Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/393

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but merely visits them, making its first appearance there at the approach of winter. It extends over the whole Union, from the eastern to the southernmost parts, but gives a decided preference to the Middle Districts, where the greater number spend the winter. They come from the northern portions of the continent, where they breed, and from whence they seem to be forced by the severity of the weather, to seek subsistence for a time in milder climates. They return at the approach of spring, and none, in as far as I have been able to discover, remain to breed in the United States.

The flight of the Winter Hawk is smooth and light, although greatly protracted, when necessity requires it to be so. It sails at times at a considerable elevation, and, notwithstanding the comparative shortness of its wings, performs this kind of motion with grace, and in circles of more than moderate diameter. It is a remarkably silent bird, often spending the greater part of a day without uttering its notes more than once or twice, which it does just before it alights to watch with great patience and perseverance for the appearance of its prey. Its haunts are the extensive meadows and marshes which occur along our rivers. There it pounces with a rapid motion on the frogs, which it either devours on the spot, or carries to the perch, or the top of the hay-stack, on which it previously stood. If it seizes a small frog, it swallows it whole and at once; but if a large one, it first tears it to pieces. The appetite of the Winter Hawk may be said to be ravenous. It seldom gives up eating, when food is plentiful, until it has gorged itself so as to seem on the point of being suffocated. At such times, it flies heavily, but removes farther at once from a person who pursues it, than when its stomach is empty, as if at one effort to ensure its safety, and afterwards enjoy the digestion of its food in quiet.

When frogs are scarce during frosty weather, the Winter Hawk pursues the meadow mouse, but only in such cases, frogs being the favourite food of this species. I have seen it when disappointed in seizing a large bull-frog, which had saved itself by leaping into the water, stand on the spot previously occupied by the reptile, and wait until it reappeared and approached the shore, when the Hawk would strike at it with his talons, although seldom successfully, as the frog would sink backward, and thus escape.

Mr Alexander Wilson has given a figure so unlike any bird of this species, for one of the Winter Falcons, that although he has at the same