The habits of this beautiful species are little known, for so irregularly does it perform its migrations, and so rarely does it settle for any length of time in any part of the United States, that at present few opportunities of studying them occur. Although I have found individuals in various places along our eastern coast, from Boston to New Jersey, as well as in Kentucky and other portions of the Union, I have not seen its nest, nor even its eggs. Mr. DRUMMOND, whose zeal as a student of nature must be known to every one devoted to natural history, had the good fortune to find its nest in the course of his rambles among the Rocky Mountains, but he has given no information respecting its habits. A person who shewed me the skins of two specimens procured in July near Cape May in New Jersey, assured me that he shot them near their nests, and that they had four eggs. While I was in the same neighbourhood, in the month of June 1829, a fisherman gunner, with whom I was at the time residing at Great Egg Harbour, brought me a pair which he had just killed. He represented them as very gentle and easily approached, and said that on going towards them they affected to be lame, and opened their wings as if to induce him to run after them; instead of doing which, however, he immediately fired and killed them both. Having put away the birds in a safe place, he and I took to his boat and went to the island where he had found them. He shewed me the spot on which they had been shot; but although we searched most diligently for the nest, we could not find it. On examining the birds when we returned, I saw that the female must have been sitting. About the same period my son procured two specimens of this Phalarope out of a flock of five, on the rocks at the rapids of the Ohio below Louisville. Late in the summer of 1824 I shot three of them near Buffalo creek on Lake Erie. My generous friend EDWARD HARRIS, Esq. presented me, at New York, with a young bird in autumnal plumage, from which I made the figure in the plate; and another, in a most emaciated state, was given me at Boston, in the winter, by my young friend JOHN BETHUNE, Esq.
Those which I procured near Lake Erie were engaged in feeding around the borders and in the shallows of a pond of small extent. When I first observed them at some distance, I thought they were Yellow-shanks (Totanus flavipes), so much did their motions resemble those of that species. Like it, this Phalarope wades in the water up to its body, picks for food right and left, turns about, and performs all its motions with vivacity and elegance. They kept closer together than the Yellow-shanks usually do, but, like them, they would for a few moments raise their wings as if apprehensive of getting into too deep water and being obliged to fly. They preferred flying to swimming on such occasions, although from the general character of the tribe one might expect otherwise. After watching them about a quarter of an hour, during which time they did not utter a single note, I fired at them when they were all close together, and killed the whole. On opening them I found their stomachs to contain small worms and fragments of very delicate shells. The birds seen at the Falls of the Ohio flew in the manner of the Common Snipe, proceeding at first in an undulating or zigzag line, but more steadily after reaching a certain elevation, when they came pretty close together, wheeled a few times, and alighted again near the same shallow pools.
Dr. RICHARDSON, who found this species breeding on the Saskatchewan, says "it lays two or three eggs among the grass on the margins of small lakes: they are very obtuse at one end, taper much at the other, and have a colour intermediate between yellowish-grey and cream-yellow, interspersed with small roundish spots and a few larger blotches of umber-brown, more crowded at the obtuse end. The eggs measure sixteen lines and a half in length and eleven across."
I observed scarcely any difference in the colouring of the sexes, the female being merely larger than the male.
GREY PHALAROPE, Phalaropus lobatus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ix. p. 72.
PHALAROPUS WILSONII, Bonap. Syn., p. 342.
WILSON'S PHALAROPE, Phalaropus Wilsonii, Bonap. Amer. Orn., vol. iv. p. 59.
PHALAROPUS WILSONII, Wilson's Phalarope, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 405.
AMERICAN PHALAROPE, Nutt. Man., voI. ii. p. 245.
WILSON's PHALAROPE, Phalaropus Wilsonii, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 400.
Adult, 10, 17 1/2.
Procured in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Boston. Breeds abundantly on the Rocky Mountains. Saskatchewan river. Winters in Mexico.
Bill long, very slender, flexible, flattened towards the end. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight, the ridge flattened, the sides at the base sloping, but towards the end nearly horizontal, the edges obtuse, the tip narrow. Nasal groove linear, long; nostrils basal, linear, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle very long and extremely narrow, the sides slightly convex, the tip narrowed.
Head small, with the fore part high and rounded; eyes of moderate size. Neck rather long and slender. Body slender. Feet rather long, slender; tibia bare a considerable way above the joint; tarsus extremely compressed, narrowed before, very thin behind, covered anteriorly with numerous scutella, posteriorly with two series of scutella meeting with a sharp edge; toes slender, first very small, free, with a slight membrane beneath, second slightly shorter than fourth, third considerably longer; all scutellate above, margined on both sides with narrow, slightly lobed, crenate membranes, which are united at the base so as to form short webs, of which the outer is longer. Claws very small, compressed, arched, that of the middle toe with the inner edge sharp.
Plumage soft and blended. Feathers of the back and wings distinct. Wings long and pointed, primary quills tapering but rounded, the first longest, the second scarcely shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; secondary quills rather short, broad, obliquely rounded, with a small tip, the inner tapering and elongated, so as nearly to equal the longest primaries when the wing is closed. Tail rather short, nearly even, but with the two middle feathers longer, of twelve rounded feathers, of which the outer are incurved.
Bill black. Iris brown. Feet bluish-grey, claws black. The general colour of the upper parts is brownish-grey, the hind neck and upper tail-coverts greyish-white, the top of the head ash-grey. A white line over the eye; a band of black along the lore, under the eye, and down the side of the neck, on which it becomes broader and changes into chestnut-brown, when it proceeds along the scapulars of a brownish-red colour; another brownish-red band across the wing and including part of the inner secondaries. Quills greyish-brown, the outer primaries and their coverts darker. Tail-feathers pale brownish-grey on the outer, white more or less mottled on the inner webs. Throat and cheeks white; fore-neck orange-brown, fading below, and extending paler along the sides of the body; breast, abdomen and lower wing-coverts white; lower surface of wings pale grey, of tail white.
Length to end of tail 10 inches, to end of claws 11; extent of wings 17 1/2; wing from flexure 7 4/12; tail 2 2/12; bill along the back 1 7/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 8/12; bare part of tibia 3/4; tarsus 1 1/4; middle toe 1 2/12, its claw (2 1/2)12. Weight 2 1/2 oz.
The female, which is somewhat larger, is in colour precisely similar to the male. Weight 3 oz.
Young in autumn.
The young bird after the first moult has the bill brownish-black, the iris brown, the feet greenish-yellow, the claws black. The upper parts are variegated with brownish-black and light greenish-yellow, the central part of each feather being of the former colour; primary quills brownish-black; tail-feathers as in the adult. The lower parts are white.