It is in the darkest and most gloomy retreats of the forest that the Wood Pewee is generally to be found, during the season which it spends with us. You may find it, however, lurking for awhile in the shade of an overgrown orchard; or, as autumn advances, you may see it gleaning the benumbed insects over the slimy pools, or gliding on the outskirts of the woods, when, for the last time, the piping notes of the bullfrog are heard mingling with its own plaintive tones. In all these places, it exhibits the simplicity and freedom of its natural habits, dashing after the insects on which it principally feeds, with a remarkable degree of inattention to surrounding objects. Its sallies have also the appearance of being careless, although at times protracted, when it seems to seize several insects in succession, the more so perhaps that it has no rival to contend with in such situations. Sometimes towards autumn, it sweeps so closely over the pools that it is enabled to seize the insects as they float on the water; while, at other times, and as if in surprise, it rises to the tops of the forest trees, and snaps the insect which is just launching forth on some extensive journey, with all the freedom of flight that the bird itself possesses.
The weary traveller, who at this season wanders from his path in search of water to quench his thirst, or to repose for awhile in the shade, is sure, to be saluted with the melancholy song of this little creature, which, perched erect on a withered twig, its wings quivering as if it had been seized with a momentary chill, pours forth its rather low, mellow notes with such sweetness as is sure to engage the attention. Few other birds are near; and, should the more musical song of a Wood-thrush come on his ear, he may conceive himself in a retreat where no danger is likely to assail him during his repose.
This species, which is considerably more abundant than the M. fusca, is rather late in entering the Middle States, seldom reaching Pennsylvania until the 10th of May; yet it pushes its migrations quite beyond the limits of the United States. On the one hand, many of them spend the winter months in the most Southern States, such as Louisiana and the pine barrens of Florida, feeding on different berries, as well as insects; while, on the other, I have met with them in September, in the British province of New Brunswick, and observed their retrograde movements through Maine and Massachusetts. I have also seen them near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Labrador, and in Newfoundland.
In autumn, when its notes are almost the only ones heard, it may often be seen approaching the roads and pathways, or even flitting among the tall and beautiful elms in the vicinity, or in the midst of our eastern cities. There you may observe the old birds teaching the young how to procure their food. The various groups, imperceptibly as it were, and in the most gradual manner, now remove southward by day; and, at this season, their notes are heard at a very late hour, as in early spring. They may be expressed by the syllables pe-wee, pettowee, pe-wee, prolonged like the last sighs of a despondent lover, or rather like what you might imagine such sighs to be, it being, I believe, rare actually to hear them.
This species, in common with the Great Crested Flycatcher, and the Least Wood Pewee, is possessed of a peculiarity of vision, which enables it to see and pursue its prey with certainty, when it is so dark that you cannot perceive the bird, and are rendered aware of its occupation only by means of the clicking of its bill.
The nest of the Wood Pewee is as delicate in its form and structure, as the bird is in the choice of the materials which it uses in its construction. In almost every case, I have found it well fastened to the upper part of a horizontal branch, without any apparent preference being given to particular trees. Were it not that the bird generally discloses its situation, it would be difficult to discover it, for it is shallow, well saddled to the branch, and connected with it by an extension of the lichens forming its outer coat, in such a manner as to induce a person seeing it to suppose it merely a swelling of the branch. These lichens are glued together apparently by the saliva of the bird, and are neatly lined with very fine grasses, the bark of vines, and now and then a few horse-hairs. The eggs are four or five, of a light yellowish hue, dotted and blotched with reddish at the larger end. It raises two broods in a season in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but rarely more than one in the Northern States. By the middle of August the young are abroad; and it is then that the birds seem more inclined to remove from the interior of the forest.
Although less pugnacious than the larger Flycatchers, it is yet very apt to take offence when any other bird approaches its stand, or appears near its nest.
In its ordinary flight the Wood Pewee passes through the gloom of the forest, at a small elevation, in a horizontal direction, moving the wings rapidly, and sweeping suddenly to the right or left, or darting upwards, after its prey, with the most perfect ease. During the love season, it often flies, with a vibratory motion of the wings, so very slowly that one might suppose it about to poise itself in the air. On such occasions its notes are guttural, and are continued for several seconds as a low twitter.
Although the Wood Pewee is found in Labrador and Newfoundland, as well as on the Rocky Mountains and along the Columbia river, it does not appear to have been seen in the Fur Countries. I have met with it abundantly in the Texas, where it breeds, as it does in all suitable localities in the United States.
The egg measures five-eighths of an inch in length, and nine-sixteenths in breadth. The vividness of the red markings varies considerably.
WOOD PEWEE, Muscicapa rapax, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 81.
WOOD PEWEE, Muscicapa virens, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 285.
MUSCICAPA VIRENS, Bonap. Syn., p. 68.
WOOD PEWEE, Muscicapa virens, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 93; vol. v. p. 425.
Slightly crested; second quill longest, first shorter than third and longer than sixth; tail deeply emarginate; upper parts dusky olive, upper part of head much darker; a pale greyish ring round the eye; two bands of greyish-white on the wings, secondaries margined with the same; quills and tail-feathers blackish-brown; throat and breast ash-grey, tinged with green, the rest of the lower parts pale greenish-yellow.
Male, 6 1/2, 11.
Throughout the United States. British Provinces. Labrador. Newfoundland. Rocky Mountains. Columbia river. Migratory. THE SWAMP HONEYSUCKLE.
AZALEA VISCOSA, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. i. p. 831. Pursch, Flor. Amer. Sept., vol. i. p. 153.--PENTANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.--RHODODENDRA, Juss.
The leaves of this species of Azalea are oblongo-obovate, acute, smooth on both sides; the flowers white, sweet-scented, with a very short calyx. It grows abundantly in almost every district of the United States, in such localities as are suited to it, namely, low damp meadows, swamps, and shady woods.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.