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and the Scarlet Tanager, ( T. rubra.) The last is not, however, confined to the intertropical regions of the western world, but pays an annual visit to the more northern latitudes, spreading over the United States as far as Canada.
On the first of May this richly coloured bird makes his appearance in Pennsylvania, avoiding the neighbourhood of human habitations, the dense solitude of the woods being his favourite abode. His usual note is a monotonous repetition of the syllables chip-churr, repeated at short intervals. Wilson, however, states that he sometimes indulges in a mellow musical chant. His fare consists of fruit and berries and the larger kinds of insects.
The nest of this species is a loose flimsy structure, composed of broken flax and dry grass, placed on the branch of a tree. The eggs are three in number, of a dull blue, spotted with brown or purple. As the Scarlet Tanager leaves the United States in August, it has only time to rear a single brood in a season.
“ Among all the birds,” says the writer just referred to, “ that inhabit our woods, there is none that strikes the eye of a stranger or even a native with so much brilliancy as this. Seen among the green leaves, with the light falling strongly on his plumage, he really appears beautiful. If he has little of melody in his notes to charm us, he has nothing in them to disgust. His manners are modest, easy, and inoffensive; he commits no depredations on the property of the husbandman, but rather benefits him by the daily destruction in spring of many noxious insects; and when winter approaches he is no plundering dependant, but seeks in a distant country for that sustenance which the severity of the season denies to his industry in this. He is a striking ornament to our
and none of the meanest of our rural songsters. Such being the true traits of his character, we shall always with pleasure welcome this beautiful inoffensive stranger to our orchards, groves, and forests. In length the Scarlet Tanager is six inches and a half; the tail is forked.” The colour of the male in full plumage is a brilliant scarlet over the whole of the body, the wings and tail being
deep black; the bill yellowish horn colour. The female is of a greenish colour above, and yellow below, the wings and tail being brownish black. The young males resemble the female till the succeeding spring, when the scarlet plumage begins to be assumed. The winter dress of the adult males, which is assumed during the moult after breeding, that is, early in August, is greenish yellow dappled with scarlet, in which state he leaves his summer residence, returning in full plumage on the return of spring
We here leave the Tanagers and pass to our next section, the Grosbeaks. This section is characterized by the size, the strength, and often by the abruptness and inflation of the beak. The food consists almost exclusively of seeds, the kernels of fruits and berries. We
notice. the Bulfinch, (Pyrrhula vulgaris, Cuv.;) the Hawfinch, ( Coccothraustes vulgaris, Cuv. ;) the Greenfinch, or Green Linnet, ( Coccothraustes chloris,) as native examples. Foreign ones are very numerous. The Cardinal Grosbeak (Coccothraustes cardinalis) may be selected as an American example.
The Cardinal Grosbeak, often called in England, where it is kept in cages, the Virginia Nightingale, is a songster of no mean powers, the notes being clear and loud. From the dawn of day till noon its voice resounds with little intermission through its native groves during spring and summer, from March to the end of September. In America it is one of the commonest cage-birds, and numbers are annually imported into England and the adjacent continent. Like the mocking bird, this species is most numerous “ to the east of the great range of the Alleghany mountains ;” it is also common in the Bermudas. “ In Pennsylvania and the northern states it is rather a scarce species ; but through the whole lower parts of the southern states, in the neighbourhood of settlements, I found them much more numerous; their clear and lively notes, in the months of January and February, being at that time almost the only music of the season. Along the roadsides and fences I found them hovering in half dozens together, associated with snow birds and various
kinds of sparrows. In the northern states they are migratory, but in the lower parts of Pennsylvania they reside during the whole year, frequenting the borders of creeks and rivulets, in sheltered hollows covered with holly, laurel, and other evergreens. They love also to reside in the vicinity of fields of Indian corn, a grain that constitutes their chief and favourite food. The seeds of apples, cherries, and many other sorts of fruit, are also eaten by them; and they are accused of destroying bees.” The nest is constructed of twigs, weeds, dried grass,
and coarse vegetable fibres, the inside being lined with materials of a fine texture; it is usually placed in a thickly foliaged tree, such as a cedar or laurel: the eggs are duil white thickly marked with brownish olive.
The upper surface of the Cardinal Bird is dull red; the head, neck, and under parts bright vermilion, except that the forehead and chin are black. The bill is like bright coral, thick, and powerful; the head is ornamented with a long pointed crest, capable of being elevated or depressed at pleasure. Length eight inches. The plumage of the female is brownish olive above; the under surface dusky red; the wings and tail red.
With the Grosbeaks may be placed a group of birds, termed Colies, ( Colius,) characterized by the beak being short, thick, conical, somewhat compressed laterally, and arched. The feathers of the tail are very long, and graduated. The hind toe is capable of being directed forwards in a line with the other toes. The plumage consists of fine silky feathers; the colour is generally gray, These are birds peculiar to Africa and India: they climb almost in the same manner as parrots ; live in flocks, build their nests in clusters on the same tree, and sleep suspended by their claws from the branches all huddled close together. Fruits are said to form their principal food.
The Crossbills (Loxia) form the last section. We here find the mandible of the beak compressed, elongated, and bent in contrary directions, so that their points cross each other. This singular form is a wise provision of the Creator for enabling the bird to feed on the seeds of various kinds of fir, which it has to disengage from beneath the scales of the cone. By opening the bill so as to bring the two points together, the bird manages to insert this natural instrument beneath the hard scale of the fir-cone, then closing the mandibles the two points pass each other, raise up the scale, and thus detach the seed, which is adroitly seized. Several species are known,
all natives of the northern regions of both continents. In their manners they display something of the parrots ; like them they climb, though less habitually and easily; and also use the claws in grasping the cones while engaged in taking out the seeds. Dense and gloomy pine forests are their favourite abode. The Common Crossbill, the Parrot Crossbill
, and the White-winged Crossbill, are natives of Europe. America has the latter, and if not the first, either a variety or a closely allied species.
The CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra) is a rare bird in England, but is more frequently to be met with in the fir-woods of Scotland. Its strong-hold, however, is the vast pine forests of the north of Europe, where it rears its progeny, the nest being placed on the middle of a bough among the clusters of spiked leaves.
The American species (Loxia Americana) is, as Wilson states, a “regular inhabitant of almost all our pine forests situated north of 40°, from the beginning of September to the middle of April.” The great pine swamp in Northampton county, Pennsylvania, is at that time their favourite rendezvous ; but they pass northwards before May, none remaining in the deepest recesses of that gloomy wilderness. While sojourning in their winter quarters they
appear in large flocks, feeding on the seeds of the hemlock and white pine ; have a loud, sharp, and not unmusical note; chatter as they fly; alight during the prevalence of deep snows before the door of the hunter, and around the house, picking off the clay with which the logs are plastered.” “ At such times they are so tame as only to settle on the roof of the cabin when disturbed, and a moment after descend to feed as before.” ...." The Crossbills are subject to considerable changes of colour ; the young males of the present species being during the first season olive yellow mixed with ash; then bright greenish yellow intermixed with spots of dusky olive; all which yellow plumage becomes in the second year of a light red, having the edges of the tail inclining to yellow.” This roseate tint is not, however, permanent; it appears to be exchanged before the time of breeding for a dull olive green above, and dull yellow below, which may
be considered as the fully adult state of plumage.
Here may be closed this sketch of the Fringillidæ, a numerous and interesting family, in which much yet remains for the naturalist to accomplish. We must, however, hasten to the next; it is one which has a wide range, its members being natives respectively of most parts of the old and new world. None, however, have been hitherto discovered in Australia.