May 3, 1883. Forest and Stream 20(14): 265-266. Also: 5/10, Forest and Stream 20(15): 284.
SPRING BIRDS OF NEBRASKA.
BY A. HALL.
The following is an annotated list of the birds that came under my observation while on a three months' collecting tour in the vicinity of the Platte River, in Southeastern Nebraska, from March 1 to June 1, 1880:
1. Wood Thrush—Turdus mustelinus Gm.—Arrives about the middle of May, frequents thick, wooded streams, where it breeds. Nest usually placed in the crotch of a low bush, although I have often seen it saddled upon a limb of a beech tree in the Eastern States. It is composed of grass and mud, lined with fine rootlets. Eggs four of five in number, of a pale green color. This species is apparently not very abundant.
2. Catbird—Mimus carolinensis Gr.—Arrives first week in May, breeds in low bushes, in which is built a very rough nest, composed of weeds and grass, lined with fine roots and hair. When nesting near a house, bits of cloth and feathers are often used. Eggs dark green. This species is very fond of its home or favorite haunts, never straying more than twenty rods the whole summer. To verify this fact, I saw one with a white feather in its wing that remained within such limits all summer.
3. Brown Thrush—Harporhynchus rufus Cab.—Arrives about the last week in April. Nests in low bushes, brush heaps and upon the ground. Eggs, pale green, dotted with reddish-brown spots.
4. Eastern Bluebird—Sialia sialis Hald.—A common summer resident. Saw them lighting upon weeds in a thin grove of cottonwoods.
5. Ruby-crowned Kinglet—Regulus calendula Licht.—A regular migrant. Breeds in high latitudes, and winters on our southern border. A very fine songster for so small a bird, uttering a very sweet, plaintive warble at short intervals the whole day long.
6. Western House Wren—Troglodytes domesticus parkmanni Aud.—This species is a shade lighter than its Eastern representative. Its habits are the same, but it can eclipse it in its song, which lasts from early morn till eve, and is much louder. This bird has a variety of nesting places. I once hung a coat upon a cherry tree, in one of the pockets of which a nest was placed, and the old bird reared her young there, seeming well pleased with her novel home.
7. Long-billed Marsh Wren—Telmatodytes palustris Cab.—Shot one on the Platte in May, where they probably breed.
8. Horned Lark, Shore Lark—Eromophila alpestris Boie.—Resident and abundant in small, scattering flocks. I saw them in company with McCown's and chestnut-collared buntings. I am positive that they breed here, for I shot a female that contained an egg fully developed.
9. Titlark—Anthus ludovicianus Licht.—Not uncommon. I saw them near small pools of water and on fresh-plowed land, but never saw more than one at a time.
10. Missouri Skylark—Neocorys spraguei Scl.—This species arrives from the South early in May and breeds near the Platte River. They had already paired and begun to carry material for a nest by the middle of May. They were very shy and generally flew up out of range, therefore I took but a few specimens. I regretted that I was unable to remain long enough to study their breeding habits and hear their beautiful song.
11. Black and White Creeper—Mniotilta varia V.—Arrives about middle of May.
12. Orange-crowned Warbler—Helminthophaga celata Bd.—A common migrant. Arrives in the last week in April in company with the Tennessee warbler. The Helminthophagae are the most active of the warbler family, and are always busily engaged collecting the insects which form their principal food. This species is easily identified by the concealed orange patch on crown.
13. Tennessee Warbler—Helminthophaga peregrina cab.—Habits same as preceding. I think it is more common than the orange-crowned warbler.
14. Summer Warbler—Dendroica aestiva Bd.—Very abundant. Breeds in June. I once found a nest of the species made wholly of cotton batting which it had picked up in the door-yard.
15. Yellow-rumped Warbler—Dendroica coronata Gr.—Very rare in this locality. Only one specimen seen in April, hopping about in low underbrush, and occasionally darting to the ground in pursuit of insects. Its habits here appeared to be strictly terrestrial, but in Ohio, early in April, they will be found in oak timber, darting about, high up in the tops. Late in the fall they are seen feeding upon various kinds of berries; they occasionally winter in Ohio, where I shot one January 12, 1883, the thermometer standing then at zero. The stomach was filled with berries from the red cedar, and the bird was in good condition.
16. Maryland Yellowthroat—Geothlypis trichas Cab.—Common. Breeds upon the ground. This species is terrestrial in its habits, but it is often seen singing from the tops of trees.
17. Yellow-breasted Chat—Icteria virens Bd.—This species is easily recognized by its bright yellow throat and breast and plain olive green back, wings and tail. One unaccustomed to its loud, boisterous croakings would not believe that so small a bird was capable of making such a noise.
18. Scarlet Tanager—Pyranga rubra V.—Rather rare.
19. Bank Swallow—Cotile riparia Boie.—Saw this species breeding in colonies in the sand bluffs on Loup River.
20. Bohemian Waxwing—Ampelis garrulus L.—A common winter visitant, arriving in large flocks from the north. It is easily identified by the chestnut-colored patch on undertail coverts. Breeds in the far north.
21. Townsend's Fly-catching Thrush—Myiadestes townsendi Cab.—A fine specimen of this species was sent me in the flesh, Feb. 9, 1880, by my friend, Frank W. Powell. It was taken on Wood River. I think its occurrence purely accidental and know of no other record of its occurrence in Nebraska. This bird is said to be one of the most beautiful songster in the United States, and excels the mocking-bird in the sweetness of its notes. It is found throughout the Rocky Mountain range in the vicinity of juniper and cedar trees, as they feed largely upon the berries. They are also expert fly-catchers. But little is known of its breeding habits.
22. Bell's Vireo—Vireo belli Aud.—This is the commonest species of the family in this locality, and in fact it was the only one I observed. But there are several others found here which I did not notice.
23. Great Northern Shrike—Lanius borealis V.—Not uncommon in winter. I saw them perched upon weeds watching for mice, which they pounce upon like a hawk and carry off in the bill. They often impale them upon thorn trees whence the name butcher bird.
24. White-rumped Shrike—Lanius ludovicianus, var. excubitoroides (Sw.) Coues.—This species breeds in Dakota and probably in Nebraska.
25. American Goldfinch—Astragalinus tristis Cab.—Resident. Breeds in June and July. Seen in small, scattering flocks in winter, feeding upon seeds and buds.
26. Snow Bunting—Plectrophanes nivalis (L.) Meyer.—A regular winter visitant. Arrives from the north in large, roving flocks in company with Lapland longspur.
27. Lapland Longspur—Centrophanes lapponicus (L.) Kaup.—A regular migrant. Saw thousands in cornfields in April. None seen after May 15.
28. Chestnut-collared Longspur—Centrophanes ornatus Cab.—Arrives from the south in large flocks, scattering over the entire country. They are the most restless and the most difficult birds to shoot I ever saw. No sooner do they alight upon the ground than they are up and off, flying in a zig-zag manner, uttering a sharp squeaking note. I shot nearly all of my specimens on the wing, it being almost impossible to see them on the ground. Nearly all the birds taken were moulting about the head and neck. They arrived from the south during the first week in April.
29. McCown's Longspur—Rhynchophanes maccowni Bd.—Common migrant. Saw them in full song in May. The best way to shoot these birds is to watch them at the river. Hundreds of them come off the prairie every day to drink and bathe, so that I killed twenty-two of them at a single discharge with ½ oz. dust shot. They are very pugnacious little fellows, fighting among themselves like our English sparrows (P. domesticus). I have often seen them chasing the horned lark.
30. Baird's Sparrow—Passerculus bairdi (Aud.) Coues.—A regular migrant. But one specimen was taken, late in May. It may be more abundant in June, like C. bicolor, which is rare in May, but common in June. This species breeds in Dakota and probably in Nebraska.
31. Savanna Sparrow—Passerculus sandwichensis Ridg.—Arrives the last week in March, and are quite abundant during migration. The first specimen I shot I took for P. bairdi, but on comparing the two species I found differences. P. bairdi is a trifle larger and is stouter built; the plumage is lighter. They are hard to distinguish at a distance.
32. Baywing Bunting—Pooecetes gramineus Bd.—Breeds upon the ground. Arrives early in May. Abundant.
33. Yellow-wing Sparrow—Coturniculus passerinus Bp.—Abundant everywhere in open prairies, and is a great singer in its humble way. Its song sounds more like the squeaking of some grasshopper than that of a bird. It flies but a short distance, when it plunges or tumbles headlong into the grass as if it was shot.
34. Leconte's Sparrow—Coturniculus lecontei Aud.—Leconte's sparrow is apparently rare in this locality. But two specimens were taken in May. Its manners are the same as those of the preceding; flight rather feeble, flying but a short distance, when it drops into the grass like a stone. I think they breed here. I saw one, which I shot, hopping about in some bushes near the river. The second was shot as he topped the grass.
35. Lincoln's Sparrow—Melospiza lincolni Aud.—A common migrant, known by its streaked breast and absence of the dark center spot.
36. Common Snowbird—Junco hyemalis Scl.—A regular migrant from the north; saw them only along wooded streams.
37. Oregon Snowbird—Junco hyemalis oregonus (Towns.) Cs.—Not so common as preceding; easily distinguished from foregoing by the chestnut patch on back and tinged on sides with pink.
38. Clay-colored Sparrow—Spizella pallida (sw.) Bp.—An abundant migrant, breeding in Dakota.
39. White-crowned Sparrow—Zonotrichia leucophrys (Forst.) Sw.—A regular migrant. But few were seen, as this species do not tarry long before leaving for their northern breeding place; arrives from the south in May.
40. Lark Finch—Chondestes grammica (Say.) Bp.—Abundant; breeds. This species is easily identified by their long tail, two outer feathers of which are white, which show very distinctly when the birds are on the wing. In Dr. J.M. Wheaton's "Birds of Ohio," he says" "This species is unknown in Northern Ohio." I saw a pair here (in Ohio) June 25, 1883, dusting themselves in the road. A nest was found within one and a half miles of Lake Erie, in 1880, by a young oologist. I also obtained two specimens in the flesh from W.H. Collins, a taxidermist, of Detroit, Mich., who says that they are not uncommon in that vicinity.
41. Lark Bunting—Calamospiza bicolor (Towns.) Bp.—This species arrives the last week in May, and is very wary and difficult to shoot. The male arrives in advance of the female. Nidification commences in June, and the nest is placed upon the ground. The eggs plain green. I was unable to remain to study their habits, which somewhat resemble those of the bobolink.
42. Black-throated Bunting—Spiza americana Gm.—I met this species on the lowlands of the Loup River only, where they breed. They were very abundant here, singing upon every weed.
43. Common Towhee, Chewink—Pipilo erythrophthalmus V.—Not uncommon; frequents thick underbrush, breeding in brush heaps and upon the ground.
44. Arctic Towhee—Pipilo maculatus arcticus (Sw.) Coues.——In company with preceding. Identified by conspicuous white lines lengthwise of back.
45. Bobolink—Dolichonyx oryzivorus Sw.—Abundant. Breeds upon ground in high grass.
46. Cowbird—Molothrus ater Gray.—Common. Deposits its eggs in the nest of other birds smaller than itself, except the chewink. The yellowbird (C. tristis) completely outgenerals this bird by building a nest directly over its eggs, forming a double nest, or a nest in a nest. One of this description is in the Kirtland Museum, at Cleveland, Ohio
47. Redwing Blackbird—Agelaeus phoeniceus V.—Arrives early in April in company with yellowheads. Breeds.
48. Yellow-headed Blackbird—Xanthocephalus icterocephalus Bd.—Abundant; breeds. A very beautiful bird with bright yellow head. Females are smaller, no larger than a cowbird, and are plain brown, and are called buffalo birds by the residents, as they are often seen around cattle.
49. Meadow Lark—Sturnella magna neglecta Ridg.—Abundant; breeds. Song different from Eastern representative; not so harsh, more of a warble and very pleasing to the ear. Plumage has a pale, faded appearance.
50. Baltimore Oriole—Icterus galbula Coues.—Abundant. Breeds in the tall cottonwood; nest suspended from an outer branch.
51. Rusty Grackle—Scolecophagus ferrugineus (Gm.) Sw.—A common migrant. Does not tarry long before leaving for its northern breeding place; arrives in small flocks in April.
52. Common Crow—Corvus frugivorus Bartr.—This species is a very shy bird in Ohio, but here it is quite tame, and takes but little notice of man. They are often seen following the plow like blackbirds.
53. American magpie—Pica rustica hudsonica (Cab.) Ridg.—An irregular visitor. I am told that they were quite common years ago, but now they are rarely seen in this vicinity.
54. Blue Jay—Cyanocitta cristata (L.) Strickl.—This species is rare in this vicinity, but one seen, April 30.
55. Kingbird—Tyrannus carolinensis Bd.—Common; breeds. Arrives in May.
56. Arkansas Flycatcher—Tyrannus verticalis Say.—Saw this species in open prairie, perched upon weeds, watching for their insect prey. Habits like the preceding, but not so common.
57. Say's Pewee—Sayornis sayi Bd.—Saw this species only on wooded streams. It was very shy and I was able to procure but one specimen.
58. Night Hawk—Chordeiles popetue henryi Cass.—The night hawk is exceedingly abundant here. I have counted upward of fifty at one time as they were darting about in the air catching insects. When perching, this species sits lengthwise of a limb, generally roosting upon a tree, while the whip-poor-will roosts upon a log or the ground. These two species are often confounded, but are distinguishable by the conspicuous white wing bars of the night hawk. This variety, henryi, is lighter and grayer on the back than its eastern representative, but there are no other marked differences. It nests upon the ground, and lays but two eggs.
59. Belted Kingfisher—Ceryle alcyon (L.) Boie.—Common, breeding upon suitable streams of the West. Nests in a hole in bank, excavated by the bird. Eggs pure white.
60. Hairy Woodpecker—Picus villosus L.—A regular migrant, but not abundant. Specimens taken.
61. Red-headed Woodpecker—Melanerpes erythrocephalus (L.) Sw.—Not uncommon in spring. I saw no woodpeckers in this vicinity until April.
62. Golden-wing Woodpecker—Colaptes auratus (L.) Sw.—Abundant. Breeds.
63. Hybrid Woodpecker—Colaptes hybridus Baird.—Abundant in company with preceding. Examined several specimens. The one now before me has red maxillary patch (black feathers hardly noticeable), wings and tail underneath, yellow orange, shafts reddish. I may be wrong in placing this as a distinct species. Would like to hear from some one upon the subject.
64. Red-shafted Woodpecker—Colaptes mexicanus Sw.—This species is rather rare here, but I succeeded in taking an undoubted specimen of this species.
65. Great Horned Owl—Bubo virginianus Gm.—One specimen taken. I think its occurrence here accidental, as there is no heavy timber suitable for breeding.
66. Short-eared Owl—Asio accipitrinus Pall.—Resident and abundant. Breeds in May. Found nest in hollow of willow stub, fifteen feet from the ground, in which about two feet from the top, upon decayed wood, two white eggs were deposited. This species generally nests upon the ground in burrows.
67. Burrowing Owl—Speotyto cunicularia hypogaea Cs.—This species is exceedingly abundant, breeding in the burrows of the prairie dogs. On approaching one of these dog towns, you will see these little owls perched upon one of the innumberable little eminences that mark a village, standing erect upon their long legs, bowing and nodding, until their breasts almost touch the ground. They are quite tame at first, and are then easily secured, but after a few shots, they become very shy and fly up out of range. I never saw them take to the holes unless wounded. I dug into several of these holes for eggs, but failed to obtain any; I succeeded in finding one, however, within a foot of the entrance of a hole. It was pure white and fresh. This was the last week in May.
68. Marsh Hawk—Circus cyaneus hudsonius (L.) Cs.—On the great plains of the West I saw this species in great abundance skimming about in all directions in quest of mice and small birds upon which they subsist. The nest is placed upon the ground and is composed of dry weeds and grass only. The eggs are five in number, of a dull white color, with light bluish tint. Upon approaching a nest of this species the old bird flew off and circled about just above my head, uttering in rapid succession the notes kay, kay, kay, and as soon as I had retired a few rods, she at once returned to her eggs. I did not remove them for several days, but visited them daily, and at each approach the same performance would be gone through with. Occasionally the female would fly off and bring her better half to the rescue, but he being a great coward kept at a respectable distance.
69. Swallow-tail Kite—Elanoides forficatus Cs.—A regular visitor. While walking along Wood River, one very windy day, I saw a fine specimen of this beautiful species dart into the brush and light upon a small tree, and as he sat there struggling with the wind, I easily crept to within easy range and added another rare bird to my list. This is the only one I saw.
70. Lanier Falcon—Falco mexicanus Licht.—This species is apparently not very abundant in this locality. I saw but two, and they were following up the streams. It was impossible for me to shoot one or even get a shot. The pair I saw flew directly over my head, but before I could raise my gun they were out of range.
71. Richardson's Hawk—Falco richardsoni Ridg.—Not uncommon. Plumage lighter on back than its eastern ally; no other marked difference; size about the same.
72. Sparrow Hawk—Falco sparverius L.—Abundant. Breeds. The Ohio hawk law which offers a bounty on all hawks, ought to be altered so as not to include this beautiful and useful species. The sparrow hawk kills great numbers of mice and noxious insects, and therefore should be protected instead of being killed.
73. Swainson's Hawk—Buteo swainsoni Bp.—This species is very abundant. During migrations almost every tree contained one. They were quite tame, and easily approached. They do not tarry long before leaving for their breeding places in Northern Dakota and Northwest.
74. Rough-legged Hawk—Archibuteo lagopus sancti johannis (Gm.) Ridg.—This species is very abundant in winter, and subsists entirely upon mice, frogs and small rodents. It seldom if ever preys upon birds.
75. Ferruginous Rough-leg Hawk—Archibuteo ferrugineus (Licht.)—Its occurrence here is accidental. One was taken near Grand Island, Neb. in winter of 1881.
76. Fish Hawk, Osprey—Pandion haliaetus Sav.—Not uncommon on Platte River.
77. Golden eagle—Aguila chrysaetus Cuv.—An irregular visitor. I received a fine specimen of this species in the flesh, shot January, 1881, from my friend F.W. Powell.
78. Turkey Buzzard—Cathartes aura L.—Common. Arrives from the South early in April, and probably breeds.
79. Carolina Dove—Zenaidura carolinensis Bp.—Abundant, nesting upon the ground, on the banks of wooded streams. Found none nesting in trees.
80. Sharp-tail Grouse—Pedioecetes phasianellus columbianus Cs.—This species is no longer a resident of Northeastern Nebraska, where it once used to breed. A few winter, in company with the prairie hen, breeding in North Nebraska and Dakota.
81. Pinnated Grouse—Cupidonia cupido Bd.—Abundant, and becoming more so every year, notwithstanding the destruction of thousands of eggs every year by prairie fires. I found several nests of eggs destroyed in this way.
82. Virginia Partridge—Ortyx virginiana Bp.—The quail, of Bob White, is quite abundant, but is confined mostly to thick wooded streams. I have, however, seen them far out upon the open prairies. They are seldom shot by the residents who say that they are too small to kill.
83. Kildeer Plover—Aegialites vociferus Cass.—I was very much disappointed in not seeing more plovers. I had expected to get several species, and this is the only one of the family I saw. The kildeer arrives the last week in March, and breeds in May.
84. Avocet—Recurvirostra americana Gm.—My friend F.W. Powell shot a fine specimen of this species upon the Platte River in the spring of 1882.
85. Wilson's Phalarope—Steganopus wilsoni Cs.—Apparently not very common. I took two specimens, male and female, which were the only ones I saw. They probably breed upon the Platte.
86. Wilson's Snipe, English Snipe—Gallinago wilsoni Bp.—Apparently rare in spring; but one specimen was seen in the Platte River.
87. Semipalmated Sandpiper—Ereunetes pusillus occidentalis Cs.—A common migrant. I have examined several of this so-called Western semipalmated sandpipers, and I think it identical with E. pusillus of the east. Would like to hear from others upon this subject.
88. Least Sandpiper—Actodromas minutilla Cs.—Common on Loup River, feeding upon the mud bars. When standing perfectly still upon these bars they would run around me like chickens.
89. Baird's Sandpiper—Actodromas bairdi Cs.—This species arrives from the south in small flocks in April, and is the most abundant of the family.
90. Great Marbled Godwit—Limosa foeda Ord.—A common migrant, frequenting the sand bars of the Platte.
91. Greater Tattler—Totanus melanoleucus Gm.—A regular migrant; common. This species is easily identified by its long, yellow legs—hence the name. From the throat of one I took a fish three inches long.
92. Lesser Tattler—Totanus flavipes Gm.—Regular migrant. Common.
93. Bartramian Tattler—Bartramia longicauda Cs.—Commonly known as upland plover. Arrives last week in April. Breeds in May. They are very tame and are often killed by the herders with their long whips.
94. Long-billed Curlew—Numenius longirostris Wils.—Common on the Platte, and also upon dry places, where it feeds upon various insects. It utters a prolonged whistle that can be heard a great distance. Breeds on the Platte in June.
95. Eskimo Curlew—Numenius borealis L.—This species arrives upon the wheat fields in April in small flocks and is then very shy. I succeeded, however, in shooting five by getting a horse between myself and the flock and urging him sidewise until within easy range.
96. Great Blue Heron—Ardea herodias L.—A common migrant, seen on wooded streams only.
97. Zettern, Stakedriver—Botaurus mugitans Cs.—Common. Breeds in May.
98. Whooping Crane—Grus americana (L.) Temm.—A common migrant. While camping upon the Platte River, I had a good opportunity to watch these beautiful birds as they came in from the prairies every evening. Usually fifteen or twenty were seen together, flying close to the water's edge in single file. They would alight upon a sand bar at a distance of perhaps fifty rods from me, carefully folding their beautiful wings and strutting proudly about. This species is very shy, and impossible to take with an ordinary shotgun. I offered a bounty of five dollars apiece, but failed to secure a single specimen. The white crane arrives about the middle of March, and none are seen here after April 20.
99. Sandhill Crane—Grus canadensis (L.) Temm.-This species is as large as a turkey, and is equally as good eating. They seem to delight in mounting high in the air, and soaring around in the same manner as the turkey buzzard, uttering, as they go, a coarse, rolling, rattling note, somewhat like that of the tame pigeon, but very much louder. They breed upon the Platte in June.
100. Carolina Rail—Porzana carolina (L.) V.—A very rare migrant. I saw but one specimen on the Platte. My friend, F.W. Powell, a very close observer of birds, tells me that he never saw it before.
101. Coot, Mud Hen—Fulica americana Gm.—Common. Breeds upon small lakes near Loup River.
102. White-fronted Goose—Anser albifrons Gm.—A rare migrant. One specimen was taken upon the Platte by F.W. Powell in spring of 1881.
103. Snow Goose—Chen hyperboreus Boie.—Locally called brant. It is the most abundant of all the geese I saw upon the Platte, and the most difficult to shoot, as they fly very high and seldom come within range. As they sit upon the sand bars they look, in the distance, like huge snow banks. They leave the Platte for their northern breeding places the last week of April.
104. Canada Goose—Bernicla canadensis Boie.—Regular migrant, but not so common as the following. Locally called "Mississippi goose."
105. Hutchins Goose-Bernicla canadensis hutchinsi Cs.—Same as preceding, but smaller. Hunters who make a business of shooting geese for their feathers tell me that one man has been known to kill forty in a single day with a shoulder gun. I saw hundreds of them sitting upon the ice early in March. All these geese leave the Platte by the last week of April. I do not regard a spring goose as fit to eat. They are lean and taste very fishy.
106. Mallard Duck—Anas boscas L.—Regular migrant. A few remain to breed.
107. American Widgeon—Mareca americana Gm.—A regular migrant, but not common.
108. Green-wing Teal—Querquedula carolinensis Steph.—A common migrant, frequenting the small streams. Are considered worthless as food, being too small.
109. Blue-wing Teal-Querquedula discos Steph.—A regular migrant, but not so common as the preceding.
110. Shoveller Duck—Spatula clypeata Boie.—Saw them in company with teal. Not common.
111. Merganser—Mergus merganser L.—A common migrant.
112. Hooded Merganser—Mergus cucullatus L.—Occasionally seen in winter, but rather rare. Mr. T.W. Powell shot a pair in the winter of 1880.
113. White Pelican—Pelecanus trachyrhynchus Lath.—Occasionally seen on the Platte River.
114. Herring Gull—Larus argentatus Bn.—A common migrant.
115. Franklin's Rosy Gull—Chroicocephalus franklini Rich.-Rather rare. Saw a small flock of five flying up the Platte River, which were the only ones I saw.