Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/249

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Icterus spurius, Bonap.

PLATE XLII. Male in different states, Adult Female and Nest.

The plumage of many species of our birds undergoes at times very extraordinary changes. Some, such as the male Tanagers, which during the summer months exhibit the most vivid scarlet and velvety black, assume a dingy green before they leave the country, on their way southward. The Goldfinch nearly changes to the same colour, after having been seen in a gay apparel of yellow and black. The Rice Bird loses its lively brightness until the return of spring. Others take several years before they complete their plumage, so as to shew the true place which they hold amongst the other species, as is the case with the Ibis, the Flamingo, and many other Waders, as well as with several of our land birds, among which, kind reader, the species now under your consideration is probably that in which these gradual improvements are most observable by such persons as reside in the country inhabited by them.

The plumage of the young birds of this species, when they leave the nest, resembles that of the female parent, although rather less decided in point of colouring, and both males and females retain this colour until the approach of the following spring, when the former exhibit a portion of black on the chin, the females never altering. In birds kept in cages, this portion of black remains without farther augmentation for two years; but in those which are at liberty, a curious mixture of dull orange or deep chestnut peeps out through a considerable increase of black-coloured feathers over the body and wings, intermixed with the yellowish-green hue which the bird had when it left the nest. The third spring brings him nearer towards perfection, as at that time the deep chestnut colour has taken possession of the lower parts, the black has deepened on the upper parts, and over the whole head, as well as on the wings and tail-feathers. Yet the garb with which it is ultimately to be covered requires another return of spring before it is completed, after which it remains as exhibited in the adult male, represented in the plate.

These extraordinary changes are quite sufficient of themselves to lead naturalists abroad into error, as they give rise to singular arguments even