Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Kentucky Warbler

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Ornithological Biography by John James Audubon
The Kentucky Warbler
Kentucky Warbler (Audubon).jpg

THE KENTUCKY WARBLER.

Sylvia Formosa, Wils.

PLATE XXXVIII. Male and Female.


This beautiful species is the most common and abundant that visits the State of Louisiana and those situated on the borders of the Mississippi. In Kentucky it is much less common, and in the State of Ohio scarcer still. It is an extremely active and lively bird. It is found in all the low grounds and damp places near water-courses, and generally among the tall rank weeds and low bushes growing in rich alluvial soil. Continually in motion, it is seen hopping in every direction from stalk to stalk, or from one twig to another, preying upon insects and larvæ, or picking small berries, seldom, however, pursuing insects on wing. During spring, its agreeable notes are heard in every quarter. They are emphatic, and resemble the words tweedle, tweedle, tweedle, distinctly repeated. This little bird is seen at intervals of a few minutes on the skirts of the tail plants, peeping cunningly to discover whether any intruders may be near; after which it immediately re-enters the thicket, and repeats its little ditty.

I never saw this bird fly farther than a few yards at a time. Its flight is low, and performed in a quick gliding manner, the bird throwing itself into the nearest bush or thicket of tall grass. It arrives in the Southern States, from Mexico, about the middle of March, and remains with us until the middle of September, during which time it rears two broods. Its nest is small, beautifully constructed, and usually attached to several stems of rank weeds. The outer parts are formed of the bark of stalks of the same weeds in a withered state, mixed with a finer kind and some cottony substances. It is beautifully lined with the cottony or silky substance that falls from the Cotton-wood tree. The eggs are from four to six, of a pure white colour, finely sprinkled with bright red dots.

This species destroys great numbers of spiders, which it frequently obtains by turning over the withered leaves on the ground. The young males do not attain the full beauty of their plumage until the first spring, and resemble the mother during their stay with us the first season Young and old associate together, and live in great harmony. I have not seen this species farther eastward than North Carolina.

The branch on which two of these birds are represented, is that of the tree commonly called the White Cucumber, a species of Magnolia. It flowers as early in the season as the Dog-wood. The flowers open before the leaves are expanded, and emit an odour resembling that of a lemon, but soon becoming disagreeable, as the blossom fades. This tree seldom grows to the height of thirty feet, and is consequently disregarded as a timber-tree. I have met with it only in the States of Mississippi and Louisiana, where it grows on the grounds preferred by the Kentucky Warbler during its stay in those States.


Kentucky Warbler, Sylvia formosa, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 85. Pl. xxv. Fig. 3.

Sylvia formosa, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 34.


Adult Male. Plate XXXVIII. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight, subulato-conical, acute, the edges acute, the gap line a little deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical, half closed by a membrane. Head and neck of ordinary size. Body rather full. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly by a few scutella, the uppermost long; toes scutellate above, the inner free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws slender, compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage soft, blended, tufty. Wings of ordinary length, acute, the second quill longest. Tail of ordinary length, slightly forked when closed.

Bill brownish-black above, lighter beneath. Iris hazel. Feet pale flesh-colour. The general colour of the plumage above is deep yellowish-green, the crown of the head, and a broad patch under the eye, including the lore, black. Under parts, and a broad streak over the eye, bright yellow, tinged with green on the sides, abdomen, and under tail-coverts. Wings and tail yellowish-green, the inner webs only being dusky. Some spots of bluish-grey on the occiput.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge 512, along the gap 712; tarsus 1112, middle toe 56.


Adult Female. Plate XXXVIII. Fig. 2.

The female resembles the male, but wants the black band under the eye, and has the black of the head less extended backwards. The tints of the plumage generally are also lighter.

Dimensions nearly the same.




Magnolia auriculata, Wild. Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 1268. Pursh. Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 482. Mich. Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Septentr. vol. iii. p. 94. Pl. 7.—Polyandria Polygynia, Linn. Magnoliæ, Juss.


This species, which is remarkable for the beauty of its foliage, is known in America by the names of White Cucumber Tree, Long-leaved Cucumber Tree, and Indian Physic. The latter name it has obtained from the circumstance of its bark being used in intermittent fevers. It is characterized by its rhomboido-oboval acute leaves, which are narrowed and two-lobed at the base; and its ovate acute petals. The flowers are greenish-white.