Ornithological Biography/Volume 2/The Chipping Sparrow

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1747284Ornithological Biography — The Chipping SparrowJohn James Audubon


Fringilla socialis, Wils.


Few birds are more common throughout the United States than this gentle and harmless little finch. It inhabits the towns, villages, orchards, gardens, borders of fields, and prairie grounds. Abundant in the whole of the Middle States during spring, summer, and autumn; it removes to the southern parts to spend the winter, and there you may meet with it in flocks almost anywhere, even in the open woods. So social is it in its character that you see it at that season in company with the Song Sparrow, the White-throated, the Savannah, the Field, and almost every other species of the genus. The sandy roads exposed to the sun's rays are daily visited by it, where, among the excrement of horses and cattle, it searches for food, or among the tall grasses of our old fields it seeks for seeds, small berries, and insects of various kinds. Should the weather be cold it enters the barn yard, and even presents itself in the piazza. It reaches Louisiana, the Carolinas, and othef southern districts in November, and returns about the middle of March to the Middle and Eastern States, where it breeds. Early in May the Chipping Sparrow has already formed its nest, which it has placed indifferently in the apple or peach tree of the orchard or garden, in any evergreen bush or cedar, high or low, as it may best suit, but never on the ground. It is small and comparatively slender, being formed of a scanty collection of fine dried grass, and lined with horse or cow hair. The eggs are four or five, of a bright greenish-blue colour, slightly marked with dark and light-brown spots, chiefly distributed towards the larger end. They are more pointed at the small end than is common in this genus. Although timorous, these birds express great anxiety when their nest is disturbed, especially the female. They generally raise two broods in the season, south of Pennsylvania, and not unfrequently in Virginia and Maryland.

The song of this species, if song it can with propriety be called, is heard at all hours of the day, the bird seeming determined to make up by quantity for defect in the quality of its notes. Mounted on the topmost branch of any low tree or bush, or on the end of a fence stake, it emits with rapidity six or seven notes resembling the sounds produced by smartly striking two pebbles together, each succeeding note rising in strength, although the song altogether is scarcely louder than the chirping of a cricket. It is often heard during the calm of a fine night, or in the warmer days of winter.

These gentle birds migrate by day; and no sooner has October returned and mellowed the tints of the sylvan foliage, than flitting before you on the road, you see family after family moving southward, chasing each other as if in play, sweeping across the path, or flocking suddenly to a tree if surprised, but almost instantly returning to the ground and resuming their line of march. At the approach of night they throw themselves into thickets of brambles, where, in company with several other species, they keep up a murmuring conversation until long after dark. Their flight is short, rather irregular, and seldom more elevated than the height of moderate-sized trees.

With the exception of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Marsh Hawk, and the Black Snake, these birds have few enemies, children being generally fond of protecting them. Little or no difference is perceptible between the sexes, and the young acquire the full plumage of their parents at the earliest approach of spring.

I did not find one individual of the species in Newfoundland, Labrador, or Nova Scotia.

Fringilla socialis, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. p. 109.
Chipping Sparrow, Fringilla socialis, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 127. Pl. 16. Fig. 5—Nuttall, Manual, vol. i. p. 497.

Adult male. Plate CIV.

Bill short, rather small, conical, acute; upper mandible rather narrower than the lower, very slightly declinate at the tip, rounded on the sides, as is the lower, which has the edges inflected and acute; the gap line straight, slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head rather large, neck short, body robust. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, greatly compressed, acute, slightly arched, that of the hind toe little larger.

Plumage soft, rather compact. Wings shortish, curved, rounded, the third and fourth quills longest, the second nearly as long, the first little shorter. Tail rather long, emarginate.

Bill dusky. Iris brown. Feet flesh-colour. Upper part of the head, anterior portion of the back, and scapulars, bright chestnut, with blackish-brown spots, the middle of each feather being of the latter colour. Sides of the neck and rump light greyish-blue, as are the smaller wing-coverts. Quills, larger coverts and first row of smaller, dusky, the two latter tipped with white, the former more or less margined with chestnut. Tail dusky, the feathers edged with pale ochre. A white line over the eye, and the lower parts generally of a greyish-white.

Length 514 inches, extent of wings 8; bill little more than 14.

The Female differs only in having the tints generally less intense. In winter, both have a blackish frontlet.

The Black Locust or False Acacia.

Robinia pseudacacia, Willd Sp. Pl. vol. iii. p. 1131. Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 487. —Diadelphia decandria, Linn. Leguminosæ, Juss.

This beautiful tree grows in the mountainous parts of the United States, from Canada to Carolina. Its wood, which is of great durability, is employed for various purposes, and particularly for gates and fence stakes. The species is characterised by its spinescent stipules, pendulous racemes of white, sweet-scented flowers, and large smooth legumes. Although abundant in the natural state, it is now planted around farms and plantations, on account of the great value of its timber. It is besides a charming ornament of our avenues, either in the country, or in the streets of villages and cities.