AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Plate 53, Swallow-tailed Flycatcher

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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: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus

Corresponding Havell edition plate number: 359.2, Swallow-tailed Flycatcher, Arkansaw Flycatcher, Say's Flycatcher

Included in this composition a magnolia branch.

Audubon described the Swallow-tailed Flycatcher as follows:

"Not having seen this handsome bird alive, I am unable to give you any account of its habits from my own observation; but I have pleasure in supplying the deficiency by extracting the following notice from the "Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada," by my excellent friend THOMAS NUTTALL. 

"This very beautiful and singular species of Flycatcher is confined wholly to the open plains and scanty forests of the remote south-western regions beyond the Mississippi, where they, in all probability, extend their residence to the high plains of Mexico. I found these birds rather common near the banks of Red river, about the confluence of the Kiamesha. I again saw them more abundant near the Great Salt river of the Arkansas, in the month of August, when the young and old appeared, like our King-birds, assembling together previously to their departure for the south. They alighted repeatedly on the tall plants of the prairie, and were probably preying upon the grasshoppers, which were now abundant. At this time also, they were wholly silent, and flitted before our path with suspicion and timidity. A week or two after, we saw them no more, they having retired probably to tropical winter-quarters. 

In the month of May, a pair, which I daily saw for three or four weeks, had made a nest on the horizontal branch of an elm, probably twelve or more feet from the ground. I did not examine it very near, but it appeared externally composed of coarse dry grass. The female, when first seen, was engaged in sitting, and her mate wildly attacked every bird which approached their residence. The harsh chirping note of the male, kept up at intervals, as remarked by Mr. SAY, almost resembled the barking of the prairie marmot, 'tsh, 'tsh, 'tsh. His flowing kite-like tail, spread or contracted at will while flying, is a singular trait in his plumage, and rendered him conspicuously beautiful to the most careless observer." 

SWALLOW-TAILED FLYCATCHER, Muscicapa forficata, Bonap. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 15. 
SWALLOW-TAILED FLYCATCHER, Muscicapa forficata, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 275. 
SWALLOW-TAILED FLYCATCHER, Muscicapa forficata, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 426. 

Tail longer than the body; upper part of the head, cheeks, and hind neck ash-grey; back brownish-grey, rump dusky; anterior wing-coverts scarlet, quills brownish-black, tail-feathers deep black, the three outer on each side rose-coloured to near the end; lower parts white before, rose-coloured behind. 

Male, 11, wing 5 1/8."

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.