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

[Plate XLVIII. The sharp-tailed finch. (Ammodromus candacutus.) cont.],   pp. [67]-68


Page [67]


YPELLOW-WINGED SPARROW-LARK FINCH-SWAMP SPARROW.
and quietness at this season is remarkable, and causes them to be
in a great measure overlooked. On several occasions, when the
thermometer was far below zero, the river frozen solid for two feet
deep, and snow on the ground, I have unexpectedly come upon
little groups of these birds, hiding away close to the ground among
and under a net-work of vines and rank herbage, close enough to
collect and retain a mantle of snow. When startled at such times
they have a low, pleasant chirp as they flutter into sight among
the bushes, scattering a little, but only to collect again and seek
their snug retreat as soon as left to themselves. Whether rendered
careless by the cold, or through a natural heedlessness, they are
very tame at such times; they sit unconcernedly on the t ^ igs, it
may be but a few feet distant, chirping cheerfully, with the plu-
mage all loosened and puffy, making very pretty "roly-poly"
looking objects. There is a particular kind of plant here, the
seeds of which endure all winter, furnishing a favorite repast. In
a clump of these tall weeds dozens of the birds may be seen to-
gether, busily feeding. Some, more energetic, spring up and
cling to the swaying panicles, picking away, while others gather
about the stem, getting a good dinner, without trouble, off the
seeds that their neighbors above rattle down. At such times the
whole company keep up an animated conversation, expressing
their satisfaction, no doubt, in their own language; it is more than
chirping, and not quite singing-a low, soft, continuous chanting,
as pleasing as it is indescribable. The Tree Sparrow is, indeed,
one of the sweet-voiced of our Sparrows, and one very fond of
singing, not only in the spring, but at other seasons; times are
hard with it indeed when it can not, on occasion, tune its gentle
pipe."
The Yellow-winged Sparrow. (Coturniculus palerinus.)
Fig. 3.
A small species of Sparrow-bird that may be met with in almost
all sections of the United States in summer, and on the sheltered
plains of the sea-coast of New York and New Jersey until the
very commencement of winter. In the Middle States it is very
abundant.
In colors this species changes somewhat in the different sections
of its habitation, of which Mr. Allen relates as follows: " On
comparing Florida specimens with northern ones, the former are
found to be far more brightly colored than the latter. Between
northern and southern specimens of the same species greater dif-
ferences in color are rarely observable than in this, the differences
being far greater than occur between many conspecific geograph-
ical races to which have been awarded specific rank. The differ-
ence consists in the much brighter and blacker tints of the south-
ern form. Massachusetts specimens, although lighter than Florida
ones, are still much darker than those from the Plains. According
to Coues:
" The song of the Yellow-winged Sparrow is a humble effort,
rather weak and wheezy, but quite curious, more resembling the
noise made by some grasshoppers than the voice of a bird. It is
only heard in the breeding-season, when the little performer mounts
a tall mullein in his chosen pasture, or the fence-rail around it,
settles himself firmly on his legs, and throwing up his head, utters
the chirring notes ad libituz. At other seasons he has only a
weak chirp. The bird is very timid, keeping almost always on
the ground, amid the weeds and grass, where he runs like a
mouse. On being forced up, he starts quickly, with a wayward,
jerky flight, but seldom goes far before pitching into the grass
again. The nest is placed on the ground, in a field, and resem-
bles that of other Sparrows that build on the ground. As many
as nine eggs are said to have been found in one nest, but the num-
ber is usually four or five. They are pure white, speckled with
rich, clear, reddish-brown, chiefly at the larger end, but sparingly
also all over the surface. The egg is usually rather globose-o.75
tby o.6o for an average instance."
The Lark Finch. (Choudestes grammaca,)
Fig. 4.
One of the most abundant and typical western prairie-birds.
They sing sweetly, and, like the Larks, have the habit of continu-
ing their notes while on the wing. This beautiful species is not
confined to the Plains, nor is it exclusively terrestrial; it is also
observed in wooded, broken, even mountainous regions. In the
Middle States it is frequently met with in summer, arriving from
the south in May, and leaving among the earliest of Sparrows in
autumn, at which time they are often seen gathered together in
small troops, rambling in the grass near bushes or small trees.
In case of an alarm they resort to the bushes like other Sparrows.
In the latter part of May or first of June they construct their nest,
which is usually located on the ground, and is constructed of
grasses and weeds. " The eggs of this species," says Coues,
11 are very peculiar in coloration, being white, curiously streaked
in zigzag, much like the blackbird's. The markings are sharp
and distinct, and heavy in color-a rich, dark, reddish-brown or
chocolate; sometimes, where the pigment is thickest, being almost
blackish. The markings straggle all over the surface, and are usu-
ally accompanied with a few spots of the same color. The egg is
noticeably globose, very much rounded at the smaller end, meas-
uring about 0.75 by o.65. Other specimens, however, are more
elongated, measuring as much as o.85."
When the pairing season commences, the males are very piag-
nacious, fighting often on the wing, and the conquering rival re-
pairing to the nearest bush, tunes his lively pipe in token of tuc-
cess. This species is six and a half inches long, and eight and a
half broad.
The Swamp Sparrow. (Melospiza palustris.)
Fig. 5.
This is another abundant species of Sparrow-bird. It is rather
more seclusive in its habits than the preceding species, which ac-
counts for its being less generally observed. Coues says: " It is
not so decidedly gregarious as some of its allies, and is oftener
found skulking alone through rank herbage and tangled under-
growth than in flocks; still, in the fall, I have found considerable
numbers together, about the edges of reedy swamps, sharing the
shrubbery with the Song-Sparrows, and the reeds with the species
Ammodromus, between which it forms, in one sense, a connecting
link. I have often seen it, though more rarely, in open, wet, grassy
places. During the vernal migrations, at Washington, D. C., I
used to look for it in the undergrowth fringing tiny streams flow-
ing through open woods, and rarely failed to find it, if I looked
close enough in the very heart of such recesses, the skirts of which
were full of white-throated Sparrows and other more conspicuous
species. I never saw it take a long flight in the open woods;
generally it was seen flitting from bush to bush, just over the
ground and water, flirting the tail, and uttering its peculiar note.
Its chirp is remarkably different from that of any other species,
and, with its general reddishness, seems to distinguish it from its
associates." Nuttall says that, occasionally, mounted on the top
of a low bush or willow-tree, it chants a few trilling, rather mo-
notonous, minor notes, resembling, in some measure, the song of
the Field Sparrow, and appearing like twi, tw' tw' tw Iu tu twe,
and twe' twe' u' tu' tvwe'; uttered in a pleasing and somewhat va-
ried warble. In New England, they arrive from the Southern
States, where they winter, about the middle of April, and take up
their summer residence in the swamps and marshy meadows,
through which often, without flying, they thread their devious way
with the same alacrity as the Rail, with whom they are indeed often
associated in neighborhood. They o xpress extreme solicitude for
their young, even after they are full-fledged and able to provide
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