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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Stanley Hawk

Stanley Hawk (Audubon).jpg


Falco Stanleii.

PLATE XXXVI. Male and Female.

Before entering upon the description of this interesting species, allow me to submit to your consideration a few observations respecting the flight of the different species of Hawks, which I have had occasion to examine both in America and in Europe.

All such species as are usually referred to the subgenus Astur, or are most nearly allied to it, and which consequently have shorter wings, as well as longer tails, than the true Falcons, sail less frequently and less continuously in circles, and embrace a smaller space in their gyrations, than the latter birds. Their general flight is low, sometimes only a few feet above the ground, and their velocity surpasses that of the true Falcons on such occasions. Their body is more compressed and elongated, and appears to be propelled through the air chiefly by the action of their long tail. None of these birds ever glide down on their prey from a great height, with closed wings, and the rustling noise produced by Eagles or other nobler tribes of the genus. The types of this group I would consider to be the Goshawk (Falco palumbarius) and the Stanley Hawk. For the type of the True Falcons, no species could answer better than the Great-footed Hawk (Falco peregrinus).

A distinct and intermediate kind of flight belongs to such Hawks as have both a long tail and long wings. These species are able to dive through the air, either when in pursuit of their prey, or for amusement or exercise, although with less firmness of action than the True Falcons; and they fly over the earth with less velocity than the Asturs, their motions then consisting of easy flappings, or loose protracted sailings. The Hen-harrier (Falco cyaneus), the Forked-tailed Hawk (Falco furcatus), and the White-tailed Hawk (Falco dispar), are of this tribe.

It may be remarked here, that most species of Shrikes bear a great resemblance in their flight to the Asturs. But, let us return to the Stanley Hawk.

On the 5th of December 1809, I made a drawing of the male of this species, in its matured state of colouring, at Louisville, in Kentucky, where I then resided. That drawing is now before me, and the bird which it represents is to this day undescribed. The figure would have been engraved and presented to your consideration, kind reader, had it not been as stiff, and as little indicative of life, as those usually seen in books on Natural History. The expectation of being able to procure another individual in precisely the same state of plumage, has, together with the above circumstance, induced me to content myself, for the present, with offering to your inspection a male, probably two years old, and an adult female. I have killed many of the latter in the course of my rambles, but I had not the good fortune to obtain an old male, although I have seen several on wing, and once wounded one whilst perched near its nest. In this article, I shall give you a full description of the three different figures, as they shew considerable diversity, especially in the colour of the eyes, the adult bird having the iris of a reddish-orange tint, while the young bird has it of a bright yellow. But as I am desirous of adhering to my plan, I shall speak of its habits before I trouble you with its description, remarking in the mean time, that I have honoured the species with the name of the President of the Linnean Society of London, the Right Honourable Lord Stanley, a nobleman whose continued kindness to me I am happy in acknowledging.

The flight of the Stanley Hawk is rapid, protracted, and even. It is performed at a short height above the ground or through the forest. It passes along in a silent gliding manner, with a swiftness even superior to that of the Wild Pigeon (Columba migratoria), seldom deviating from a straight-forward course, unless to seize and secure its prey. Now and then, but seldom unless after being shot at, it mounts in the air in circles, of which it describes five or six in a hurried manner, and again plunging downwards, continues its journey as before.

The daring exploits performed by the Stanley Hawk, which have taken place in my presence, are very numerous, and I shall relate one or two of them. This marauder frequently attacks birds far superior to itself in weight, and sometimes possessed of courage equal to its own. As I was one morning observing the motions of some Parakeets near Bayou Sara, in the State of Louisiana, in the month of November, I heard a Cock crowing not far from me, and in sight of a farm-house. The Stanley Hawk the next moment flew past me, and so close that I might have touched it with the barrel of my gun, had I been prepared. Its wings struck with extraordinary rapidity, and its tail appeared as if closed. Not more than a few seconds elapsed before I heard the cackling of the Hens, and the war-cry of the Cock, and at the same time observed the Hawk rising, as if without effort, a few yards in the air, and again falling towards the ground with the rapidity of lightning. I proceeded to the spot, and found the Hawk grappled to the body of the Cock, both tumbling over and over, and paying no attention to me as I approached. Desirous of seeing the result, I remained still, until perceiving that the Hawk had given a fatal squeeze to the brave Cock, I ran to secure the former; but the marauder had kept a hawk's eye upon me, and, disengaging himself, rose in the air in full confidence. The next moment I pulled a trigger, and he fell dead to the ground. It proved a young male, such as you see, kind reader, represented in the Plate, pursuing a lovely Blue-bird nearly exhausted. The Cock was also dead; its breast was torn, and its neck pierced in several places by the sharp claws of the Hawk.

Some years afterwards, not far from the amed Falls of Niagara, in the month of June, one of these Hawks, which on being examined proved to be a female, attacked a brood of young chickens, yet under the care of their mother. It had just struck one of the chickens, and was on the eve of carrying it off in its claws, when the hen, having perceived the murderous deed, flew against the Hawk with such force as to throw it fairly on its back, when the intrepid mother so effectively assailed the miscreant with feet and bill, as to enable me, on running up, to secure the latter.

This species frequently kills and eats the bird commonly called the Pheasant (Tetrao Umbellus). Partridges and young hares are also favourite dainties. It also follows the Wild Pigeons in their migrations, and always causes fear and confusion in their ranks.

It breeds in the mountainous districts of the Middle and Northern States, to which it returns early in spring from the Southern States, where it spends the winter in considerable numbers, and is known by the name of the Great Pigeon Hawk. So rapidly must they travel from one extremity of the country to another, to reach the places to which they resort for the purpose of breeding, that I have seen them copulate in Louisiana, where they never breed, in the month of February, and have found their nest with eggs in which the chick was far advanced, in the State of Connecticut, on the 20th of April.

The nest is usually placed in the forks of the branch of an Oak-tree towards its extremity. In its general appearance it resembles that of the Common Crow, for which I have several times mistaken it. It is composed externally of numerous crooked sticks, and has a slight lining of grasses and a few feathers. The eggs are three or four, almost globular, large for the size of the bird, of a dullish-white colour, strongly granulated, and consequently rough to the touch. It was on discovering one of these nests that I wounded the second adult male which I have seen, but which never returned to its nest, on which I afterwards shot the female represented in the Plate, in the act of pouncing. I have several times found other nests of birds of this species, but the owners were not in full plumage, and their eyes had not obtained the rich orange colouring of the adult birds.

Those which I have observed near the Falls of Niagara were generally engaged in pursuing Red-winged Starlings, over the marshes of the neighbourhood. When this Hawk is angry, it raises the feathers of the upper part of the head, so as to make them appear partially tufted. The cry at this time may be represented by the syllable kee, kee, kee, repeated eight or ten times in rapid succession, and much resembling that of the Pigeon Hawk (Falco columbarius) or the European Kestril. The young of this species bear no resemblance to those of the Goshawk, of which a figure will be given in the same Plate with the adult of the Stanley Hawk.

Stanley Hawk, Falco Stanleii.

Adult Male.

Bill short, robust, cerate; upper mandible with the dorsal outline curved from the base, the back rounded, the sides sloping at the base, convex toward the end, the margin sharp, overlapping, having an obtuse lobe, the tip trigonal, very acute, and curved downwards; lower mandible broadly rounded on the back, convex on the sides, acute in the edges, somewhat abrupt at the end. Nostrils oval, oblique, in the fore-part of the cere. Head rather large, flat above; eyebrow acute and projecting. Neck strong. Body rather elongated. Legs long; tarsi rather long, and with the toes somewhat slender, the former scutellate anteriorly, the latter scutellate above, papillar and tuberculate beneath; claws long, curved, roundish, rather slender, and extremely acute.

Plumage compact, imbricated, glossy. Space between the beak and eye sparsely covered with bristly feathers. Tibial feathers rather compact, and not much elongated. Wings long: fifth quill longest, sixth and fourth nearly equal, first very short. Tail long, straight, a little rounded, of twelve rather broad feathers.

Bill light blue at the base, black at the tip. Cere greenish-yellow. Iris reddish-orange. Tarsus and toes bright yellow; claws black. The general colour of the upper parts is dark greyish-brown. Quills barred with brownish-black. Tail with four bars of brownish-black, the terminal one broader; the tips of all the feathers white. The general colour of the lower parts is brownish-white. Sides of the head and the throat longitudinally lined with dark brown; fore-neck and breast marked with arrow-shaped spots of brownish-red, the shafts blackish. Legs similarly marked, the spots smaller, and transversely elongated. Abdomen and under tail-coverts nearly free of spots.

Length 20 inches, extent of wings 36; beak along the back 1¼, along the gap from the tip of the lower mandible 1¼; tarsus 2¾, middle toe 2½. Wings 4½ inches shorter than the tail.

Adult Female. Plate XXXVI. Fig. 2.

Bill brownish-black above; the base of the upper mandible, and the greater part of the lower, light blue. Cere greenish. Iris yellow. Feet greenish-yellow; claws brownish-black. Head and neck brownish-white, each feather with a large reddish-brown spot near the end. General colour of the upper parts chocolate-brown; quills and tail wood-brown, barred as in the male. Under parts brownish-white. Throat and sides of the head marked as in the male; breast with guttiform spots of deep browns legs with smaller, somewhat arrow-shaped spots of reddish-brown. Abdomen and under tail-coverts whitish.

Length 21¼ inches, extent of wings 38; bill along the back 1¼, along the gap 1¼; tarsus 3, middle toe 2¾. Wings 5 inches shorter than the tail.

Young Male. Plate XXXVI. Fig. 1.

Bill and feet coloured nearly as in the adult. Iris yellow, as in the female. The general colour of the upper parts is dark umber; several of the scapulars, wing-coverts and upper tail-coverts with a large spot of white. Quills and tail-feathers barred as in the adult, the last bar on the tail much narrower. Under parts light reddish-brown. Sides of the head, and the neck longitudinally streaked with deep brown; the markings on the breast and legs also longitudinal.

Length 19¾, extent of wings 34; beak 1¼; wings 5½ inches shorter than the tail.

The bird represented as about to be seized by the male is the Bluebird, Saxicola Sialis of Bonaparte, Sylvia Sialis of other authors.