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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Painted Finch

Painted Finch (Audubon).jpg


Fringilla Ciris, Temm.

PLATE LIII. Male in different states of Plumage, and Female.

About the middle of April, the orange groves of the lower parts of Louisiana, and more especially those in the immediate vicinity of the City of New Orleans, are abundantly supplied with this beautiful little Sparrow. But no sooner does it make its appearance than trap-cages are set, and a regular business is commenced in the market of that city. The method employed in securing the male Painted Finch is so connected with its pugnacious habits, that I feel inclined to describe it, especially as it is so different from the common way of alluring birds, that it may afford you, kind reader, some amusement.

A male bird in full plumage is shot and stuffed in a defensive attitude, and perched among some grass seed, rice, or other food, on the same platform as the trap-cage. This is taken to the fields or near the orangeries, and placed in so open a situation, that it would be difficult for a living bird of any species to fly over it, without observing it. The trap is set. A male Painted Finch passes, perceives it, and dives towards the stuffed bird, with all the anger which its little breast can contain. It alights on the edge of the trap for a moment, and throwing its body against the stuffed bird, brings down the trap, and is made prisoner. In this manner, thousands of these birds are caught every spring. So pertinacious are they in their attacks, that even when the trap has closed upon them, they continue pecking at the feathers of the supposed rival. The approach of man seems to allay its anger in a moment. The live bird is removed to the lower apartment of the cage, and is thereby made to assist in decoying others.

They feed almost immediately after being caught; and if able to support the loss of liberty for a few days, may be kept for several years. I have known some instances of their being kept in confinement for upwards of ten years. Few vessels leave the port of New Orleans during the summer months, without taking some Painted Finches, and through this means they are transported probably to all parts of Europe. I have seen them offered for sale in London and Paris, with the trifling difference of value on each individual, which converted the sixpence paid for it at New Orleans to three guineas in London.

The pugnacious habits of this species are common in a great degree to the whole family of Sparrows. Like the most daring, the Common House Sparrow of Europe, they may be observed in spring time, in little groups of four, five or six, fighting together, moving round each other to secure an advantageous position, pecking and pulling at each other's feathers with all the violence and animosity to which their small degree of strength can give effect.

A group thus occupied I have attempted to represent in the plate. I have at the same time endeavoured to save you the trouble of reading a long description of the changes which take place in their plumage, from the time at which the young leave the nest, until the fourth year following, when the males attain the full beauty of their brilliant livery. Where in fact would be the necessity of telling you more, than that the young, during the first summer, are similar in colouring to the female; that the next spring, the head of the males only has become of a handsome blue; that, the spring following, the same bird is mottled more or less with azure, carmine, yellow and green; and that it requires another return of the warm season before all these colours are perfected and rendered permanent; when at a single glance you can determine all this at once. Long descriptions of this kind are only fit to be read to the blind. Colours speak for themselves.

The flight of the Pape, by which name the Creoles of Louisiana know this bird best, is short, although regular, and performed by a nearly constant motion of the wings, which is rendered necessary by their concave form. It hops on the ground, moving forward with ease, now and then jetting out the tail a little, and, like a true Sparrow, picking up and carrying off on wing a grain of rice or a crumb of bread to some distance, where it may eat in more security. It has a sprightly song, often repeated, which it continues even when closely confined. When the bird is at liberty, this song is uttered from the top branches of an orange-tree, or those of a common briar, and although not so sonorous as that of the Canary, or of its nearer relative, the Indigo Bunting, is not far from equalling either. Its song is continued during the greatest heats of the day, which is also the case with that of the Indigo Bird.

The nest of this pretty bird is generally placed in a low situation, in an orange-tree, frequently within a few paces of the house, or far from it on the edge of the fences, where briars are convenient. It raises two broods each season. The eggs are four or five, of a beautiful pearly, rather bluish colour, speckled with blackish, and are deposited in a simply constructed nest, lined with fine fibrous roots or horse-hair, and externally formed of fine grass. They readily breed in confinement, if their prison is rendered tolerably comfortable. The young are fed at first in the manner of Canaries, but at the end of ten or twelve days are taught to swallow grains of rice, insects or berries. No sooner are figs or grapes ripe than these birds attack them, feeding for some time almost entirely upon them. Towards evening, they also pursue insects on wing.

Some persons give the name of Nonpareil to this species, but it is more commonly known by the name of Pape, which, in fact, is a general appellation given by the inhabitants of Louisiana to all the smaller species of thick-billed birds.

The Painted Finches do not proceed far eastward, nor, indeed, up the Mississippi, being seldom seen above the City of Natchez, on that river, or farther to the east than the Carolinas. It retires southward in the beg-inning; of October.

The Chickasaw Wild Plum, on a twig of which I have represented a group of these birds, is found growing abundantly in the country where the birds occur. It is a small shrub, the fruit of which is yellow when ripe, and excellent eating.

Fringilla ciris, Ch. Bonaparte, Synopsis of Birds of the United States, p. 107.

Emberiza Ciris, Linn. Syst. Nat. vol. p. 313—Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 416.

Painted Bunting, Lath. Synops. vol. iii. p. 206—Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 68. PI. xxiv. fig. 1. Male; Fig. 2. Female.

Adult Male, in full plumage. Plate LIII. Fig 1.

Bill short, robust, conical, somewhat bulging, straight, acute; upper mandible broader, slightly declinate at the tip; gap-line a little declinate at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, partly concealed by the frontal feathers. Head and neck rather large. Body full. Feet of moderate length; tarsus a little longer than the middle toe; toes free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws compressed, arched, acute.

Plumage blended, tufty, somewhat compact on the head and back. Wings of ordinary length, the third quill longest. Tail shortish, even, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill dark brown above, light-blue beneath. Iris hazel. Feet light blue. Head and upper neck pure azure, a circle of carmine round the eye. Back and lesser wing-coverts yellowish-green. Lower back and under parts deep carmine. Quills and tail purplish-brown; secondary coverts green.

Length 5¼, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge ⅓, along the gap ½; tarsus ¾, middle toe ⅔.

Male in the third year. Plate LIII. Fig. 2.

Head and under parts as in the full-plumaged male. Back mottled with yellow and light green; upper wing-coverts patched with green, yellow and brown.

Male in the second year. Plate LIII. Fig. 4.

Bill and upper part of the head as in the adult. Upper parts generally olive-green; under parts dull orange, paler behind.

Male in the first year. Plate LIII. Fig. 3.

Under mandible blue; in other respects similar to the female.

Adult Female. Plate LIII. Fig. 5.

Bill brown. Feet light blue. Upper parts in general light olive green; under parts dull orange, paler behind.

The Chickasaw Plum.

Prunus Chicasa, Mich. Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 284. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 332. —Icosandria Monogynia, Linn. Rosacæ, Juss.

This species is distinguished by its oblongo-elliptical, acuminate, serrulate leaves; smooth spinescent branches; flowers in pairs, with very short pedicels, and glabrous calyces; and its broadly oval fruits. It flowers in April and May.