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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Blue-grey Fly-catcher

84 Blue-Grey Fly-catcher.jpg


Musicapa Cœrulea, Wils.

PLATE LXXXIV. Male and Female.

This diminutive lively bird is rendered peculiarly conspicuous by its being frequently the nurse or foster-parent of the young Cow Bunting, the real mother of which drops her egg in its nest. A few individuals of this species remain in Louisiana during spring and summer, and breed there; but the greater number proceed far eastward, and spread over the United States, although they are not common in any part.

The Blue-grey Fly-catcher arrives in the neighbourhood of New Orleans about the middle of March, when it is observed along the water-courses, flitting about and searching diligently, amidst the branches of the Golden Willow, for the smaller kinds of winged insects, devouring amongst others great numbers of moschettoes. Its flight resembles that of the Long-tailed Titmouse of Europe. It moves to short distances, vibrating its tail while on wing, and, on alighting, is frequently seen hanging to the buds and bunches of leaves, at the extremities of the branches of trees. It seldom visits the interior of the forests, in any portion of our country, but prefers the skirts of woods along damp or swampy places, and the borders of creeks, pools, or rivers. It seizes insects on wing with great agility, snapping its bill like a true Fly-catcher, now and then making little sallies after a group of those diminutive flies that seem as if dancing in the air, and cross each other in their lines of flight, in a thousand various ways.

When it has alighted, its tail is constantly erected, its wings droop, and it utters at intervals its low and uninteresting notes, which resemble the sounds Tsee, Tsee. It seldom if ever alights on the ground, and when thirsty prefers procuring water from the extremities of branches, or sips the rain or dewdrops from the ends of the leaves.

Its nest is composed of the frailest materials, and is light and small in proportion to the size of the bird. It is formed of portions of dried leaves, the husks of buds, the silky fibres of various plants and flowers, and light grey lichens, and is lined with fibres of Spanish Moss or hair. I have found these nests always attached to two slender twigs of Willow. The eggs are four or five, pure white, with a few reddish dots at the larger end. Two broods are reared in a season. The young and old hunt and migrate together, passing amongst the tops of the highest trees, from one to another. They leave the State of Louisiana in the beginning of October, the Middle States about the middle of September. I have seen some of these birds on the border line of Upper Canada, along the shores of Lake Erie. I have also observed them in Kentucky, Indiana, and along the Arkansas River.

In the plate is represented, along with a pair of these delicate birds, a twig of one of our most valuable trees, with its pendulous blossoms. This tree, the Black Walnut, grows in almost every part of the United States, in the richest soils, and attains a great height and diameter. The wood is used for furniture of all sorts, receives a fine polish, and is extremely durable. The stocks of muskets are generally made of it. The Black Walnut is plentiful in all the alluvial grounds in the vicinity of our rivers. The fruit is contained in a very hard shell, and is thought good by many people.

Sylvia cœrulea, Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 540—Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 85.

Motacilia cœrulea, Linn. Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 337.

Cœrulean warbler, Lath. Synops. vol. iv. p. 490.

Blue-grey Fly-catcher, Muscicapa cœrulea, Wils. Amer. Ornith, vol. ii. p. 164. Pl 18. fig. 5.

Adult Male. Plate LXXXIV. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, straight, subulato-conical, depressed at the base, acute; upper mandible with the edges acute and overlapping, notched close to the end, the tip slightly declinate. Head rather large. Neck short, body ovate. Legs of ordinary length; tarsus slender, compressed, scutellate before, acute behind; toes free, scutellate; claws arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. Basirostral bristles distinct. Wings short, much curved, the third quill longest. Tail longish, rounded, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill bluish-black. Iris hazel. Feet greyish-blue. The general colour of the upper parts is bright blue, approaching to ultramarine, deeper on the head, and fading on the tail-coverts. Quills and primary coverts brownish-black, margined externally with blue; secondary coverts slightly tipped with greyish. Tail blackish, the lateral feathers nearly all white, the two next tipped with the same colour. A narrow band of black on the forehead, extending over the eyes. Under parts greyish-white, the sides of the neck bright blue, the sides greyish-blue.

Length 4+14 inches, extent of wings 6+12; bill along the ridge 13, along the gap a little more than 12; tarsus 712.

Adult Female. Plate LXXXIV. Fig. 2.

The female is much duller in colouring, the bright blue of the male being in her light greyish-blue. The black band on the forehead is also wanting.

The Black Walnut.

Julgans nigra, Willd. Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 456. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 636. Mich. Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 157. Pl. 1.—Monœcia Polyandria, Linn. Terebinthaceæ, Juss.

This species belongs to the division with simple, polyandrous male catkins, and is distinguished by its numerous ovato-lanceolate, subcordate, serrated leaflets, narrowed towards the end, somewhat downy beneath, as are the petioles; its globular scabrous fruits, and wrinkled nuts. The leaves have seven or eight nearly opposite pairs of leaflets. The male catkins are pendent. The fruits are sometimes from six to eight inches in circumference, the kernel brown and corrugated, and, although eaten, inferior to the Common Walnut. The bark of the trunk is thick, blackish, and cracked; the wood of a very dark colour.