Ornithological Biography/Volume 2/The Hooded Warbler

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2315305Ornithological Biography — The Hooded WarblerJohn James Audubon


Sylvia mitrata. Lath.

PLATE CX. Male and Female.

In many parts of our woods, the traveller, as he proceeds, cannot help stopping to admire the peaceful repose that spreads its pleasing charm on all around. The tall trees are garlanded with climbing plants, which have entwined their slender stems around them, creeping up the crevices of the deeply furrowed bark, and vying with each other in throwing forth the most graceful festoons, to break the straight lines of the trunks which support them; while here and there from the taller branches, numberless grape-vines hang in waving clusters, or stretch across from tree to treeThe underwood shoots out its branches, as if jealous of the noble growth erf the larger stems, and each flowering shrub or plant displays its blossoms, to tempt the stranger to rest a while, and enjoy the beauty of their tints, or refresh his nerves with their rich odours. Reader, add to this scene the pure waters of a rivulet, and you may have an idea of the places in which you will find the Hooded Warbler.

The Southern and Western States are those to which this beautiful bird gives a preference. It abounds in Louisiana, along the Mississippi, and by the Ohio nearly to Cincinnati. It is equally plentiful in the northern parts of the Floridas, Georgia, and the two Carolinas, after which it becomes rare. None, I believe, are ever seen east of the State of New York. It enters the lower parts of Louisiana about the middle of March, and by the beginning of May has laid its eggs, or sometimes even hatched them. It arrives in South Carolina in April, immediately constructs its nest, and has young quite as soon as in Louisiana.

The Hooded Flycatcher is one of the liveliest of its tribe, and is almost continually in motion. Fond of secluded places, it is equally to be met with in the thick cane brakes of the high or low lands, or amid the rank weeds and tangled bushes of the lowest and most impenetrable swamps. You recognise it instantly on seeing it, for the pecuKar graceful opening and closing of its broad tail distinguishes it at once, as it goes on gambolling from bush to bush, now in sight, now hid from your eye, but constantly within hearing.

Its common call-note so resembles that of the Painted Finch or Nonpareil, that it requires a practised ear to distinguish them. Its song, however, is very different. It is rather loud, lively yet mellow, and consists of three notes, resembling the syllables weet, weet, weeteē, a marked emphasis being laid on the last. Although extremely loquacious during the early part of spring, it becomes almost silent the moment it has a brood; after which its notes are heard only while the female is sitting on her eggs; for they raise two, sometimes three, broods in a season.

Full of activity and spirit, it flies swiftly after its insect prey, securing the greater part of it on wing. Its flight is low, gliding, and now and then protracted to a considerable distance, as it seldom abandons the pursuit of an insect until it has obtained it.

The nest of this gay bird is always placed low, and is generally attached to the forks of small twigs. It is neatly and compactly formed of mosses, dried grasses, and fibrous roots, and is carefully lined with hair, and not unfrequently a few large feathers. The eggs are from four to six, of a dull white, spotted with reddish-brown towards the larger end. The male and female sit by turns, and show extreme anxiety for the safety of their eggs or young.

My worthy friend John Bachman, gave me the following account of the courageous disposition and strength of attachment of the Hooded Flycatcher. "I found a nest of these birds in a low piece of ground, so entangled with smilax and briars that it was difficult for me to pass through it. The nest was not placed more than two feet from the ground. This was in the month of May, and the parents were engaged in feeding the young it contained. Not far from that spot, whilst on a stand, waiting for a deer to pass, I saw another pair of the Hooded Flycatcher collecting materials to build a nest. The female was the most active, and yet the male was constantly near to her. A Sharp-skinned Hawk suddenly pounced upon them, seized the female, and flew off with her. The male, to my surprise, followed close after the Hawk, flying within a few inches of him, and darting at him in all directions, as if fully determined to make him drop his prey. The pursuit continued thus until the birds were quite out of my sight!"

This species, like many of its delicate tribe, appears to suffer so much from occasional cold, that, although at all other times a shy and wary bird, when chilly weather surprises it, it becomes at once careless of its safety. On such occasions I have approached them near enough to touch them with my gun. By the middle of September they all retire farther south.

The plant on which I have represented a pair of these birds, is common in the localities which they usually prefer. Although richly coloured, it has no scent.

Hooded Flycatcher, Muscicapa cucullata, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 101, PL 26. Fig. 3. Male—Nuttall, Manual, vol. i. p. 373.

Sylvia mitrata, Lath. Index Ornith. vol. ii. p. 528—Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 79.

Adult Male. Plate CX. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, straight, subulato-conical, acute, nearly as deep as broad at the base, the edges acute, the gap line a little deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, elliptical, lateral, half- closed by a membrane. Head rather small. Neck short. Body rather slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, covered anteriorly by a few scutella, the uppermost long; toes scu tell ate above, the inner free, the hind toe of moderate size; claws slender, compressed, acute, arched. Plumage soft and blended. Wings short, a little rounded, the second and third quills longest. Tail longish, slightly emarginate. Rather strong bristles at the base of the bill.

Bill blackish above, paler below. Iris brown. Feet flesh-coloured. Forehead, sides of the head, and the chin deep yellow, as are the breast and belly. Hind-head, throat, and lower part of the neck black. The general colour of the upper parts is yellowish-olive; wings dusky; three lateral tail-feathers white on the terminal half of their inner webs. Length 5+12, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge nearly 512.

Adult Female. Plate CX. Fig. 2.

The Female has the forehead, the sides of the head, and all the lower parts yellow, the hind part of the head dusky; in other respects she resembles the male.

Dimensions nearly the same as in the male.

This species more resembles a Flycatcher than a Sylvia in its habits, as well as in the bristles at the base of the bill, and, in fact, is very nearly allied to the Muscicapa Selbii, vol. i. p. 46.