Townsend's Bunting, described below, is one of Audubon's mystery birds. Read more about them here.
This species was discovered on the shores of the Columbia river, by Mr. TOWNSEND, who sent me a perfect specimen, ticketed "Female, February 15th, 1836," together with the following notice. "I found this species numerous on the plains of the Colorado of the west, in the Rocky Mountains. It is a very active and rather shy bird, keeping constantly in the low bushes of wormwood, and on the ground, in the vicinity. It appears to be partially gregarious, six or eight being mostly seen together. Its voice is a sharp quick chirp, and occasionally a low weak warble." It bears a considerable resemblance to Fringilla iliaca of our Eastern Districts, but is darker, and wants the light-coloured bands with which the wings of that species are marked. Other differences will be found on comparing the description with that of the bird above mentioned, to which, however, it is so nearly allied that it evidently belongs to the same subordinate group.
Female, 7, 10 1/2
Colorado of the West. Rocky Mountains.
Bill short, rather robust, conical, acute; upper mandible rather broader than the lower, almost straight in its dorsal outline, as is the lower, both being rounded on the sides, the lower with inflected sharp edges, the upper with a slight prominence on the edges anterior to the nostrils; the gap-line nearly straight, a little deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers.
Head rather large, broadly ovate; neck shortish; body full. Legs of moderate length, rather strong, tarsus shorter than the middle toe and claw, covered anteriorly with seven long scutella; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral nearly equal, the hind toe stout, and with its claw nearly as long as the third. Claws very long, slightly arched, slender, compressed, laterally grooved, acute, that of the hind toe largest.
Plumage soft and blended, the feathers ovato-oblong. Wings very short, convex, rounded; the second, third, and fourth quills longest, and nearly equal, the first a quarter of an inch shorter than the second, and equal to the sixth; secondaries abruptly rounded. Tail longish, nearly even.
Bill dark brown above, the base of the lower mandible yellow, its tip bluish; iris brown; feet flesh-coloured. The general colour of the upper parts is a very deep olivaceous brown, in which there is apparent a slight tinge of red, which becomes more conspicuous on the rump and outer webs of the tail-feathers, and margins the wing-coverts and quills; there are no bands on the wings. The ground-colour of the lower parts is the same as of the upper, but the shafts of the cheek-feathers are whitish; there is a longitudinal band of white spots from the angle of the lower mandible; the throat, fore neck, middle of the breast, and hind part of the flanks are variegated with white, the greater part of each feather being of that colour, and the tip only dusky brown; the lower tail-coverts are reddish-brown in the centre, with broad yellowish-white edges, the tibial feathers dull reddish-brown, the lower surface of the wing greyish-brown.
Length to end of tail 7 inches; extent of wings 10 1/2; bill along the ridge 5/12, along the edge of lower mandible 7/12; wing from flexure 2 11/12; tail 2 11/12; tarsus (10 1/2)/12; hind toe 4/12, its claw 6/12; middle toe (7 1/2)/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12.
The wing of this bird is much shorter than that of Fringilla iliaca, which measures 3 6/12, inches; its tarsi are longer, but more slender, and its claws are so much longer and more slender, as to suggest at first the idea of its being a Plectrophanes, from which however it differs in the form of the wings.
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