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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Selby's Flycatcher

Selby's Flycatcher (Audubon).jpg


Muscicapa Selbii.


The works of every student of nature are always pleasing to me, and it is with delight that I see the number of such students daily increasing; but when I meet with one who, regardless of the labour attending upon figuring in their full size the objects from which he has derived his knowledge, my heart expands, and I hail his name with enthusiasm. Mr Selby's great work is so well known to the scientific world, that I need only here mention the favour which its accomplished author has conferred upon me by permitting me to decorate one of my pages with his name, in quality of foster-father to a beautiful and hitherto unknown species of Fly-catcher.

As this bird, to the day on which my engraving of it appeared, had not been described, or, in as far as I know, obtained by any other person than myself, notwithstanding the great number of individuals who have of late years been searching our States for new and rare species, it must be considered as of very unfrequent occurrence, and probably as seldom going farther north or east than the place where I discovered it. Moreover, it is so scarce even there, that in all my walks I only shot three individuals, in the course of nine years. In no instance have I been able to cultivate its society longer than a few minutes, as, before it might escape from me, I was obliged to shoot it, in order to satisfy myself that it was indeed a different bird from any figured or described in books.

My journal, under the date of 1st July 1821, contains the following statement:—"I found this bird about three miles from St Francisville in Louisiana, whilst engaged in searching for a Turkey, which I had wounded. It was afternoon, and the heat oppressive. I saw it innocently approaching us until within a few yards, anxiously looking, as if trying to discover our intentions; but as we stood motionless, it once came so near that I could easily have reached it with my gun barrel. It moved nimbly among the twigs of the low bushes, making now and then short dashes at flies, which it swallowed after killing them under foot, as many other Fly-catchers are in the habit of doing, then peeping at us, and again setting off in pursuit of flies. The snapping of its bill when seizing an insect, was sharp, and as distinct as if the bird had been in my hand. At length, fearing that it might escape, I desired my young friend Joseph Mason to retire further from it, that we might shoot it."

On the 4th July, while searching with care about the same place, to find its nest or the female, I shot another of these birds, which I found to be a female. It differed only in being rather smaller, darker above, and paler beneath. On the 27th September of the same year, I shot a second male in beautiful plumage, six or seven miles off, in a different direction, in the same State. Finding the pretty flower on which the bird is drawn, in the immediate neighbourhood, and growing wild, although I am assured it is originally from Europe, I have represented it, thinking it might contrast well with the Fly-catcher in its richly coloured flowers, and be assimilated to it in that of its stem and leaves. This flower is found in damp places, in Louisiana only, at least I have not met with it in the woods of any other State.

Selby's Fly-Catcher, Muscicapa Selbii.

Adult Male. Plate X.

Bill longish, depressed, tapering to a sharp point, very broad at the base, the gap reaching to nearly under the eye; upper mandible slightly notched and inflected at the tip; lower straight. Nostrils basal, lateral, linear. Head and neck of moderate size. Body somewhat slender. Feet moderately long, slender; tarsus covered with short scutella above, with a longitudinal keeled plate behind, longer than the middle toe; toes slender, unconnected; claws small, weak, slightly arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage blended, soft and glossy. The beak margined at the base with long spreading bristles. Wings of moderate length, third quill longest, second and first little shorter, the other quills graduated. Tail rather long, forked when closed, rounded when spread, the feathers acuminate.

Bill brown, horn-colour above, passing into dark flesh-colour below. Iris dark brown. Legs, feet, and claws very light flesh-colour. The whole upper parts dark olive; wings black, the feathers margined externally with light olive, internally with white. The whole under parts, including the tail-coverts, and a broad line over the eyes, rich yellow. The three external feathers of the tail marked internally with white, the first more so than the second, and the third less than the latter. Shafts of the quills and tail-feathers deep brownish-black. Basirostral bristles black.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 7¾; bill along the ridge 712, along the gap 1112; tarsus 1, middle toe ¾.

The female, as has been said, is nearly similar, the distribution of the colours being the same.


Adonis autumnalis, Linn. Sp. Pl. p. 771. Wild. Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1304. Smith. Engl. Fl. vol. iii. p. 43.—Polyandria Pentagynia, Linn. Ranunculaceæ, Juss.

This plant, vulgarly named Pheasant's-eye, grows in Europe in cornfields. It has an erect, branched stem, with copiously pinnatifid, alternate, sessile, dark green leaves, the segments of which are linear and acute, and deep crimson flowers, having a black spot near the claw of each of the petals, which vary from six to ten.