Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/American Redstart

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Ornithological Biography by John James Audubon
The American Redstart
American Redstart (Audubon).jpg

THE AMERICAN REDSTART.

Muscicapa ruticilla, Linn.

PLATE XL. Male and Female.


This is one of the most lively, as well as one of the handsomest, of our Fly-catchers, and ornaments our woods during spring and summer, when it cannot fail to attract the attention of any person who may visit the interior of the shady forests. It is to be met with over the whole of the United States, where it arrives, according to the different localities, between the beginning of March and the 1st of May. It takes its departure, on its way southward, late in September, and in the beginning of October.

It keeps in perpetual motion, hunting along the branches sidewise, jumping to either side in search of insects and larvae, opening its beautiful tail at every movement which it makes, then closing it, and flirting it from side to side, just allowing the transparent beauty of the feathers to be seen for a moment. The wings are observed gently drooping during these motions, and its pleasing notes, which resemble the sounds of Tetee-whee, Tetee-whee, are then emitted. Should it observe an insect on the wing, it immediately flies in pursuit of it, either mounts into the air in its wake, or comes towards the ground spirally and in many zig-zags. The insect secured, the lovely Redstart reascends, perches, and sings a different note, equally clear, and which may be expressed by the syllables wizz, wizz, wizz. While following insects on the wing, it keeps its bill constantly open, snapping as if it procured several of them on the same excursion. It is frequently observed balancing itself in the air, opposite the extremity of a bunch of leaves, and darting into the midst of them after the insects there concealed.

When one approaches the nest of this species, the male exhibits the greatest anxiety respecting its safety, passes and repasses, fluttering and snapping its bill within a few feet, as if determined to repel the intruder. They now and then alight on the ground, to secure an insect, but this only for a moment. They are more frequently seen climbing along the trunks and large branches of trees for an instant, and then shifting to a branch, being, as I have said, in perpetual motion. It is also fond of giving chase to various birds, snapping at them without any effect, as if solely for the purpose of keeping up the natural liveliness of its disposition.

The young males of this species do not possess the brilliancy and richness of plumage which the old birds display, until the second year, the first being spent in the garb worn by the females; but, towards the second autumn, appear mottled with pure black and vermilion on their sides. Notwithstanding their want of full plumage, they breed and sing the first spring like the old males.

I have looked for several minutes at a time on the ineffectual attacks which this bird makes on wasps while busily occupied about their own nests. The bird approaches and snaps at them, but in vain; for the wasp elevating its abdomen, protrudes its sting, which prevents its being seized. The male bird is represented in the plate in this posture.

Its nest is generally made on a low bush or sapling, and has the appearance of hanging to the twigs. It is slight, and is composed of lichens and dried fibres of rank weeds or grape vines, nicely lined with soft cottony materials. The female lays from four to six white eggs, sprinkled with ash-grey and blackish dots. It rears only a single brood in a season. The old birds, I am inclined to think, leave the United States a month or three weeks before the young, some of which linger in the deep swamps of the States of Mississippi and Louisiana until the beginning of November.


Muscicapa Ruticilla, Linn, Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 236.—Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 473.—Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 68.

American Redstart, Muscicapa Ruticilla, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. i. p. 103, Pl. vi. fig. 6. adult male; vol. v. p. 119. Pl. 45, fig. 2, young.—Lath. Synops. vol. iv. p. 427.


Adult Male. Plate XL. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, depressed at the base, compressed toward the tip, acute; upper mandible slightly notched, and deflected at the tip; lower straight. Nostrils basal, lateral, linear. Head and neck of moderate size. Body rather slender. Feet moderately long, slender; tarsus covered with short scutella before, with a longitudinal keeled plate behind, longer than the middle toe; toes slender, free; claws small, weak, slightly arched, compressed, acute.

plumage blended, soft, glossy. The bill margined at the base with long spreading bristles. Wings of moderate length, third quill longest, second and first little shorter. Tail rather long, rounded.

Bill brownish-black. Iris dark brown. Feet blackish. Head, neck, fore part of the breast, and upper parts, black, the head, neck, and back glossed with blue. Sides of the breast, and under wing-coverts reddish-orange; abdomen white. Quills brownish-black, their anterior half orange, forming a broad transverse band on the wing. Two middle tail-feathers black, the rest black in their terminal half, yellow in the basal half.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 6½; bill along the ridge 9/24, along the gap ½; tarsus ¾, middle toe 7/12.


Adult Female. Plate XL. Fig. 2.

Bill, feet and iris, as in the male. Head and upper parts brownish-grey, the former tinged with blue. Under parts greyish-white, the breast at the sides dull yellow. Band on the wings and at the base of the tail, pale yellow, tinged with green.

Dimensions nearly as in the male.




The Virginian Hornbeam, or Iron-wood Tree.

Ostrya virginica, Wild. Sp. Pl. vol. iv. p. 469. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 623.—Monœcia Polyandria, Linn. Amentaceæ, Juss.


This species is distinguished by its ovato-oblong leaves, which are somewhat cordate at the base, unequally serrated and acuminate, and its twin, ovate, acute cones. It is a small tree, attaining a height of from twenty to thirty feet, and a diameter of about one foot. The wood is white, and close-grained. The common name in America is Iron-wood, which it receives on account of the great hardness of the wood.