AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Plate 51, Rough-winged Swallow

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Hand-colored lithograph by Ralph Trembly for the firm of J.T. Bowen after John James Audubon (1785 - 1851)

From Vol. 1 of the first octavo edition of the The Birds of America, From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories. New York: J. J. Audubon; Philadelphia: J. B. Chevalier, 1839 - 1840.

Paper dimensions: approximately 10 x 6 ½ inches

Octavo part number: 11

Current name: Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Audubon described the Rough-Winged Swallow as follows:

"On the afternoon of the 20th of October, 1819, I was walking along the shores of a forest-margined lake, a few miles from Bayou Sara, in pursuit of some Ibises, when I observed a flock of small Swallows bearing so great a resemblance to our common Sand Martin, that I at first paid little attention to them. The Ibises proving too wild to be approached, I relinquished the pursuit, and being fatigued by a long day's exertion, I leaned against a tree, and gazed on the Swallows, wishing that I could travel with as much ease and rapidity as they, and thus return to my family as readily as they could to their winter quarters. How it happened I cannot now recollect, but I thought of shooting some of them, perhaps to see how expert I might prove on other occasions. Off went a shot, and down came one of the birds, which my do, brought to me between his lips. Another, a third, a fourth, and at last a fifth were procured. The ever-continuing desire of comparing one bird with another led me to take them up. I thought them rather large, and therefore placed them in my bag, and proceeded slowly towards the plantation of WILLIAM PERRY, Esq., with whom I had for a time taken up my residence. 

The bill and feet of the Swallows were pure black, and both, I thought, were larger than in the Sand Martin; but differences like these I seldom hold in much estimation, well knowing from long experience, that individuals of any species may vary in these respects. I was more startled when I saw not a vestige of the short feathers usually found near the junction of the hind toe with the tarsus in the common species, and equally so when I observed that the bird in my hand had a nearly even tail, with broad rounded feathers, the outer destitute of the narrow margin of white. At this time my observations went no farther. 

I perhaps should never have discovered the differences existing between these species had I not been spurred by the remarks of VIEILLOT, who, in expressing his doubts as to their identity, and perhaps holding in his hand the bird here described, says that the tarsus is much larger than in the European Sand Martin. I have been surprised that these doubts did not awaken in others a desire to inquire into the subject. Had this been done, however, I should probably have lost an opportunity of adding another new species to those to whose nomination I can lay claim, not to speak of such as, although well known to me previous to their having been published by others, I have lost the right of naming because I had unparted my knowledge of them to those who were more anxious of obtaining this sort of celebrity. I have now in my possession one pair of these Swallows procured by myself in South Carolina during my last visit to that State. Of their peculiar habits I can say nothing; but, owing to their being less frequent than the Sand Martin, I am inclined to believe that their most habitual residence may prove to be far to the westward, perhaps in the valleys of the Columbia river. 

ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, Hirundo serripennis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 593. 

Tail slightly emarginate, margin of the first quill rough with the strong decurved tips of the filaments, tarsus bare; upper parts greyish-brown, lower pale greyish-brown, white behind. Very nearly allied to the last in form and colour, but readily distinguishable by drawing the finger along the edge of the wing, when the stiff projecting tips of the filaments are felt like the edge of a fine saw. 

Male, 5 3/4, 12 1/2, in extent."

From: AUDUBON, John James: The Birds of America, From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories; New York and Philadelphia: J. J. Audubon and J. B. Chevalier, 1840 - 1844.