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

[Plate LXXIX. Great white egret, or white heron. (Ardea egretta.) cont.],   pp. 123-124

Page 123

able that, other things being equal, young birds are for a while
wary than their parents, as certainly as in the case of our own
-ies. The White Egret is an illustration in point. We are
iliar with the difficulty that Audubon records of his expe-
ce in attempting to shoot these birds; and those of us who
nave tried can attest the same thing. But such strategy is not
always required, late in the summer and early in the fall, to obtain
birds of the year. At Fort Yuma, where the birds are very com-
mon, I had frequent occasion to wonder at their want of shyness
in the fall, not to say their absolute stupidity. On one occasion
that I remember I came upon a young bird that was quietly feed-
ing at a little pool. Notwithstanding that I was on horseback
ind had come clattering along, the bird, not frightened at the
noise and sudden appearance, merely drew itself up at full height
to look a moment, and then bent its long neck again to resume its
meal, within fifteen steps of me. It was to have been hoped that
it could have lived long enough to learn better. Speaking in gen-
eral terms, and without considering the artificial frame of mind
brought about by man's interference, the shyness of any Heron
corresponds exactly to its size; and it is so with many other birds,
particularly Gulls-the larger the species, the more wary. The
smaller kinds, as the Green Heron and the Least Bittern, show
little concern at being approached. It would almost seem as
if the greater birds were aware how likely to attract harmful
attention their imposing appearance made them, and as if the little
ones trusted to their insignificance for protection. It is only
another interpretation of La Fontaine's crowned rats. The grada-
tion in size among Herons calls up one other point. Such species
as the Great Blue and the Great White are certainly to be con-
sidered of dignified bearing, and their motions have something of
grace and beauty as well. But, though the Green, and the Least,
and others have almost exactly the same form and the same attitudes
and movements, they would never be called dignified or elegant
birds. Analyzing this difference in the way the birds impress us,
I can not see that anything but size is in question. This is the
real secret; the large Blue Heron is dignified by its size alone;
the little Green Heron, that copies every posture and action of the
other, only succeeds in being grotesque, if not actually ridicu-
lous-the more so from the very fact of its imitation. The paral-
lel that may be drawn is a broad and long one.
"The White Egret is rather a delicate bird, preferring warm
weather, and consequently restricted in geographical distribution.
In New England it is only a rare visitor, and is not known to breed.
I may here observe that a certain northward migration of some
southerly birds at this season is nowhere more noticeable than
among the Herons and their allies, the migrants consisting chiefly
of birds hatched that year, which unaccountably stray in what
seems to us the wrong direction. Massachusetts is the northern-
most record of the species in New England. It is rather decidedly a
maritime bird, like its smaller relative (Ardea candidissirna), and
seldom penetrates any distance inland except along our largest
rivers-the Mississippi, Rio Grande, and Colorado. I never saw
it in the interior of the Carolinas, along the coasts of which I
found it very abundant, and throughout the low, flat, marshy or
swampy districts. On the Pacific coast it is not recorded north
of California. I met with it frequently in Southern California
near the coast, and on a few occasions on the Mojave river, not far
from Soda Lake, perhaps rather an exceptional inland locality, as
the desert environing on all sides but one must be a great barrier.
The Arizonian birds are gathered chiefly along the Colorado, par-
ticularly its lower portions."- Coues.
Trudeau's Tern. (Sterna trudeaxi.)
Fig. 2.
This rare and remarkable species was first procured by J.
Trudeau, Esq., of Louisiana. The coloration of its plumage is
distinct and peculiar from that of any other species of Tern.
There is hardly a doubt but what this bird is a distinct species
of the Terns; but there is a doubt whether it is a North American
species. Dr. Coues, one of our best informed ornithologists, says:
", The only question is regarding the propriety of introducing the
species among North American birds. For myself, I doubt that
it was ever actually taken within our limits; but I have no means
of disproving our author's positive assertion to that effect."
Sooty Tern. (Sterna fuliginosa.)
Fig. 3.
This is one of our well-known species, and in the southern
parts of North America it is very numerous. To the navigators it
is one of the indications of the near approach of land. They are
mostly met with along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Audubon
gives quite an extended account of this bird, from which we copy
the following:
" Early the next morning I was put on shore, and remained
there until I had completed my observation on the Terns. Having
seated myself on the shelly sand, which here formed the only soil,
I remained almost motionless for several hours, in consequence
of which the birds alighted about me, at the distance of only a
few yards, so that I could plainly see with what efforts and pains
the younger females deposited their eggs. Their bills were open,
and their pantings indicated their distress; but after the egg had
been expelled, they immediately walked off, in an awkward man-
ner, until they reached a place where they could arise without
striking the branches of the bushes near them, when they flew
away. Here and there, in numerous places within twenty yards
of me, females, having their complement of eggs, alighted and
quietly commenced the labor of incubation. Now and then a male
bird also settled close by, and immediately disgorged a small fish
within the reach of the female. After some curious reciprocal
nods of their heads, which were doubtless intended as marks
of affection, the caterer would fly off. Several individuals, which
had not commenced laying their eggs, I saw scratch the sand with
their feet, in the manner of the common fowl, while searching for
In the course of this operation they frequently seated them-
selves in the shallow basin, to try how it fitted their form, or find
out what was still wanted to insure their comfort. Not the least
semblance of a quarrel did I observe between any two of these
interesting creatures-indeed, they all appeared as if happy mem-
bers of a single family; and, as if to gratify my utmost wishes,
a few of them went through the process of courtship in my
presence. The male birds frequently threw their heads over their
backs as it were, in the manner of several species of Gulls; they
also swelled out their throats, walked round the female, and ended
by uttering a soft puffing sound as they caressed them. Then the
pair for a moment or two walked round each other, and at length
rose on wing and soon disappeared. Such is one of the many
sights it has been my good fortune to witness; and by each of them
have I been deeply impressed with a sense of the pervading power
of the Deity.
"The Sooty Tern always lays three eggs as its full number.
When wounded and seized by the hand, this bird bites
severely, and utters a plaintive cry, differing from its usual note,
which is loud and shrill, resembling the syllables oo-ee, oo-ee.
Their nests are all scooped near the roots or stems of the bushes,
and under the shade of their boughs-in many places within a few
inches of each other. They generally measure two inches and
one-eighth by one and a half, have a smooth shell, with the ground
of a pale cream color, sparingly marked with various tints of
lightish umber, and still lighter marks of purple, which appear
as if within the shell."

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