Journals of Lewis and Clark: Birds

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The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Birds
The following excerpts are taken from entries of the Journals of Lewis and Clark - Birds. A general description of the beasts, birds and Birds, &c. found by the party in this expedition.

The birds which we have seen between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific may be divided into two classes, the terestrial and the aquatic. In the former class are to be arranged:

1. The grouse or prairie-hen. This is peculiarly the inhabitant of the great plains of the Columbia, and does not differ from those of the upper portion of the Missouri. The tail is pointed, the feathers in the center, and much longer than those on the sides. This species differs essentially in the formation of the plumage from those of the Illinois, which have their tales composed of feathers of an equal length. In the winter season this bird is booted to the first joint of the toes; the toes are curiously bordered on their lower edges with narrow hard scales, which are placed very close to each other, and extend horizontally about one eighth of an inch on each side of the toes, adding much to the broadness of the feet, a security which bounteous nature has furnished them for passing over the snows with more ease, and what is very remarkable, in the summer season these scales drop from the feet. This bird has four toes on each foot, the color is a mixture of dark brown, reddish and yellowish brown, with white confusedly mixed. In this assemblage of colors, the reddish brown prevails most on the upper parts of the body, wings, and tail, and the white underneath the belly, and the lower parts of the breast and tail. These birds associate in large flocks in autumn and winter, and even in summer are seen in companies of five or six. They feed on grass, insects, leaves of various shrubs in the plains, and on the seeds of several species of speth and wild rye, which grow inricher soils. In winter their food consists of the buds of the willow and cotton-wood, and native berries.

2. The cock of the plains is found on the plains of the Columbia in great abundance, from the entrance of the southeast fork of the Columbia to that of Clarke's river. It is about two and three quarter inches the size of our ordinary turkey: the beak is large, short, covered and convex, the upper exceeding the lower chop: the nostrils are large, and the back black; the color is an uniform mixture of a dark brown, resembling the dove, and a reddish and yellowish brown, with some small black specks. In this mixture the dark brown prevails, and has a slight cast of the dove color: the wider side of the large feathers of the wings are of a dark brown only. The tail is composed of nineteen feathers, and that inserted in the centre is the longest, the remaining nine on each side gradually diminish. The tail when folded comes to a very sharp point, and appears proportionably long, when compared with the other parts of the body. In the act of flying, the tail resembles that of the wild pigeon, although the motion of the wings is much like that of the pheasant and grouse. This bird has four toes on each foot, of which the hindmost is the shortest, and the leg is covered with feathers about half the distance between the knee and foot. When the wing is expanded there are wide openings between its feathers, the plumage being too narrow to fill up the vacancy: the wings are short in comparison with those of the grouse or pheasant. The habits of this bird resemble those of the grouse, excepting that his food is that of the leaf and buds of the pulpy-leafed thorn. Captain Lewis did not remember to have seen this bird but in the neighborhood of that shrub, which they sometimes feed on, the prickly pear. The gizzard is large, and much less compressed and muscular than in most fowls, and perfectly resembles a maw. When this bird flies he utters a cackling sound, not unlike that of the dunghill fowl. The flesh of the cock of the plains is dark, andonly tolerable in point of flavor, and is not so palateable either as that of the pheasant or grouse. The feathers about the head are pointed and stiff and short, fine and stiff about the ears; at the base of the beak several hairs are to be seen. This bird is invariably found in the plains.

3. The pheasant, of which we distinguish the large black and white pheasant, the small speckled pheasant, the small brown pheasant:?1. The large black and white pheasant differs but little from those of the United States; the brown is rather brighter, and has a more reddish tint. This bird has eighteen feathers in the tail, of about six inches in length. He is also booted to the toes: the two tufts of long black feathers on each side of the neck, so common in the male of this species inhabiting the United States, are no less observable in this pheasant: the feathers on the body are of a dark brown, tipped with white and black, in which mixture the black predominates; the white are irregularly intermixed with those of the black and dark brown in every part, but in greater proportion about the neck, breast, and belly: this mixture makes this bird resemble much that kind of dunghillfowl, which the housewives of our country call Domminicker. On the breast of some of these species the white predominates: the tufts on the neck leave a space about two and a half inches long, and one inch in width, where no feathers grow, though concealed by the plumage connected with the higher and under parts of the neck; this space enables them to contract or dilate the feathers on the neck with more ease: the eye is dark, the beak is black, curved, somewhat pointed, and the upper exceeds the under chop: a narrow vermillion stripe runs above each eye, not protuberant but uneven, with a number of minute rounded dots. The bird feeds on wild fruits, particularly the berry of the sacacommis, and exclusively resides in that portion of the Rocky mountains watered by the Columbia.

2. The small speckled pheasant resides in the same country with the foregoing, and differs only in size and color. He is half the size of the black and white pheasant, associates in much larger flocks, and is very gentle: the black is more predominant, and the dark brown feathers less frequent in this than in the larger species: the mixture of white is more general on every part. This bird is smaller than our pheasant, and the body more round: the flesh of both this species is dark, and with our means of cooking, not well flavored.

3. The small brown pheasant is an inhabitant of the same country, and is of the same size and shape of the speckled pheasant, which he likewise resembles in his habits. The stripe above the eye in this species is scarcely perceptible, and is, when closely examined, of a yellow or orange color, instead of the vermillion of the other species: the color is a uniform mixture of dark yellowish brown, with a slight aspersion of brownish white on the breast, belly, and feathers underneath the tail: the whole appearance has much the resemblance of the common quail: this bird is also booted to the toes: the flesh of this is preferable to the other two.

4. The buzzard is, we believe, the largest bird of North America. One which was taken by our hunters was not in good condition, and yet the weight was twenty-five pounds. Between the extremity of the wings the bird measured nine feet and two inches: from the extremity of the beak to the toe, three feet nine and a half inches; from the hip to the toe, two feet; the circumference of the head was nine and three-quarter inches: that of the neck seven and a half inches; that of the body inclusive of two feet three inches: the diameter of the eye is four and a half tenths of an inch; the iris is of a pale scarlet red, and the pupil of a deep sea-green: the head and part of the neck are uncovered by feathers: the tail is composed of twelve feathers of equal length, each of the length of fourteen inches: the legs are uncovered and not entirely smooth: the toes are four in number, three forward, and that in the centre much the largest; the fourth is short, inserted near the inner of the three other toes, and rather projecting forward: the thigh is covered with feathers as low as the knee, the top or upper part of the toes are imbricated with broad scales, lying transversely: the nails are black, short, and bluntly pointed: the under side of the wing is covered with white down and feathers: a white stripe of about two inches in width marks the outer part of the wing, embracing the lower points of the plumage, covering the joints of the wing: the remainder is of a deep black: theskin of the beak and head to the joining of the neck, is of a pale orange color; the other part, destitute of plumage, is of a light flesh color. It is not known that this bird preys upon living animals: we have seen him feeding on the remains of the whale and other fish thrown upon the coast by the violence of the waves. This bird was not seen by any of the party until we had descended Columbia river, below the great falls, and he is believed to be of the vulture genus, although the bird lacks some of the characteristics, particularly the hair on the neck, and the plumage on the legs.

5. The robin is an inhabitant of the Rocky mountains: the beak is smooth, black, and convex; the upper chop exceeds the other in length, and a few small black hairs garnish the sides of its base: the eye is of a uniform deep sea-green color: the legs, feet, and talons are white, of which the front one is of the same length of the leg, including the talon; these are slightly imbricated, curved, and sharply pointed: the crown, from the beak back to the neck, embracing more than half the circumference of the neck, the back, and tail, are all of a bluish dark brown: the two outer feathers of the tail are dashed with white near their tips, imperceptible when the tail is folded: a fine black forms the ground of their wings; two stripes of the same color pass on either side of the head, from the base of the beak to the junction, and embrace the eye to its upper edge: a third stripe of the same color passes from the sides of the neck to the tips of the wings, across the croop, in the form of a gorget: the throat, neck, breast, and belly, are of a fine brick red, tinged with yellow; a narrow stripe of this color commences just above the centre of each eye, and extends backwards to the neck till it comes in contact with the black stripe before mentioned, to which it seems to answer as a border: the feathers forming the first and second ranges of the coverts of the two joints of the wing next to the body, are beautifully tipped with this brick red, as is also each large featherof the wing, on the short side of its plumage. This beautiful little bird feeds on berries. The robin is an inhabitant exclusively of the woody country; we have never heard its note, which the coldness of the season may perhaps account for.The leather-winged bat, so common to the United States, likewise inhabits this side of the Rocky mountains.

6. The crow and raven is exactly the same in appearance and note as that on the Atlantic, except that it is much smaller on the Columbia.

7. The hawks too of this coast do not differ from those of the United States. We here see the large brown hawk, the small or sparrow hawk, and one of an intermediate size, called in the United States, the hen hawk, which has a long tail and blue wings, and is extremely fierce, and rapid in its flight. The hawks, crows, and ravens are common to every part of this country, their nests being scattered in the high cliffs, along the whole course of the Columbia and its southeastern branches.

8. The large blackbird is the same with those of our country, and are found every where in this country.

9. The large hooting owl we saw only on the Kooskooskee under the Rocky mountains. It is the same in form and size with the owl of the United States, though its colors, particularly the reddish brown, seem deeper and brighter.

10. The turtle-dove and the robin (except the Columbian robin already described) are the same as those of the United States, and are found in the plains as well as in the common broken country.

11. The magpie is most commonly found in the open country, and resemble those of the Missouri, already described.

12. The large woodpecker or laycock, the lark woodpecker, and the common small white woodpecker, with a red head, are the inhabitants exclusively of the timbered lands, and differ in no respect from birds of the same species in the United States.

13. The lark, which is found in the plains only, and is not unlike what is called in Virginia, the old field lark, is the same with those already described as seen on the Missouri.

14. The flycatcher is of two species.The first is of a small body, of a reddish brown color: the tail and neck short, and the beak pointed: some fine black specks are intermingled with the reddish brown. This is of the same species with that which remains all winter in Virginia, where it is sometimes called the wren.The second species has recently returned, and emigrates during the winter. The colors of this bird are, a yellowish brown, on the back, head, neck, wing and tail; the breast and belly are of a yellowish white; the tail is in the same proportion as that of the wren, but the bird itself is of a size smaller than the wren: the beak is straight, pointed, convex, rather large at the base, and the chops are of equal length. The first species is smaller, and in fact the smallest bird which Captain Lewis had ever seen excepting the humming bird. Both of this species are found exclusively in the woody country.

15. Corvus. The blue-crested, and the small white-breasted corvus, are both natives of the piny country, and are invariably found as well on the Rocky mountains as on this coast. They have already been described.

16. The snipe, &c. The common snipe of the marshes, and the common sand snipe, are of the same species as those so well known in the United States. They are by no means found in such abundance here as they are on the coast of the Atlantic.

17. The leathern winged bat, so familiar to the natives of the United States, is likewise found on this side of the Rocky mountains.

18. The white woodpecker, likewise frequents these regions, and reminds our party of their native country, by his approaches. The head of this bird is of a deep red color, like that of the United States. We have conjectured that he has lately returned, as he does not abide in this country during the winter. The large woodpecker, and the lark woodpecker, are found in this country, and resemble those of the United States.

19. The black woodpecker is found in most parts of the Rocky mountains, as well as in the western and southwestern mountains. He is about the size of the lark woodpecker, or turtle-dove, although his wings are longer than the wings of either of those birds: the beak is one inch in length, black, curved at the base, and sharply pointed: the chops are the same in length; around the base of the beak, including the eye and a small part of the throat, there is a fine crimson red: the neck, as low down as the crook in front, is of an iron gray: the belly and breast present a curious mixture of white and blood-red, which has much the appearance of paint, where the red predominates: the top of the head, back, sides, and upper surface of the wings and tail, exhibit the appearance of a glossy green, in a certain exposure to the light: the under side of the wings and tail, is of a sooty black: the tail is equipped with ten feathers, sharply pointed, and those in the centre the longest, being about two and a half inches in length: the tongue is barbed and pointed, and of an elastic and cartilagenous substance: the eye is rather large, the pupil black, and the iris of a dark and yellowish brown: the bird in its actions when flying, resembles the small red-headed woodpecker common to the United States, and likewise in its notes; the pointed tail renders essential service when the bird is sitting and retaining his resting position against the perpendicular sides of a tree: the legs andfeet are black, and covered with wide imbricated scales: he has four toes on each foot, two in the rear and two in front, the nails of which are much curved and pointed remarkably sharp: he feeds on bugs and a variety of insects.

20. The calamut eagle, sometimes inhabits this side of the Rocky mountains. This information Captain Lewis derived from the natives, in whose possession he had seen their plumage. These are of the same species with those of the Missouri, and are the most beautiful of all the family of eagles in America. The colors are black and white, and beautifully variegated. The tail feathers, so highly prized by the natives, are composed of twelve broad feathers of unequal length, which are white, except within two inches of their extremities, where they immediately change to a jetty black: the wings have each a large circular white spot in the middle, which is only visible when they are extended: the body is variously marked with black and white: in form they resemble the bald eagle, but they are rather smaller, and fly with much more rapidity. This bird is feared by all his carniverous competitors, who, on his approach, leave the carcase instantly, on which they had been feeding. The female breeds in the most inaccessible parts of the mountains, where she makes her summer residence, and descends to the plains only in the fall and winter seasons. The natives are at this season on the watch, and so highly is this plumage prized by the Mandans, the Minnetarees, and the Ricaras, that the tail feathers of two of these eagles will be purchased by the exchange of a good horse or gun, and such accoutrements. Amongst the great and little Osages, and those nations inhabiting the countrieswhere the bird is more rarely seen, the price is even double of that above mentioned. With these feathers the natives decorate the stems of their sacred pipes or calumets, from whence the name of the calumet eagle is derived. The Ricaras have domesticated this bird in many instances, for the purpose of obtaining its plumage. The natives, on every part of the continent, who can procure the feathers, attach them to their own hair, and the manes and tails of their favorite horses, by way of ornament. They also decorate their war caps or bonnets with these feathers.

As to the aquatic birds of this country, we have to repeat the remark, that, as we remained near the coast during the winter only, many birds, common both in the summer and autumn, might have retired from the cold, and been lost to our observation. We saw, however,

The large blue, and brown herron; the fishing hawk; the blue-crested fisher; several species of gulls; the cormorant; two species of loons; brant of two kinds; geese; swan; and several species of ducks.

1. The large blue and brown herrons, or cranes, as they are usually termed in the United States, are found on the Columbia below tide-water. They differ in no respect from the same species of bird in the United States. The same may be observed of .

2. The fishing hawk, with the crown of the head white, and the back of a mealy white, and

3. Of the blue-crested or king-fisher, both of which are found every where on the Columbia and its tributary waters; though the fishing hawk is not abundant, particularly in the mountains.

4. Of gulls, we have remarked four species on the coast and the river, all common to the United States.

5. The cormorant is, properly speaking, a large black duck that feeds on fish. Captain Lewis could perceive no difference between this bird and those ducks which inhabit the Potomack and other rivers on the Atlantic coast. He never remembered to have seen those inhabiting the Atlantic states, so high up the river as they have been found in this quarter. We first discovered the corvus on the Kooskooskee, at the entrance of Chopunish river: they increased in numbers as we descended, and formed much the greatest portion of the water-fowl which we saw until we reached the Columbia at the entrance of the tides. They abound even here, but bear no proportion to the number of other water-fowl seen at this place.

6. The loon: there are two species of loons: the speckled loon, found on every part of the rivers of this country. They are of the same size, color and form, with those of the Atlantic coast.The second species we found at the falls of Columbia, and from thence downwards to the ocean. This bird is not more than half the size of the speckled loon; the neck is, in front, long slender and white: the plumage on the body and back of the head and neck are of a dun or ash color: the breast and belly are white, the beak like that of the speckled loon; and like them, it cannot fly, but flutters along on the surface of the water, or dives for security when pursued.

7. The brant are of three kinds; the white, the brown, and the pied. The white brant are very common on the shores of the Pacific, particularly below the water, where they remain in vast numbers during the winter: they feed like the swan-geese, on the grass, roots, and seeds which grow in the marshes: this bird is about the size of the brown brant, or a third less than the common Canadian wild goose: the head is rather larger, the beak thicker than that of the wild goose, shorter, and of much the same form, being of a yellowish white color, except the edges of the chops, which are frequently of a dark brown: the legs and feet are of the same form of the goose, and are of a pale flesh color: the tail is composed of sixteen feathers of equal length as those of the geese and brown brant are, and bears about the same proportion in point of length: the eye is of a dark color, and nothing remarkable in size: the wings are larger when compared with those of the geese, but not so much as in the brown brant: the color of the plumage is a pure uniform white, except the large feathers at the extremity of the wings, which are black: the large feathers at the first joint of the wing next to the body are white: the note of this bird differs essentially from that of the goose; it more resembles that of the brown brant, but is somewhat different; it is like the note of a young domestic goose, that has not perfectly attained its full sound: theflesh of this bird is exceedingly fine, preferable to either the goose or brown brant.

2. The brown brant are much of the same color, form, and size as the white, only that their wings are considerably longer and more pointed: the plumage of the upper part of the body, neck, head, and tail, are much the color of the Canadian goose, but somewhat darker, in consequence of some dark feathers irregularly scattered throughout: they have not the same white on the neck and sides of the head as the goose, nor is the neck darker than the body: like the goose, they have some white feathers on the rump at the joining of the tail: the beak is dark, and the legs and feet also dark with a greenish cast: the breast and belly are of a lighter color than the back, and is also irregularly inter-mixed with dark brown and black feathers, which give it a pied appearance: the flesh is darker and better than that of the goose: the habits of these birds resemble those of the geese, with this difference, that they do not remain in this climate in such numbers during the winter as the others, and that they set out earlier in the fall season on their return to the south, and arrive later in the spring than the goose. There is no difference between this bird and that called simply the brant, so common on the lakes, on the Ohio and Mississippi. The small goose of this country is rather less than the brant; its head and neck like the brant.

3. The pied brant weigh about eight and a half pounds, differing from the ordinary pied brant in their wings, which are neither so long nor so pointed: the base of the beak is for a little distance white, suddenly succeeded by a narrow line of dark brown: the remainder of the neck, head, back, wings and tail, all except the tips of the feathers, are of a bluish brown of the common wild goose: the breast and belly are white, with an irregular mixture of black feathers, which give those parts a pied appearance. From the legs back underneath the tail and around its junction with the body above, the feathers are white: the tail is composed of eighteen feathers, the longest in the centre, and measures six inches with the barrel of the quill: those on the sides of the tail are something shorter, and bend with the extremities inwards towards the centre of the tail: the extremities of these feathers are white: the beak is of a light flesh color: the legs and feet, which do not differ in structure from those of the goose or brant of other species, are of an orange color: the eye is small, the iris of a dark yellowish brown, and pupil black: the note is much that of the common pied brant, from which in fact, they are not to be distinguished at a distance, although they certainly are of a distinct species: the flesh is equally palatable with that of common pied brant. They do not remain here during the winter in such numbers as the bird above mentioned: this bird is here denominated the pied brant, on account of the near resemblance, and for want of another appellation.

8. The geese are either the large or small kind: the large goose resembles our ordinary wild or Canadian goose; the small is rather less than the brant, which it resembles in the head and neck, where it is larger in proportion than that of the goose: the beak is thicker and shorter; the note like that of a tame goose. In all other points it resembles the large goose, with which it associates so frequently, that it was some time before it was discovered to be of a distinct species.

9. The swan are of two kinds, the large and the small: the large swan is the same common to the Atlantic states: the small differs only from the large in size and in note: it is about one fourth less, and its note is entirely different. It cannot be justly imitated by the sound of letters; it begins with a kind of whistling sound, and terminates in a round full note, louder at the end: this note is as loud as that of the large species; whence it might be denominated the whistling swan: its habits, color, and contour, appears to be precisely those of the larger species: these birds were first found below the great narrows of the Columbia, near the Chilluckittequaw nation: they are very abundant in this neighborhood, and remained with the party all winter, and in number they exceed those of the larger species in the proportion of five to one.

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