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

Plate XL. The least bittern. (Ardetta exilis.),   pp. 55-56

Page 55

In return for all this abuse, the Hawk contents himself with now
and then feasting on the plumpest of his persecutors, who are,
therefore, in perpetual dread of him; and yet, through some
strange infatuation, or from fear that if they lose sight of him he
may attack them unaware, the Sparrow Hawk no sooner appears
than the alarm is given, and the whole posse of Jays follow." The
length of this bird is about ten inches, and about twenty inches in
The Blue Jay. (Cyanurus cristatus.)
Fig. 3, Male. Fig. 4, Female.
This bird probably enjoys as wide-spread a reputation as any of
our North American species. It is said that with but few excep-
tions there is no country upon the globe where some of its repre-
sentatives are not found. But it is on the American continent
that it is most abundantly diffused, especially in Mexico, and the
countries lying adjacent to the equator.
Notwithstanding the beautiful appearance of the Blue Jay, it is
regarded with but little favor in North America, where it is found
in great numbers, a constant inhabitant both of the wooded wilder-
ness and the vicinity of the settled farm, though more familiar at
the approach of winter and early in spring than at any other
season. " These wanderings or limited migrations," says Nuttall,
" are induced by necessity alone; his hoards of grain, nuts, and
acorns either have failed, or are forgotten; for, like other misers,
he is more assiduous to amass than to expend or enjoy his stores,
and the fruits of his labors very frequently either devolve to the
rats or squirrels, or accidentally assist in the replanting of the
forest. His visits, at this time, are not infrequent in the garden
and orchard, and his usual petulant address, of dg'ay, .f'ay, _'ay,
and other harsh and trumpeting articulations, soon make his retreat
known to all in his neighborhood. So habitual is this sentinel-cry
of alarm, and so expressive, that all the birds within call, as well
as other wild animals, are instantly on the alert, so that the fowler
and hunter become generally disappointed of their game by this
garrulous and noisy propensity. He is, therefore, for his petulance,
frequently killed without pity or profit, as his flesh, though eaten,
has but little to recommend it. His more complaisant notes, when
undisturbed, though guttural and echoing, are by no means un-
pleasant, and fall in harmoniously with the cadence of the feathered
choristers around him, so as to form a finishing part to the general
music of the grove. His accents of blandishment, when influenced
by the softer passions, are low and musical, so as to be scarcely
heard beyond the thick branches where he sits concealed; but, as
soon as discovered, he bursts out into notes of rage and reproach,
accompanying his voice by jerks and actions of temerity and de-
fiance." Wilson calls this species the Bird Trumpeter, from the
remarkable sound that it produces when alarmed; and we learn
from other ornithologists that it can imitate the cry of the Buzzard
and Sparrow Hawk to such perfection as frequently to terrify the
smaller denizens of the woods, and raises such an uproar on per-
ceiving a fox or other enemy as compels the intruder to sneak
quietly away. "1 The Blue Jay," says Audubon, " is extremely
expert in discovering a fox, a raccoon, or any other quadruped
hostile to birds, and will follow it, emitting a loud noise, as if de-
sirous of bringing a Crow to its assistance. It acts in the same
manner toward Owls, and even on some occasions toward Hawks.
It is more tyrannical than brave, and like most boasters, domineers
over the feeble, dreads the strong, and flies ever from his equal. In
many cases, he is a downright coward.   It robs every nest it
can find; sucks the eggs, like the Crow, or tears to pieces and de-
vours the young birds. In the North, they are fond of ripe chest-
nuts, and in visiting the trees, is seen to select the choicest. When
these fail, it attacks the beech-nut, acorns, pears, apples, and green
corn." Large quantities of seeds, all kinds of insects, and flesh
are also eaten by these birds. The number of broods varies with
the district in which the Jays are found, some breeding but once
and others twice in the year. The nest is formed of twigs and
other dry materials, lined with a bed of delicate fibers, on which,
in due season, four or five eggs are deposited; these latter are
olive-brown, marked with dark spots.
Who could imagine that a form so graceful, arrayed by nature
in a garb so resplendent, should harbor so much mischief; that
selfishness, duplicity, and malice should form the moral accom-
paniments of so much physical perfection? Yet so it is; and how
like beings of a much higher order are these gay deceivers I
The Least Bittern. (Ardetta exilis.)
Fig. z.
This very neat little species of Bittern is common in the United
States, and most usually to be seen in the remotest parts of exten-
sive marshes, from whence they seldom ever issue till the period of
migration, which is no doubt nocturnal, in accordance with their
usual habits. This bird is also seen in Jamaica, and several other
of the West India Islands. They are chiefly found in the fresh-
water marshes, or in places grown over with reeds and rushes, and
are rarely seen in salt meadows. Their food consists principally
of small fish of fresh water or inlets, and of aquatic insects.
"When alarmed," says Wilson, "they seldom fly far, but take
shelter among the reeds or long grass, and like the American
Bittern, feed chiefly in the night." When surprised at night in
their retreat, they are perfectly silent, and are not known to utter
any very audible note. The eggs are two, sometimes three in
number, and are of a dirty white color, and rather large for the
size of the bird. The young remain in the nest until fully fledged,
and are fed by the parents. Like all other young of the tribe,
they sit on their heels, stretching their long legs forward, until
advanced, when they will stand more erect. The length of this
bird is about twelve inches, and from tip to tip of the expanded
wings is about sixteen inches.
The Sanderling, or Ruddy Plover. (Calidris arenaria.)
Fig. 2.
This elegant little coast bird occupies, and is particularly attached
to sandy flats, and low, sterile, solitary seasides, divested of vege-
tation, and perpetually bleached by the access of tides and storms,
and is occasionally found near large pieces of fresh-water. In such
situations they are often seen in numerous flocks running along the
shore, busily employed in front of the moving waves, gleaning
with agility the shrimps, minute shell-fish, marine insects, and
small moluscous animals. Upon the ground, it runs with grace
and quick movement, and exhibits the utmost dexterity in its beau-
tiful and rapid motion through the air, during whi;.i it frequently
joins company with parties of other shore birds. " The numerous
flocks," says Nuttall, " keep a low, circling course along the
strand, at times uttering a slender and rather plaintive whistle,
nearly like that of the smaller Sandpipers. On alighting, the
little, active troop, watching the opportunity, scatter themselves
about in the rear of the retiring surge; the succeeding wave then
again urges the busy gleaners before it, when they appear like a
liitle pigmy army passing through their military evolutions; and at
this time the wily sportsman, seizing his opportunity, spreads
destruction among their timid ranks, and so little are they aware
of the nature of the attack, that after making a few aerial meanders,

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