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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / The birds of North America

Plate XXV. The goosander. (Mergus merganser.),   p. 24

Page 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.
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
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
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)

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