Ornithological Biography/Volume 2/The Canada Flycatcher

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1746062Ornithological Biography — The Canada FlycatcherJohn James Audubon


Muscicapa canadensis, Linn.

PLATE CIII. Male and Female.

What a beautiful object, in the delightful season of spring, is our Great Laurel, covered with its tufts of richly, yet delicately, coloured flowers! In imagination I am at this moment rambling along the banks of some murmuring streamlet, overshadowed by the thick foliage of this gorgeous ornament of our mountainous districts. Methinks I see the timid trout eyeing my movements from beneath his rocky covert, while the warblers and other sylvan choristers, equally fond of their wild retreats, are skipping in aU the freedom of nature around me. Delightful moments have been to me those when, seated in such a place, with senses all intent, I gazed on the rosy tints of the flowers that seemed to acquire additional colouring from the golden rays of the sun, as he rode proudly over the towering mountains, drawing aside as it were the sable curtain that till now hung over the landscape, and drying up, with the gentleness of a parent towards his cherished ofispring, the dewy tears that glittered on each drooping plant. Would that I could describe to you the thoughts that on such a morning have filled my whole soul; but alas, I have not words wherewith to express the feelings of gratitude, love, and wonder that thriUed and glowed in my bosom! I must therefore content myself with requesting you to look at the blossoms of the laurel as depicted in the plate, together with two of the birds, which, in pairs, side by side, are fond of residing among its glossy and verdant foliage.

A comparison of the plate in which I have represented this interesting species, with that exhibiting the bird named by me the Bonaparte Flycatcher,[1] will suffice to convince you, good reader, that these birds are truly distinct. My excellent friend Mr William Swainson, is quite correct, when, after describing the present species, he says, "we can perceive no character, either in the figure or the description of Wilson, which does not accord with our bird," but is certainly mistaken in supposing me to have informed him that the Canada Flycatcher and that named after the Prince of Musignano, are one and the same[2].

The Muscicapa Bonapartii was met with in Louisiana, where, during a residence of many years, I never saw the present species. Nay, the Canada Flycatcher, although a migratory, may be said to be truly a northern bird, never having been observed south of Pennsylvania, east of the range of the Alleghany mountains, or below Pittsburg, on their broad western slope.

I first became acquainted with the habits of the Canada Flycatcher in the Great Pine Forest, while in company with that excellent woodsman Jediah Irish, of whom I have previously spoken; and I have since ascertained that it gives a decided preference to mountainous places, thickly covered with almost impenetrable undergrowths of tangled shrubbery. I found it breeding in the Pine Forest, and have followed it through Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the country of Labrador, in every portion of which, suited to its retired habits, it brings forth its broods in peaceful security.

It no doubt comes from the southern parts of America, or from the West Indies, but the mode of its migration is still unknown to me. In Pennsylvania, about the middle of May, a few are seen in the maritime districts, where they seem merely to be resting after the fatigues of a long and tedious journey, before they retreat to their favourite haunts in the mountainous tracts. There they are heard while concealed among the opening blossoms, giving vent to their mirth in song, perhaps thanking the Author of their being for their safe return to their cherished abode. Their notes are not unmusical, although simple and not attractive. Wherever a streamlet of rushing water, deeply shaded by the great mountain laurel (Rhododendron maximum) was met with, there was the Canada Flycatcher to be found. You might see it skipping among the branches, peeping beneath each leaf, examining every chink of the bark, moving along with rapidity and elegance, singing, making love to its mate, and caressing her with all the fervour of a true sylvan lover.

The nest of this bird which I found, was filled to the brim with four young ones ready to take wing; and as it was on the 11th of August, I concluded that the parents had reared another brood that season. When I put my hand on them, they all left the nest and scrambled off, emitting a plaintive tsche, which immediately brought the old ones. Notwithstanding all the anxious cares of the latter in assisting them to hide, I procured all of them; but after examining each minutely I set them at liberty. They were of a dull greyish tint above, of a delicate citron colour beneath, and without any spots on the breast or sides. The nest was placed in the fork of a small branch of laurel, not above four feet from the ground, and resembled that of the Black-capped Warbler. The outer parts were formed of several sorts of mosses, supporting a delicate bed of slender grasses, carefully disposed in a circular form, and lined with hair. In another nest found near Eastport, in the State of Maine, on the 22d of May, five eggs had been laid, and the female was sitting on them. They were of a transparent whiteness, with a few dots of a bright red colour towards the large end. This nest also was placed in the fork of a small bush, and immediately over a rivulet.

The flight of the Canada Flycatcher is rather swifter than that of sylviæ generally is; and as it passes low amid bushes, the bird cannot be followed by the eye to any considerable distance. Now and then it gives chase on the wing, when the clicking of its bill is distinctly heard. By the 1st of October not one remained in the Great Pine Forest, nor did I see any in Labrador after the 1st of August. A few were seen in Newfoundland in the course of that month, and as I returned through Nova Scotia, these birds, like my own party, were all moving southward.

Muscicapa canadensis, Linn. Syst. Nat. vol. i. p. 327.
Sylvia pardalina, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 79.
Setophaga Bonapartii, Swains. and Richards, Fauna Boreali- Americana, Part ii. p. 225.
Canada Flycatcher, Muscicapa canadensis, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii, p. 100. PI. 26, fig. 2. Male.

Adult Male. Plate CIII. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, straight, broad and depressed at the base, acute; upper mandible slightly notched, and a little inflected at the tip, lower mandible straight. Nostrils basal, lateral, roundish, partly covered by the frontal feathers. Head and neck moderate. Eyes moderate. Body slender. Legs of ordinary size; tarsus a little longer than the middle toe; inner toe a little united at the base; claws compressed, acute, arched.

Plumage ordinary, blended. Wings of ordinary length, the second primary longest. Tail rather long, slightly emarginate, straight. Basirostral feathers bristly, and directed outwards.

Bill pale brown above, flesh-coloured below. Iris deep brown. Feet and claws flesh-coloured and semitransparent. The upper parts are of a light brownish-grey, the quills brown edged externally with paler, as are the tail-feathers, except the two middle, which are grey like the back. The head mottled with brownish-black; spots of the same colour, descending in a line from the lower mandible to the upper part of the breast, forming an interrupted gorgelet. A bright yellow line from the base of the mandible over the eye. The lower parts of a fine bright yellow, excepting under the tail, where they are white.

Length 5¼ inches, extent of wings 9; bill ⅜; tarsus ⅞, toe about the same length.

Adult Female. PI. CIII. Fig. 2.

The female has the grey of the upper parts more tinged with brown, and the yellow of the lower parts less brilliant; but in other respects so resembles the male as not to require any particular description.

The Great Laurel.

Rhododendhon maximum, Willd. Sp. Pl. vol. ii p. 600.—Pursh. Flor. Amer. vol.i. p. 297—Decandria Monogynia, LinnRhododendra, Juss.

This beautiful species frequently attains a height of 15 or even 20 feet. It is characterised by its oblong, acute leaves, its terminal umbels or clusters of pink campanulate flowers, the divisions of the calyces of which are oval and obtuse. It exhibits several varieties depending on the shape of the leaves, the colour of the flowers, and the comparative length of the stamens and style. The wood, which is tough and stubborn, is well adapted for turner's work. The species is found on all the moist declivities of our mountainous districts, from Carolina to Massachusetts.

  1. Birds of America, vol. i. Pl. V.
  2. Fauna Boreali Americana, p. 225. Note.