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nests of grass and weeds on the ground in marshy places. The rails are more abundant, though rarely seen on account of their habit of skulking through the swamp grasses. Only rarely do they take to the wing, and then fly but a short distance, with their legs dangling awkwardly. Closely related to them are the coots or mud-hens (Fulica americana), which may be distinguished, however, by their slaty color, white bills, and lobed webs on the toes, and consequent ability to swim. All over the United States they may be seen resting on the shores of lakes or quiet streams, or swimming on the surface gathering food. The nest consists of a mass of floating reeds, which the young abandon almost as soon as hatched.
209. The snipes, sandpipers, and plovers (Limicolæ).—The snipes, sandpipers, and plovers are usually small birds, widely scattered throughout the country wherever there are sandy shores and marshes. In most species the legs are long, and in connection with the slender, sensitive bill fit the bird for picking up small animals in shallow water or probing for them deep in the mud. During the greater part of the year they travel in flocks, but at the nestingseason disperse in pairs and build their nests in shallow depressions in the earth. The eggs are usually streaked and spotted, in harmony with their surroundings, as are the young, which leave the nest almost as soon as hatched.
Fully fifty species of these shore-birds live within the confines of the United States. Among these the woodcock (Philohela minor) and snipe (Gallinago delicata) are abundant in many places inland, where they probe the moist soil for food, and in turn are eagerly sought by the sportsman. Even more familiar are the sandpipers and plovers, which are especially common along the seacoast, and are also abundantly represented by several species far inshore. Among the latter are the well-known spotted sandpiper or “tip-up” (Actitis macularia) and the killdeer plover (Ægi
alitis vocifera), which inhabit the shores of lakes and streams throughout the country.
210. Quail, pheasants, grouse, and turkeys (Gallinæ).—The quail, grouse, and our domestic fowls are all essentially
Fig. 125.–California quail (Lophortyx californicus). Two-thirds natural size.
ground-birds, and their structure well adapts them to such a life. The body is thick-set, the head small, and the beak heavy for picking open and crushing the seeds and berries
upon which they live. The legs and feet are stout, and fitted for scratching or for running through grass and underbrush. Protective colors also prevent detection, but if close pressed they rise into the air with a rapid whirring of their stubby wings, and after a short flight settle to the ground again. During the breeding-season the male usually mates with a number of hens, which build rough nests in hollows in the ground, where they lay numerous eggs. The young are precocial.
The quail or bob-white (Colinus virginianus) and the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) occur throughout the Eastern States. Over the same area the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) once extended, but is now almost extinct. The prairies of the middle West support the prairie-hen (Tympanuchus americanus), and the valleys and mountains of the far West are the home of several
species of quails, some of which are beautifully crested. To 211. Pigeons and doves (Columbæ).—The pigeons and
doves belong to a small yet well-defined order, with upward of a dozen representatives in the United States. They are of medium size, with small head, short neck and legs, and among other distinguishing characters frequently possess a swollen, fleshy pad in which the nostrils are placed. In former years the passenger-pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), inhabiting eastern North America, was probably the most common species in this country. Their flocks contained thousands, at times millions, of individuals, which often traveled hundreds of miles a day in search of food, to return at night to definite roosts—a trait which enabled the hunter to practically exterminate them. At present the mourningor turtle dove (Zenaidura macroura) is the most familiar and wide-spread of the wild forms. The domestic pigeons are all descendants of the common rock-dove (Columba livia) of Europe, the numerous varieties such as the tumblers, fantails, pouters, etc., being the product of man's careful selection. In the construction of the nest, usually a rude platform of twigs, and in the care of the young both parents have a share. The young at hatching are blind, naked, and perfectly helpless, and are fed masticated food from the crops of the parents until able to subsist on fruits and seeds.
212. Eagles, hawks, owls, etc. (Raptores).—The birds of prey, all of which belong to this order, are carnivorous, often of large size and great strength, and are widely distributed throughout this country. The vultures live on carrion, some of the small hawks and owls on insects, while the majority capture small birds and mammals by the aid of powerful talons. In every case the beak is hooked, and the perfection of the organs of sight and hearing is unequaled by any other animal, man included. They live in pairs, and in many species mate for life. As a rule, the female incubates the eggs, and the male assists in collecting food.
Among the vultures, the turkey-buzzard (Cathartes aura) is most abundant throughout the United States, especially in the warmer portions, where it plays an important part as a scavenger. Of the several species of hawks, the whiterumped marsh-hawk (Circus hudsonius), the red-tailed hawk (Buteo borealis), the red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), and above all the bold though diminutive sparrow-hawk (Falco sparverius) are the most abundant and familiar. In the more unsettled regions live the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) and bald eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus). The owls are nocturnal, and not so often seen as the other birds of prey, yet the handsome and fierce barn or monkey-faced owl (Strix pratincola), and the larger species, such as the great gray owl (Scotiaptex cinereua), and the beautiful snowy owl (Nyctea nyctea), are more or less common, and occasionally seen. Much more abundant is the little screech-owl (Megascops asio), and in the Western States the burrowing-owl (Speotyto cunicularia), which lives in the burrows of the ground-squirrels and prairiedogs. Fiercest and strongest of the tribe is the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).