by Ernest Thompson Seton
Forty Birds That Every Woodcrafter Should Know
The Bald Eagle, or White-Headed Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), is the emblem of America. It is three to four feet from beak to tail, and six or seven feet across the wings. When fully adult it is known by its white head, neck, and tail, and the brown body; but when young it is brownish black, splashed and marked with dull white.
The only other eagle found in the United States is the Golden, or War Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). This is a little larger. When full grown it is dark brown, with the basal half of tail more or less white. The plumage of the young birds is somewhat like that of the young Bald Eagle; but the two species may always be distinguished by the legs. The War Eagle wears leggings--his legs are feathered to the toes. He is ready for the warpath. The Bald Eagle has the legs bald, or bare on the lower half.
Red-tailed Hawk, or Hen-hawk (Buteo borealis). The common hawks of America are very numerous and not easy to distinguish. The best known of the large kinds is the Red-tail. This is about two feet long and four feet across the wings. In general it is dark brown above and white beneath, with dark brown marks; the tail is clear reddish with one black bar across near the tip. In young birds the tail is gray with many small bars. It has four primaries notched on the inner web. The legs are bare of feathers for a space above the toes. It is common in North America east of the Rockies up to mid-Canada. It does much good, killing mice and insects. It is noted for its circling flight and far-reaching whistle or scream.
The Barred, or Hoot Owl (Strix varia). This Owl is known at once by the absence of horns, the black eyes, and the plumage barred across the chest and striped below that. It is about twenty inches long, in general gray-brown marked with white. It is noted for its loud hooting; it is the noisiest owl in our woods. Found in the wooded parts of America up to about latitude 50 degrees, cast of the Plains.
Great Horned Owl, or Cat Owl (Bubo Virginianus). This is the largest of our Owls. About twenty--four inches long and four feet across the wings. It is known at once by its great ear tufts, its yellow eyes, its generally barred plumage of white, black and buff, and its white shirt front. This is the winged tiger of the woods. Noted for its destruction of game and poultry, it is found throughout the timbered parts of North America.
Screech Owl (Otus asio). This is not unlike the Horned Owl in shape and color but is much smaller--only ten inches long. Sometimes its plumage is red instead of gray. It feeds on mice and insects and has a sweet mournful song in the autumn--its lament for the falling leaves. It is found in the timbered parts of North America.
Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard (Cathartes aura). The Turkey Vulture is about two and a half feet long and about six feet across its wings. It is black everywhere except on the under side of the wing which is gray, and the head which is naked and red. It is known at once by the naked head and neck, and is famous for its splendid flight. It is found from Atlantic to pacific and north to the Saskatchewan. It preys on carrion.
In the Southern States is another species--the Black Vulture or Carrion Crow--which is somewhat smaller and wears its coat collar-up to its ears instead of low on the neck; also its complexion is dusky, not red.
Loon (Gavia immer). The common Loon is known by its size--thirty-two inches long and about four feet across the wings--and its brilliant black-and-white plumage. It is noted for its skill as a fisher and diver. Its weird rolling call is heard on every big lake in the country.
Common Seagull (Larus argentatus). The common Seagull is twenty-four inches long and four feet across. The plumage is white with blue-gray back, when adult; but splashed brown when young, and with black tips to the wings. Its beak is yellow with red spot on the lower mandible. It is found throughout North America.
Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). The white Pelican is known at once by its great size--about five feet long and eight feet across the wings--by its long beak, its pouch, and its feet fully webbed. Its plumage is white, but the wing tips are black. It is found in the interior of America up to Great Slave Lake.
Wild Duck, or Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Of all our numerous wild ducks this is the best known. It is about twenty-three inches long. Its bottle-green head, white collar, chestnut breast, penciled sides, and curled-up tail feathers identify it. The female is streaky brown and gray. It is found in all parts of the continent, up to the edge of the forest. This is the wild duck from which tame ducks are descended.
Wood Duck, or Summer Duck (Aix sponsa). This beautiful duck is about eighteen inches long. Its head is beautifully variegated, bottle-green and white. Its eye is red, its breast purplish chestnut, checkered with white spots, while its sides are buff with black pencilings. This is one of the wildest and most beautiful of ducks. It nests in hollow trees and is found in North America up to about latitude 50 degrees.
Wild Goose (Branta canadensis). This fine bird is about three feet long. Its head and neck are black ; its cheek patch white; its body gray; its tail black with white coverts above and below. It is found up to the Arctic regions, and breeds north of about latitude 45 degrees. It is easily tamed and reared in captivity.
Swan. There are two kinds of Swan found in America: The Trumpeter (Olor buccinator), which is almost extinct, is very large and has a black bill, and the Whistling Swan (Olor Columbianus), which is smaller--about five feet long and seven feet across. Its plumage is pure white; its bill black, with a yellow spot near the eye. It is found generally throughout North America but is rare now.
Bittern (Botaurus lengtiginosus). This bird of marshes is about twenty--eight inches long and can stand nearly three feet high. Its general color is warm yellowish brown splashed with dark brown. The black mark on the side of the neck is a strong feature, and its bright green legs and beak are very distinctive. It is famous for its guttural call notes in the marshes, and is found throughout North America, up to about latitude 60 degrees in the interior.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). This bird is commonly called Blue Crane. Its great size will distinguish it. It is about q. feet from tip of beak to tip of tail. In general it is blue--gray above, white below; head, white, with black hind head, crest and marks on neck and shoulders. Its thighs are chestnut. It is found throughout North America to the limit of heavy timber.
Quail, or Bobwhite (Colinus Virginianus). This famous and delicate game bird is about ten inches long. Its plumage is beautifully varied with reddish brown, lilac, and black markings, on a white ground. Its whistle sounds like "Bob White." It is found in eastern North America up to Massachusetts and South Ontario.
Ruffed Grouse, or Partridge (Bonasa umbellus). It is known by its mottled and brown plumage, its broad and beautiful fan tail, and the black ruffs on each side of the neck. It is noted for its drumming, which is usually a love song--a call to its mate. Found in the heavy woods of North America, north of the Gulf States.
Dove (Zenaidura macroura). This is an abundant inhabitant of the farming country as far north as wheat is now grown. It is about twelve inches long, and known by its pigeon-like look, and its long, wedge-shaped tail, with black and white marks on the feathers. Its breast is soft purplish gray. Its extinct relation, the once plentiful Passenger Pigeon, was eighteen inches long and had a reddish breast.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens). About six and a half inches long, black and white. In the male the nape is red, the outer tail feathers white with black spots. Carefully distinguish this from its large relation the Hairy Woodpecker, which is nine and a half inches long and has no black spots on the white outer tail feathers. A familiar inhabitant of orchards the year round, it is found in woods throughout eastern North America.
Flicker or Highhole (Colaptes auratus). This large and beautiful Woodpecker is twelve inches long. Its head is ashy gray behind, with a red nape in the neck, and brown-gray in front. On its breast is a black crescent. The spots below and the little bars above are black, and the under side of wings and tail are bright yellow. The rump is white. Its beautiful plumage and loud splendid "clucker" cry make it a joy in every woodland. It is found throughout North America, east of the Rockies up to the limit of trees.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Trochilus colubris). Every one knows the Hummingbird. The male only has the throat of ruby color. It is about four inches long from tip of beak to tip of tail. This is the only Hummingbird found in the Northern States or Canada east of the Prairies.
Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). This bird is nearly black in its upper parts, white underneath, and has a black tail with white tip. Its concealed crest is orange and red. It is eight and a half inches long. Famous for its intrepid attacks on all birds, large and small, that approach its nest, it is found in North America east of the Rockies, into southern Canada.
Bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata). This bird is soft purplish blue above, and white underneath. The wings and tail are bright blue with black marks. It is found in the woods of America. east of the Plains to about latitude 55 degrees. The Bluejay is a wonderful songster and mimic, but it is mischievous--nearly as bad as the crow indeed.
Common Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). The Crow is black from head to foot, body and soul. It is about eighteen inches long and thirty wide. It makes itself a nuisance in all the heavily wooded parts of eastern North America.
Bobolink, or Reedbird (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). This bird is about seven and a half inches long. The plumage is black and white, with brown or creamy patch on nape; and the tail feathers all sharply pointed. The female, and the male in autumn, are all yellow buff with dark streaks. Though famous for its wonderful song as it flies over the meadows in June, it is killed by the thousands to supply the restaurants in autumn and served up under the name Reedbird. It is found in North America, chiefly between north latitude 40 and 52 degrees.
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). The Oriole is about eight inches long, flaming orange in color, with black head and back and partly black tail and wings. The female is duller in plumage. Famous for its beautiful nest, as well as its gorgeous plumage and ringing song, it is abundant in eastern North America in open woods up to northern Ontario and Lake Winnipeg.
Purple Grackle, or Crow Blackbird (Quiscalus quiscala). This northern bird of paradise looks black at a distance but its head is shiny blue and its body iridescent. It is twelve inches long. When flying it holds its long tail with the edge raised like a boat, hence "boat tail." In various forms it is found throughout the Eastern States, and in Canada up to Hudson Bay.
Snowbird (Plectrophenax nivalis). About six and a half inches long, this bird is pure white, overlaid with brown on the crown, back, and sides. The wings, back, and tail are partly black. The Snowbird nests in the Arctic regions and is common in most of temperate agricultural America, during winter, wherever there is snow.
Song-Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). The Song-Sparrow is about six and a half inches long--brown above--white underneath. It is thickly streaked with blackish marks on flanks, breast, and all upper parts. All the tail feathers are plain brown. There is a black blotch on the jaw and another on the middle of the breast. Always near a brook. It is noted for its sweet and constant song, and is found in all well wooded and watered parts of North America.
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga erythromelas). This gorgeous bird is about seven inches long. The plumage of the male is of a flaming scarlet, with black wings and tail; but the female is dull green in color. The Scarlet Tanager is found in the woods of eastern America, up to Ottawa and Lake Winnipeg.
Purple Martin (Progne subis). About eight inches in length, with long wings and forked tail, the Purple Martin is everywhere of a shiny bluish or purplish black. Like the Kingbird it attacks any intruder on its lower range. This swallow is found in the wooded regions of east temperate America, north to Newfoundland and the Saskatchewan.
Barn Swallow (Hirundro erythyogaster). About seven inches long, this bird is steel--blue above, chestnut on throat and breast, buffy white on belly. It is known by the long forked tail which is dark with white spots. Famous for its mud nest, it is found in open country about barns in America generally.
Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). About ten inches long, soft gray above, dull white beneath, wings and tail black and white, with no black on head--the Mockingbird is famous for its song, and is found in United States north to New Jersey.
Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). This northern Mockingbird is about nine inches long, dark slate in color, with a black, brown cap, black tail, and a red patch "on the seat of its pants." It abounds in the Eastern States and Canada, north to Ottawa, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.
Common House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). This little fairy is about five inches long; soft brown above and brownish gray below,. it is barred with dusky brown on wings and tail. It nests in a hole, and is found in wooded America east of the Plains, north to Saskatchewan, Ottawa, and Maine.
Chickadee (Penthestes atricapillus). This cheerful little bird is rive and a half inches long. Its cap and throat are black. Its upper parts are gray, its under parts brownish, its cheeks white, no streaks anywhere. It does not migrate, so it is well known in the winter woods of eastern America up to the Canadian region where the Brown--capped or Hudson Chickadee takes its place. Its familiar song chickadee dee dee has given it its name.
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelinus). About eight inches long, cinnamon--brown above, brightest on head, white below, with black spots on breast and sides, this Thrush is distinguished from the many thrushes in America, much like it, by the reddish head and round black spots on its under sides. It is found in the woods of eastern North America up to Vermont and Minnesota.
Robin (Planesticus migratorius). The Robin is about ten inches long, mostly dark gray in color, but with black on head and tail; its breast is brownish red. The spots about the eye, also the throat, the belly, and the marks in outer tail feathers are white. Its mud nest is known in nearly every orchard. Found throughout the timbered parts of America north to the limit of trees.
Bluebird (Sialia sialis). About seven inches long, brilliant blue above, dull red--brown on breast, white below. Found in eastern North America, north to about latitude 50 degrees in the interior, not so far on the coast.
WATER BIRDS, LAND BIRDS EAST OF ROCKIES, AND LAND BIRDS WEST OF ROCKIES, Chester A. Reed. Doubleday, Page & Co. (Popular.)
HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA, by F. M. Chapman. Appleton. N. Y. (Technical.)
HANDBOOK OF BIRDS OF THE WESTERN UNITED STATES, by Florence Merriam Bailey. Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Price (Technical.)
BIRD HOMES, by A. R. Dugmore. Doubleday, Page & Co. (Popular.)
BIRDS THAT HUNT AND ARE HUNTED, by Neltje Blanchan. Doubleday, Page & Co. (Popular.)
BIRD BOOK FOR CHILDREN. Thornton Burgess.
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Last modified: August 20, 2012.