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Plate No. 12: Baltimore Oriole
John J. Audubon published his signature work, The Birds of America, between 1827 and 1838. The collection featured 435 plates, his depiction of the Baltimore Oriole can be found on plate number 12.
Below are experts containing Audubon’s observations of the Baltimore Oriole, taken from Ornithological Biographies, a book on bird habits that Audubon wrote to supplement his artwork.
“Much might the traveller find to occupy his mind, and lead him into speculations regarding the past, the present, and the future, were he not attracted by the clear mellow notes, that issue from the woods, and gratified by the sight of the brilliant Oriole now before you. In solitudes like these, the traveller might feel pleased with any sound, even the howl of the wolf, or the still more dismal bellow of the alligator. Then how delightful must it be to hear the melody resulting from thousands of musical voices that come from some neighbouring tree, and which insensibly leads the mind, with whatever it may previously have been occupied, first to the contemplation of the wonders of nature, and then to that of the Great Creator himself.”
“Now we have ascended the mighty river, have left it, and entered the still more enchanting Ohio, and yet never for a day have we been without the company of the Oriole. Here, amongst the pendulous branches of the lofty tulip-trees, it moves gracefully up and down, seeking in the expanding leaves and opening blossoms the caterpillar and the green beetle, which generally contribute to its food.
“The Baltimore Oriole arrives from the south, perhaps from Mexico, or perhaps from a more distant region, and enters Louisiana as soon as spring commences there.”
“It prefers, I believe, the trees that grow on the sides of a gentle declivity. The choice of a twig being made, the male Oriole becomes extremely conspicuous. He flies to the ground, searches for the longest and driest filaments of the moss, which in that State is known by the name of Spanish beard, and whenever he finds one fit for his purpose, ascends to the favourite spot where the nest is to be, uttering all the while a continued chirrup, which seems to imply that he knows no fear, but on the contrary fancies himself the acknowledged king of the woods.”
“The female comes to his assistance with another filament of moss, or perhaps some cotton thread, or other fibrous substance, inspects the work which her mate has done, and immediately commences her operations, placing each thread in a contrary direction to those arranged by her lordly mate, and making the whole cross and recross, so as to form an irregular net-work. Their love increases daily as they see the graceful fabric approaching perfection, until their conjugal affection and faith become as complete as in any species of birds with which I am acquainted.'“
“The parents no doubt are aware of the intense heat which will exist ere long in this part of the world, and moreover take especial care to place their nest on the north-east side of the trees. On the contrary, had they gone as far as Pennsylvania or New York, they would have formed it of the warmest and softest materials, and have placed it in a position which would have left it exposed to the sun's rays; the changes in the weather during the early period of incubation being sometimes so great there, that the bird looks on these precautions as necessary to ensure the life of its brood against intense cold, should it come, while it knows that the heat in these northern latitudes will not be so great as to incommode them.”
“The movements of these birds as they run among the branches of trees differ materially from those of almost all others. They cling frequently by the feet in order to reach an insect at such a distance from them as to require the full extension of their neck, body, and legs, without letting go their hold. They sometimes glide, as it were, along a small twig, and at other times move sidewise for a few steps. Their motions are elegant and stately. Their song consists of three or four, or at most eight or ten, loud, full, and mellow notes, extremely agreeable to the ear.”
“A day or two before the young are quite able to leave the nest, they often cling to the outside, and creep in and out of it like young Woodpeckers. After leaving the nest, they follow the parents for nearly a fortnight, and are fed by them. As soon as the mulberries and figs become ripe, they resort to these fruits, and are equally fond of sweet cherries, strawberries, and others. During spring, their principal food is insects, which they seldom pursue on the wing, but which they search for with great activity, among the leaves and branches. I have seen the young of the first brood out early in May, and of the second in July. As soon as they are fully able to take care of themselves, they generally part from each other, and leave the country, as their parents had come, that is, singly.”
“During migration, the flight of the Baltimore Oriole is performed high above all the trees, and mostly during day, as I have usually observed them alighting, always singly, about the setting of the sun, uttering a note or two and darting into the lower branches to feed, and afterwards to rest.”
“The Baltimore Oriole, although found throughout the Union, is so partial to particular sections or districts, that of two places not twenty miles distant from each other, while none are to be seen in the one, a dozen pairs or more may be in the neighbourhood of the other. They are fondest of hilly grounds, refreshed by streams.”
“I have ascertained to my perfect satisfaction, that the males of this elegant species obtain the full beauty of their plumage before the first winter after their birth, having seen several individuals taken from the nest and reared in aviaries acquire their full plumage by the end of September.”
“In the wild state I have frequently seen these birds feed on those beautiful green coleopterous insects called May-bugs”
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