National Geographic : 1914 May
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus and sub-species). Length, about 22 inches. The great size and long ear tufts sufficiently distinguish this owl. Range: Resident over the greater part of North and South America. This, our largest owl, inhabits heavily forested and unsettled regions and is becoming more and more rare in thickly populated areas. It is well known by its far reaching call-" hoo-hoo-hoo hoo"-which is heard best in the still small hours of the night, when it echoes across the expanse of ,canyon and forest in the far west. This owl destroys many partridges and other game birds, and unhoused poultry is never safe from its nocturnal attacks. Its deeds are those of dark ness, since usually it hunts only at night, though when disturbed in the daytime it can see well enough to take good care of itself. Its bill of fare is a long one and includes many kinds of mammals and birds. It is one of the few creatures which when hungry do not hesitate to attack the skunk, and it appears to have no great difficulty in killing this rather formidable little beast. That it does not always do so with entire impunity is evident from the odor frequently attaching to its feathers. Its destruction of rodents entitles it to our gratitude, especially when it kills pocket gophers, rats, mice, ground squirrels and rabbits. In some parts of the west rabbits are responsible for much damage to orchards and crops and consequently their reduction is a blessing. Nevertheless the protection of this big and fierce owl cannot be recommended on sound economic grounds. COOT (Fulica americana). Length, about 15 inches. The slate-colored plumage, with blackish head and neck, white bill, and scalloped toes mark this bird apart from all others. Range: Breeds from southern Canada south to Lower California, Texas, Tennessee and New Jersey; also in southern Mexico and Guatemala; winters from southern British Columbia, Nevada, Utah, Ohio Valley and Virginia south to Panama. The coot, or mud-hen, is a sort of combination of duck, gallinule and rail, and withal is a very inter esting bird. Fortunately for the coot, its flesh is little esteemed, and by many, indeed, is considered unfit for human consumption. The coot is thus passed by in contempt by most sportsmen, and in some regions it is as tame as can well be imagined, swim ming within a few feet of the observer with entire unconcern. Under other circumstances, however, as in Louisiana, where it is shot for food under the name poule d'eau, it becomes as wild as the most wary of ducks. It frequents both salt and fresh water, preferably the latter. The mud-hen is one of the few American birds that occasionally visits the distant Hawaiian Islands in fall and winter. Finding conditions there to their liking, some of the immigrants, probably centuries ago, elected to re main and found a new colony, and there, in the fresh water ponds of the island archipelago, their .descendants still live and thrive. The food of the coot consists almost entirely .of water plants of no use to man. There would seem, therefore, to be no excuse for killing or dis turbing the bird in any way. WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa). Length, about 19 inches. The elongated crest of feathers and variegated plumage of white and brown, spotted with chestnut, ochraceous and steel blue are characteristic. Range: Breeds from Washington to middle California, and from Manitoba and southeastern Canada to Texas and Florida; winters chiefly in the United States. It can be said of this duck, as of no other, that it is our very own, since most of the breeding area it occupies is within our territory, and by far the greater number of the species winter within the United States. The story of its former abundance on our ponds and streams and of its present scar city is a sad commentary on our improvidence and a warning for the future. Happily, it is not yet too late to save this most beautiful of our ducks, and under proper regulations it may be expected not only to hold its own, but to increase until it is once more a proper object for the skill of sports men. Under present conditions all true sportsmen should refrain from its further pursuit. As is well known, the wood duck is one of the few wildfowl that builds its nest in hollow trees, and the security thus provided for the young is one of the factors to be relied upon for the increase of the species. North, south, east and west, the States of every section are, or should be, interested in the preservation of this distinctively American duck, and should make suitable regulations for its wel fare and see to their enforcement. SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularia). Length, about 6 inches. The "tip up," with its brownish gray upper parts and white under parts and its teetering motion, is too well known to need description. Range: Breeds in northwestern Alaska and in much of northern Canada south to southern Cali fornia, Arizona, southern Texas, southern Loui siana and northern South Carolina; winters from California, Louisiana and South Carolina to south ern Brazil and Peru. The little "tip up," as it is appropriately named, from its quaint nodding motion, unduly favors no one section or community but elects to dwell in every region suited to its needs from Alaska to Florida. It is doubtless more widely known than any other of our shore birds, and as it takes wing when dis turbed, its "wit, wit" comes to us from beach, river side, and mill pond, from one end of the land to the other. It is the only shore bird that habitu ally nests in cornfields and pastures, and its hand some buff eggs spotted with chocolate are well known to the farmer's boy everywhere. Much is to be said in favor of the food habits of the little tip up, as the bird includes in its diet army worms, squash bugs, cabbage worms, grasshoppers, green flies and crayfishes. Having thus earned a right to be numbered among the farmers' friends, the bird should be exempt from persecution. The tiny morsel of flesh afforded by its plump little body, when the bird has been shot, is in no sense an adequate return for its services when alive and active in our behalf.