Ornithological Biography/Volume 2/The Savannah Finch

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2315302Ornithological Biography — The Savannah FinchJohn James Audubon


Fringilla Savanna, Wils.

PLATE CIX. Male and Female.

This species is one of the most abundant of our Finches. It is also one of the hardiest, standing the winter of our Middle Districts, ranging as far north as Labrador, and crowding our old fields and open woods of the south, from October to April. It is nearly allied to the Yellow-Winged Sparrow and Henslow's Bunting, but differs from both in many important particulars.

It confines itself principally to the ground, where it runs with extreme agility, lowering its body as if to evade your view, and when in danger hiding as closely as a mouse, nay, seldom taking to wing, unless much alarmed or suddenly surprised. It is fondest of dry, rather elevated situations, not very distant from the sea shore, and although it travels much, I have never found one in deep woods. During winter it associates with the Field Sparrow and Bay-winged Sparrow, and with these it is often seen in open plains of great extent, scantily covered with tall grasses or low clumps of trees and briars. Regardless of man, it approaches the house, frequents the garden, and ahghts on low buildings with as little concern as if in the most retired places.

It migrates by day, when it suffers from the attacks of the Marsh, the Pigeon and the Sharp-shinned Hawks, and rests on the ground by night, when it^is liable to be preyed upon by the insidious Minx. Its flight, although rather irregular, is considerably protracted, for it crosses I believe without resting the broad expanse of the Gulf of St Lawrence. In June 1833, I found it gradually moving northward as I advanced towards the country of Labrador; and although a great number tarry and breed in all intermediate places from Maryland to that dreary region, I saw them there in abundance.

The nest of the Savannah Finch is placed on the ground at the foot of a tuft of rank grass, or of a low bush. It is formed of dry grasses, and is imbedded in the soil, or among the grass, the inner part being finished with straw and blades of a finer texture. The eggs, from four to six in number, are of a pale bluish colour, softly mottled with purplish-brown. Some eggs have a broadish circle of these spots near the large end, while the extremity itself is without any markings. It generally breeds twice every season in the Middle States, but never more than once to the eastward of Massachusetts. While searching for the nests of this and many other species, I observed that the artifices used by the female to draw intruders away, are seldom if ever practised until after incubation has commenced.

Although this little Finch cannot be said to have a song, it is yet continually pouring out its notes. You see it perched on a fence rail, the top of a stone, or a tall grass or bush, mimicking as it were the sounds of the Common Cricket. Indeed, when out of sight of the performer, one might readily imagine it was that insect he heard. During winter, it now and then repeats a cheep, which, although more sonorous, is not more musical. In spring, when disturbed and forced from its perch, it flies quite low over the ground in a whirring manner, and re-alights as soon as an opportunity offers.

Like all the other land-birds that resort to Labrador in summer, it returns from that country early in September.

Fringilla Savanna, Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 109.
Savannah Finch, Fringilla Savanna, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iv. p. 72. Pl. 34. fig. 4, Male; and vol. iii. p. 55. Pl. 22. fig. 3, Female.—Nuttall, Manual, vol. i. p. 489.

Adult Male. Plate CIX. Fig. 1.

Bill short, conical, acute; upper mandible straight in its dorsal outline, rounded on the sides, as is the lower, which has the edges sharp and inflected; the gap line straight, not extending to beneath the eye. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short. 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, compressed, acute, slightly arched; that of the hind toe a little larger.

Plumage soft and blended. Wings shortish, curved, rounded, the third and fourth quills longest. Tail short, emarginate.

Bill pale-brown beneath, dusky above. Iris brown. Feet light flesh-colour. Cheeks and space over the eye light citron-yellow. The general colour of the plumage above is pale reddish-brown, spotted with brownish-black, the edges of the feathers being of the former colour. The lower parts are white, the breast marked with small deep brown spots, the sides with long streaks of the same.

Length 5½ inches; extent of wings 8½; bill along the ridge 512, along the gap 612; tarsus 1012.

Adult Female. Plate CIX. Fig. 2.

The Female resembles the Male, the tints of the plumage being merely a little lighter.

Length 5½ inches; extent of wings 8½.

The Indian Pink-root or Worm-grass.

Spigelia marilandica, Pursh, Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 139.—Pentandria Monogynia, Linn. Apocyneæ, Juss. Fig. 1. of the Plate.

Stem tetragonal, all the leaves opposite, ovate, acuminate. Perennial. This plant grows in damp meadows, along rivulets, and even in the depth of the woods. It is abundant in Kentucky, as well as on the eastern ranges of the Alleghany Mountains, even to the vicinity of the Atlantic. Its rich carmine flowers have no scent.

Phlox aristata, Mich. Fl. Amer. vol. 1. p. 144.—Pursh, Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. 1. p. 150.—Pentandria Monogynia, Linn. Polemonia, Juss. Fig. 2. of the Plate.
See vol. i. p. 361.