Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Loggerhead Shrike

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Loggerhead Shrike (Audubon).jpg


Lanius ludovicianus, Linn.

PLATE LVII. Male and Female.

This species may with great propriety be called an inhabitant of the "Low Countries," as it is seldom or never met with even in the vicinity of the mountains intersecting the districts in which it usually resides. It is also confined to that portion of our country usually known under the name of the Southern States, seldom reaching farther eastward than North Carolina, or farther inland than the State of Mississippi, in which latter, as well as in Louisiana, it appears only during the winter months. Its residence may, therefore, be looked upon as confined to the Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In these States, it is seen along the fences and bushes about the rice plantations, at all seasons, and is of some service to the planter, as it destroys the field-mice in great numbers, as well as many of the larger kinds of grubs and insects, upon which it pounces in the manner of a Hawk.

The Loggerhead has no song, but utters a shrill clear creaking prolonged note, resembling the grating of a rusty hinge slowly moved to and fro. This sound is heard only during the spring season, and whilst the female is sitting. About the beginning of March these birds begin to pair. They exhibit at this time few of those marks of the tender affection which birds usually shew. The male courts the female without much regard, and she, in return, appears to receive his haughty attentions with merely just as much condescension as enables her to become the mother of a family, whose feelings are destined to be of the same cold nature.

The nest is fixed in a low bush, generally near the centre of a dwarf hawthorn, and is so little concealed as to be easily discovered. It is coarsely constructed of dry crooked twigs, and is lined with fibrous roots and slender grasses. The eggs, which are of a greenish white, are from three to five. Incubation is performed by the male as well as by the female, but each searches for its own food during the intervals of sitting.

The young are at first fed on crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects; but as they become larger and stronger, they receive portions of mice, which form the principal food of the grown birds at all seasons. The Loggerheads rear only one brood in the season.

Whilst this species is on wing, its motions are very rapid and direct, its flight being produced by quick flutterings of the wings, without any apparent undulation. The bird alights in a sudden firm manner, like a Hawk, stands erect, silent and watchful, until it spies its prey on the ground, when it suddenly pounces upon it, striking it first with its bill, but seizing it with its claws so immediately after, that the most careful observation alone can enable one to decide as to the priority of either action. I have never seen it attack birds, nor stick its prey on thorns in the manner of the Great American Shrike.

This bird appears in Louisiana only at intervals, and seldom remains more than a few weeks in December or January. It never comes near houses, although it frequents the fields around them. It has no note at this period, and appears singly, alighting on the stacks and fences, where it stands perched for a considerable time, carefully looking around over the ground. As soon as the spot is thoroughly examined, it flies off to another, and there renews its search.

I have given you, kind reader, the representation of a pair of these Shrikes, contending for a mouse. The difference of plumage in the sexes is scarcely perceptible ; but I have thought it necessary to figure both, in order to shew the quarrelsome disposition of these birds even when united by the hymeneal band.

Lanius ludovicianus, Linn. Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 134.—Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 72.

Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius carolinensis, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 57. PI. 22. fig. 8.

Adult Male. Plate LVII. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, straightish, robust, acute, compressed; upper mandible with the dorsal outline a little arched, the tip declinate, the edges acute and overlapping, with a sharp process near the tip; lower mandible with the dorsal line a little convex, the tip acute and ascending. Nostrils basal, lateral, half closed by an arched membrane. Head large. Neck and body robust. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus scutellate before, acute behind; toes free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws arched, compressed, acute.

Plumage soft, blended. Long bristly feathers at the base of the bill. Wings of ordinary length, curved, the second quill longest, the first and fifth equal. Tail long, graduated, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris dark brown. Feet greyish-black. The general colour of the upper parts is dark grey, of the under greyish-white, the sides tinged with brown. Forehead and sides of the head included in a broad black band. Wings and tail black. Base of the primaries, and tips of the secondaries and six inner primaries, white. Tail-feathers, excepting the four middle ones, white towards the end, the outer ones nearly all of that colour.

Length 8½ inches, extent of wings 13; bill along the ridge 7/12, along the gap nearly 1; tarsus 1, middle toe 11/12.

Adult Female. Plate LVII. Fig. 2.

The female differs from the male only in being a little smaller and somewhat darker and duller in the plumage.

The Green Briar, or Round- leaved Smilax.

Smilax rotundifolia, Willd. Sp. PI. vol. iv. p. 779. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. 1 p. 250.—Diœcia Hexandria, Linn. Asparagi, Juss.

This species of Smilax, which is common along fences, in old fields, and by the borders of woods, is characterized by its shrubby stem, round branches, roundish-ovate, acuminate, slightly cordate, five or seven-nerved leaves, and spherical berries. It flowers in May and June. The berries are of a dark purple colour.

The Field Mouse.

This species is found in all parts of the United States, Living in the meadows and woods. It forms narrow subterranean passages, to which it resorts on the least appearance of danger, but from which it is easily driven, by thrusting a twig into them.