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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Columbian Jay

96 Columbia Jay.jpg


Corvus bullockii.


The genus Corvus consists of birds which differ considerably in their appearance and manners. This circumstance has given rise to various separations and groupings. It may, in fact, be considered analogous to the great genera Falco, Psittacus and Columba, which, although the species composing them exhibit great diversity, may be allowed to retain their integrity, because the gradations between the species are so minute that each group presents an uninterrupted series. Were one to compare the Golden Eagle with the Swallow-tailed Hawk, the Red Macaw with the Ground Parrot of New Holland, or the Great Crested Pigeon with the Turtle Dove, he might doubtless find reasons for separating these birds into genera, could he but forget that the intermediate gradations are to be seen. It is so with the Crows and Jays. The former are characterized by a certain gravity of aspect; their flight is regular, protracted, and performed by easy flappings and sailings; they frequent open places, and feed on almost all kinds of food indiscriminately; their cry is a dull croak or scream. The latter are much smarter in their appearance, more lively in their motions; their flight is less protracted, and performed by short flappings; they frequent woods and thickets, and live chiefly on fruits; and their notes are emitted in noisy chatterings. The bill of the Crows is large, robust, cultriform, covered at the base with long, stiffs, closely adpressed, reversed, bristly feathers; that of some of the Jays is much smaller, not robust, and approaching to the form of that of Thrushes and Nutcrackers, and the basirostral feathers are diminished in size and rigidity. The Crows have shortish, even or rounded tails, with long and sometimes rather sharp wings. The Jays have the tail often greatly elongated and cuneiform or graduated, with short, much rounded, concave wings. Numerous other contrasts are afforded, the Crows, for example, being generally dull and uniform in their colours, the Jays variegated and often brilliant. All these circumstances I intend to discuss in another work, and in the mean time retain the usual generic name for the present splendid species, which has the bill of nearly the same form as the true Crows, combined with the elongated tail, and lively colouring of the Jays.

Were I to relate to you, good reader, the various accounts which I have heard respecting this splendid bird, I should have enough to say; but as I have resolved to confine myself entirely to the results of my own observation, I must for the present remain silent on the subject.

The specimen from which the drawings were taken was presented to me by a friend who had received it from the Columbia River, and is the only individual represented in the volume which I did not myself procure on the spot. However, as I expect to ramble again through our vast forests and extensive territories, I may yet be enabled to give you a full account of this beautiful bird, which, from the splendour of its plumage, deserves all the attention of the naturalist. In the mean time I adjoin a notice respecting it, with which I have lately been favoured by my friend, the Prince of Musignano. "Le superbe geai, dont vous me parlez, est sans doute l'oiseau que Wagler a fait connâitre le premier, sous le nom de Pica Bullockii, et que Temminck a figuré dans ses planches coloriées, sous cellui de Garrula Gubernatrix. Son nom legitime, suivant mes principes, sera Garrulus Bullockii, mais vous avez raison de dire qu'il ne se trouve pas dans mon Synopsis: ce n'est que par votre lettre que j'ai appris qu'il se trouvait dans le territoire des Etats-unis. Jusqu'a prèsent on ne l'avait trouve qu'au Mexique et a la Californie. Il n'est pas etonnant qu'il se retrouve sur la rivière Columbia. Mais comment l'avez-vous obtena et avez-vous pu le dessiner vivant? Trois autres especes de geais, qui ne sont pas dans mon Synopsis, habitent l'extremité nord de l'Amerique, et il est probable, qu' outre votre superbe geai commandeur, plusieurs autres des especes Mexicaines se retrouvent dans sa partie occidentale."

Corvus Bullockii, Wagler.

Bill of ordinary length, straight, robust, compressed; upper mandible with the dorsal outline straightish at the base, declinate and convex towards the tip, which is deflected, the sides convex, the edges rather sharp; lower mandible with the dorsal outline slightly concave towards the base, convex and ascending towards the tip. Nostrils basal, oval, partly concealed by short bristly feathers. Proportions of parts ordinary. Feet of ordinary length, rather strong; tarsus compressed, about the length of the middle toe, anteriorly scutellate, covered behind with two longitudinal plates, meeting at an acute angle; toes free, scutellate above; claws of ordinary size, arched, convex above, canaliculate beneath.

Plumage compact, glossy. Feathers of the head elongated into a crest, the posterior ones recurvate. Wings longish, the third and fourth quills longest, the first short. Tail very long, graduated, of twelve feathers, of which the two central are slightly curved, and greatly exceed the rest in length.

Bill and feet brownish-black. Iris hazel. The general colour of the plumage is bright blue, with purple reflections. The fore neck and anterior part of the breast black; the rest of the under parts white. The inner webs of the quills dusky, the four outer feathers of the tail white towards the tip.

Length 31 inches, extent of wings 26; bill along the ridge 1+13, tarsus 2, middle toe 2.