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

Plate LXIII. Canvas-back duck. (Fuligula vallisneria.),   pp. 89-92


Page 89


ROSEATE TERN-SANDPIPERS-TU'RNSTONE-CANVAS-BACK DUCK.
once sweet, expressive and charming. This song always com-
mences with loud, clear, and vivacious notes, falling in almost im-
perceptible gradations until they are scarcely articulated. Its nest,
like that of the Long-billed Water Thrush, is built in the side of a
decayed log, or at the foot of some tree, and is composed of dry
leaves, moss, fine grasses, and lined with hair. The eggs are
usually five in number, of a delicate flesh color, spotted with light
reddish-brown, and measuring about .8i by .63.
Roseate Tern. (Sterna dougalli.)
Fig. 6.
The Roseate Tern is found all along the Atlantic, from Massa-
chusetts to Florida, though none are known to winter within the
United States. It is also found in Europe, where it inhabits the
sandy shores of Norway. From their light and graceful move-
ments, Audubon called them the Humming Birds of the Sea. This
bird is at all times restless and noisy, and when its breeding place
is approached, emits many sharp, shrill cries, resembling the syl-
lable " crak I " Its food consists of insects, small fish, moluscous
animals, and shrimps. It will pursue insects, like the Flycatchers,
on the wing. In incubating, no nest is made, the eggs being laid
upon the rocks among roots and grasses, and in fair weather left
to the heat of the sun. These eggs are usually three in number,
longish oval shape, dull buff or clay in color, sparingly sprinkled
with different tints of umber and light purple, and measuring about
I.75 by I.I3 inches, and are delicious eating. The delicate and
beautiful tint of the breast begins to fade immediately after death.
Its flight is swift and graceful, dashing boldly into the water in pur-
suit of game, and reascending without apparent effort.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper. (Tryngites rufescens.)
Fig. 7.
This bird is found throughout North America, but is known only
,in the United States as a migrant, breeding in Alaska and in the
interior regions of the fur countries, and wintering in South America.
During their fall migrations they become very fat, their food con-
sisting of grasshoppers and other insects. The nidification is very
simple, the nest consisting of a slight depression in the ground,
lined with a few dried grasses and leaves. The eggs are usually
four, very pointedly pyriform, in color of a clay, drab, or oliva-
ceous green, marked with heavy blotches of rich umber-brown.
But little is known of its habits, though, according to DeKay, it has
been observed in Ohio, and every year is known to frequent the
southern shores of Long Island.
Least Sandpiper. (Tringa minutilla.)
Fig. 8.
This little bird is abundant throughout the United States;
especially during the migratory seasons. It reaches the Middle
States from South America, where it winters, the last of April, and
immediately passes to the more northern sections of the continent
for the purpose of breeding. Dr. Richardson says, that on the
2Ist of May it was observed as far north as latitude 660. One of its
favorite places of nidification is the rock-bound coast of Labrador.
Here, in some half-sheltered nook, is fashioned a little mossy home,
just large enough to hold four buffy yellow-brown and drab spotted
eggs. Considering the size of the bird these eggs are very large,
measuring about .96 by .75 inches. As soon as their young are
hatched they leave for more genial quarters, arriving along the
New England coast in August, where, during that month and the
following, they are found in great abundance, feeding in the salt-
marshes or along the muddy and sedgy shores of tide rivers.
Their food consists of larvae, worms, minute shellfish, and aquatic
insects; and in search of these they thrust their flexible and awl-
shaped bills into the mud in the manner of Snipe and Woodcock.
When disturbed by the hunter they give a slender " peep," imme-
diately followed by a lisping whistle, and a general rising on the
wing. At the approach of night, in fair weather-we quote from
Nuttall-" the marshes almost re-echo with the shrill but rather
murmuring or lisping, subdued, and querulous call of ' peet,'
and then a repetition of 'pe-dee, pe-dee, dee-dee,' which seems
to be the collecting cry of the old birds calling together their
brood; for, when assembled, the note changes into a confused mur-
mur of ' peet, peet,' attended by a short and suppressed whistle."
Blaok-headed Turnstone. (Strepsilas melanocephalus.)
Fig. 9.
In size and general form this bird resembles the Turnstone, dif-
fering only in the prevalence of the dark color on the head, breast,
and upper parts. Professor Baird, in the ninth volume of the
United States Pacific Railroad Explorations, tells us that in the
museum of the Philadelphia Academy is a specimen from India
which is exactly like this bird, with others, apparently from Europe,
which approach it very nearly. Beyond being an inhabitant of
the Pacific coast, but little is to be gleaned regarding it. Its habits
are undoubtedly identical with that of the S. interpres, which is
described in another part of the present work.
PLATE LXIII.
Canvas-back Duck. (Puligula vallisneria.)
Fig. i.
Notwithstanding the renown attained by the Canvas-back Duck,
alike the delight of the sportsman and the joy of the epicure, its
history is still in great obscurity. This bird is not known to nest
in any of the Eastern States, but is supposed to do so in Upper
California and on the Yukon. Coues says they breed from the
Northern States northward, but so far no naturalist has made
record of its breeding habits. Samuels describes a single egg in
his collection as follows: "1 This is of an ovate form, nearly oval,
of a pale blue color, with an olivaceous tinge, quite smooth to the
touch, and quite thin and brittle. Its dimensions are 2.54 by I.78
inches."
The Canvas-back is found all over North America, but is very
rare in New England. It is a remarkable example of certain
foods in imparting quality and flavor to the flesh. When taken in
the Chesapeake and a few other localities, its flesh has a flavor
unsurpassed by any of its kind, while in less favored spots it in no
wise transcends the ordinary sea Ducks. The superiority is due to
the plant called wild celery, which grows abundantly in the Ches-
apeake, and on which they feed. It is an aquatic plant, grow-
ing entirely beneath the water, with long, narrow ribbon-like
leaves. Its botanical name is Vallisneria spiralis, and from its
being the favorite food of the Canvas-back is recognized in the
specific name of the bird. Wherever this plant abounds, the ducks
acquire the peculiar flavor which makes them so famous.
They arrive in the Chesapeake and its tributaries about the last
of October, and are allowed to remain unmolested for some days.
They only eat the buds and roots at the base of the plants, and
consequently have to dive constantly for their food. Though found
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