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

[Plate LXXV. Great auk. (Alca impennis.) cont.],   p. 117

Page 117

FLYGATCHERS.                       Wi
should the wind permit, their call-note may be frequently heard.
In disposition they are particularly harmless, living in perfect
good-fellowship with each other, and appearing to care little about
other birds. Their food consists of all sorts of soft-bodied ani-
mals, picked up from the surface of the ocean; but we are unable
to say more upon this subject. The stomachs of such as have been
examined contained nothing but a fluid resembling train-oil, but
never the slightest trace of animal remains."
Fork-tailed Flycatcher. (Milvuzus tyrannus.)
Fig. 1.
This is one of those beautiful tropical American birds, that is
met with only as a straggler in North America. Nuttall says:
is In its habits it resembles the other native species of the genus,
is a solitary bird, remaining for a long time perched on the limb
of a tree, from whence it occasionally darts after passing insects,
or, flying downward, it alights on the tufted herbage arising above
the partially drowned savannas, beyond whose limits this seden-
tary species but seldom strays. While seated, his long train is in
motion, like that of the Wagtail, and he now and then utters a
twitter in the manner of the King-bird. Beside insects, like our
King-bird, he feeds on berries, and this individual has his stomach
distended with those of the poke plant."
South America affords two other species resembling the present,
and equally remarkable for the singular length and forking of the
Swallow-tailed Flycatcher, Scissor-tail. (Milvulus forticatus.)
Fig. 2.
This elegant bird, though properly a native of Central America,
is, as the last named, occasionally met with in the United States.
They are usually seen assembled in .large parties upon low brush-
wood, and from thence fly down to seize their insect prey. At the
appearance of dusk, they retire to pass the night together upon a
favorite tree. While perched, they seem to be of very indolent
and quiet disposition, but while in flight their appearance is strik-
ing and remarkable, as they constantly open and close their long
tails, after the fashion of a pair of scissors, during the whole time
that they are upon the wing, a circumstance from which they de-
rive their name. Insects constitute their principal fare, and these
they capture in the same manner as other members of their family;
they also pursue and devour many small birds, and, according to
Nuttall, frequently consume berries. The nest, which is usually
concealed in a thickly-foliaged bush, is open above, and formed
of delicate twigs, snugly lined with a bed of fibers, wool, or feath-
ers; the eggs are white, mottled with reddish brown, these mark-
ings being thickest at the broad end. As autumn draws to a close,
the Scissor Birds congregate with other species in large parties,
previous to setting forth upon their migrations. Schomburghk
tells us that such of these flocks as he observed leaving the coun-
try, settled upon the trees from about three to five o'clock in the
afternoon, and remained there for the night, resuming their south-
ern course at the first dawn of day.
Olive-sided Flycatcher; Cooper's Flycatcher. (Contopius borealis.)
> Fig. 3.
This expert Flycatcher is met with in the evergreens, and in
orchards, in most parts of North America. Its disposition is sim-
ilar to the other members of the family. Describing this species,
Nuttall says: " I have watched the motions of two other living in-
dividuals, who appeared tyrannical and quarrelsome even with
each other; the attack was always accompanied with a whining,
querulous twitter. Their dispute was, apparently, like that of savages
about the rights of their respective hunting grounds. One of the
birds, the female, whom I usually saw alone, was uncommonly se-
dentary. The territory she seemed determined to claim was cir-
cumscribed by the tops of a cluster of tall Virginia junipers or red
cedars, and an adjoining elm, and decayed cherry tree. From
this sovereign station, in the solitude of a barren and sandy piece
of forest, she kept a sharp lookout for passing insects, and pur-
sued them with great vigor and success as soon as they appeared,
sometimes chasing them to the ground, and generally resuming
her perch with an additional mouthful, which she swallowed at
leisure. On descending to her station, she occasionally quivered
her wings and tail, erected her blousy cap, and kept up a whistling,
oft-repeated, whining call of 'pu 'pu, then varied to 'pu 'pip, and
'pip 'pu, also at times, 'pip 'pip 'pu, 'pip 'pip 'pip, 'pu 'pu 'pip, or
'tu, 'to, 'tu, and 'tu 'tu. This shrill, pensive, and quick whistle,
sometimes dropped almost to a whisper, or merely 'pu. The tone
was, in fact, much like that of the 'phu 'phu 'phu of the Fish
Hawk. The male, however, besides this note, at long intervals,
had a call of 'eh 'phebee, or 'h 'phebea, almost exactly in tone of
the circular tin whistle, or bird-call, being loud, shrill, and guttural
at the commencement."
According to Minot, " The nest is much less finished and artis-
tic than that of the Wood Pewee, and is, moreover, nearly always
placed in an evergreen or orchard tree. It is frequently built in
a pine, from fifteen to even fifty feet above the ground, being
placed in the fork of a horizontal limb. One before me is shallow,
and is composed of twigs, fine strips of bark, stalks of field-weeds,
and a little moss. The eggs of each set are usually five, average
about o.85 by o.65 of an inch, and are, in Massachusetts, laid in
the second week in June. They are white, or creamy, spotted with
lilac and reddish brown."
Gray Kingbird, Piping Flycatcher. (Tyrannus dominicensis.)
Fig. 4
The usual habitat of the Gray Kingbird is in the West Indies,
Florida, and to the Carolinas. " Their flight," says Audubon,
"is performed by a constant flutter of their wings, unless when
the bird is in chase, or has been rendered shy, when it exhibits a
power and speed equal to those of any other species of the genus.
During the love season, the male and female are seen rising from
a dry twig together, either perpendicularly, or in a spiral manner,
crossing each other as they ascend, twittering loudly, and conduct-
ing themselves in a manner much resembling that of the Tyrant
Flycatcher. When in pursuit of insects, they dart at them with
great velocity. Should any large bird pass near their stand, they
immediately pursue it, sometimes to a considerable distance. I
have seen them, after teasing a Heron or Fish Crow, follow them
nearly half a mile, and return exulting to the tree on which they
had previously been perched. Yet I frequently observed that the
approach of a White-headed Pigeon or Zenaida Dove, never ruf-
fled their temper. To the Grackles they were particularly hos-
tile, and, on all occasions drove them away from their stand, or
the vicinity of their nests, with unremitting perseverance. The
reason in this case and in that of the Fish Crow was obvious, fo
these birds sucked their eggs or destroyed their young whenever
an opportunity occurred.
" They place their nest somewhat in the manner of the King-bird,
that is, on horizontal branches, or in the large fork of a mangrove,
or bush of any other species, without paying much attention to its
position with respect to the water, but with very singular care to
place it on the western side of the tree, or of the islet. . . .

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