BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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BLACKBIRDS, ORIOLES, ETC.: FAMILY ICTERIDÆ

The eight members of the family Icteridae differ widely in appearance and habits. The two Orioles are rarely seen on the ground; when they do come down, they hop. All the other species get their food chiefly on the ground, and these all walk. In four of the eight species black predominates; these species are gregarious, often occurring in very large flocks. The Orchard Oriole is found commonly only as far north as southern Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Rusty Blackbird is only a migrant in most of New York and New England.

CROW BLACKBIRD [COMMON GRACKLE]
BRONZED GRACKLE. Quiscalus quiscula æneus
PURPLE GRACKLE. Quiscalus quiscula
12.00-13.50 in.

Ad. ♂.— Head, neck, and upper breast iridescent purple, violet, or brassy-green in good light (at a distance the whole bird looks black); rest of body black, with metallic reflections; wings and tail bluish, violet, or purplish; tail long, middle pair of feathers much longer than outer pair; eye pale yellow. Ad. ♀.— Similar, but browner and smaller.

Nest, bulky, of dried grasses, etc., in trees. Eggs, greenish, spotted and streaked with black and brown.

[graphic]

Bronzed Grackle

The Crow Blackbird is a summer resident throughout New York and New England, but in northern New England occurs only locally in low ground near water. It arrives late in February, or early in March, and stays occasionally as late as October. When the Blackbirds first return, they come in flocks, and they breed in communities, preferring the security of evergreen trees for nesting-places. Here they may be seen on the tops of the trees squeaking and whistling like creaking sign-boards. When the male utters his song, he spreads his wings slightly and puffs out his feathers. When the young are in the nest, the female, a little smaller and duller than the male, may be seen walking over lawns or open places in the neighborhood, hunting for grubs or bits of refuse, and then flying to the nests. From all the surrounding country, lines of such foragers converge in the chosen grove in midsummer. After the young are able to fly, the breeding-places are deserted, and either no Grackles are to be seen or else very large flocks are met with, blackening the fields or trees. Sometimes these flocks, or migrants from the north, are seen late in October, and occasionally in November.

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The absence of red on the shoulder distinguishes the Crow Blackbird from the Red-wing, and the long, wedgeshaped tail, conspicuous in flight, from the Rusty Blackbird. This tail is often held keel-shaped, the middle feathers being depressed. On the ground the bird somewhat suggests a Crow; the gait, as in the case of all the blackbirds, is a walk. When Crow Blackbirds fly, their line of flight is level, not undulating, so that the members of a flock do not rise and fall as the other blackbirds do. Like several of the other blackbirds, it often jerks its tail upward when perched.

NOTE.— The Crow Blackbird, in the neighborhood of New York city, is the Purple Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula); about Boston and north ward it is the Bronzed Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula æneus). In the former the colors of the head and neck are not sharply defined from those of the body, as they are in the latter. In Connecticut intermediate races occur. The habits and notes of the two are practically the same.


RUSTY BLACKBIRD. Euphagus carolinus
9.55 in.

Ad. ♂ in spring.— Entire plumage glossy bluish-black; eye pale yellow or white. Ad. ♀ in spring.— Slate-gray; eye as in ♂. Ad. in autumn.— Feathers of head, neck, and back tipped with rustybrown; under parts buffy.

Nest, in trees, bulky. Eggs, bluish-green, olive, or brownish, speckled and spotted with brown.

The Rusty Blackbird (rusty only in the autumn) is a common migrant through New York and New England, from the middle of March to the first week of May, and again from the end of September through October, or in the vicinity of New York city until December. It breeds to some extent in the northern and extreme eastern counties of Maine. The Rusty Blackbird is as fond of wet places as the Red-wing; it is generally found in small flocks near marshes and at the borders of water-courses. Like the Redwing, it visits to some extent the dry hillsides, particularly in the fall.

When seen at a distance, and in flight, it is almost impossible to distinguish between this bird and the Red-wing, unless the split or squeaking whistle of the Rusty is heard. This is its song, corresponding to the congaree of the Redwing; it is heard both in spring and fall. The species also has a chuck practically indistinguishable from that of the Red-wing, and has the same trick of jerking its tail upward when perched. When seen near to, the absence of any mark on the shoulder should distinguish the Rusty; the tail, though slightly rounded, can hardly be confused with the long, extremely rounded tail of the Bronzed Grackle. The surest mark by which the Rusty may be distinguished from the Red-wing, if one can get near enough, is the white eye. The female might be confused with the female Cowbird, but in most cases the latter would not occur in the wet places affected by the former; moreover the Cowbird's bill is shorter. The female Red-wing is heavily streaked. A Rusty Blackbird in autumn might be mistaken for a male Cowbird, but the rusty is much more widely distributed in the former, extending well down the back, and the bill is longer and sharper.


BALTIMORE ORIOLE. Icterus galbula
7.53 in.

Ad. ♂.— Head, throat, upper back, wings, and tail black; wing-feathers margined with white; tips of outer tail-feathers yellow for nearly half their length; lower back, breast, and belly, reddish-orange. Ad. ♀.— Black of the male much duller; rump, breast, and belly yellow; throat often spotted with blackish; tail grayish-orange. Im.— Similar to the ♀.

Nest, a pocket composed of tough fibres or string, hung from the tips of pendulous twigs, commonly of elms, or sometimes close to the upright stem of small trees. Eggs, white, scrawled with irregular lines of brown or black.

The Baltimore Oriole is a common summer resident of southern and central New England, and the lower Hudson Valley. In the upland of northern New England and New York, the Oriole is confined to the village streets in the more settled valleys; in the forested region of the north it is wholly absent. It arrives early in May, and stays till about the first of September.

All through May and early June Orioles are active and musical, flashing through the trees and whistling, now a single note, now a phrase or two. By the middle of June the young begin to call from their hanging nest, and their crying is then incessant, and resembles the syllables teel-deedee, tee-dee-dee. Some time in July the old Orioles moult, and are then quiet and retiring; after the moult the male whistles again, especially early in the morning, and continues to sing till his departure. The female during the mating season whistles two or three notes similar to the male's. Both sexes utter a long chatter when excited. The question is often asked whether the Oriole ever uses the same nest a second season. I have never observed such an instance, but it is a very common sight to see a new nest built only a few feet from the old one, or sometimes even the tattered remains of the nest of two years before on still a third twig.

It is a common error in central New England to imagine that a dull-colored oriole seen in an orchard is the Orchard Oriole; the latter occurs commonly only in southern New England and in the lower Hudson Valley. (See following species.)



ORCHARD ORIOLE. Icterus spurius
7.32 in.

Ad. ♂.— Head, throat, and upper back black; lower back, breast, and belly chestnut; wings dark brown, tail almost black. Im. in second year.— Upper parts greenish-yellow, brightest on the rump; tail brown, tinged with greenish-yellow; throat black; under parts yellow. Ad. ♀.— Similar to Im. , but throat yellow; back browner.

Nest, a deep cup made of long green grass-blades, hung generally in apple-trees ten to fifteen feet up. Eggs, bluish white, spotted and scrawled with black or brown.

The Orchard Oriole is a common summer resident of southern Connecticut and the lower Hudson Valley ; in eastern Massachusetts it is a rare summer resident as far north as Ipswich. It is not uncommon in the valleys of the Connecticut and Housatonic, as far north as Springfield and Pittsfield, though it is far less common everywhere in Massachusetts than the Baltimore Oriole. In northern New England the Orchard Oriole does not occur. It arrives early in May, and leaves in August. The Orchard Oriole, as its name suggests, frequents apple orchards, but it is often found in low shade-trees.

The song is very different from that of the Baltimore Oriole; it is not made up of separate whistled phrases, but is a definite outburst of musical notes. It recalls the richness of the Fox Sparrow and the energy of the Purple Finch. The call-note of the Orchard Oriole suggests the chuck of a Blackbird; it has also a chatter resembling that of the Cowbird.

A bird in the adult plumage of chestnut and black is unmistakable, but the males in the second year and the females may be confused with female Baltimore Orioles ; the greenish tinge of the upper parts should distinguish the female Orchard Oriole, while the pure black throat of the young male should identify him.



MEADOWLARK. Sturnella magna
10.75 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown, streaked with black; line through crown buffy; line from eye to bill yellow; throat and belly bright yellow; black crescent on breast; tail-feathers short and narrow, outer ones white. Ad. in winter.— Upper parts a redder brown; black and yellow of under parts veiled with buff and reddish-brown. Im.— Yellow of breast much paler; black crescent replaced by a few dark streaks.

Nest, on ground, of dry grass, sometimes arched over. Eggs, white, speckled with reddish-brown.

In southern New England and in the lower Hudson Valley, wherever the ground is fairly free from snow, particularly on salt marshes, the Meadowlark spends the winter in small flocks. The clear whistled notes of the bird may there be heard in every month of the year.

But in the interior the Meadowlark is only a summer resident, and in northern New England it is rare or absent. It frequents wide stretches of grass-land, associating either with Bobolinks in rich meadows or with Grasshopper Sparrows in dry fields; at all seasons it is common on salt marshes.

Its ordinary song is a clear, rather plaintive whistle, uttered from the top of a tree, or a fence, and often in the air; it has besides a harsh guttural chatter, and a nasal peent. In the breeding season the Meadowlark indulges occasionally in a flight-song, more prolonged, but less clear than its usual whistle. The yellow breast and the black crescent do not often show; the bird commonly keeps his back to observers. The legs are long and stout, and the bird spends much time on the ground, where it walks.

Though about the size of the Flicker, it can readily be distinguished by its flight; after a few strokes it sails a short distance, then repeats the few strokes, then sets its wings and sails again. When it flies up from the ground, the white outer tail-feathers are a conspicuous mark; as the bird walks on the ground, its short tail is often nervously opened, so that the white feathers show.


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