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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

[Plate LXXII. American barn swallow, barn swallow. (Hirundo horreorum.) cont.],   pp. 105-110


Page 106


CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW, CAROLINA GOATSUCKER.
pany of these birds coming to the rescue of the distressed pair, and
in a few hours repairing the mischief. In ' Science Gossip,' for
1873, Rev. P. Skelton furnishes the following amusing anecdote.
He writes:
"i I I have entertained a great affection and some degree of esteem
for Swallows ever since I saw a remarkable instance of their sense
and humor played upon a cat which had, upon a fine day, seated
herself on the top of a gate-post, as if in contemplation, when ten
or a dozen Swallows, knowing her to be an enemy, took it into
their heads to tantalize her in a manner which showved a high de-
gree not only of good sense, but of humor. One of these birds,
coming from behind her, flew close by her ear, and she made a
slap at it with her paw, but it was too late. Another Swallow in
five or six seconds did the same, and she made the same unsuccess-
ful attempt to catch it. This was followed by a third, and so on to
the number just mentioned; and every one as it passed seemed to
set up a laugh at the disappointed enemy, very like the laugh of a
young child when tickled. The whole number following one an-
other at the distance of about three yards, formed a regular circle
in the air, and played it off like a wheel at her ear for nearly an
hour, not seemingly at all alarmed at her, who stood within six or
seven yards of the post. I enjoyed this sport, as well as the pretty
birds, till the cat, tired out with disappointment, quitted the gate-
post as much huffed as I had been diverted.'
"' In the same periodical, Mr. Lamerque, of Dover, contributes
a similar anecdote. He was attracted by the screaming of a pair
of Swallows, who were rearing a brood under an archway. They
were making rapid swoops at a cat, which, for a time, struck at
them with her paw, until, becoming frightened, she crouched down
and bobbed her head in the most ludicrous manner at each attack.
The observer then took the cat up and placed her immediately un-
der the nest, at which the birds only became the more daring, and
were reinforced by another pair, who attacked the cat with so much
fury, that she finally crouched in abject terror between Mr. La-
merque's feet.
"' Gilbert White says that ' the Swallow, probably the male bird,
is the excebitor to house-martins and other little birds, announcing
the approach of birds of prey; for, as soon as a hawk appears,
with a shrill alarming note he calls all the Swallows and Martins
about him, who pursue in a body, and buffet and strike their en-
emy, till they have driven him from the village, darting down from
above on his back, and rising in a perpendicular line in perfect se-
curity. This bird will sound the alarm and strike at cats when they
climb the roofs of houses, or otherwise approach the nest.' Boer-
have records an instance of a Swallow returning to her nest, and
finding the building under whose eaves it was built on fire, flying
to the rescue of her young at the expense of her own life.
" Madame Guyon found in the Swallow, as in all things, spirit-
ual consolation:
'I am fond of the Swallow; I learn from her flight,
Had I skill to improve it, a lesson of love;
How seldom on earth do we see her alight-
She dwells in the skies, she is ever above.'
"So Cowley, and Dryden, and Hunti's and Thomson, and
endless weavers of rhyme have traced the flight of the Swallow
through all the web and woof of their cloth of gold.
"1 In Longfellow's Birds of Passage may be found the pretty
legend of the Emperor Charles of Spain and the Swallow who
built her mud palace upon the roof of his tent. After the be-
leaguered town had surrendered to the great commander, and the
victorious army moved to other quarters, his tent still remained un-
molested:
So it stood there all alone,
Loosely flapping, torn and tattered,
Till the brood was fledged and flown,
Singing o'er those walls of stone
Which the cannon-shot had shattered.'
"The Swallow, in myth and song, has a flight so long, so bright,
so joyous, that not even a folio can compass it. Ruskin, in Love's
Meinie, in her praise, becomes inspired with all the eloquence of
his earlier and better days. I have gathered but a handful of the
praises of which in all literatures she is made the recipient. Out
Df the dim past she sails down upon us an object of beauty and of
love. Among the ancient Hebrews she was' deror,' the bird of free-
dom. In every age she has personified loyalty, truth, and beauty.
At her coming the universal heart of man has expanded. Super-
stition everywhere has thrown around her its protecting arm.
Wherever the human race have erected habitations the Swallow
has deserted its old nesting-place to find a home beneath the same
roof. The lessons she has taught-the examples she has set-.
have been those of fidelity, of trust, of affection. For thousands
of years her mission has been one of pure mercy to man. She is
the type of all that is beautiful in nature-of the first breath of
spring-of the mature glories of summer. Into her life no winter
enters. Companion of the flowers, with them she is alike welcome.
Confiding and graceful, she fully returns the love which mankind
has lavished upon her, and with a fidelity more than human, since
it admits of no alienation, returns year by year to bless the roof
which first sheltered her."
Chuck-Will's-Widow, Carolina Goatsucker.  (Antrostomus caroeU
nensis.)
Fig. 2.
This noisy little night bird is chiefly confined to the Atlantic
and Gulf States. It derives its name from the similarity of its
notes to the articulated sound of the word ' chuck-will's-widow.'
This singular combination may be heard soon after the setting of
the sun, and, again, before dawn, in the morning. At each time
it is continued, at short intervals, in the same strain, for several
hours. Its pursuit of food is carried on entirely by night.
Nuttall says: " In the day, like some wandering spirit, it retires
to secresy and silence, as if the whole had only been a disturbed
dream.   In the evening, their singular call, of 'chuck-will's-
widow,' may be heard for half a mile, its tones being slower,
louder, and more full than those of the Whip-poor-will. This spe-
cies is particularly numerous in the vast forests of the Mississippi,
where, throughout the evening, its echoing notes are heard in the
solitary glens, and from the surrounding and silent hills, becoming
almost incessant during the shining of the moon; and at the bod-
ing sound of its elfin voice, when familiar and strongly reiterated,
the thoughtful, superstitious savage becomes sad and pensive. Its
flight is low, and it skims only a few feet above the surface of the
ground, frequently settling on logs and fences; from whence it
often sweeps around in pursuit of flying moths and insects, which
constitute its food.  Sometimes they are seen sailing near the
ground, and occasionally descend to pick up a beetle, or fluttet
lightly round the trunk of a tree in quest of some insect crawling
upon the bark. In rainy and gloomy weather, they remain silent
in the hollow log which affords them and the bats a common roost
and refuge by day. When discovered in this critical situation, and
without the means of escape, they ruffle up their feathers, spread
open their enormous mouths, and utter a murmur almost like the
hissing of a snake, thus endeavoring, apparently, to intimidate
their enemy, when cut off from the means of escape. This spe-
cies, like most others, also lays its eggs, two in number, merely on
the ground, and usually in the woods: they are yellowish-white,
sprinkled with dark bluish-purple and brown specks, oval, and
rather large; if they be handled, or even the young, the parents,
suspicious of danger, remove them to some other place. As early
as the middle of August, according to Audubon, they retire from
the United States, though some winter in the central parts of East
Florida."
Wilson says: "1 This singular genus of birds, formed to subsist
on the superabundance of nocturnal insects, are exactly and sur-
prisingly fitted for their peculiar mode of life. Their flight is low,
to accommodate itself to their prey; silent, that they may be the
better concealed, and sweep upon it unawares; their sight, most
acute in the dusk, when such insects are abroad; their evolutions,
something like those of the Bat, quick and sudden; their mouths,
capable of prodigious expansion, to seize with more certainty, and
furnished with long, branching hairs, or bristles, serving as pai-
sadoes to secure what comes between them. Reposing so much
during the heats of day, they are much infested with vermin, par-
ticularly about the head, and are provided with a comb on the in-
ner edge of the middle claw, with which they are often employed
in ridding themselves of- these pests, at least when in a state of
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