Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Yellow-breasted Warbler

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Ornithological Biography by John James Audubon
The Yellow-breasted Warbler, or Maryland Yellow-throat
Yellow-breasted Warbler (Audubon).jpg

THE YELLOW-BREASTED WARBLER, OR MARYLAND YELLOW-THROAT.

Sylvia Trichas, Lath.

PLATE XXIII. Male and Female.


The notes of this little bird render it more conspicuous than most of its genus, for although they cannot be called very musical, they are far from being unpleasant, and are uttered so frequently during the day, that one, in walking along the briary ranges of the fences, is almost necessarily brought to listen to its whitititee, repeated three or four times every five or six minutes, the bird seldom stopping expressly to perform its music, but merely uttering the notes after it has picked an insect from amongst the leaves of the low bushes which it usually inhabits. It then hops a step or two up or down, and begins again.

Although timid, it seldom flies far off at the approach of man, but instantly dives into the thickest parts of its favourite bushes and high grass, where it continues searching for food either along the twigs, or among the dried leaves on the ground, and renews its little song when only a few feet distant.

Its nest is one of those which the Cow Bunting (Icterus pecoris) selects, in which to deposit one of its eggs, to be hatched by the owners, that bird being similar in this respect to the European Cuckoo. The nest, which is placed on the ground, and partly sunk in it, is now and then covered over in the form of an oven, from which circumstance children name this warbler the Oven-bird. It is composed externally of withered leaves and grass, and is lined with hair. The eggs are from four to six, of a white colour, speckled with light brown, and are deposited about the middle of May. Sometimes two broods are reared in a season. I have never observed the egg of the Cow Bunting in the nests of the second brood. It is less active in its motions than most of the Sylviæ, but makes up this deficiency by continued application, it being, to appearance, busily employed during the whole of the day. It does not chase insects by flying after them, but secures them by surprise. Caterpillars and spiders form its principal food.

Although this species is found throughout the Union, the Middle States seem to attract and detain more individuals, during the breeding season, than any others. Very few breed in Louisiana. In Kentucky, however, many breed in the barrens. The neighbourhood of swamps and such places is their favourite ground, but every field provided with briar patches or tall weeds harbours some of them. It leaves the Central Districts about the middle of September. The male bird does not attain its full colouring until the first spring, being for several months of the same tints as the female.

The twig on which the male is seen, is commonly called in Louisiana the Wild Olive. The tree is small, brittle and useless. It bears an acid fruit, which is sometimes employed as a pickle, and eaten when ripe by some people.

The female is perched on a twig of the Bitter-wood Tree, the wood of which is hard, and resembles that of the Crab. This is also a small tree, and grows along fences, amongst the briars, where the birds are found. Both these trees I have seen in Louisiana only.


Sylvia Trichas, Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 519.

Turdus Trichas, Linn. Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 293.

Sylvia Marilandica, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 85.

Yellow-breasted Warbler, Lath. Synops, vol. iv. p. 438.

Maryland Yellow-throat, Sylvia Marilandica, Wilson, Americ. Ornith. vol. i. p. 88. PI. 6. fig. 1. Male; and vol. ii. p. 163. PL 18. fig. 4. Female.


Adult Male. Plate XXIII. Fig. 1.

Bill of ordinary length, tapering, slender, nearly straight, acute. Nostrils basal, lateral, elliptical, half-closed by a membrane. Head and neck of ordinary size, the latter short. Body rather short. Feet longish, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a few scutella, the uppermost long; toes scutellate above, the inner free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws slender, compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage loose, blended. Wings very short, the first quill longest. Tail rounded.

Bill dark brown. Iris dark hazel. Feet flesh colour. A broad band of black across the forehead, including the eyes, and terminating in a pointed form half-way down the neck; behind which is a narrower band of very pale blue; a slender white streak under the eye. Fore part of the neck bright ochre-yellow, the rest of the under parts pale brownish-yellow, fading into white on the abdomen and under tail-coverts. Upper parts dull greyish-olive, on the head tinged with red. Inner webs of the quills deep brown.

Length 5¼ inches, extent of wings 6½; bill along the ridge 5/12; along the gap ⅔; tarsus 11/12;


Adult Female. Plate XXIII. Fig. 2.

The female has the upper parts lighter, the under parts tinged with reddish-brown, and wants the two bands on the head, which is of a pale brownish red colour.




The Snow-drop Tree, Silver-bell Tree, or Wild Olive.

Halesia tetraptera, Willd. Sp. PI. vol. ii. p. 849. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 448.—Monadelphia Decandria, Linn. Guaiacanæ, Juss.


Leaves ovate, acuminate, serrate; flowers with twelve stamina; the fruit rhomboidal. It grows in shady woods, generally near rivers.


The Bitter-wood Tree.

Viburnum prunifolium, Wild. Sp. PI. vol, i. p. 1847. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 201.—Pentandria Dygynia, Linn. Caprifolia, Juss.


Glabrous; the branches spreading; the leaves roundish; crenato-serrate; the petioles smooth; the cymes sessile; the fruit round. The flowers are white, the berries dark purplish-blue.