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

Plate XLIV. The wood ibis. (Tantalus loculator.),   pp. 59-60

Page 59

VAROAt_-W6Ob iBstß.
its motions when at the distance of a quarter of a mile, and pur-
suing its avocations without apprehension of danger.  In this
manner I have seen it probe the sand to the full length of its bill;
knock off limpets from the rocks on the coast of Labrador, using
its weapon sideways, and insinuating it between the rock and the
shell like a chisel; seize the bodies of gaping oysters on what are
called, in the Southern States and the Floridas, 'raccoon oyster-
beds,' and at other times take up a ' razor-handle,' or Solon,
and lash it against the sands until the shell was broken, and the
contents swallowed. Now and then they seem to suck the sea-
urchins, driving in the mouth and introducing their bill by the
aperture, without breaking the shell; again they are seen wading
up to their bodies, from one place to another, seizing on shrimps
and other crustacea, and even swimming for a few yards, should
this be necessary to enable them to remove from one bank to
another without flying."
The length of this species is about seventeen inches and its
breadth about thirty-five inches.
The Frigate, or Man-of-war Bird. (Tachypetes aquie'us.)
This bird is commonly known as the " Eagle of the Sea." A
very conspicuous feature, by which it may be distinguished from
among all kindred species, is the great development of its wings.
According to Dr. Brehm: " The Frigate Bird is to be found in the
same latitude as the ' Sons of the Sun,' braving with them the
fervor of inter-tropical heat, but it seldom wanders so far from land
as they. It has indeed been reported to have been seen at a dis-
tance of from six to seven hundred miles from the shore, to which
it usually resorts in stormy weather.  At the earliest dawn of
morning it leaves its sleeping-place, and may soon afterward
be observed making broad circles in the air, or flying rapidly
against the wind toward the sea, in search of food. After catching
fishes until satisfied, it returns to the dry land, which it reaches,
should the weather be stormy, about noon, but if fine, not until
later in the day."
This species, according to Bennett, being incapable of swimming
and diving, may generally be seen on the alert for flying-fish, when
these are started into the air by albicores and bonitos, and when
unsuccessful, it is compelled to resort to a system of plundering
other sea-birds. The quiet and industrious tribes, the Gannets and
Sea-swallows, are generally selected as objects of attack, and on
returning to their haunts to feed their young brood, after having
been out fishing all day, are stopped in mid-air by the marauding
Frigate Bird, and compelled to deliver up some of their prey,
which, being disgorged by them, is most dexterously caught by
the plunderer before it reaches the water. A Frigate Bird has
been observed to soar over the mast-head of a ship, and tear away
the pieces of colored cloth appended to the vane.
"About the middle of May," says Audubon, "I a period which
to me appeared very late for birds found in so warm a climate as
the Florida Keys, the Frigate Pelicans assemble in flocks of from
fifty to five hundred pairs or more. They are seen flying at a
great height over the islands in which they have bred many pre-
vious seasons, courting for hours together, after which they return
toward the mangroves, alight on them, and at once begin to repair
the old nests or construct new ones. They pillage each other's
nests of their materials, and make excursions for more to the
nearest Keys. They break the dry twigs of a tree with ease,
passing swiftly on wing, and snapping them off by a single grasp
of their powerful bill. It is indeed a beautiful sight to see them
when thus occupied, especially when several are so engaged,
passing and repassing with the swiftness of thought over trees
whose tops are blasted; their purpose appears accomplished as if
by magic. It sometimes happens that this bird accidentally drops
a stick while traveling toward its nest, when, if this should hap-
pen over the water, it plunges after it, and seizes it with its bill
before it has reached the waves. The nests are usually placed on
the south side of the Keys, and on such trees as hang over the
water-some low, others high; several in a single tree, or only
one, according to the size of the mangrove, but in some cases
lining the whole island. They are composed of sticks crossing
each other, to the height of about two inches, and are flattish, but
not very large. When the birds are incubating, their long wings
and tails are seen extending beyond the nest for more than a foot.
The eggs are two or three-more frequently the latter-in number;
measure two inches and seven-eighths in length, two in breadth,
being thus of a rather elongated form, and have a thick, smooth
shell of a greenish-white color, frequently soiled with the filth of
the nest. The young are covered with yellowish-white down, and
look at first as if they had no feet. They are fed by regurgitation,
but grow tardily, and do not leave the nest until they are able to
follow their parents on the wing."
"1 The Frigate Pelican," continues the same authority, "is
sessed of a power of flight which I imagine superior, perhaps, to
that of any other bird. However swiftly the Cayenne Tern, the
smaller Gulls, or the Jager move on wing, it seems a matter of
mere sport to it to overtake any of them.  The Goshawk, the
Peregrine, and the Gyr Falcon, which I conceive to be the swiftest
of our Hawks, are obliged to pursue their victim, should it be a
Green-winged Teal, or Passenger Pigeon, at times for half a mile
at the highest pitch of their speed before they can secure it. The
bird of which I speak comes from on high with the velocity of a
meteor, and on nearing the object of its pursuit, which its keen
eye has spied out while fishing at a distance, darts on either side
to cut off all retreat, and with open bill forces it to drop or disgorge
the fish which it has just caught. Upon one occasion I observed
a Frigate Bird that had forced a Cayenne Tern, yet in sight, to
drop a fish, which the broad-winged warrior had seized as it fell.
This fish was rather large for the Tern, and might probably be
about eight inches in length. The Frigate Bird mounted, with it
across his bill, about a hundred yards, and then, tossing it up,
caught it as it fell, but not in the proper manner; he therefore
dropped it, but before it had fallen many yards, caught it again.
Still it was not in a good position-the weight of the head, it
seemed, having prevented the bird from seizing it by that part. A
second time the fish was thrown upward, and now, at last, was
received in a convenient manner-that is, with its head downward
-and swallowed. These birds are gregarious, and utter a rough
croaking cry."
The length of the Frigate Bird is forty-one inches, the spread of
the wings eighty-six inches, length of tail eighteen inches. The
weight of the entire bird is about three pounds.
The Wood Ibis. (Tantalus loculator.)
"The Wood Ibis," says Dr. Coues, " is a remarkable and in-
teresting bird. In its general size, shape, and color, it might be
likened to a Crane, being about four feet long, and standing still
higher when erect; white in color, with black-tipped wings and
black tail. The head is peculiar, being entirely bald in the adult
bird, and having an enormously thick, heavy bill, tapering and a
little decurved at the end. In Florida, it is sometimes called the
'Gannet;' on the Colorado, it is known as the Water Turkey."
"s To go out after birds at noon-day is impossible; will not some
birds kindly come to us? Fulfillment we have, even in the ex-

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