National Geographic : 1915 Aug
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus). Range: Breeds from central Oregon, northern Utah, and southern Colorado to southern California, southern New Mexico, southern Texas, coast of Louisiana, and in Mexico, and from central Florida and Bahamas throughout the West Indies to northern Brazil and Peru; winters from southern Lower California, southern Texas, southern Louisiana, and southern Florida south through Central America and the West Indies to northern Brazil, Peru, and the Galapagos. So commonly associated are the stilt and avocet and so similar are the general habits of these two very dissimilar species that the same account applies almost equally well to both. Like the "blue stockings," the stilt used to be rather com mon in the Atlantic States, but it has suffered at the hands of gunners till few of the present generation know the bird by sight. In 1871 I saw a lone stilt in Florida at the head of the Miami River, where it debouches from the Everglades-my sole experience with the species east of the Mississippi. But in the far western States I have seen many hundreds leading their natural lives by lakeside or slough in company with avocets. Even the most unobservant could not compare the general structure of these two species and not draw the inference that their habits must be very similar. The long bill of the stilt, indeed, is straight instead of being curved, but otherwise the stilt is as well equipped as the avocet to wade in shallow waters and extract a living beneath the muddy surface. It is true that its toes are not webbed, but our stilt seems not to have discovered its deficiency in this respect, and, when deep water intervenes, launches in with confidence born of long experience. AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana) (See page 147). WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata). Range: Breeds from northwestern Alaska, northern Mackenzie, central Kee watin, and northern Ungava south to northern California, southern Colorado, northern Iowa, northern Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; winters from northern California, New Mexico, Arkansas, and North Carolina to Colombia and southern Brazil. Wilson's or the English snipe is a bird of fresh-water swamp and meadow, in which it finds concealment among the grass or grassy tussocks. It is particularly fond of places where the soil is boggy enough to permit probing with its sensitive bill, for it finds much of its food beneath the surface in the shape of succulent worms. Owing to the nature of its haunts and its secretive habits, the snipe is familiar to but few outside the guild of sportsmen. Even nature lovers know the bird chiefly by its sharp "scaip, scaip," as it flushes suddenly from among the grasses. So quickly does the snipe get under way that one is apt to catch only a glimpse of a brown and black body as it cuts the air on powerful wings with many a twist and turn. It is this peculiar flight that endears the snipe to the sportsman, since a steady hand and a quick eye are needed to stop the bird when bent on escaping from a dangerous neighborhood. Most States until recently have permitted spring snipe-shooting. The practice is held by many to be the more excusable inasmuch as some States get little or no snipe-shooting in fall, and to forego spring shooting means no snipe-shooting at all in such States. No one, however, who has marked the steady decline in the number of snipe that migrate across our territory can doubt that the continuance of spring shooting means the extinction of this highly prized game bird. WOODCOCK (Philohela minor). Range: Breeds from northeastern North Dakota, southern Manitoba, northern Michigan, southern Quebec, andNova Scotia south to southern Kansas, southern Louisiana, and northern Florida; winters from southern Missouri, Ohio Valley, and New Jersey south to Texasand southern Florida. The woodcock, another member ofthe royal family among game birds, ispracti cally the exclusive property of theAmerican people todeal with as they list. Itistrue that a greater or lesser number ofwoodcock crossournorthernfrontier tobreed, but the bulk of the species never leave our own borders. As aprerequisite toits presence the woodcock requires soft, moist earth inwhich toprobe for earthworms, and its range may be said to be largely determined by the presence or absence ofits favorite food. Study him at what season you will, meet him where you may, the woodcock is always an interesting bird. His spring-flight song, given as the hours of darkness approach-for the woodcock ischiefly of nocturnal habits-is unique among the long-billed, long-legged fraternity, and the many details connected with his housekeeping are well worth attention. And what music so sweet to the sports man's ears as the silvery whistleofthe woodcock's wings when the bird, suddenly roused from his snug shelter beneath bush orbracken, mounts upward through the silver birches! Nor is any otherprize among game birds sodear tothe sportsman's heart as this many-hued denizen of swamp and hillside when brought tobag in fair, sportsmanlike fashion. Allthe more keenly then must sportsman and bird lover regret the fact'that the woodcock ispassing. While there isno present dan ger of extinction, spring and summer woodcock-shooting should beabolished as a crime alike against a fine game bird and fair sportsmanship. DOWITCHER (Macrorhamphus griseus griseus) (See page 147). KNOT (Tringa canutus). Range: Breeds from northernEllesmere Land south toMelville Peninsula and Iceland; also on Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia; winters south to southern Patagonia, and from the Mediterranean to South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand. The knot is cosmopolitan in range and occurs on every continent and on many islands, large and small. It is strong of wing, and when migrating appears not to regard distance, for it spans theterritory that separates Grinnell Land and the Straits of Magellan. It is a characteristic bird ofthe sea beach, and its food is obtained by following the receding waves and seizing the minute crustaceans and mollusks momentarily uncoveredby the surf. Apparently, the robin snipe never was so abundant on the Pacific coast as along the Atlantic, but the species promises to last longer on the Pacific because less persecuted there. Enormous bags were formerly made on the eastern coast, more particularly during the last ofMay and early June. Thus the birds werepursued not only infall but till near the opening of the nesting season, a sufficient cause oftheir diminution. Infurther explana tion of the present small numbers ofthe knot, however, the fact counts for much that until recently there have been practically no bag limits for our shorebirds, and many gunners have shot as long asthe birds and their ammunition lasted. All shorebirds that associate in large flocks are unsuspicious, as though safety lay in numbers. When the sportsman istobereckoned with the reverse istrue. Easily decoyed by wooden stools,orby the whistled imitation oftheir own note, or that of the black-bellied plover, aflock of robin snipe will swing into within gun shot, and repeat the dangerous experiment two or three times, or until the flock is reduced to a few survivors.