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

[Plate XCVIII. Swallow-tailed kite. (Naucterus furcatus.) cont.],   pp. 145-146

Page 145

display the dash of the athletic bird, which, if lacking the brute
strength and brutal ferocity of some, becomes their peer in prow-
ess-like the trained gymnast, whose tight-strung thews, supple
joints, and swelling muscles, -under marvelous control, enable him
to execute feats, that to the more massive or not so well condi-
tioned frame would be impossible. One can not watch the flight
of the Kite without comparing it with the thoroughbred racer.
"' The Swallow-tailed Kite is a marked feature of the scene in
the Southern States, alike where the sunbeams are redolent of the
orange and magnolia, and where the air reeks with the pestilent
miasm of moss-shrouded swamps that sleep in perpetual gloom.
But, imbued with a spirit of adventure, possessed of unequaled
powers of flight, it often wanders far from its southern home; it
has more than once crossed the ocean, and become a trophy of no
ordinary interest to the ardent collector in Europe. On the Atlan-
tic coast its natural limit appears to be the lower portions of Vir-
ginia, similar in physical and zoological characters to the Caroli-
nas. but it has more than once occurred in the Middle States.
'- I have before me an egg of this species, from the Smithsonian
cakction taken in Iowa. It measures i.90 by 1.50; one end is
smaller than the other, though the greatest diameter is nearly equi-
distant from either. The ground-color is white, but tinged, as if
soiled or otherwise mechanically discolored, with a faint brownish
shade; it is marked with large, irregular blotches of rusty and
chestnut-brown, most numerous around the smaller end. Besides
these there are some specks and small spots of blackish-brown.
" As if in compensation for its powers of flight, this bird's legs
are so short as to be scarcely serviceable for locomotion, and it
rarely, if ever, alights on the ground. Its food is principally rep-
tiles and insects. It is found in winter in Central and South Amer-
ica, and is said, whether or not with entire truth I do not know,
to withdraw altogether from the United States in September, to re-
turn in April. It appears to breed indifferently throughout its nor-
mal United States range."
Marsh Hawk. Marsh Harrier. American Harrier.
var. hudsonius.)
(Circus cyaneus,
Fig. 2.
The geographical distribution of this species is co-extensive with
our continent south to Costa Rica. With the exception of the
southeastern portion of the United States, it is everywhere abun-
dant. According to Audubon its notes resembles the syllables,
The Marsh Harrier, says Coues, belongs among the " ignoble"
birds of the falconers, but is neither a weakling nor a coward, as
one may easily satisfy himself by handling a winged bird. Still,
under ordinary circumstances, its spirit is hardly commensurate
with its physique, and its quarry is humble. It lacks the splendid
ancion that insures success, in the pursuit of feathered game, to the
dashing Falcons and true Hawks; with all its stroke of wing, it
acquires no such resistless impetus. Audubon, indeed, says that
at times, when impelled by hunger, it will attack Partridges,
Plovers, and even Teal; but he adds, that he once saw a Marsh
Hen come off victorious in a battle with the Harrier. It ordinarily
stoops to field-mice, small reptiles, and insects. It is particularly
fond ot frogs; these goggle-eyed and perspiring creatures suffer
more from the Harriers than from all the school-boys that ever
stoned them of a Saturday afternoon. The birds thus particularly
resemble the Rough-legged Buzzards in the nature of their prey,
and we can see a reason why they are so tenacious of their watery
preserves. They hover at no great height, keenly surveying the
ground below, and drop directly on their quarry when it is descried.
They rarely pursue their prey or transport it to any distance when
secured, preferring to make a meal on the spot. Hence it fre-
quently happens that, when walking in seedy covert, the gunner
puts up a Marsh Hawk, disturbed at its repast in the thick vegeta-
tion, that served alike to screen the bird and cover his own ad-
vance. At such a time, as the bird flaps up and makes off at its
best pace, it may be brought down with the greatest ease. With
wings of ample dimensions-even to be called long in proportion
to its weight-the bird, nevertheless, does not fly very fast; it pro-
ceeds ordinarily with regular, easy strokes, three or four times in
succession, and then sails until the impulse is exhausted. It often
courses very low over the ground, and rather swiftly, turning,
passing, and repassing, "quartering" the ground, like a well
broken dog. This is the habit that has given it the name of" Har-
rier," and, in some sections, the less elegant designation of I"
trotter." The old male is also sometimes called "1 Blue Hawk."
Western Red-tail. Red-tailed Black Hawk. Blaok Red-tail. Hen Hawk.
Red-tailed Buzzard. (Buteo borealis, var. calurus.)
Fig. 3.
This is a western variety of a species so generally found in all
parts of North America. Its habits are the same as the bird rep-
resented on Plate XXX., and described on page 37.
Swainson's Hawk. Swainson's Buzzard. (Buteo swainsonii.)
Fig. +.
We copy, from Dr. Coues' interesting account of this species, the
"1 This large Hawk is very abundant in Northern Dakota, where
it came under my almost daily observation during the summer of
1873. Excepting an occasional Rough-leg or Red-tail, it was the
only buteonine species observed, and the only Hawks more com-
mon were the ubiquitous Marsh Harriers and Sparrow Hawks.
The species is thoroughly distinct from its nearest ally, B. borealis;
it never gains the red tail, so characteristic of the latter, and dif-
fers in many other points of coloration in its several stages of plum-
age, as noted beyond. Although its linear dimensions intergrade
with those of the Red-tail, it is not so heavy nor so large a bird,
and its shape differs in some points. A very tangible and con-
venient distinction, to which my attention was first called by Mr.
Ridgway, and which I have verified in numerous instances, is
found in the emargination of the primaries. As stated in my late
work (Key N. A. Birds, p. 217), Swainson's Buzzard has only
three emarginate primaries, while the Red-tail has four; the
fourth quill of the former, like the fifth of the latter, is variously
sinuate-tapering, but never shows the decided nick or emargina-
tion of the inner web.
" Swainson's Buzzard may be seen anywhere in the region men-
tioned, even far out on the prairie, miles away from timber, cir-a
cling overhead, or perched on the bare ground. In alighting, it
generally takes advantage of some little knoll commanding a view
around, though it often has no more prominent place than the heap
of dirt from a badger's hole, from which to cast about for some im-
prudent gopher, espied too far from home, or still more ignoble
game. But the bird prefers timber, and, especially as its nesting
is confined to trees, it is most frequently observed in the vicinity of
the few wooded streams that diversify the boundless prairie. In
Northern Dakota such streams cut their tortuous way pretty deeply
into the ground; and the sharp edges of the banks, rising steep
on one side, and on the other stretching away on a continuous level,
are favorite resting-spots, where sometimes a line of several birds
may be observed strung along a distance of a few yards. The
Souris or Mouse river, a stream of this description, is a favor-
ite resort, where I found the birds more numerous than elsewhere.
Much of the river-bottom is well wooded with elm, oak, and other
large trees; and the number of nests found in this timber-some-

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