extensive flocks they have a
note which, when uttered by the whole number, I can compare to
nothing but the chattering of a flock of Blackbirds. When
wounded and taken in hand, they emit a very loud, harsh scream,
like that of a common hen under similar circumstances, which
cry they also utter when pursued.
" Their food consists almost entirely of the crow-berry (Empe-
trum nzgrum), which grows on all the hill-sides in astonishing
profusion. It is also called the ' bear-berry' and ' curlew-berry.'
It is a small berry, of a deep purple color, almost black, growing
upon a procumbent, running kind of heath, the foliage of which
has a peculiar moss-like appearance. This is their principal and
favorite food, and the whole intestine, the vent, the legs, the bill,
throat, and even the plumage, are more or less stained with the
deep purple juice. They are also very fond of a species of small
snail that adheres to the rock in immense quantities, to procure
which they frequent the land-washes at low tide. Food being so
abundant, and so easily obtained, they become excessively fat. In
this condition they are most delicious eating, being tender, juicy,
and finely flavored; but, as might be expected, they prove a very
difficult job for the taxidermist.
"Although the Curlews were in such vast numbers, I did not
find them so tame as might be expected, and as I had been led to
suppose by previous representations. I was never able to walk
openly within shooting distance of a flock, though I was told it
was often done. The most successful method of obtaining them is
to take such a position as they will probably fly over in passing
from one feeding ground to another. They may then be shot
with ease, as they rarely fly high at such times. The perti-
nacity with which they cling to certain feeding-grounds, even
when much molested, I saw strikingly illustrated on one occasion.
The tide was rising and about to flood a muddy flat, of perhaps an
acre in extent, where their favorite snails were in great quantities.
Although six or eight gunners were stationed upon the spot, and
kept up a continual round of firing upon the poor birds, they con-
tinued to fly distractedly about over our heads, notwithstanding the
numbers that every moment fell. They seemed in terror lest they
should lose their accustomed fare of snails that day. On another
occasion, when the birds had been so harassed for several hours
as to deprive them of all opportunity of feeding, great numbers of
them retired to a very small island, or rather a large pile of rocks,
a few hundred yards from the shore, covered with sea-weed and,
of course, with snails. Flock after flock alighted on it, till it was
completely covered with the birds, which there, in perfect safety,
obtained their morning meal."
"On their return in autumn," says Nuttall, "' they are remark-
ably gregarious, each company seeming to follow some temporary
leader; and, on starting to fly, a sort of watch-cry is heard, re-
sembling the whistling pronunciation of the word bee-bee." On
their arrival from the north, they are very fat, plump, and well
flavored. They are sought out by epicures, and enhance the value
of a table entertainment. This bird is fifteen inches long and
twenty-seven inches broad.
The Hudsonian Curlew. (Numenius hudsonicus.)
Fig. 3.
This species appears to be much less abundant than the pre-
ceding, although it occupies the same territory. Wilson says:
I It arrives in large flocks on the sea-coast of New Jersey early in
May, from the South, and frequents the salt marshes, muddy shores,
and inlets, feeding on small worms and minute shell-fish. They
are most commonly seen on mud-flats at low-water, in company
iV


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