During the winter months, the Pine Finch is such a wanderer, that it ranges at irregular periods, from the coast line westward to the banks of the Ohio, and southward to the Carolinas. Now and then, during severe weather with occasional storms of snow, I have seen flocks of a hundred individuals or more, rambling in search of a place in which to alight and seek for nourishment. In December 1833, I shot several near Charleston in South Carolina, and on a previous winter procured five near Henderson in Kentucky. Their visits to those districts, however, are of short duration, the least increase of temperature seeming to recall them to their more northern haunts; and as soon as spring commences, they all disappear from the districts south of Maine and the adjacent countries.
In August and September 1832, while travelling, in the British provinces, I and my companions frequently met with flocks of these birds, in company with the American Crossbill, feeding amid the branches of the tallest fir trees, as well as on the seeds of the thistles of that country, much in the manner of the American Goldfinch, and the European Siskin. When disturbed, they would rise high in the air in an irregular flight, emitting their peculiar call-note as they flew; but would always realight as soon as another group of thistles was seen by them. When feeding, they often hung head downwards, like so many Titmice, and as often would balance themselves on the wing, as if afraid to alight on the sharp points of the plants, which after all they appeared greatly to prefer to all others.
While among the Madeleine Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I frequently observed groups of five or six of these birds arriving from afar, and in different directions. In some instances, these flocks alighted on the spars and rigging of our vessel, the Ripley, as if to rest, when they would plume themselves, issue their plaintive call-notes, as if to announce to others (unseen by us) that they had alighted, and in a few minutes would leave us, and direct their course toward the nearest shores, perhaps following in the wake of other flocks.
At the Harbour of Bras d'Or, on the coast of Labrador, in the end of July, we met with a great number of these birds. They were then accompanied by their young, and moved in flocks composed of a single family, or at most of two. They haunted low thickets of willows and elders in the vicinity of water, and were extremely fearless and gentle, allowing the members of my party to approach them very near, so that we procured as many of them as we desired. No difference was observable either in the males or the females as to plumage, compared with that which they have in the winter, only that the yellow of the wings was brighter and richer than it is at that season. The young were already fully fledged, had the whole head of a clean plain grey tint, and although exhibiting the different markings elsewhere seen on the old birds, they had those markings depicted in feeble tints. Not a nest could we find, although I have no doubt that the birds which we saw had been reared in the immediate neighbourhood.
In the State of Maine they are always abundant during winter. My young friend, THOMAS LINCOLN, informed me that at that season, they flock in company with Crossbills, the Pine Grosbeak, the White-winged Crossbill, and other species, are easily caught, and require no particular care in keeping.
This species sings while on the wing, as the Goldfinch is wont to do. Its notes are sweet, varied, clear and mellow, and although somewhat resembling those of the bird just mentioned, are yet perfectly distinct from them. Its flight, however, is almost the same as that of the Goldfinch. Like that bird, it glides through the air in graceful deep curves, emitting its common call-note at every effort which it makes to propel itself.
Those which I saw while in South Carolina, in company with my esteemed friend JOHN BACHMAN, fed entirely on the seeds of the sweet gum, each bird hanging to a bur for awhile, and passing from one to another with great celerity. They are fond of open grounds, and alight on detached trees, when these are high, but at most times they prefer thickets of bushes.
Wanders during winter to South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky. Breeds north of the United States, in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Labrador. Columbia river. Plentiful.
PINE FINCH, Fringilla pinus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 133.
FRINGILLA PINUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 111.
PINE FINCH, Fringilla pinus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 511.
PINE FINCH, Fringilla pinus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 455; vol. v.p. 509.
Bill rather short, conical, very acute; upper mandible a little broader than the lower, almost straight in its dorsal outline, rounded on the sides, as is the lower, which has the edges sharp and inflected; the gap-line almost straight, slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head of moderate size, the general form compact. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella, sharp behind; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal, the hind toe strong; claws arched, much compressed, very acute.
Plumage soft, blended, with very little gloss. Wings of ordinary length, the first quill longest, the second and third a little shorter; secondaries short, emarginate. Tail of ordinary length, forked, the lateral feathers straight, but spreading.
Bill light yellowish-brown, dusky at the tip. Iris brown. Feet purplish-brown. The general colour of the upper parts is yellowish-grey, streaked with dark brown; the wings and tail dusky, margined with greyish-white; the bases of the secondary quills, the tips of their coverts, and the margins of the rump feathers, cream-coloured. The lower parts are greyish-white, tinged with brown on the fore neck, and all streaked with dull brown.
Length 4 9/12 inches, extent of wings 8 1/2; bill along the ridge 5/12, along the edge 7/12; tarsus 6/12.
The female scarcely differs from the male in external appearance.
THE BLACK LARCH.
PINUS PENDULA, Pursch, Fl. Amer. Sept., vol. ii. p. 645. Lambert, Monogr.,p. 55. pl. 36.--MONOECIA POLYANDRIA, Linn.--CONIFERAE, Juss.
Abundant in the Northern States, where it attains a great size. It resembles the European Larch (Pinus Larix) in appearance, and in the quality of its wood. The leaves are deciduous and fasciculate, the cones small, oblong, their scales rounded with inflected margins. It is usually known by the names of tamarack or hackmatack.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.