National Geographic : 1914 May
MARSH HAWK (Circus hudsonius). Length, about 19 inches. The ashy upper parts, white rump and long tail of the adult male suffi ciently distinguish this hawk; while the fuscous upper parts and buff under parts much streaked with brown distinguish the female and young. Range: Breeds through much of Canada, south to the middle United States; winters in the United States, especially in the south. Though not exclusively a marsh frequenter, as its name might seem to imply, this hawk prefers open country, and its favorite hunting grounds are meadow and marsh, in which it nests on the ground. It flies rather low, the better to see and drop sud denly upon the luckless meadow mice-its favorite food. Unfortunately small birds form part of its fare, and there are localities, like Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, where this hawk has earned a bad reputation as a destroyer of poultry and game. Howe vet, over much the larger part of the vast territory it inhabits, the marsh hawk is a rodent eater, and the debt of gratitude it lays upon the farmer i las large. This debt should be fully discharged by preserving the bird and encouraging its presence unless it is caught committing overt acts. In other words, as this hawk is very bene ficial over most of its range, individual hawks should be presumed to be innocent unless detected in trans gression. OSPREY (Pandion halisetus carolinensis). Length, about 23 inches. The great size, brown upper parts and white under parts are distinguish ing features. Range: Breeds from northwestern Alaska, and central Canada south to the Gulf Coast, western Mexico and Lower California; winters from the southern United States, Lower California and Mexico to Central America. A thin, high pitched whistle, the alarm as well as the call note of the osprey, frequently directs the attention of the passer by to this fine hawk as he circles high in air on the watch for fish. The bird is common along our coast and to some extent along our rivers, and his bulky nest of twigs, often in low trees or sometimes on the ground, frequently attests his former presence when he is wintering elsewhere. When unmolested, ospreys return to their own strip of territory year after year, and they and their de scendants probably rear their young in the same nest for generations, repairing it from season to sea son as necessity requires. The osprey lives solely on fish which he catches himself-he disdains carrion - diving from mid air upon his quarry and often burying himself in the water momentarily by the force of his descent. He often fastens his talons in the back of a large fish, which proves too heavy, and he has to abandon it; but usually he succeeds in carrying his prey to his nest, though his slow and labored wing-beats often prove how heavy is his load. Notwithstanding the fact that the osprey makes no direct return for the fish he eats, no one can doubt that indirectly he renders a full equiva lent. Visitors to the seashore, and even old resi dents, never tire of watching his superb flight and interesting habits, and his plunge, after his quarry, whether successful or unsuccessful, is a sight to be remembered. TURKEY BUZZARD (Cathartes aura sep tentrionalis). Length, about 30 inches. The naked head and neck and glossy black plumage are distinctive. Range: Extends from southwestern Canada, northern Minnesota, southern New York and south into northern Mexico and Lower California. This buzzard displays superb powers of flight wnich even the eagle cannot surpass, and no small part of its time is spent in the upper air, describing great circles on motionless wings as if for the mere pleasure of flight. Let another buzzard, however, discover a carcass, and the movements of our aero naut as he hastens to the feast are at once noted by his next neighbor, and his by a third, till the carrion feeders of a wide territory are assembled. Sight and not smell, then, is depended on by the buzzard to guide him to his food. Though of great strength and provided with a formidable bill, the buzzard rarely, if ever, attacks living animals, unless they are disabled, but depends upon death to pro vide for his wants. No doubt his ability to fast is as great as his capacity for gorging himself when occa sion offers, and he must often go for days without food. As a scavenger the buzzard does good service and no sound reason exists for destroying him, not withstanding the fact that occasionally the bird may be instrumental in spreading hog cholera by trans porting the germs on his feet and bill. This disease, however, may be, and no doubt often is, transmitted by the feet of so many other birds, especially the English sparrow, and of so many mammals, espe cially rats, and even on the footwear of man himself as to lead to the belief that if every buzzard in the hog cholera districts were to be sacrificed no percep tible diminution of the disease would follow. The bird should continue to enjoy the protection which is at present accorded it in nearly every state of the Union. BALD EAGLE (Haliaetus leucocephalus and sub-species). Length, about 33 inches. The white head (adult) and naked tarsus distinguish this species from the golden eagle. Range: A resident of Alaska, much of Canada, and the whole of the United States in suitable locali ties. Though a fisherman by profession, the white head is by no means the master of his craft that the osprey is. In fact he never fishes for himself so long as he can rob the more skilful and more industrious fish hawk. When necessity compels, however, he fishes to some purpose, and much after the manner of his erstwhile victim, the fish hawk. He is far less fas tidious in his food habits than that bird, however, and often gorges himself until he cannot fly on dead fish gathered along shore, especially on the great salmon rivers of the northwest. When fish are scarce and waterfowl are plentiful, the white head has little difficulty in living off them. Complaint is made in Alaska, where the bald eagle is numerous, that he sometimes interferes with blue fox farming by killing the animals for food. Though the blue fox is not a large animal he is by no means a pigmy, and the bird who would make him his quarry must needs possess both strength and determination. As this eagle has been taken for our National emblem it would seem to be the part of patriotism to condone his faults and remember only his virtues, among which are a magnificent presence, superb powers of flight, and his devoted care of his family.