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Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/445

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FISH HAWK.

checks its course with a sudden shake of its wings and tail, which gives it the appearance of being poised in the air for a moment, after which it plunges headlong with great rapidity into the water, to secure its prey, or continue its flight, if disappointed by having observed the fish sink deeper.

When it plunges into the water in pursuit of a fish, it sometimes proceeds deep enough to disappear for an instant. The surge caused by its descent is so great as to make the spot around it present the appearance of a mass of foam. On rising with its prey, it is seen holding it in the manner represented in the Plate. It mounts a few yards into the air, shakes the water from its plumage, squeezes the fish with its talons, and immediately proceeds towards its nest, to feed its young, or to a tree, to devour the fruit of its industry in peace. When it has satisfied its hunger, it does not, like other Hawks, stay perched until hunger again urges it forth, but usually sails about at a great height over the neighbouring waters.

The Fish Hawk has a great attachment to the tree to which it carries its prey, and will not abandon it, unless frequently disturbed, or shot at whilst feeding there. It shews the same attachment to the tree on which it has built its first nest, and returns to it year after year.

This species arrives on the southern coasts of the United States early in the month of February, and proceeds eastward as the season advances. In the Middle Districts, the fishermen hail its appearance with joy, as it is the harbinger of various species of fish which resort to the Atlantic coasts, or ascend the numerous rivers. It arrives in the Middle States about the beginning of April, and returns southward at the first appearance of frost. I have occasionally seen a few of these birds on the muddy lakes of Louisiana, in the neighbourhood of New Orleans, during the winter months; but they appeared emaciated, and were probably unable to follow their natural inclinations, and proceed farther south.

As soon as the females make their appearance, which happens eight or ten days after the arrival of the males, the love-season commences, and soon after, incubation takes place. The loves of these birds are conducted in a different way from those of the other Falcons. The males are seen playing through the air amongst themselves, chasing each other in sport, or sailing by the side or after the female which they have selected, uttering cries of joy and exultation, alighting on the branches of the tree on which their last year's nest is yet seen remaining, and doubtless congratulating