Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Grass Finch
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The Grass Finch, or Bay-winged Bunting
THE GRASS FINCH, OR BAY-WINGED BUNTING.
Fringilla graminea, Gmel.
PLATE XCIV. Male.
I have never seen the Bay-winged Bunting in any portion of Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky, or Ohio, and am therefore inclined to look upon it as a resident of the country lying to the eastward of the range of the Alleghanies. It there occurs from Georgia to Massachusets, both along the shores and inland, as far as the base of the mountains, and here and there on the mountains themselves, but seldom in places to which cultivation has not extended. I have thought it prepossessed in favour of sandy ground, and dry barren soils. It sings sweetly, and at times for half-an-hour, without changing its place, either from the tops of the Sassafras or Sumach bushes which grow along the fences, or from the upper bar or stake of a fence itself. During this little serenade, it is easily approached, but when on the ground, where it runs nimbly and with grace, it is rather shy. It is fond of scratching in the warm and dry sand, and of wallowing in it, to cleanse its body. Its flight, which is easy, consists of a succession of gentle undulations, and, when it is chased, sometimes extends over the whole of a field. It is a solitary bird, and is rather pugnacious, for when two males or two females happen to meet, little skirmishes frequently ensue. The nest, which is placed among the grass, and partly sunk in the ground, little attention being paid to its concealment, is prettily constructed. It is formed externally of leaves and fine grass, and is well lined with horse hair, so as to look neat and comfortable. The female lays from four to six eggs, about the middle of April, in favourable seasons, and generally rears two broods each year. I have shot these birds during winter, in the neighbourhood of Lancaster in Pennsylvania, where but few are seen. At the same period of the year they were found numerous along the sea-coast of Virginia and Carolina. Their food consists principally of the seeds of grasses and other plants, although they sometimes run after insects and eat them also. Their flesh is juicy, tender and savoury.
Having drawn the figure which you will see on referring to the plate, near the sea-shores of New Jersey, where the bird which it represents was shot while walking among little groups of the plant there vulgarly called the Prickly Pear, I have represented it also. It shoots up its fleshy stems from among the driest sand, and there flourishes in the greatest perfection and abundance. The flower is destitute of scent, but the fruit is agreeably acid, and is often eaten by children. I have observed a plant of the same genus about the sterile cliffs of the Kentucky River, and in particular near the town of Frankfort, as well as in Louisiana on Alexander's Creek, at which place it grows to a great size. This is probably a distinct species. I have not observed Cactuses growing in a wild state in any other part of the Union.
Fringilla graminea, Gmel. Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 922.—Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 445.—Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 108.
Grass Finch, Lath. Synops. vol. iii. p. 273.
Emberiza graminea, Bay-winged Bunting, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iv. p. 51. Pl. 31. fig. 5.
Adult Male. Plate XCIV.
Bill shortish, robust, conical, acute; upper mandible broader than the lower, slightly declinate at the tip, the edges of both mandibles straight to near the base, where they are a little deflected. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short. Body robust. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus of the same length as the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a longitudinal plate above, and a few transverse scuta below; toes scutate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe largest.
Plumage ordinary, compact. Wings of ordinary length, third and fourth quills longest, first and second little shorter. Tail longish, nearly equal, or slightly forked.
Bill dark brown on the back of the upper mandible, pale on the sides and below. Iris hazel. Tarsi, toes, and claws, flesh-colour. The general colour of the upper parts is light brown, streaked and mottled with darker. Lesser wing-coverts bright reddish-brown or bay, the larger deep brown, edged with pale brown; quills also deep brown, the first margined externally with white. Tail-feathers dark brown, the outer marked with an oblique band of white, including the outer web and part of the inner towards the tip, the next three margined externally with white, changing into pale brown on the other. A narrow circle of white around the eye. Throat and breast yellowish-white, the latter and the fore part of the cheeks streaked with dark brown. Sides and abdomen very pale yellowish-brown, the former sparsely streaked with dark brown; the posterior abdominal region and under tail-coverts white.
There is no perceptible difference as to colour or size between the male and the female.
Length 53⁄4 inches, extent of wings 10; bill 1⁄3 along the ridge, 1⁄2 along the gap.
This species has been variously classed, some considering it as a Fringilla, others as an Emberiza. It seems to me to be more in its true place in the former genus, while in its habits, colouring and form, it also approaches closely to some species of Alauda.
The Prickly Pear, or Indian Fig.
Cactus Opuntia, Willd. Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 943. Pursh, Fl. Amer. p. 323.—Icosandria Monogynia, Linn. Cacti, Juss.
This species has an articulated fleshy stem, with ovate, compressed joints, sparsely covered with setaceous prickles; large yellow flowers, and red, acidulous, eatable berries. It flowers in June and July, and grows in sandy fields and dry barren soil.