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T HE

AMERICAN NATURALIST.

Vol. III.- JULY, 1869.- No. 5.

SEA-SIDE ORNITHOLOGY.

BY T. M. BREWER, M. D.

The ornithology of our New England seaboard at the present day is very far from presenting either the interest, the variety or the sources of excitement, which, even within a single generation, were, from Long Island to Grand Menan, features so characteristic. If we go back yet farther, though only to a period within the recollection of that very respectable individual, "the oldest inhabitant,” the changes from that recent period to what is now witnessed are yet more remarkable, and make our present poverty both striking and painful. Then wild-ducks are said to have nested on the outer Brewsters. Then, probably, the now exterminated Alca impennis was a bird of New England, as it was at some period, probably more distant, one of Massachusetts also. Then all our salt marshes and our lowlands near the sea swarmed, during the spring and autumn months, with plover, snipe, godwit, tatler, curlew, and wading birds of various forms and plumage. Then all of our estuaries, inlets, coves, bays, rivers and creeks along the entire coast, abounded in sea-fowl during the entire year, the only difference being that at certain seasons of the year, the resident species were driven by the ice and

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by the PEABODY ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts. AMER. NATURALIST, VOL. III.

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the severity of the winter to more open waters, where their numbers were immensely reinforced by myriads of sea-ducks from more northern seas, and which are so absurdly designated by fishermen and gunners as "Coots.” The numbers of these wild-ducks, of various kinds, off our entire coast, according to tradition, appear to have been well-nigh fabulous. Then, too, all the islands along the entire coast abounded with several varieties of gulls and terns, some of which are no longer to be met with, and all in very greatly diminished numbers.

Now how changed the whole scene ! Wild-ducks no longer breed on any portion of our entire coast. The exceptions are so very few that they only prove the too general rule. Here and there a few remote uninhabited islands aside from the haunts of fishermen, and remote from the tracks of commerce, afford to a solitary species of gull, and to the decimated terns a precarious retreat, where, late in the season, a few succeed in rearing their young, and thus in postponing the day of the final extermination of their race. For, so long as the Solons of our General Court encourage, by their legislation, their unchecked and wholesale destruction, the day cannot be far distant when these graceful and harmless birds will have become wholly, as they are now almost, a "bright vision of the past."

Thus, with the increase of population along the coast during the warmer months, when the portions least frequented at other times swarm with pleasure-seekers, and with the ceaseless activity with which every island is ransacked by the insatiate "toilers of the sea," the distinctive characteristics of our maritime ornithology has become very nearly destroyed. So many blanks and gaps now mar its symmetry, and dwarf its once fair proportions, that the subject loses nearly all the claims it would have presented half a century ago.

In speaking of what is left to us of the sea-side ornithology of New England, four or five groups suggest themselves as still distinctive features. These are : the birds of prey chiefly found about the sea-coast; the smaller land-birds that are also maritime in their partialities; shore-birds or waders ; sea-birds or swimmers; and occasional and winter visitants. As we do not propose to prepare such an article as Prof. Lowell would call "nothing if not a catalogue," and our limits do not permit an exhaustive sketch, we shall only briefly speak of those we regard as the most distinguishing characteristics of our seaboard, mentioning only a few that best typify these general divisions.

The birds of prey that seem to belong to our seaboard are not many, either in their variety of species or in the number of the individuals. Even the Fish-hawk, so marked a feature on the sea-coast of New Jersey, finds our rocky shores an uncongenial or an unprofitable field, and is seldom seen from Cape Cod to Cape Elizabeth. A few occur on both shores of Long Island Sound. From thence until we come to the mouth of the Kennebec, they are entirely wanting. The same is very nearly true of the White-headed Eagle. On the coast of Maine both of these birds abound, and their large and conspicuous nests, surmounting the tops of the loftiest pines, often in full view of the highway, are a noticeable feature in the landscape.

In the latter part of the summer and in the early fall, when the southward flight of many of the small birds has begun, the Barred Owls station themselves in ambush on the coast and among the inner islands, as if to forestall the gunners, who show them no mercy if they chance to meet them. Their noiseless flight and their inconspicuous plumage, so closely assimilating with the sandy dunes and rocky wastes, favor their success as marauders, and also their immunity from their rival hunters. The flight of the smaller waders and the young of the terns are their chief attraction at these times to the sea-shore.

Less than twenty years ago our shores abounded, in spring and fall, with the Rough-legged Buzzard. They frequented

the marshes and the edges of ponds in the lowlands near the sea, rarely going more than a mile or two inland. They appeared to hunt, by preference, for frogs, field-mice, and the smaller quadrupeds, and, more rarely, the smaller birds. For some unexplained reason their visits are now comparatively very rare. The Black-hawk, by some supposed to be only a darker race of this species, and once occasionally to be met with, is now unknown.

The Great-footed Falcon, though by no means confined to our coast, is yet a conspicuous feature to the sea-side whenever or wherever there are sea-fowl to attract him. But, with the ever increasing diminution of these attractions, this falcon now only pays us angel visits, except on the eastern coast of Maine.

In enumerating the conspicuous and characteristic features of our coast scenery, the crow must not be forgotten. Wherever muscles or clams can be dug at low water, or wherever a storm has thrown upon the shore an unusual accumulation of garbage, we find these sagacious wreckers on the alert, eager to gather their full share of the flotson or jetson, as the case may be. Among our sea-side visitors, this invaluable but unpopular race are among the first to come, and the last of the migratory birds to leave our coast, and a few remain all winter.

The entire family of swallows, except the Purple Martin, are eminently sea-side birds; and most so, the White-bellied. In the eastern portions of Maine, and in all the islands of the Bay of Fundy, the abundance of this swallow is very remarkable. In Massachusetts they are far more abundant near the coast than in the interior. The Barn Swallow has been educated into resorting to the use of sheds, barns, porches, and eaves of houses for a nesting-place, yet we can remember when the rocks of Newport and Nahant were their primitive and natural breeding-places. The Cliff Swallows, since 1839, have become more and more abundant on our coast. The Sand Martin has ever been content to occupy every convenient cliff, or river bank, or ocean front, in whose suitable soil it could excavate its necessary channel to a nest-hole.

Along the shores of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and occasionally on those of our own State, two interesting little Ammodrami, the Sharp-tailed, and the sea-side Finches, - so called, in our poverty of terms to properly designate American forms having only a remote resemblance to that which they are intended to represent, --are species peculiarly characteristic of the sea-shore and peculiar to our own continent, there being two Atlantic and one Pacific varieties. Their elongated and slender bills distinguishing them from all other American sparrows, their long legs extending in the stuffed specimen beyond their tail feathers, their short lateral claws, their rounded wings and wedge-shaped tails composed of stiff lanceolate feathers, are all features eminently characteristic of sea-side life, and such as typify, only in a more marked degree, the true shore-birds. In fact in their habits they are not very unlike the true wader in many respects. Like them they feed upon marine insects and the smaller crustacea, keeping about the water's edge, walking upon the floating weeds and other substances raised by the tide, preferring this mode of life to a more inland residence, and only resorting to the uplands to feed upon grass and other seed when food fails them at the water's edge. They were once quite common on our northern shores, but, so far as the writer knows, a large proportion have disappeared, with other summer shore-birds, probably driven away by the gunners and pleasure-seekers who now frequent their former haunts. I hve met with none, north of New Bedford, since 1810, although here and there in a few localities a few are yet to be found, as for instance, in the marshes of Charles River.

Closely allied to the ammodrami is the Swamp Sparrow, common to the lowlands of the sea-side, but not peculiar to them, and equally abundant in the lowlands of the interior, as far west as Wisconsin. It is found along our entire coast,

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