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Three Colourful North American Birds.

Updated on August 8, 2015

Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright { 1859-1927}



This is the second in the series some beautiful American birds. As with the first one, the historical accounts are from the book 'Birdcraft' written by Mrs. Mabel Osgood wright the American author who was married to James Osborne Wright an English man. She became president of the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut in 1898. The black and white plates used to illustrate the birds have been created by Louis Agassiz Fuertes {1847-1927}.

The Cardinal bird

We commence with a look at the cardinal bird which belong to the Order passerifomres {perching birds} and the family Cardinalidae. They occur in North and South America. The birds are also referred to as the Cardinal grosbeak and cardinal bunting. The north American cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis has the alternative common names of Red bird or Common Cardinal. They are of least concern as far as conservation issues are concerned.

Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright describes the bird in the following manner with accompanying notes.

Length--eight to nine inches

The male is a magnificent red, conspicuously crested, black throat and band around the beak. Wings at some seasons washed with grey. Bill light red, feet brown.

The female brownish yellow, crest , wings and tail reddish.

Season--A notable bird of the southern states straggling as far north as Massachusetts.

As a cage bird The cardinal is familiar to nearly everyone, although in confinement he soon looses the brilliancy of his plumage, he often keeps his full song. He is regarded as a semi-tropical species, yet in the breeding season he strays to New England States, winters plentifully in Pennsylvania, while a small colony are resident in Central Park New York.


Plate courtesy of Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Plate courtesy of Louis Agassiz Fuertes

The Cardinals Beauty

Mrs. Wright continues--The cardinal owes many of his misfortunes to his 'fatal gift of beauty'. It is simply impossible that he should escape notice, and to be seen, in spite of laws to the contrary, means that he will either be trapped, shot or persecuted out of the country. The fact that this little bird has not become extinct is a wonderful proof of the endurance and persistency of the species.

In the vicinity of New York, Mr. Bucknall says that its song lasts from April to August, and that he has seen cardinals in every month from October to March. Wilson writes that the full song lasts in the south from March to September, and that in January and February this bird's clear notes are the only music. In Europe where they are highly prized as cage birds, the name of Virginia Nightingale is given to them.

The most delicate and pathetic description of this bird whose beauty is his knell, is to be found in J.L.Allen's 'Kentucky Cardinal'-that song in which a knowledge of wild nature and the human heart as so perfectly blended ---' Lo! some morning the leaves are on the ground and the birds have vanished. The species that remain, or come to us then, wear the lives of the season and melt into a tune of natures background,--blues, grays,browns, with touches of white on the tail and breast and wing for coming flecks of snow-' save only him,-proud, solitary stranger to our unfriendly land,-the fiery grosbeak. Nature in Kentucky has no wintry harmonies for him. He could find these only among the tufts of October sumach, or in the gum tree."

" When it stands a pillar of red twilight fire in the dark November woods, or in the far depths of the crimson sunset skies, where, indeed, he seems to have nested, and whence to have come as a messenger of beauty bearing on his wings the light of his diviner home---What wonder he is so shy, so rare, so secluded, this flame coloured prisoner in dark green chambers, who has only to be seen or heard, and death adjusts an arrow!---he will sit for a long time in the heart of the cedar,as if absorbed in the tragic memories of his race. Then softly , wearily, he will call out to you and to the world,--peace--peace--peace--peace-! the most melodious sigh that ever issued from the clefts of a dungeon "

Cardinal among berries


Cardinal [Red birds}--Nest and Eggs

" Two red birds came early in May,

Flashing like rubies on the way;

Their joyous notes awoke the day,

And made all nature glad and gay"


Nest building for this species occurs during the month of May, exceptionally they may be encountered much later than this. Two broods may be raised by some pairs if conditions remain favorable.

They choose a site where trees with underbrush abound. There seems to be no preference between river-bottoms and uplands. It is usually situated in a thicket of brier or other bushes, or upon a low tree, either in the interior or the wood margins. Sometimes the nest is placed among the stems of a grape vine or close to the trunk of a large tree. In towns the birds will choose evergreens or ornamental bushes.

Nest and eggs of the Cardinal

The Illustration was drawn from a nest taken May 20,- 1880, from a low branch of a young hawthorn
The Illustration was drawn from a nest taken May 20,- 1880, from a low branch of a young hawthorn | Source

Nest building and eggs continued

The nest commonly rests upon a tangled mass of horizontal stems or upon two or three horizontal branches, but some times in a fork having a wide angle. When it is placed close to a tree trunk, it is supported by short shoots or by thorns. its distance from the ground rarely exceeds ten feet, ordinarily it is between three and four feet.

The foundation or main structure is composed principally of long, slender weed stems of various kinds, together, with strips of wild grape vine bark in varying quantities. The lining consists of a slender vine of a pinkish-grey colour, often with a brown tint. Old leaves, strips of corn husks or blades and weed fibres now and then enter into the main foundation and occasionally the main structure is composed entirely of strips of grape vine bark. The diameter of the cavity averages about three inches.

Eggs---The usual clutch or set size seems to be three, but the number varies from two to four and even five have been recorded. The ground colour of the shell is white , sometimes faintly tinted with green, rusty brown or yellow, and they may be glossy or dull. The markings consist of blotches, spots and speckles. Some are speckled and spotted with light yellowish brown so thickly as to conceal the ground colour. Several others have been recorded as having only a few bold patches of rich brown intersperced with a few well defined specks, and deep shell marks of a lavender tint. between these extremes various combinations of blotches, often drawn out into broad bands which run length-ways along the shell, spots and speckles exist of numerous shades and tints.

As we have seen the eggs of this species differ among themselves more than those of any other species. Even eggs from the same set can be so variously marked and of much difference in size and shape that it is hard to believe they were laid by the same bird.

Cedar bird


The Cedar Waxwing or Cedar bird.

The cedar waxwing belongs to the Order Passeriformes { perching birds} and placed in the family Bombycillidae and assigned to the genus Bombycilla and given the specific name of cedorum. They have acquired several common names such as Cherry bird, Bonnet bird and Silk tail.

The species breed in the open wooded areas of North America, principally in the southern parts of Canada and the Northern United States. they feed on cedar and juniper berries, choke-cherries, dogwood and woodbine berries, elder berries, haws and other wild fruits on which they feed very greedily, then move on to some other place where their favourit food abounds. happily for horticulturists they seem to care very little for cultivated fruits and rarely touch them.

The birds are responsible for 'planting' many of the wild species on which they feed, by dropping the undigested berry seeds far and wide. Many tree begin their life in this manner and even around homes the trees that occur were probably 'planted' by birds, some, long before the present occupier was born. Nature's workers sowing her seeds!

Cedar waxwing


Description and accompanying notes

There follows the description and accompanying notes of Mrs Wright-- the length of the bird is six and a half to seven and a quarter inches.

Male and female, above are grayish-cinnamon; crest, breast, throat and wings and tail purplish cinnamon. Black line from crest, extending through the eye, and forming black frontlets. {the secondary wing quills tipped with waxy points}. Tail feathers are banded with yellow and sometimes tail tips. Bill and feet are black.

Season --a resident , breeding here, and wandering about in flocks the remainder of the year, feeding upon various fruits and they winter upon cedar berries.

You will at once recognize the cedar waxwing by its crest, yellow tips, red wing appendages, and the straight black bill. It feathers are more exquisitely shaded than those of our more brilliantly colored birds. The specimen I have before me is a male in full plumage, who came to an untimely end by flying against a treacherous wire trellis. Nowhere except in the black frontlet, the tail and the wing tips does he show a distinct color demarcation; all the rest of the feathers are tinted like a skillful blending of water colors.

Cedar waxwings among blossom


Mrs wrights accompanying notes continued

the cedar waxwings only remain in pairs during the breeding season {from late May until August} and at all other times in flocks. It is only when in these flocks that they are conspicuous around the garden and old pastures. this is because when they are nesting they are very shy and stealthy in their movements.

Last May a flock of fifty or more lodged for a a whole morning in a half dead ash tree, near the house, so that seated at ease, I could focus my glass carefully and watch them at leisure. they were as solemn as so many demure Quakers sitting stiffly in rows. Once in a while they shifted about, and then seemed to do a great deal of apologizing for fancied jostlings. Their movement interested me greatly, until finally to my surprise, I saw an illustration of the old story of their extreme politeness in passing food to one another, which I had always regarded as a pretty bit of fiction.

A stout green worm { for they eat animal food as well as vegetable food} was passed up and down a row of eight birds, once,twice it went the rounds, until half way on its third trip it became wreck and dropped to the ground, so that no one enjoyed it; a commentary in general upon useless ceremony. I could not help wondering however, whether this was all disinterested politeness, or, whether the worm was of a variety repugnant to cedar birds.


The next extract is from 'Birdlore' February 15 to April 15 1919.

Boston region--- The past winter until mid February was one of unusual mildness and lack of snow. The latter half of the month, however, bade fair to redeem the vigor of the season with several minor snow storms and cold days. Yet February 22 brought Prairie horned larks at Wayland, the first perhaps, of the migrants to return .

A few reports of small roving flocks of robins and cedar birds came in the latter half of the month, perhaps birds that had wintered no great distance to the south and were already pushing north. The appearance of such flocks in the last week of January or early February, is an almost unusual occurrence with us."

Cedar waxwing in winter tree


Nest and Eggs

As soon as they have mated the pair leave the flock and seek out a good locality for the nest. It often occurs that several pairs build in close proximity to each other, but on different trees. Only one brood is reared in a season.

A medium sized tree is usually selected for the location of the nest, but not infrequently in a cedar, wild cherry or some ornamental tree in a lawn will be chosen. The nest is usually saddled on a horizontal or slightly inclined limb. Alternatively it will situate the nest in a fork formed by two or more branches, in either case it is generally supported firmly at the sides by a number of upright twigs. the distance from the ground is on average around ten to fifteen feet, but occasionally a nest may be encountered as low as three feet from the ground, or conversely as high as twenty to twenty five feet.

Nest and eggs of the cedar waxwing

Illustration was made July 20- 1883
Illustration was made July 20- 1883 | Source

Nest materials

The materials that enter the construction of the nest are very numerous, and often quite dissimilar in different nests, according to the fancy of the builder for this material or that material, or according to the locality of the nest. Rootlets, weed stems, tendrils, vegetable fibres, grass, green and dead leaves, leaf stems, string, paper and rags may be found in greater or lesser proportions.

The material is mostly soft and the lining and the structure of the main foundation are constructed of similar material. Perhaps as a rule the lining contains more thread like material than any other part of the structure. The exterior is rough and untidy in appearance and at once suggests the roving and careless disposition of the builder. the external diameter measures from four to five inches and its depth about three inches.

Eggs---The clutch or set is made up, as a rule, of four eggs, however, nests with five eggs are not uncommon. The ground colour of the shell is generally moderately tinted with bluish green, but occasionally blue grey or slate coloured, and still less frequently it is clouded with a wash of brown. The markings consist of well defined dots and speckles, so heavily laid on as to appear black.

On some eggs the marks are distributed sparingly, but quite regularly, over the whole shell. On some they cluster more around the base, while on others, and this is the usual pattern, they are scattered in small coalescent groups, here and there over the surface. Considerable space often separates the spots from each other, and it is exceptional to find more than two or three marks that are confluent.

Belted kingfisher

Plate by Louis Agassiz Fuertes !874-1927
Plate by Louis Agassiz Fuertes !874-1927

The Belted kingfisher

" Sharp eyes are a necessity to see little fish, where sunbeams dance on the ripples and the efracted light plays tricks with ones vision. Once a victim is sighted, how swiftly the lone fisherman dives through the air and water after it and how accurately he strikes his death blow"

Neltje Blachan

The belted kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon is a large species of kingfisher that belongs to the Order of birds Coraciiformes and placed in the family Cerylidae. The species has a large prominent crest often described as being ragged. Its closest relative is the Ringed kingfisher Megaceryle torquata,. They are thought to have probably originated from the African members of the genus which colonized the Americas.

They feed on amphibians, small crustaceans and insects to supplement their diet of fish. Much of their time is spent perched alone along the edges of streams. However, they are also encountered well away from water on commuting flights.

Mrs Wrights description and accompanying notes

The length of the Belted kingfisher is 12-13 inches.

Male and female ; long crest , straight bill longer than the head;head appearing large for the size of the body. Above lead blue, somewhat variegated with black. below whitish. Two dull bands across breast. White transverse bands and spots on the short tail. female has rusty bands across the breast.

Season-- a common summer resident, which may be classed as a resident, as it comes in March and in mild seasons often winters.

Range--North America, south to Panama and the West Indies.

the kingfisher may easily named, as he sits on his usual perch, a dead stump or limb jutting out over the water, by his large head, which gives the body a bob tailed appearance. Living entirely upon fish, he his driven from small streams to the larger rivers by the closing in of the ice, but in open winters I have seen this bird every month from November to March.

The kingfisher seizes his prey by diving, and if it is small and pliable swallows it at once. But if it consists of the larger and more spiny fish they are beaten to a pulp against a branch before they are swallowed, and even then the struggles and contortions the bird goes through before finally mastering the fish, would be very ludicrous were they not so evidently distressing.

The term halogen days {days for fair weather} is derived from the birds Latin name.The kingfisher once supposed to build his nest on a little raft and float out to sea with it, having the power to avert storms during the period of incubation. The modern kingfisher is to wise to try such an experiment; he knows that no one can fathom our climate or restrain Apollos from watering at unseemly times, so he digs deep into a bank, road cut,or quarry and the precious eggs are laid many feet from the outer air.

What a racket the old birds make in the breeding season! There may be loving harmonious kingfisher households, but if so the sound belies them. but who can say however, the seemingly angry shrieks of both parents may be -" rock-a-bye-baby", arranged by a kingfisher Wagner as a duet.!

Belted kingfisher


Bird life and bird lore {1905}

" Little wonder it is, when the bird is so beautiful and its habits so remarkable, that legends bean to foster around it from early times. Ceyx, the husband of Alcyone, was drowned. Mad from grief, the widow flung herself into the sea after him, and her father, Aelos, the Lord of the Winds, changed, so it was said, the faithful and ill-fated pair into halyons or kingfishers, which built their floating nest upon the waves, and for twice seven days, in the depth of the water, sat upon the eggs while Aelos kept the winds in prison-those " halcyon days" which we talk of still.

" Blow, but gently blow, faire wind,

from the deserted shore;

And to be as to the halcyon kind,

till we are ferried o're"

Nest and eggs

Belted kingfishers only raise one brood per tear, this is hatched about the second week in June. The site chosen for the home is sandy or clayey bank along a creek, canal, river, pond or lake where shallow water and small fish abound. Sometimes the site is half a mile or more away from water in the bank of a gravel pit or some similar location, but such a situation is exceptional. A bluff sandy bank at the side of a rapid but shallow stream is of all others the favourite locality.

The excavation of the hole, which is preliminary the nest proper, is generally began several feet below the top of the bank, but high enough above the water to escape flooding. the excavation is projected horizontally into the bank from three to six feet, exceptionally eight to nine feet. it is quite a significant hole, often large enough to fit a mans fist. inside the hole is enlarged somewhat at its extremity and it is here the eggs are placed. A few blades of grass, straws or like materials usually cover the floor of the cavity and upon these the eggs are laid. Fish bones and scales and craw fish remains from left over meals are added to these materials and by the time the eggs hatch there is an accumulation of such material. However, sometimes the birds will lay their eggs straight upon the floor chamber without any materials being used.

The eggs -six or seven form the set . They are a beautiful clear white with moderately thick, hard shells, highly polished. The young when first hatched are helpless and rely on parental care until they leave the nest. Then a great deal of effort is undertaken by the parents to teach the young how to fish for themselves, which is no easy task.

Belted kingfisher, juvenile /female


In Birds-Some Beautiful American Species -One

In the hub Birds- Some Beautiful American Species -One we looked at at the Hermit thrush. Bobolink and the Golden crowned Kinglet. There will be more beautiful American birds reviewed in future hubs on the subject. Thank you for visiting.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi DDE, once again I must thank you for your kind and appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Kingfishers are so beautiful and you did such a wonderful job on all your hubs, in the information and so well wriiten

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Fossillady, thank you for your kind observations and for taking the time to visit. Glad you liked the hub. Best wishes to you.

    • Fossillady profile image


      5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Beautiful work D. . . . I love the cardinals especially, they visit my feeder all year long here in Michigan. It's fun to see the daddy cardinal share food with the mamma and feed the babies. The cedar waxwings flock in my front yard in spring and eat from wild american cranberry bushes, then take off, just as she/you described!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      timorous, Thank you my friend for your visit and your interesting comments. I will try to find another picture of the Cardinal which will, as you suggest, illustrate the breast and crest to their full affect. Best wishes to you.

      lesliebyars , thank you for your visit too, and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

      aviannovice , you are right to say about these 'winged wonders' for birds enhance the beauty of many places in many countries of the world. Thank you for visiting. best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I have been privy to all of these wonderful winged friends. The Northern Reaches, of which I am very fond, at Boomer Lake, can hide many of these winged wonders in her arms...

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I just learned a lot thanks. Voted up and interesting.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      5 years ago from Me to You

      Interesting read, D.A.L. I love the Cardinal. They in fact are a common sight all winter long, here in central Ontario, Canada, where I live. The male isn't as vocal in the winter as the summer, but the brilliant red breast and crest really stand out against the white snow. You should find a better picture than the one you have. The red breast is really a brilliant shade of crimson.

      The cedar waxwings, and kingfishers are less common around here. I don't think I've seen the waxwing around here, but I did see a couple of kingfishers last summer.


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