Audubon Centennial Edition  The Birds of America

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White-throated Sparrow
Havell Name
White-Throated Sparrow

Common Name
White-throated Sparrow

Havell Plate No.
008

Paper Size
39" x 28"

Image Size
17" x 10"

Price
$ 800


 


Ornithological Biography

This pretty little bird is a visitor of Louisiana and all the southern districts, where it remains only a very short time. Its arrival in Louisiana may be stated to take place in the beginning of November, and its departure in the first days of March. In all the Middle States it remains longer. How it comes and how it departs are to me quite unknown. I can only say, that, all of a sudden, the edges of the fields bordering on creeks or swampy places, and overgrown with different species of vines, sumach bushes, briars, and the taller kinds of grasses, appear covered with these birds. They form groups, sometimes containing from thirty to fifty individuals, and live together in harmony. They are constantly moving up and down among these recesses, with frequent jerkings of the tail, and uttering a note common to the tribe. From the hedges and thickets they issue one by one in quick succession, and ramble to the distance of eight or ten yards, hopping and scratching, in quest of small seeds, and preserving the utmost silence. When the least noise is heard, or alarm given, and frequently, as I thought, without any alarm at all, they all fly back to their covert, pushing directly into the very thickest part of it. A moment elapses, when they become reassured, and ascending to the highest branches and twigs, open a little concert, which, although of short duration, is extremely sweet. There is much plaintive softness in their note, which I wish, kind reader, I could describe to you; but this is impossible, although it is yet ringing in my ear, as if I were in those very fields where I have so often listened to it with delight. No sooner is their music over than they return to the field, and thus continue alternately sallying forth and retreating during the greater part of the day. At the approach of night, they utter a sharper and shriller note, consisting of a single twit, repeated in smart succession by the whole group, and continuing until the first hooting of some owl frightens them into silence. Yet, often during fine nights, I have heard the little creatures emit here and there a twit, as if to assure each other that “all’s well.”

During the warmer days, they remove partially to the woods, but never out of reach of their favourite briar thickets, ascend the tops of hollies, or such other trees as are covered with tangled vines, and pick either a berry or a winter grape. Their principal enemies in the day-time, are the little Sparrow Hawk, the Slate-coloured or Sharp-shinned Hawk, and above all, the Hen-harrier or Marsh Hawk. The latter passes over their little coteries with such light wings, and so unlooked for, that he seldom fails in securing one of them.

No sooner does spring return, when our woods are covered with white blossoms, in gay mimicry of the now melted snows, and the delighted eye is attracted by the beautiful flowers of the dog-wood tree, than the White-throated Sparrow bids farewell to the south, not to return till winter.

It is a plump bird, fattening almost to excess, whilst in Louisiana, and affords delicious eating, for which purpose many are killed with blow-guns. These instruments--should you not have seen them--are prepared by the Indians, who cut the straightest canes, perforating them by forcing a hickory rod through the internal partitions which intersect this species of bamboo, and render them quite smooth within by passing the rod repeatedly through. The cane is then kept perfectly straight, and is well dried, after which it is ready for use. Splints of wood, or more frequently of cane, are then worked into tiny arrows, quite sharp at one end, and at the other, instead of being feathered, covered with squirrel hair or other soft substances, in the manner of a bottle-brush, so as to fill the tube and receive the impulse imparted by a smart puff of breath, which is sufficient to propel such an arrow with force enough to kill a small bird at the distance of eight or ten paces. With these blow-guns or pipes, several species of birds are killed in large quantities; and the Indians sometimes procure even squirrels by means of them.

Dr. RICHARDSON informs us that this species reaches the Saskatchewan in the middle of May, and spreads throughout the Fur Countries up to the 66th parallel. On the 14th of June, he found a female sitting on four eggs, at Cumberland House. The nest, which was placed under a fallen tree, was built of grass, lined with deer’s-hair and a few feathers. Another found at Great Bear Lake was lined with the setae of bryum. The eggs were very pale mountain-green, thickly marbled with reddish-brown. When the female was disturbed, she made her escape by running silently off, in a crouching manner, like a Lark. I met with this species in Labrador, in considerable numbers, but did not find its nest, although the young were seen late in July.

When kept in an aviary, this bird, in the latter part of spring or about May, sings at all hours of the night as joyously as when at liberty and breeding. It arrives from the north in South Carolina about the first of November, and departs in the end of March. In that State it is quite silent until the approach of night, when it chirps, as I have already described.

The dog-wood, of which I have represented a twig in early spring, is a small tree found nearly throughout the Union, but generally preferring such lands as with us are called of second quality, although it occasionally makes its appearance in the richest alluvial deposits. Its height seldom exceeds twenty feet, or its diameter ten inches. It is scarcely ever straight to any extent, but the wood, being extremely hard and compact, is useful for turning, when well dried and free of wind-shakes, to which it is rather liable. Its berries are eaten by various species of birds, and especially by our different kinds of squirrels, all of which shew great partiality to them. Its flowers, although so interesting in early spring, are destitute of odour, and of short duration. The bark is used by the inhabitants in decoction as a remedy for intermittent fevers, and the berries are employed by the housewife for dyeing black.

Male, 6 1/2, 9. Female, 6 1/4, 8 1/2

Winter resident from Louisiana to Maryland, and inland as far as Kentucky. Breeds from Maine to the Fur Countries. Abundant.


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