This handsome species was first described by Mr. SWAINSON in the Fauna Boreali-Americana. Dr. RICHARDSON in the same work states, that it was observed only on the plains of the Saskatchewan, where he supposes it breeds, as one specimen was obtained late in July. It arrives there in the end of May, and frequents shady and moist clumps of wood, being generally seen on the ground. It feeds on grubs, and is solitary and retired. My friend Mr. NUTTALL has furnished me with the following account of it:--
"We found this familiar bird entirely confined to the western side of the Rocky Mountains. Like the common Towee, it is seen to frequent the forests amidst bushes and thickets, where, flitting along or scratching up the dead leaves, it seems intent on gaining a humble subsistence. It is much more shy than the common kind, when observed flying off or skulking in the thickest places, where it is with difficulty followed. In a few minutes, however, the male, always accompanying his mate, creeps out, and at first calls in a low whisper of recognition, when, if not immediately answered, he renews his plaintive par par or pay payay, until joined by her; when, if the nest be invaded, he comes out more boldly, and reiterates his complaint, while there remains around him the least, cause of alarm. When undisturbed during the period of incubation, he frequently mounts a low bush in the morning, and utters at short intervals, for an hour at a time, his monotonous and quaint warble, which is very similar to the notes of the Towee; but this latter note (towee) so continually repeated by our humble and familiar Ground Robin, is never heard in the western wilds, our present species uttering in its stead the common complaint, and almost mew, of the Cat-bird. On the 14th of June, I saw the nest of this species, situated in the shelter of a low undershrub, in a depression scratched out for its reception. It was made of a rather copious lining of clean wiry grass, with some dead leaves beneath, as a foundation. The eggs were four, nearly hatched, very closely resembling those of the Towee, thickly spotted over, but more so at the larger end, with very small, round, and numerous reddish chocolate spots. As usual, the pair shewed a great solicitude about their nest, the male in particular approaching, boldly to scold and lament at the dangerous intrusion. This species extends into Upper California, and is occasionally seen there with the brown species of Swainson, Pipilo fuscus."
Mr. TOWNSEND informs me, that it is called "Chlawa-th'l" by the Chinook Indians, and is abundant on the banks of the Columbia, where it is found mostly on the ground, or on bushes near the ground, rarely ascending trees. His description of the nest and eggs agrees precisely with that of Mr. NUTTALL.
The eggs of this bird in my possession measure an inch and an eighth in length, and seven-eighths in breadth. They are broadly rounded at the larger end, and fall off rather abruptly at the other extremity. The spots and markings are vermilion, intermixed with larger spots of neutral tint, on a pure white ground.
Male, 8 1/2; wing, 3 1/2. Female, 8; wing, 3 1/4.
Columbia river, and northward to the Fur Countries. Abundant. Migratory.
PYRGITA (PIPILO) ARCTICA, Arctic Ground-Finch, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 260.
ARCTIC GROUND-FINCH, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. P. 589.
ARCTIC GROUND-FINCH, Fringilla arctica, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 49.
Bill short, robust, narrower than the head, conical, somewhat compressed toward the end, acute; upper mandible almost straight in its dorsal outline, being very slightly convex, the ridge narrow and well-marked, the sides convex, the edges somewhat inflected, the tip a little declinate; lower mandible with the angle short and broad, the dorsal line slightly convex, the sides rounded, the edges involute, the point acute. The nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers. The gap-line nearly straight, a little deflected at the base.
Head rather large, ovate; neck shortish; body robust. Legs of moderate length, rather stout; tarsus of moderate length, compressed, covered anteriorly with seven scutella; toes rather large, scutellate above, the first stronger, the lateral nearly equal, the third and fourth connected at the base. Claws rather long, moderately arched, slender, compressed, laterally grooved, acute.
Plumage full, soft, and blended. Wings of ordinary length, the fourth quill the longest, the third and fifth next and nearly equal, the second shorter than the sixth, the first seven and a half twelfths of an inch shorter than the fourth. Tail long, rounded, of twelve strong feathers.
Bill brownish-black. Iris red. Feet and claws reddish-brown. The general colour of the plumage is black, that colour extending over part of the breast, the sides and lower tail-coverts orange-red, the central part of the breast and abdomen white, the feathers of the tibiae, dusky, margined with whitish. An elongated patch on the outer web of all the scapulars; a small terminal spot of the same on the first row of small coverts and on the secondary coverts, and a large patch at the end of the inner web of the outer three tail-feathers on each side, white.
Length to end of tail 8 1/2 inches, bill along the ridge 7/12, along the edge of lower mandible (8 1/2)/12; wing from flexure 3 1/2; tail 4 2/12; tarsus 1 1/12; hind toe 5/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12; middle toe (8 1/2)/12, its claw 3/12.
The female is smaller. The parts which are black in the male, are blackish-grey, which on the fore part and sides of the Deck is tinged with reddish-brown. In other respects there is not much difference in the plumage.
Length to end of tail 8 inches; bill along the ridge 7/12; wing from flexure 3 1/4; tail 4; tarsus 1; hind toe (4 1/2)/12, its claw (5 1/2)/12; middle toe (9 1/4)/12, its claw 3/12.
The male above described was shot by Mr. TOWNSEND on the Columbia river, on the 14th of May, 1835; the female on the 11th of October, 1834.
In form, size, and colour, this bird is most closely allied to the Towhe Finch, Fringilla erythrophthalma of Linnaeus, from which, however, it is at once distinguishable by the spots of white on the scapulars and wing-coverts which are wanting in that species. The latter on the other hand has a patch of white on the basal part of the outer webs of the primaries, that part being black in the present species.