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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Louisiana Water Thrush

Louisiana Water Thrush (Audubon).jpg


Turdus Ludovicianus.


Much and justly as the song of the Nightingale is admired, I am inclined, after having often listened to it, to pronounce it in no degree superior to that of the Louisiana Water Thrush. The notes of the latter bird are as powerful and mellow, and at times as varied.

This bird is a resident of the low lands of the States of Louisiana and Mississippi, and is to be found at all seasons in the deepest and most swampy of our cane brakes, from which its melodies are heard to a considerable distance, its voice being nearly as loud as that of the Wood Thrush. The bird may be observed perched on a low bough scarcely higher than the tops of the canes, in an erect attitude, swelling its throat, and repeating several times in succession sounds so approaching the whole two octaves of a good piano-forte, as almost to induce the hearer to imagine that the keys of that instrument are used on the occasion. The bird begins on the upper key, and progressively passes from one to another, until it reaches the base note, this last frequently being lost when there is the least agitation in the air. Its song is heard even in the winter, when the weather is calm and warm.

I have taken the liberty of naming this first songster of our groves after the country which has afforded me my greatest pleasures, not, however, as I trust I shall prove in the sequel, without having assured myself that in habits, and somewhat in colour, it differs from its kinsman the Common Water Thrush.

The Common Water Thrush is at all times, and in every situation, shy even to wildness. The Louisiana Water Thrush is so gentle and unsuspicious as to allow a person to approach within a few yards of it. The species met with in the Eastern and Northern Districts during the spring months only, has its feet of a clear and transparent flesh-colour, and its tail even. The Southern bird, on the contrary, has the feet of a deep bluish-brown, and the tail forked. Never have I seen it wade through water, although it is always near and over it; while in the bird of the Northern Districts this is a prominent habit. I may add, that I never heard the latter species sing, but merely utter a single smart twit, when started by surprise. It moreover frequently feeds on minute water-insects, none of which I have ever been able to discover on dissecting the present species.

The flight of this bird is easy, and continued amongst the trees, just above the canes, or closer over the ground, when it is passing along their skirts, gliding smoothly through the air. When alighted, its body is continually vibrating, the tail being at the same time alternately jerked out and closed again. It walks prettily along the branches, or on the ground, but never hops. It feeds on insects and larvæ, often pursuing the former on wing, as well as on the ground, yet in seizing them it does not produce the clicking sound heard from the bill of Flycatchers.

I think its proper station in a general system would be between the Golden-crowned Thrush and the Water Thrush. Its location, however, I leave to the consideration of better ornithologists than myself.

The nest of this species is commenced in the first days of April. I may here remark, that I am not aware that the Common Water Thrush breeds in the United States. It is placed at the foot and amongst the roots of a tree, or by the side of a decayed log, and is so easily discovered at times that my eyes have once or twice been attracted by it, whilst walking about in search of something else. The outer parts are formed of dry leaves and mosses, the inner of fine grasses, with a few hairs, or the dried fibres of the Spanish Moss, which so much resemble horse-hair as scarcely to be distinguished from it. The female lays four or five eggs, and takes fourteen days to hatch them. When disturbed on her nest at an early period of incubation, she merely flies off; but if discovered towards the conclusion of that period, she is seen tumbling and rolling about, spreading her wings and tail, as if in the last agonies of despair, uttering all the while a most piteous tone, to entice the intruder to follow her.

The young leave the nest in about ten days, and follow the parent from place to place, on the ground, where they are fed until able to fly. I have not been able to ascertain whether this bird rears more than one brood in a season, but am inclined to believe that it does not. The eggs are flesh-coloured, sprinkled with darker red on the large end.

During winter, this bird becomes so plump as to be a pure mass of fat, and furnishes extremely delicate eating. I have never seen this species farther eastward than Georgia, nor higher on the Ohio than the cane brakes about Henderson.

The plant on which I have placed a male (the sexes being so nearly alike as to offer no external distinctive characters) is commonly called the Indian Turnip. It grows abundantly in the places frequented by this bird. The root, which is like a small potato, is extremely pungent.

Turdus Ludovicianus.

Adult Male. Plate XIX.

Bill of ordinary length, straight, slender, tapering to a point, broadish at the base, compressed toward the end; upper mandible with the edges sharp, and destitute of a notch. Nostrils basal, rounded, half closed by a membrane. Feet of ordinary length, rather slender; tarsus a little longer than the middle toe; toes free; claws slender, much compressed, arched, acute, the hind one not much larger than that of the middle toe. Plumage ordinary, soft, slightly glossy; a few bristles at the base of the upper mandible. Wings of ordinary length; first quill longest. Tail shortish, a little notched, the feathers rather obtuse.

Bill deep brown above, black at the tip, flesh-coloured beneath. Iris deep brown. Feet and claws brown, tinged with blue. The general colour of the upper parts is dull greenish-brown, that of the under parts yellowish-white. A streak of the latter colour over the eye, from the base of the upper mandible, and another from the base of the lower, curving upwards behind the ear-coverts. Fore-neck and breast marked with sagittiform spots of blackish-brown; sides under the wings streaked with the same colour.

Length 5¾ inches, extent of wings 9½; bill along the ridge ½, along the gap ¾; tarsus ¾.

The female, as has been said, hardly differs from the male in appearance.

The Indian Turnip.

Arum triphyllum, Willd. Sp. PI. vol. iv. p. 480. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 399.—Polyandria Polygynia, Linn. Aroideæ, Juss.

Somewhat caulescent; leaves ternate, with ovate acuminate leaflets; spadix clavate; flowers monœcious. The flowers are green and purple, and the roots are used by the Indians as a remedy for colic.