Birds Tell Us to Act on Climate
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Reader, suppose yourself wandering over some extensive prairie, far beyond the western shores of the Mississippi. While your wearied limbs and drooping spirits remind you of the necessity of repose and food, you see the moon's silvery rays glitter on the dews that have already clothed the tall grass around you. Your footsteps, be they ever so light, strike the ear of the watchful Kildeer, who, with a velocity scarcely surpassed by that of any other bird, comes up, and is now passing and repassing swiftly around you. His clear notes indicate his alarm, and seem to demand why you are there. To see him is now impossible, for a cloud has shrouded the moon; but on your left and right, before and behind, his continued vociferations intimate how glad he would be to see you depart from his beloved hunting-grounds. Nay, be not surprised if he should follow you until his eyes, meeting the glaring light of a woodsman traveller, he will wheel off and bid you adieu.
The Kildeer's large eyes seem to be given it to enable it to feed by night as well as by day. At any time after the breeding season, this species moves in loose flocks, seldom exceeding ten or fifteen individuals, which disperse over the space of an acre or two of ground. Yet some one of them always acts as a sentinel, for standino, erect to the full stretch of its les, it carefully watches all the moving objects around, as far as its eye can reach. Cows, horses, or sheep are none of its enemies, and among them it will seek for food; but let a man, or a dog, or any other animal bent on destruction, $hew himself, and that instant the bird runs swiftly with a querulous note, and should any of these his enemies evince the least disposition to molest it, its beautiful wings and tail are spread, and away it goes, cheerily calling to its companions to follow.
The Kildeer is by most people called a "noisy bird and restless." Now to me it is any thing but this, unless indeed when it is disturbed by the approach or appearance of its enemies, more particularly man, of whom indeed few wild birds are fond. Watch them from under some cover that completely conceals you, and you will see them peaceably and silently follow their avocations for hours. In this respect the Kildeer resembles the Lapwing of Europe, which is also called a restless and noisy bird, because men and dogs are ever in pursuit of the poor thing, which after all its vigilance often falls a prey to the sportsman, who condemns it merely because it endeavours to draw him from its nest or young. During winter, when undisturbed, the Kildeer is in fact an unusually silent bird. In Louisiana, where it breeds and resides at all seasons, it has obtained the naine of "Piallard," so strongly rooted are old prejudices.
The Kildeer, or more properly "Kildee," so named on account of its note, which may be imitated by the syllables kildee, kildee, dee, dee, dee, appear in much greater numbers in the interior than along the coast. Few are seen in the State of Maine; none, I believe, in Nova Scotia, any more than in Newfoundland or Labrador. Inland, however, these birds remove to a great distance north. Unless during winter, in fact, this species is not wont to approach the shores of the sea, but prefers the newly ploughed fields, the banks of clear rivers, or the elevated worn-out grounds of the interior. Few winter to the cast of Boston, while during the cold season they abound in the Southern States, although thousands spend the most rigorous months in the Western Country. In the Floridas, Georgia, and South Carolina, you find them dispersed through the sugar, cotton and rice fields; and now they are so gentle and so silent, that you can hardly conceive why they should be called noisy birds. Around the pools, upon the marshes, and along the oyster-beds at low tides, as well as on the extensive mud-flats, you will then meet with them diligently searching for food, and not neglecting to watch you with distrust. Even in the coin-fields and in company with Doves and Grakles, or by the side of some strolling Partridge, you may now and then spy the Kildeer. At this period I have sometimes got so near to it that I could clearly see the pale red margin of its beautiful eye. The bird would perhaps run a few steps, when suddenly checking its course, it would stand still, erect and rigid. Should I level my gun in jest, he would that instant fly off low over the ground, removing to the distance of a hundred yards, alight running as it were, advance twenty or thirty steps more, and then stand still. I would now again approach it as before. Never try it the third time, reader, the Kildeer will denounce you as an enemy. It will stretch its wings, fly across a river or field, and leave you to amuse yourself as you may. Many a time have I been thus treated.
The flight of the Kildeer is strong and rapid, and is at times protracted to a great distance. It skims quite low over the ground, or plays at a great height in the air, particularly during the love season, when you may see these birds performing all sorts of evolutions on wing. On the ground their speed is such that it has become proverbial, and to "run like a Kildee," is to move with the utmost possible agility. Their ordinary posture when standing, might be called stiff, were they not so beautiful in form and colouring. When pursued over a large space, they are able to lead you from one spot to another more than twenty times in the course of an hour; and the more you follow them, the more shy do they become, until wearied and hungry, as the fox said of the grapes, you will probably begin to think them poor and insipid after all.
Now you see the Kildee wading in the water, and observe how it splashes it about. Down it lays itself, and with fluttering wings, seems to enjoy the sight of the drops trickling over its silky back. Now dripping and almost soaked to the skin, it retires to the warm earth, to dry its plumage and clear it of insects.
This species breeds in Louisiana about the beginning of April; in the Middle States a full month later, as well as in the Western Country and farther north. Not one, however, has ever been found breeding in the low lands of South Carolina, although these birds remain there until the beginning of May. The nests are various, some being merely a hollow scooped in the bare ground, while at other times the Kildee searches for a place on the edge of a pond, forms a hollow, and constructs a nest of grass, at the foot of a thick bunch of plants. Now and then small pebbles and fragments of shells are raised in the form of a rim around the eggs, on which the sitting bird is seen as if elevated two or three inches. WILSON saw nests of this kind; so have I; and the circumstance appeared as strange to me as that of the birds not breeding in the low lands of the Carolinas. The eggs are almost always four, pyriform, well pointed at the small end, an inch and five-eighths in length, an inch and one-eighth in diameter at the broadest part, and of a deep cream-colour, pretty generally marked all over with small irregular blotches of purplish-brown and black. The young, as soon as hatched, run about. At this period, or during incubation, the parents, who sit alternately on the eggs, never leaving them to the heat of the sun, are extremely clamorous at sight of an enemy. The female droops her wings, emits her plaintive notes, and endeavours by every means she can devise to draw you from the nest or young. The male dashes over you in the air, in the manner of the European Lapwing, and vociferates all the remonstrances of an angry parent whose family is endangered. If you cannot find pity for the poor birds at such a time, you may take up their eggs and see their distress; but if you be at all so tender-hearted as I would wish you to be, it will be quite unnecessary for me to recommend mercy!
Few Plovers with which I am acquainted, acquire their full plumage sooner than this species. Before December you can observe no difference between the young birds and their parents; nay, by this time, like most other species, the former are as fully able to fly as at any other period.
While I was residing in Pennsylvania, the son of my tenant the miller was in the habit of catching newly-hatched birds of every sort, to bait his fish-hooks. I had rather peremptorily remonstrated against this barbarous practice, although, I believe, without effect. One morning I met him returning from the shores of the Perkioming creek, with his hat full of young Kildees. He endeavoured to avoid me, but I made directly up to him, peeped into his hat and saw the birds. On this I begged of him to go back and restore the poor things to their parents, which he reluctantly did. Never had I felt more happy than I did when I saw the young Plovers run off and hide under cover of the stones.
The Kildee seems to be remarkably attached to certain localities at particular periods. Whilst at General HERNANDEZ's in East Florida, I accidentally wounded one near a barn on the plantation of my accomplished host. Yet it returned to the same spot for the ten days that I remained there, although it always flew off when I approached it.
The food of this species consists of earth-worms, grasshoppers, crickets, and coleopterous insects, as well as small crustacea, whether of salt or fresh-water, and snails. Now and then they may be seen thrusting their bills into the mud about oysters, in search of some other food. During autumn, they run about the old fields and catch an insect which the Blue-bird has been watching with anxious care from the top of a withering mullein stalk. They run briskly after the ploughman, to pick up the worms that have been turned out of their burrows. Now standing on the grassy meadow, after a shower, you see them patting the moist ground, to force out its inhabitants. During winter, you meet with them on elevated ground, or along the margins of the rivers; but wherever you observe one about to pick up its food, you clearly see its body moving in a see-saw manner on the joints of the legs, until the former being so placed that the bill can reach the ground, the object is seized, and the usual horizontal position is resumed.
The flesh of the Kildee is generally indifferent, unless in early autumn, when the young birds of that season are fat, juicy and tender. At all seasons of the year, the Kildee is however shot by inexperienced sportsmen, and many of these birds are offered for sale in our markets. Little difference is observed at any period in the plumage of the adult birds.
KILDEER PLOVER, Charadrius vociferus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vii. p. 73.
CHARADRIUS VOCIFERUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 297.
CHARADRIUS VOCIFERUS, Kildeer Plover, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 368.
KILDEER PLOVER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 22.
KILDEER PLOVER, Charadritis vociferus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 191;vol. v. p. 577.
Male, 10, 20.
Common. Breeds from Texas to the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, and in all the central and Atlantic districts to Massachusetts. Fur Countries.
Adult Male, in summer.
Bill shorter than the head, straight, somewhat cylindrical. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight for two-thirds of its length, then bulging a little and curving to the tip, which is rather acute, the sides flat and sloping at the base, convex towards the end, where the edges are sharp and inclinate. Nasal groove extended along two-thirds of the mandible, filled with a bare membrane; nostrils basal, linear, iii the lower part of the membrane, open and pervious. Lower mandible with the angle long, narrow, but rounded, the sides at the base sloping outwards and flat, the dorsal line ascending and slightly convex, the edges sharp and involute towards the narrow tip.
Head of moderate size, oblong, rather compressed, the forehead rounded. Eyes large. Neck rather short. Body ovate, rather slender. Wings long. Feet long, slender; tibia bare a considerable way above the joint; tarsus rather compressed, covered all round with reticulated hexagonal scales; toes slender; the hind toe wanting; third or middle toe longest, outer toe considerably longer than inner, all scutellate above and marginate, the outer connected with the middle toe by a membrane as far as the second joint; claws small, compressed, slender, but obtuse at the end, the inner edge of the middle claw slightly dilated.
Plumage soft and blended; the feathers rounded, those of the back somewhat distinct. Wings long and pointed; primary quills tapering, the first longest, the second a little shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; inner secondaries tapering and elongated, so as nearly to equal the longest primaries. Tail rather long, much rounded or graduated, of twelve rather broad rounded feathers.
Bill black. Edges of eyelids bright red; iris dark brown. Feet light greyish-blue, the hind part of the tarsus pale flesh colour. Upper part of the head, the back, the smaller wing-coverts, and the secondary quills, yellowish-brown. Lower parts white. A brown bar over the lower part of the forehead, and passing under the eye to the occiput; over this a white band on the forehead, surmounted by a brownish-black band between the eyes; behind the eyes also a short white band, ending in light red. The middle of the neck is encircled with a broad brownish-black collar, and on its lower part anteriorly between the wings is a narrower band of the same colour. Primaries brownish-black, each with a white mark, linear on the outer, enlarging on the inner quills. Secondaries, excepting the inner, white, but most of them with a large patch of blackish-brown towards the end; their tips and those of most of the primaries white, as are those of the primary and secondary coverts. Rump and upper tail-coverts bright yellowish-red. Tail-feathers of the same colour at the base, the middle feathers brown, all with a broad subterminal band of black, the tips white, those of the four middle feathers pale reddish; the outer feather on each side white, with three black bands on the inner web.
Length to end of tail 10 inches, to end of wings 9, to end of claws 9 1/2; extent of wings 20; wing from flexure 6 1/2; tail 4; bill along the back 10/12, along the edge (11 1/2)/12; tarsus 1 5/12; middle toe 11/12, its claw 3/12. Weight 5 3/4 oz.
Adult Female, in summer.
The female resembles the male.
The mouth is exceedingly narrow, its width being only 2 twelfths. The palate has two longitudinal ridges, and anteriorly a few very prominent papillae. The tongue 7 twelfths long, very narrow, deeply channelled above, with involute edges. The oesophagus is 3 inches 10 twelfths long, 2 twelfths in width; the proventriculus 5 1/2 twelfths. The stomach is broadly elliptical, 10 twelfths long, 8 1/2 twelfths in breadth; its lateral muscles very large; the epithelium thick, with prominent longitudinal rugue. The proventricular glands form a belt 6 1/2 twelfths in breadth. The intestine is 14 1/2 inches long, its width 2 twelfths. Coeca 1 inch 9 twelfths long, their greatest width 1 1/2 twelfths; their distance from the extremity 1 1/2 inches. The trachea is 2 inches 9 twelfths long, from 2 twelfths to 1 1/2 twelfths in breadth, flattened; the rings feeble, about 90 in number. Bronchi of moderate width and about 15 half rings. The lateral muscles thin, the sterno-tracheal slender. There is a single pair of inferior laryngeal muscles, or a prolongation of the lateral muscles, going to the first bronchial ring. The individual examined is a male.
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