This is another of those remarkable species which pass unobserved from the Mexican dominions and some of the West India Islands, to the middle portions of our Atlantic States. From Maryland to Maine it is found in considerable numbers, and is not uncommon in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. In all the States it prefers the neighbourhood of the coast and a light sandy soil. It arrives in the latter districts about 10th of May, and throws itself into the open newly-ploughed fields, and those covered with the valuable red clover. It is never found in the woodlands. Its food consists of such insects and larvae as are found on the ground, together with the seeds of grasses and other plants.
Its flight is low, short, and performed by a kind of constant tremor of the wings, resembling that of a young bird. It alights on the tops of low bushes, fence-rails, and tall grasses, to sing its unmusical ditty, composed of a few notes weakly enunciated at intervals, but sufficing to manifest its attachment to its mate. Almost unregarded, it raises two broods in the season, perhaps three where it has chosen the warmer sandy soils in the vicinity of the sea, where it is evidently more abundant than in the interior of the country.
The nest of the Yellow-winged Sparrow is as simple as its owner is innocent and gentle. It is placed on the ground, and is formed of light dry grasses, with a scanty lining of withered fibrous roots and horse hair. The female deposits her first egg about the both of May. The eggs are four or five, of a dingy white, sprinkled with brown spots. The young follow their parents on the ground for a short time, after which they separate and search for food singly. This species, indeed, never congregates, as almost all others of its tribe do, before they depart from us, but the individuals seem to move off in a sulky mood, and in so concealed a way, that their winter quarters are yet unknown.
The appearance of this humble species on the shores of the Columbia river renders its geographical distribution as difficult of comprehension as that of some other species, which, like it, discard as it were extensive tracts and appear in distant regions for a season. Thus some of this species, on their way from their unknown winter abode northward, pass toward the middle and eastern districts of our Atlantic coast, while others diverge to reach the Oregon section, in which this bird has been found by Mr. TOWNSEND, passing over our Southern States without being observed, although, when proceeding toward the Texas in April 1837, I found them abundant on their way eastward.
In a male preserved in spirits, the palate is ascending, and its ridges form a soft prominence at their junction anteriorly; on the fore part are three narrow ridges, forming a large oblong hard knob at their base. The tongue is 4 1/4 twelfths long, deeper than broad, grooved above toward the end, which is horny and pointed. The width of the mouth is 3 1/2 twelfths. OEsophagus 1 inch 8 twelfths in length, its greatest width 3 1/2 twelfths, it being considerably dilated on the neck. Stomach rather small, elliptical, oblique, 6 twelfths in length, 5 twelfths in breadth, muscular, and of the usual structure. It contains insects, seeds, and quartz. Intestine 5 inches long, from 1 1/2 twelfths to 1 twelfth wide; coeca 1 1/2 twelfths long, 1/4 twelfth broad, 7 twelfths distant from the extremity.
Trachea 1 inch 2 twelfths long, from nearly 1 twelfth to 1/2 twelfth wide, its rings 55; inferior laryngeal muscles very large. Bronchi very slender, of about 12 rings.
Scarcely any difference is perceptible in the plumage of the sexes, and by the time the young return to us the following, spring they have obtained the full plumage of their parents.
Passes from Texas to Connecticut; breeds from Maryland to Connecticut. Columbia river. Rather common. Migratory.
YELLOW-WINGED SPARROW, Fringilla passerina, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii.p. 76
FRINGILLA PASSERINA, Bonap. Syn., p. 109.
SAVANNAH FINCH or YELLOW-SHOULDERED BUNTING, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 494.
YELLOW-CROWNED SPARROW, Fringilla passerina, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii.p. 180; vol. v. p. 497.
Bill short, conical, acute; upper mandible slightly convex in its dorsal outline, angular, and encroaching a little on the forehead, of the same bread as the lower, with sharp and inflected edges; lower mandible also inflected on the edges; gap-line slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, concealed by the feathers. Head rather large, neck short, body full. Feet of moderate length, slender; tarsus covered anteriorly with a few longish scutella, acute behind; toes free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, compressed, acute, slightly arched, that of the hind toe elongated.
Plumage soft and blended, slightly glossed. Wings shortish, curved, rounded, the first and second primaries longest, the third scarcely shorter: the secondaries long but less so than in the Henslow Bunting, which belongs to this group. Tail short, small, rounded, slightly emarginate, of twelve narrow, tapering feathers.
Bill flesh-coloured beneath, dusky above. Iris dark brown. Feet light flesh-coloured. The general colour of the upper parts is light greyish-brown, mixed on the neck with ash-grey tints, the central paints of the feathers brownish-black, the margins of those of the back bright chestnut. The upper part of the head brownish-black, with a longitudinal central line of brownish-white. Secondary coverts dusky, margined with greyish-white; along the flexure of the wing the small feathers are bright yellow, whence the name of the species. Quills wood-brown, margined with pale yellowish-brown. Tail feathers of the same colour, the outermost much paler. The under parts pale yellowish-grey, the breast of a richer tint, being of a light yellowish-brown, its sides anteriorly spotted with brownish-black.
Length 4 10/12 inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge (5 1/2)/12, along the edge 1/2; tarsus 2/3, middle toe a little more than 2/3, hind toe 7/12.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.