Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey

By Chester A. Reed

Order 8


Order Paludicolę



Family Gruidę


204. Grus americana. 50 in.

Plumage white, with black primaries; the inner wing feathers greatly lengthened, making a flowing train. Head of adult, largely bare, carmine colored, and with a few black hair-like feathers; eye yellow; bill and legs black. Young birds are whitish, mixed with gray. These great birds are not uncommon on the prairies of interior America, where they frequent the edges of marshes and sloughs. They are very wary and their great height enables them to see anyone a long way off, above the marsh grass. They were formerly found on the South Atlantic coast, but are now extremely rare there.

Notes. A loud whooping scream.

Nest. On the ground, usually in marshes; it is a bulky mass of grass and weeds, with the hollowed top a foot or more above ground. The two eggs that they lay are brownish-buff, spotted with brown. (3.75 x 2.50) ; May, June.


205. Grus canadensis. 36 in.

Like the next and better known species, but smaller and browner, especially on the wings.

Range. Breeds in the interior of Northern Canada; migrates, west of the Mississippi and east of the Kockies, to Mexico.



206. Grus mexicana. 44 in.

Plumage entirely grayish with a few brownish feathers; bare skin on top of head, red. These cranes are locally distributed in the Gulf States, and in the interior north to Manitoba. Their food consists largely of grasshoppers, worms and lizards. Unlike herons, their young are born- covered with down and can run about as soon as they appear. When flying, cranes carry their neck full outstretched.

Nest. On the ground like that of the Whooping Crane.

Range. Winters on the Gulf coast and in Florida; breeds north to Manitoba.


Family Aramidę


207. Aramus vociferus. 27 in.

These singular birds are the connecting link between the cranes and the rails. They are rarely seen in flocks, usually living a secluded life in pairs. They are often known as the " crying bird," because of the peculiar wailing cries that they utter, both in daytime and after nightfall. They are great skulkers, and it is difficult to make them fly; when they do take wing, it is only to go a few rods before dropping into the shelter of the reeds again. They can run rapidly, having a peculiar mincing gait, that is said to have given them the name of Limpkin.

Notes. A peculiar wailing " whee-ee-eu."

Nest. A loosely constructed platform of sticks, leaves, grass and moss, located a few feet from the ground in tangled underbrush or vines. The 4 to 7 eggs are buffy white, blotched with brown (2.30x 1.70) ; April, May.

Range. Breeds and is resident in Southern Florida, and casually Texas.


Family Rallidę


208. Rallus elegans. 18 in.

Back handsomely patterned with black, olive-brown and gray: wing coverts reddish-brown; neck and breast, rich cinnamon-brown, brightest on the breast. Sides sharply barred with black and white. This species is the handsomest of the rails, and is the most distinctly and brightly marked. They are excellent runners and are very difficult to start from the marsh grass within which they are concealed. They are usually found in fresh water marshes, while the next species is most abundant in salt marshes ; they are both often found in the same place and must be seen at close range to distinguish them.

Notes. A loud " bup, bup, bup " repeated and ending in a roll. (Chapman).

Nest. Of grass and weeds on the ground in marshes. The eggs are pale buff, spotted with reddish-brown (1.6x1.2) ; June.

Range. Breeds from the Gulf coast north to Conn., Ont., and Minn. Winters in southern U. S.


211. Railus crepitans. 15 in.

General color above olive-grayish, with no strong black markings; breast pale brown; flanks barred with gray and white. This species is found almost exclusively in salt marshes, where they skulk about like rats. During exceptionally high tides, when their hiding places are covered. many of them are killed by negroes and white men for food: they can swim, but usually run across the marsh, making use of blades of grass, sticks or whatever trash may be in their course, as stepping stones.

Notes. Loud and clacking like those of the King Rail.

Nest. Of grasses on the ground in salt marshes; 6 to 14 buffy eggs, spotted with brown (1.70x1.20).

Range. Salt marshes of the Atlantic coast, north to Mass. The following subspecies are darker and very locally distributed. 211a. Louisiana Clapper (R. c. saturatus), coast of La. 2 lib, Scott Clapper (R. c. scotti), Gulf coast of Fla. 211c, Wayne Clapper (R. c. waynei), east coast of Fla. to S. C.


212. Rallus virginianus. 9.5 in.

Coloration almost exactly like that of the King Rail, but the bird is much smaller. Like that species, this one prefers fresh water marshes. They have a great aversion to flying, and, like other rails, will trust to their legs for safety, should danger threaten; probably no other birds are as dexterous as the rails in threading their way through the close standing rushes. Although they do not have webbed feet, they can swim fairly well, and also dive, but they do so only when they are forced to. They look extremely awkward as they run over the trash on the marsh, their head and neck erect and extended, with their head rapidly turning from side to side as though looking for a place of safety.

Notes. A guttural, rattling " cut-cut-cut-ee."

Nest. Of grasses, on the ground or in tufts of rushes-eggs creamy- white, specked with brown. (1.25x.90); May, June.

Range. Breeds in the northern half of the United States and southern Canada; winters in southern U. S.


214. Porzana Carolina. 8.5 in.

Adults with the face and throat black. Young with no black on the head. This species is not apt to be confused with any, except, possibly, the Virginia Rail, which is somewhat larger, and always has the breast conspicuously cinnamon color. These birds are very abundant in nearly their whole range, but they are so secretive in their habits that their presence is often' not noticed. Unless disturbed, they pass the greater portion of the day in slumber, and do most of their feeding after dusk, when their confused, clucking notes are heard all over the marshes. All of the rails have this habit of feeding chiefly at night, perhaps through fear of enemies during the daytime, for they seem to be very timid birds.

Notes. A rapid clucking, " kuk, kuk, kuk," etc.

Nest. A rude structure of grass and rushes on the ground in either salt or fresh marshes; 6 to 16 buff colored eggs with reddish brown specks.

Range. Breeds in the northern half of the U. S. and northwards; winters in the southern half.


215. Coturnicops noveboracensis. 7 in.

This is a handsome bird, the entire plumage having a glossy lustre. The back is blackish, with all the feathers edged with white, while the head, neck and breast have a peculiar yellowish-brown shade.

Nest. On the ground; made of rushes and grass woven and twisted together; the 6 to 12 eggs are rich buff color, specked in a wreath about the large end, with reddish-brown; size l.lOx.80; June.

Range. Breeds in northern U. S. and southern Canada; winters in the southern states.



216. Creciscus jamaicensis. 5 in.

Much smaller than any of our other rails; very dark.

Notes. A peculiar, loud clicking sound.

Nest. Of grass and rushes, well cupped to receive the 6 to 12 eggs; these are creamy white, speckled with reddish brown (1.03x.75); June.

Range. Breeds in the United States north to Mass., southern Minn. and Oregon. Winters in the West Indies and Central America.


218. lonornis martinicus. 13 in.

Bill shorter and stouter than that of the rails, and with a hard shield at the base, that extends on the forehead to the top of the head. This species is beautifully colored with purplish-red and blue on the underparts, and greenish on the back and wings; legs yellow; bill carmine, tipped with yellow. The habits of the gallinules are practically the same as those of the rails. They inhabit marshes, where they creep cautiously but rapidly through the upright stalks, or run over the slimy surface, where none but birds with extremely long toes could get a foothold. Their powers of flight are weak, and they do not take wing unless they are cornered or wish to cross some stream.

Nest. Woven of grasses and rushes, and placed either on the ground or attached to living rushes, usually over the water; their 5 to 10 eggs are rich cream color, spotted with reddish brown (1.60x1.15).

Range. Breeds in eastern United States, north to North Carolina and southern Illinois; winters south of the U. S.


219. Gallinula galeata. 13 in.

Bill and crown plate, reel, tipped with yellow; legs greenish with a red ring around the top; plumage gray changing to blackish on the head and neck. Florida Gallinules are very noisy, especially during the mating and breeding season, and marshes in the south, where they breed by hundreds, fairly ring with their cries. chuckles and squawks. They have an almost endless variety of notes but all of them are harsh and explosive. At times they appear to be stupid, and allow anyone to approach in a boat, near enough to touch them with an oar. When frightened, and with no protecting rushes to conceal them, they will rush off over the grass and water, with much spattering and squawking.

Nest.- -Usually fastened in the marsh grass or flags above water; made of rushes and grass; the eggs are similar to those of the Purple Gallinule but are duller.

Range. Breeds north to southern New England, Ontario, Minnesota and Oregon; winters in southern U. S.


221. Fulica americana. 15 in.

Bill and frontal shield as in the gallinules, but the bill is whitish with a blackish ring near the tip; each individual toe is furnished with a large scalloped web; otherwise their plumage is grayish like that of the Florida Gallinule. Coots are, locally, very abundant throughout temperate North America in summer. Like gallinules, they inhabit reedy pools, sluggish streams and boggy marshes, where they are at least safe from human pursuit. They conceal themselves among the reeds, so as to escape observation, taking wing only when they are obliged to. They are expert swimmers, and can dive and swim for long distances under water; in this respect they have a decided advantage over the rails and gallinules.

Nest. Like that of the gallinules; 6 to 15 grayish eggs, finely speckled with black (1.80x1.30). May, June.

Range. Breeds throughout temperate America, rare on the North Atlantic coast; winters in southern U. S.