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Fox-coloured Thrush, CATESBY, 1, 28.-Turdus rufus, Linn. Syst.
293.-LATH. III, 39.- La Grive de la Caroline, Briss. II, 228.Le Moqueur François, De BUFF. III, 323. Pl. Enl. 645.- Arct. Zool. p. 335, No. 195.- Peale's Museum, No. 5285.
This is the Brown Thrush, or Thrasher of the middle and eastern states; and the French Mocking-bird of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. It is the largest of all our Thrushes, and is a well known and very distinguished songster. About the middle or twentieth of April, or generally about the time the cherry trees begin to blossom, he arrives in Pennsylvania; and from the tops of our hedge rows, sassafras, apple or cherry trees, he salutes the opening morning with his charming song, which is loud, emphatical, and full of variety. At that serene hour you may plainly distinguish his voice full half a mile off. These notes are not imitative, as his name would import, and as some people believe, but seem solely his own; and have considerable resemblance to the notes of the Song Thrush (Turdus musicus) of Britain. Early in May he builds his nest, choosing a thorn bush, low cedar, thicket of briars, dogwood sapling, or cluster of vines for its situation, generally within a few feet of the ground. Outwardly it is constructed of small sticks; then layers of dry leaves; and lastly lined with fine fibrous roots; but without any plaster. The eggs are five, thickly sprinkled with ferruginous grains on a very pale bluish ground. They generally have two brood a season. Like all birds that build near the ground, he shows great anxiety for the safety of his nest and
young, and often attacks the black-snake in their defence, generally too with success; his strength being greater and his bill stronger and more powerful than any other of his tribe within the United States. His food consists of worms, which he scratches from the ground, caterpillars, and many kinds of berries. Beetles and the whole race of coleopterous insects, wherever he can meet with them, are sure to suffer. He is accused, by some people, of scratching up the hills of indian corn, in planting time; this may be partly true; but for every grain of maize he pilfers I am persuaded he destroys five hundred insects; particularly a large dirty-coloured grub, with a black head, which is more pernicious to the corn and other grain and vegetables, than ninetenths of the whole feathered race. He is an active, vigorous bird, flies generally low, from one thicket to another, with his long broad tail spread like a fan; is often seen about briar and bramble bushes, along fences; and has a single note or chuck, when you approach his nest. In Pennsylvania they are numerous, but never fly in flocks. About the middle of September, or as soon as they have well recovered from moulting, in which they suffer severely, they disappear for the season. In passing through the southern parts of Virginia, and south as far as Georgia, in the depth of winter, I found them lingering in sheltered situations, particularly on the border of swamps and rivers. On the first of March they were in full song round the commons at Savannah, as if straining to outstrip the Mocking-bird, that prince of feathered musicians.
The Thrasher is a welcome visitant in spring to every lover of rural scenery and rural song. In the months of April and May, when our woods, hedge-rows, orchard and cherry trees are one profusion of blossoms, when every object around conveys the sweet sensations of joy, and heaven's abundance is as it were showering around us, the grateful heart beats in unison with the varying elevated strains of this excellent bird; we listen to its notes with a kind of devotional ecstasy, as a morning hymn to the great and most adorable Creator of all. The human being who, amidst such scenes, and in such seasons of rural serenity
and delight, can pass them with cold indifference, and even contempt, I sincerely pity; for abject must that heart be and callous those feelings, and depraved that taste, which neither the charms of nature, nor the melody of innocence, nor the voice of gratitude or devotion can reach.
This bird inhabits North America from Canada to the point of Florida. They are easily reared, and become very familiar when kept in cages; and though this is rarely done, yet I have known a few instances where they sung in confinement with as much energy as in their native woods. They ought frequently to have earth and gravel thrown in to them, and have plenty of water to bathe in.
The Ferruginous Thrush is eleven inches and a half long, and thirteen in extent; the whole upper parts are of a bright reddish brown; wings crossed with two bars of white, relieved with black; tips and inner vanes of the wings dusky; tail very long, rounded at the end, broad, and of the same reddish brown as the back; whole lower parts yellowish white; the breast, and sides under the wings, beautifully marked with long pointed spots of black, running in chains; chin white; bill very long and stout, not notched, the upper mandible overhanging the lower a little, and beset with strong bristles at the base, black above, and whitish below near the base; legs remarkably strong and of a dusky clay color; iris of the eye brilliant yellow. The female may be distinguished from the male by the white on the wing being much narrower, and the spots on the breast less. In other respects their plumage is nearly alike.
Concerning the sagacity and reasoning faculty of this bird my venerable friend Mr. Bartram writes me as follows: “I remem66 ber to have reared one of these birds from the nest; which “when full grown became very tame and docile. I frequently let 6 him out of his cage to give him a taste of liberty; after fluttering “ and dusting himself in dry sand and earth, and bathing, wash“ ing and dressing himself, he would proceed to hunt insects, "such as beetles, crickets, and other shelly tribes; but being very “ fond of wasps, after catching them and knocking them about to " break their wings, he would lay them down, then examine if " they had a sting, and with his bill squeeze the abdomen to « clear it of the reservoir of poison, before he would swallow “ his prey. When in his cage, being very fond of dry crusts of “ bread, if upon trial the corners of the crumbs were too hard “ and sharp for his throat, he would throw them up, carry and “ put them in his water-dish to soften; then take them out and “ swallow them. Many other remarkable circumstances might “ be mentioned that would fully demonstrate faculties of mind; “not only innate, but acquired ideas (derived from necessity in “ a state of domestication) which we call understanding and “ knowledge. We see that this bird could associate those ideas, “arrange and apply them in a rational manner, according to “ circumstances. For instance, if he knew that it was the hard « sharp corners of the crumb of bread that hurt his gullet, and “ prevented him from swallowing it, and that water would soft“ en and render it easy to be swallowed, this knowledge must “ be acquired by observation and experience; or some other “ bird taught him. Here the bird perceived by the effect the “cause, and then took the quickest, the most effectual, and “agreeable method to remove that cause. What could the wisest
man have done better? Call it reason, or instinct, it is the same " that a sensible man would have done in this case.
“ After the same manner this bird reasoned with respect to " the wasps. He found, by experience and observation, that the “first he attempted to swallow hurt his throat, and gave him “extreme pain; and upon examination observed that the extre“ mity of the abdomen was armed with a poisonous sting; and “after this discovery, never attempted to swallow a wasp until “he first pinched his abdomen to the extremity, forcing out “the sting with the receptacle of poison.”
It is certainly a circumstance highly honourable to the character of birds, and corroborative of the foregoing sentiments, that those who have paid the most minute attention to their manners are uniformly their advocates and admirers. “ He must,” said a gentleman to me the other day, when speaking of another person, “He must be a good man; for those who have long known " him and are most intimate with him respect him greatly and " always speak well of him.”