Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Brown Titlark

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Brown Titlark (Audubon).jpg


Anthus Spinoletta. Bonap.

PLATE X. Male and Female.

Although this species is met with in every portion of the United States which I have visited, I have not seen it anywhere during the summer months, or heard of it breeding with us. It is one of the birds that I should call gifted with a double set of habits, for, like a very few others that are strictly named land birds, it occurs not only in the fields in the interior of the country, but also on the borders of rivers, and even on the shores of the Atlantic.

Its flight is extremely easy, and what I would call of a beautiful and delicate nature. In other words, these birds pass and repass through the air, performing numberless evolutions, as if it did not cost them the least labour to fly. When in the interior of the country, they resort to the old fields, and the vast prairies, as well as the ploughed lands, seldom in flocks of less than ten or a dozen, and not unfrequently by hundreds. Now, they are seen high, loosely moving in short reiterated undulations, inspecting the ground below; now, they come sweeping over and close to it, and seem about to alight, when, on the contrary, their ranks close in an instant, they wheel about and rise again into the air. These feats are often repeated six or seven times, when at last, satisfied as to their safety, or the abundance of food in the spot, they alight, and immediately run about in quest of food. They run briskly, and as lightly as birds usually called Larks are wont to do, but with this difference, that they suffer their tails to vibrate whenever they stop running. Again, instead of squatting partially down, as true Larks do, to pick up their food, they move their body upon the upper joints of the legs, in the manner of Thrushes and other birds. Another habit seldom found in the Lark genus is that of settling on fences and trees, and walking along them with apparent ease. In fact, the bird, although called a Lark by Wilson and others, belongs to the Pipit or Titlark family.

Whilst residing among the meadows and ploughed fields, these birds feed on insects and small seeds, picking up some gravel at the same time. Along the rivers, or on the sea-shores, they are fond of running as near the edge of the water as possible, and searching among the drifted leaves and weeds for such insects as are usually found there. The vibratory motion of their tail is now more perceptible, being quicker. Their feeble notes are also frequently uttered. When shot along the shores, their stomachs have been found filled with fragments of minute shells, as well as small shrimps, and other garbage. When raised by the report of a gun, they rise high, and sometimes fly to a considerable distance; but you may expect their return to the same spot, if you keep yourself concealed for a few minutes. They are expert fly-catchers, inasmuch as they leap from the ground, and follow insects on the wing for several feet with avidity. The company of cattle is agreeable to them, so much so, that they walk almost under them in quest of insects. When in fields, the Brown Titlarks are often seen mixed with a few other birds known by the name of Winter Larks, the habits of which I shall detail in my next volume.

The species now under consideration reaches Louisiana about the middle of October, and leaves it in the beginning of March. I caught some of these birds on my passage from France to the United States, on the Great Newfoundland Banks. They came on board wearied, and so hungry that the crumbs of biscuit thrown to them were picked up with the greatest activity. I am inclined to consider the Brown Titlark identical with the Water Pipit of Europe.

Anthus Spinoletta, Ch. Bonaparte, Synopsis of Birds of the United States, p. 90.
Alauda Spinoletta, Linn. Syst. Nat. p. 288.
Pipit spioncelle, Temm. Man. d'Ornith. Part i. p. 265.
Brown Lark, Alauda rufa, Wilson, Amer. Ornith. vol. v. p. 89. PI. 42. fig. 4.

Adult Male. Plate X. Fig. 1.

Bill straight, subulate, depressed at the base, acute, the edges slightly inflected at the middle, the gap not reaching to beneath the eyes; upper mandible keeled at the base, afterwards rounded, slightly notched and declinate at the tip. Nostrils basal, oval, half closed above by a membrane. Head small. Neck slender. Body slender. Feet longish, slender; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly with longish scutella, longer than the middle toe; toes scutellate above, granulated beneath; inner toe free; hind toe with a very long, almost straight claw, which, together with the rest, is slender, compressed and acute Plumage blended, soft, with little gloss. Wings rather long, acute, the first, second, and third primaries longest. Tail longish, forked, the feathers rather narrow and sharpish.

Bill brownish-black. Legs and claws deep brown, tinged with green. Iris brown. Upper parts olive-brown tinged with grey; throat and a line over the eye brownish-white. Quills brownish-black, margined externally with whitish; tail of the same colour, the outermost feather half white, the next obliquely white at the end. Under parts reddish white, the sides of the neck and the breast longitudinally spotted with dark brown.

Length 6½ inches, extent of wings 10½; bill 7/12 along the ridge, 2/3 along the gap; tarsus 11/12, middle toe 3/4; hind toe 5/6 including the claw, which is 5/12.

Adult Female. Plate X. Fig. 2.

The female differs from the male only in being somewhat smaller, and in having the colours paler, and the upper parts more tinged with brown.