Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/313

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RICE BIRD.

ing in successive jerks, which are as amusing as the jingling of their vocal essays. The variety of their colours is at this juncture very remarkable. It is equally so, when, on rising from among the grass and flying away from the observer, they display the pure black and white of their wings and body.

The nest of the Rice Bunting is placed on the ground, without much apparent care as to choice of situation, but always amongst the grass, or in a field of wheat or barley. It is composed of coarse dried grasses and leaves externally, and is lined with finer meadow grass. It appears large for the size of the bird. The female lays from four to six eggs, of a white colour, strongly tinged with dull blue, and irregularly spotted with blackish. They raise only one brood in a season.

No sooner have the young left the nest, than they and their parents associate with other families, so that by the end of July large flocks begin to appear. They seem to come from every portion of the Eastern States, and already resort to the borders of the rivers and estuaries to roost. Their songs have ceased, the males have lost their gay livery, and have assumed the yellow hue of the females and young, although the latter are more firm in their tints than the old males, and the whole begin to return southward, slowly and with a single clink, sufficient however to give intimation of their passage, as they fly high in long files during the whole day.

Now begin their devastations. They plunder every field, but are shot in immense numbers. As they pass along the sea shores, and follow the muddy edges of the rivers, covered at that season with full grown reeds, whose tops are bent down with the weight of the ripe seeds, they alight amongst them in countless multitudes, and afford abundant practice to every gunner.

It is particularly towards sunset, and when the weather is fine, that the sport of shooting Reed Birds is most profitable. They have then fully satiated their appetite, and have collected closely for the purpose of roosting. At the discharge of a gun, a flock sufficient to cover several acres rises en masse, and performing various evolutions, densely packed, and resembling a sultry cloud, passes over and near the sportsman, when he lets fly, and finds occupation for some time in picking up the dozens which he has brought down at a single shot. One would think that every gun in the country has been put in requisition. Millions of these birds are destroyed, and yet millions remain, for after all the havock that has been