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

Plate XLV. The turnstone. (Strepsilas interpres.),   p. 60

Page 60

pression of the wish; there are birds to lend wings to leaden
hours, even during the sun's reign of terror at Fort YLama. A
long white line, dimly seen at first in the distance, issues out of the
gray-green woods.  It is a troop of Wood Ibises, leaving their
heated covert for what seems the still less endurable glare of day,
yet reckoning well, for they have before enjoyed the cooler currents
of the upper air, unheated by reflection from the parched and
shrinking sands. They come nearer, rising higher as they come,
till they are directly overhead, in the bright blue.  Flapping
heavily until they had cleared all obstacles, then mounting faster,
with strong, regular beats of their broad wings, now they sail in
circles, with wide-spread, motionless pinions, supported as if by
magic. A score or more cross each other's paths in interminable
spirals, their snowy bodies tipped at the wing-points with jetty
black, clear cut against the sky; they become specks in the air,
and finally pass from view. I am not aware that the Ibises circle
about as I have described at particular hours of the day, but I
generally saw them so occupied in the forenoon. The habit is
constant with them, and quite characteristic.  They are often
joined by numbers of Turkey Buzzards-birds that have the same
custom. Those familiar with the aerial gyrations of these birds,
when, away from their loathsome feasts, they career high over-
head, will have, by adding to the Buzzard's movements the beauty
of plumage that the Ibises possess, a good idea of the pleasing
appearance of the latter. Audubon says that their evolutions are
performed when digestion is going on, and continued until they
again feel the cravings of hunger. He has so well described their
mode of feeding, that I can not do better than quote his paragraph.
'The Wood Ibis,' he says, ' feeds entirely upon fish and aquatic
reptiles, of which it destroys an enormous quantity, in fact more
than it eats; for if they have been killing fish for half an hour,
and gorged themselves, they suffer the rest to lie on the water un-
touched, to become food for alligators, Crows, and Vultures. To
procure its food, the Wood Ibis walks through shallow, muddy
lakes, or bayous, in numbers. As soon as they have discovered
a place abounding in fish, they dance, as it were, all through it,
until the water becomes thick with the mud stirred from the bottom
with their feet. The fishes, on rising to the surface, are instantly
struck by the beak of the Ibises, and on being deprived of life
they turn over and so remain. In the course of ten or fifteen
minutes, hundreds of fishes, frogs, young alligators, and water-
snakes cover the surface, and the birds greedily swallow them
until they are completely gorged, after which they walk to the
nearest margins, place themselves in long rows, with their breasts
all turned toward the sun, in the manner of Pelicans and Vultures,
and thus remain for an hour or so.'
" The great abundance of the Wood Ibis on the Colorado,
especially the lower portions of the river, as at Fort Yuma, has
not been generally recognized until of late years. It is probably
as numerous there as anywhere in the United States, though I
have never seen flocks I composed of several thousands,' such as
Audubon speaks of. Oftenest the numbers together would fall
short of one hundred, and single birds were very frequently seen
flapping overhead or wading in the shallow pools. But they are
like all of their great tribe, gregarious birds, spending most of their
time in each other's society. I doubt that any are found on the
Colorado higher than Fort Mojave. They probably occur along
the greater part of the Gila, but how far up I am unable to say. I
have not noticed them in Arizona except on these two rivers.
Wherever found in the Territory, they are permanent residents, as
elsewhere in most parts of the United States.  In the eastern
province they reach to the Carolinas. They are said to ascend the
Mississippi to the Ohio; but the swampy tracts and bayous of
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are, with the lagoons
of the lower Colorado, their favorite homes. I do not know of
them in California, except as along the river just named.
"The carriage of the Wood    Ibis is firm and sedate, almost
stately; each leg is slowly lifted, and planted with deliberate pre-
cision, before the other is moved, when the birds walk unsuspicious
of danger. I never saw one run rapidly, since on all the occasions
when I have been the cause of alarm, the bird took wing directly.
It springs powerfully from the ground, bending low to gather
strength, and for a little distance flaps hurriedly with dangling
legs, as if it was much exertion to lift so heavy a body. But fairly
on wing, clear of all obstacles, the flight is firm, strong, and direct,
performed with continuous, moderately rapid beats of the wing,
except when the birds are sailing in circles as above noted. When
proceeding in a straight line the feet are stretched horizontally
backward, but the head is not drawn closely in upon the breast, as
is the case with Herons, so that the bird presents what may be
called a top-heavy appearance, increased by the thick large bill.
" The eggs of the Wood Ibis are like Heron's, in being nearly
ellipsoidal, but differ from these, as well as from those of the Bay
Ibis, in color, which is uniform dull white, without markings. The
shell is rather rough to the touch, with a coating of softish, flaky,
calcareous substance. A specimen that I measured was exactly
two inches and three-quarters in length by one and three-quarters
in breadth. Two or three are said to be a nest-complement. Ac-
cording to Audubon, the young are entirely dusky-gray, with
brownish-black wings and bill. The head is at first covered, but
becomes partially bare after the first molt. Four years are said
to be required for the bird to attain its full plumage, though it may
breed at two or three years of age, and is largely white or whitish
after the first molt. The head and upper part of the neck of the
adult are wholly bare, and of a livid bluish color, tinged with yel-
lowish on the forehead. The bill is yellowish; the legs blue,
becoming blackish on the toes, and tinged with yellow on the webs.
The female is considerably smaller than the male."
The Turnstone. (Strefisilas interjpres.)
Fig. i.
This peculiar and beautifully variegated species of marine bird
is to be met w.ith on the sea-coasts of nearly all countries. It is
also, at times, to be seen in the interior. Usually, it appears
alone, or in parties of two or three, on the beach, or on the shores
of sandy rivers that empty into the ocean, near their outlets.
Occasionally, it is found in company with some of the Sandpipers,
and other beach birds.  It arrives in the Middle and Eastern
States about April, remaining until June, very soon after which
they are seen at their breeding-quarters, on the shores of Hudson's
Bay, and along the desolated strand of the Arctic Sea. "This
is," says Dr. Brewer, " the only species of Turnstone known, and
it is apparently distributed over the whole world. . . . On the
Scotch and English coasts they arrive in small flocks about the
beginning of August, and as the season advances, congregate into
larger assemblies; the greater proportion of these are still in their
young dress, and it is not until the ensuing spring that this is com-
pletely changed. In this state they have been frequently described
as a second species. Early in' spring, a few straggling birds, in
perfect breeding plumage, may be observed on most of our shores,
which have either been left at the general migration, or remain
during the year in a state of barrenness. It is then that the finest
specimens for stuffing are obtained."
It is not often that two specimens of this species are found whose
plumage and markings are alike in every particular.  As it is
represented on the plate, it will, we think, be recognized at once
by any one who has ever seen the bird. They are naturally of a
restless and active disposition, running rapidly, with wings low-
ered, but usually only for a short distance, pausing from time to
time, for a few moments, in the course of their swift career; their
.s-;1 A -y I -aLU IUAV1lpdLUS uy a variety of graceful evolutons.

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