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gree of cold, than several others of our Woodpeckers. They are active and vigorous; and being almost continually in search of insects, that injure our forest trees, do not seem to deserve the injurious epithets that almost all writers have given them. It is true, they frequently perforate the timber in pursuit of these vermin, but this is almost always in dead and decaying parts of the tree, which are the nests and nurseries of millions of destructive insects. Considering matters in this light I do not think their services overpaid by all the ears of Indian corn they consume; and would protect them within my own premises as being more useful than injurious.
GENUS XXV. SITTA. NUTHATCH.
[Plate II. Fig. 3.]
Silla Carolinensis, Briss. 111, p. 596.—CATESB. I, 22, fig. 2.
LATH. 1, 650, B.-Sitta Europea, Gray black-capped Nuthatch, BAKTRAM, p. 289.-PEALE's Museum, No. 2036.
The bill of this bird is black, the upper mandible straight, the lower one rounded upwards, towards the point, and white near the base; the nostrils are covered with long curving black hairs; the tongue is of a horny substance, and ending in several sharp points; the general colour above is of a light blue or lead; the tail consists of twelve feathers, the two middle ones lead colour, the next three are black, tipt with white for one-tenth, one-fourth, and half of an inch; the two next are also black, tipt half an inch or more with white, which runs nearly an inch up their exterior edges, and both have the white at the tips touched with black; the legs are of a purple or dirty flesh colour; the hind claw is much the largest; the inside of the wing at the bend is black; below this is a white spot spreading over the 100ts of the first five primaries; the whole length is five inches and a half, extent eleven.
Mr. Pennant considers this bird as a mere variety of the European Nuthatch; but if difference in size, colour and habits, be sufficient characteristics of a distinct species, this bird is certainly entitled to be considered as such. The head and back of the European species is of a uniform bluish gray; the upper parts of the head, neck, and shoulders of ours are a deep black, glossed with green; the breast and belly of the former is a dull orange, with streaks of chestnut, those parts in the latter are pure white. The European has a line of black passing through the eye, half way down the neck; the present species has nothing of the kind; but appears
with the inner webs of the three shortest secondaries, and the primaries, of a jet black; the latter tipt with white, and the vent and lower parts of the thighs of a rust colour; the European therefore, and the present, are evidently two distinct and different species.
This bird builds its nest early in April, in the hole of a tree; in a hollow rail in the fence; and sometimes in the wooden cornice under the eaves; and lays five eggs, of a dull white, spotted with brown at the greater end. The male is extremely attentive to the female while sitting, supplying her regularly with sustenance, stopping frequently at the mouth of the hole, calling and offering her what he has brought, in the most endearing manner. Sometimes he seems to stop merely to inquire how she is, and to lighten the tedious moments with his soothing chatter. He seldom rambles far from the spot, and when danger appears, regardless of his own safety, he flies instantly to alarm her. When both are feeding on the trunk of the same tree, or of adjoining ones, he is perpetually calling on her; and, from the momentary pause he makes, it is plain that he feels pleased to hear her reply.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is common almost every where in the woods of North America; and may be known at a distance by the notes quank, quank, frequently repeated, as he moves upward and down, in spiral circles, around the body, and larger branches, of the tree, probing behind the thin scaly bark of the white oak, and shelling off considerable pieces of it, in search after spiders, ants, insects and their larvæ. He rests and roosts with his head downwards; and appears to possess a degree of curiosity not common to many birds; frequently descending, very silently, within a few feet of the root of the tree where you happen to stand, stopping, head downward, stretching out his neck in a horizontal position, as if to reconnoitre your appearance; and after several minutes of silent observation, wheel
ing round, he again mounts, with fresh activity, piping his unisons as before. Strongly attached to his native forests, he seldom forsakes them; and amidst the rigours of the severest winter weather, his note is still heard in the bleak and leafless woods, and among the howling branches. Sometimes the rain, freezing as it falls, encloses every twig, and even the trunk of the tree, in a hard transparent coat or shell of ice. On these occasions, I have observed his anxiety and dissatisfaction, at being with difficulty able to make his way along the smooth surface; at these times generally abandoning the trees, gleaning about the stables around the house, mixing among the fowls, entering the barn, and examining the beams and rafters, and every place where he may pick up a subsistence.
The name Nuthatch has been bestowed on this family of birds from their supposed practice of breaking nuts by repeated hatchings, or hammerings with their bills. Soft-shelled nuts, such as chestnuts, chinkopins, and hazel-nuts, they may probably be able to demolish, though I have never yet seen them so engaged; but it must be rather in search of maggots that sometimes breed there, than for the kernel. It is however said that they lay up a large store of nuts for winter; but as I have never either found any of their magazines, or seen them collecting them, I am inclined to doubt the fact. From the great numbers I have opened at all seasons of the year, I have every reason to believe that ants, small seeds, insects and their larvæ, form their chief subsistence, such matters alone being uniformly found in their stomachs. Neither can I see what necessity they could have to circumambulate the trunks of trees, with such indefatigable and restless diligence, while bushels of nuts lay scattered round their roots. As to the circumstance mentioned by Dr. Plott, of the European Nuthatch “ putting its bill into a crack in the bough of a tree, and making such a violent sound, as if it was rending asunder,” this, if true, would be sufficient to distinguish it from the species we have been just describing, which possesses no such faculty. The female differs little from the male in colour, chiefly in the black being less deep on the head and wings.
[Plate II. Fig. 4.]
Sitta Canadensis, Briss. III, p. 592.-Small Nuthatch, LATH. I,
651.-Sitta Varia, Bart. p. 289.
This bird is much smaller than the last, measuring only four inches and a half in length, and eight inches in extent. In the form of its bill, tongue, nostrils, and in the colour of the back and tail-feathers, it exactly agrees with the former; the secondaries are not relieved with the deep black of the other species, and the legs, feet, and claws, are of a dusky greenish yellow; the upper part of the head is black, bounded by a stripe of white passing round the frontlet; a line of black passes through the eye to the shoulder; below this is another line of white; the chin is white; the other under parts a light rust colour; the primaries and whole wings a dusky lead colour. The breast and belly of the female is not of so deep a brown, and the top of the head less intensely black.
This species is migratory, passing from the north, where they breed, to the southern states in October, and returning in April. Its voice is sharper, and its motions much quicker than those of the other, being so rapid, restless and small, as to make it a difficult point to shoot one of them. When the two species are in the woods together, they are easily distinguished by their voices, the note of the least being nearly an octave sharper than that of its companion, and repeated more hurriedly. In other respects their notes are alike unmusical and monotonous. Approaching so near to each other in their colours and general habits, it is probable that their mode of building, &c. may be also similar.