TACHYCINETA LEUCORRHOUS (Vieill.).
SOUTH-AMERICAN GREEN SWALLOW.
Golondrina rabadilla bianca, Azara, Apunt. ii. p. 509 (1802) ; Hartl. Ind. Azara, p. 19 (1847).
Hirundo leucorrhoa, Vieill. N. Dict. d’Hist. Nat. xiv. p. 519 (1817) ; Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 58 (1845) ; Burm. Th. Bras. iii. p. 144 (1856) ; Baird, Review Amer. B. p. 301 (1865) ; Scl. & Salv. P. Z. S. 1868, p. 139, 1869, p. 597 ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 72, no. 847 (1869) ; Hudson, P. Z. S. 1871, p. 327, 1872, pp. 606, 845, 846 ; Scl. & Salv. Nomencl. Av. Neotr. p. 14 (1873) ; iid. P. Z. S. 1873, p. 185 ; Durnf. Ibis, 1876, p. 158, 1877, pp. 32, 169, 1878, p. 392 ; Gibson, Ibis, 1880, p. 14 ; White, P. Z. S. 1882, p. 596 ; Salvin, Cat. Strickl. Coll. p. 150 (1882) ; Tacz. Orn. Perou, i. p. 241 (1884) ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. s. pp. 114, 631 (1885).
Hirundo frontalis (nec Quoy & Gaim.), Gould in Darwin’s Voy. ‘Beagle,’ Birds, p. 40 (1841).
Herse leucorrhoa, Bp. Consp, i. p. 341 (1850).
Petrochelidon leucorrhoa, Cab. Mus. Hein. Th. i. p. 48 (1850).
Hirundo gouldii, Cass. Proc. Philad. Acad. 1850, p. 69.
Petrochelidon leucorrhoa, Cass. Cat. Hirund. Mus. Philad. Acad. p. 5 (1853) ; Pelz. Orn. Bras. pp. 17, 402 (1871).
Hirundo leucopyga, Licht, Nomencl. Av. p. 61 (1854).
Cotyle leucorrhoa, Burm. Reis. La Plata-St. ii. p. 478 (1861).
Hirundo (Tachycineta) leucorrhoa, Barrows, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, viii. p. 89 (1883).
T. supra viridis ; uropygio albo ; tectricibus alarum majoribus haud albo marginatis ; genis tot is albis nec antiee nigris ; linea supralorali alba trails frontem basalem dueta.
Hab. in Brazilia meridionalis Patagonia et Peruvia.
Adult female. General colour above glossy steel-green ; lesser and median wing-coverts like the bark ; greater coverts, bastard-wing, primary-coverts, and quills blackish, externally washed with green, the inner secondaries margined with white towards the tip of the outer web ami at the end ; rump white, slightly washed with smoky brown, some of the leathers tipped with dusky brown : upper tail-coverts dull steel-green ; tail-feathers blackish with a slight greenish gloss ; crown of head like the back ; lores velvety black ; base of forehead white, extending a little backwards above the lores ; ear-coverts blackish glossed with steel-green ; checks and entire under surface of body white, including the thighs and under tail-coverts ; a patch of glossy steel-green on each side of the upper breast ; flanks and sides of body washed with smoky brown ; axillaries and under wing-coverts pale smoky brown, the external coverts slightly mottled with blackish bases ; quills dusky below : “ bill, legs, and iris black” (A. Peel). Total length 5.5 inches, culmen 0.35, wing 4.45, tail 1.9, tarsus 0.5.
The specimen described is in the British Museum. It was obtained by Mr. Alan Peel in Uruguay in August 1877, and appears to be a tolerably adult bird, though the remains of smoky brown tips to the white feathers of the rump may be a sign of immaturity, as specimens collected by Mr. Hudson at Conchitas, in September, have the rump pure white.
There appears to be no difference in the colouring of the sexes, and the measurements are as follows :—
Total length. Culmen. Wing. In. Tail. In. Tarsus.
Male imm. Rio Grande do Sul (Joyner) 5 0.85 4.4 1.8 0.45
Female imm. Rio Grande do Sul (Joyner) 5.5 0.4 4.45 1.9 0.45
Female imm. Uruguay (A. Peel). 5.5 0.35 4.45 1.9 0.5
ad. Brazil (Mus. P. L. S.) 5 0.4 4.5 1.9 0.5
ad. Brazil (Albuquerque). 5.2 0.35 4.5 1.85 0.5
Female ad. Conchitas, Buenos Aires (W. H. Hudson) 5.3 0.35 4.5 1.85 0.5
Female ad. Conchitas, Buenos Aires (W. H. Hudson) 5.4 0.35 4.6 1.9 0.45
Female ad. Cosnipata, Peru (H. Whitely) 5 0.35 4.7 1.85 0.5
Young birds apparently have smoky brown tips to the feathers of the rump, and also distinet white margins to the secondaries and upper tail-coverts.
Hab. Southern Brazil, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Peru.
THE celebrated Portuguese naturalist Azara seems to have been the first to describe the present species, in his work on the natural history of Paraguay, and on his description Vieillot founded his Hirundo leucorrhoa. The nest mention of the species appears to have been by Mr. Gould, who redescribed it from specimens obtained by Mr. Darwin at Monte Video during the voyage of the ‘Beagle.’ He called it Hirundo frontalis, and gave a somewhat careless description, omitting all mention of the characteristic white rump. As the name of frontalis had already been bestowed on an Australian species of Swallow by Messrs. Quoy and Gaimard, the late Mr. Cassin proposed in 1850 to call the Brazilian species H. gouldi ; but in 1853 he recognized that it was the same as Hirundo leucorrhoa of Vieillot, and suppressed his name of H. gouldi.
Azara describes the present species as common in Paraguay, nesting in the holes of trees, but on the La Plata river, where there are no trees, in holes in the ground.
Most of the specimens examined by us have been from the neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, and some excellent accounts of the habits of the species are given below. Mr. Darwin’s specimen which he obtained at Monte Video is not in the British Museum. In the collection of Messrs. Salvin and Godman are a pair of birds from Pelotas, in Rio Grande do Sul, collected by Mr. Joyner, and Natterer obtained examples at Taubate and Ypanema in the province of San Paulo, in the month of November. The same distinguished traveller met with the species at Matogrosso in June, and no one appears to have found it to the northward of these localities, though Mr. Henry Whitely obtained it at Cosnipata in Peru, in October, at about a similar latitude.
The late Mr. E. W. White found the species at Santo Tome, in the province of Corrientes, Argentine Republic. It was very abundant in May at the above locality, and he obtained a specimen out of a number flying over a small lagoon close to the river Itacua. Professor Burmeister, in his journey through the La Plata States, met with the species at Parana, but it was not common.
Mr. D urn ford also found it plentiful during his visit to the Chuput valley in Pata¬gonia, and on the evening of November 25th he observed many congregating as if for a migratory movement. lie notes it (as might have been expected) as a spring and summer visitor, and says that it was observed commonly throughout the journey wherever there were steep cliffs or rocks. He took some eggs near Tombo Point on the 30th of December. All had left Chuput by the 1st of March.
Mr. Walter Barrows, in his account of the birds of Lower Uruguay, writes :—“By far the most abundant Swallow at all points visited. Arriving from the north early in July, it remains through the summer and does not leave until the following April. Abundant alike in the crowded streets of Buenos Aires and on the monotonous pampas, it is known everywhere by the name ‘Golondrina,’ and its appearance after the cold weather is hailed as one of the earliest signs of returning summer. Through October and November it breeds at Concepcion wherever it can find a suitable spot, placing its nest of grass, wool, and feathers in any safe cavity about a dwelling-house or shed, or not unfrequently in the deserted nest of a Furnarius or Anumbius. From a nest of the latter bird I took a set of this Swallow’s eggs—five in number—on October 30, the parent birds hovering close about my head as I examined the nest. The eggs are pure white. During the mating-season the male has a very pretty song, not unlike that of the Eastern Bluebird, though not as long, and seldom delivered without inter¬ruption.”
Dr. Durnford has written the following account of the species in the neighbourhood of Buenos Aires :—
“ On April 3rd I saw a specimen of Hirundo leucorrhoa flying over the island of Flores, to the east of Buenos Aires ; and on August 10th I observed others at Belgrano ; from the latter date to the 18th they appeared sparingly, the weather being cloudy and unsettled ; by October 9th they were busily engaged in building Heir nests, and were very abundant. I often observe birds of this species clinging to the trunks of large willow trees which are full of holes ; they also perch on twigs just outside the holes ; and once I saw one sitting on the edge of a large opening in a branch.”
Again he writes:—“Arrives early near Buenos Aires (I saw some on the 10th of August last year), and does not leave us till the middle of April. I speak of the main body ; for many birds remain with us all the winter. On the 30th of July I saw I wo or three hundred of them in the course of a long walk a little to the north of Buenos Aires. It was quite warm and very fine, not at all like winter. This is the most common Swallow we have, and there is scarcely a ranche in the country that has not its one or two pairs breeding under the eaves or in the cracks of the walls. It also resorts to holes in trees for nesting-purposes. Though during cold and dull weather in the winter none are visible sometimes for weeks together, a warm bright day never fails to attract some from their temporary shelter, wherever that may be. Pretty common at Baradero in April.”
The following account is from the pen of that excellent observer Mr. W. H. Hudson :—
“The Hirundo leucorrhoa is the most common of our Swallows near Buenos Aires, and in its glossy coat of deep blue and green, with rump and under-plumage snowy white, is an elegant and beautiful bird. They are the last of all the migratory species to leave us in autumn, and invariably reappear in small numbers on every warm day in winter, so that some people do not believe that they leave us at all, but only retire to the more sheltered places when the weather is severe. In the winter of 1869 I saw three of them skimming over the plain on one of the coldest days I have ever ex¬perienced ; the thermometer having stood at 29° Fahr. on the preceding evening. But those that remain through the winter with us are apparently only a few individuals, while in the autumn myriads are seen passing north in their migration, and some years continue passing for upwards of a month. In April 1869, several days after all the Swallows of our five species had totally disappeared, flights of the kind I am describing began again to appear passing north ; and for ten days afterwards they continued to pass. They would descend to sip water from a pool where I watched them, alighting afterwards on the reeds and bushes to rest. Many of them appeared quite tired with their journey, rising reluctantly when approached, and some allowing me to stand within two yards of them without flying. I had never before observed any supple¬mentary or later migration like this ; and last autumn (1870) certainly nothing of the kind took place. Probably the migration of this species extends very far south ; at present they are passing in great numbers, and have been so passing for the last fifteen days.
“They sometimes build in a tree, in the large nest, previously abaudoned, of the Senatero (Anumbius acuticaudatus). I have had occasion before, and shall have it again in descriptions of other species, to mention that interesting bird and its great nest.
“It is, however, under the eaves of houses that these Swallows principally breed ; and there is not a house on the pampas, however humble it be, but some of these birds are about it, sportively skimming over and about the roof or curiously peering under the eaves and incessantly uttering their gurgling, happy notes. Indeed their fondness for being close to a home is so remarkably strong that in their longest excursions they are seldom more than five minutes absent from it.
“For a month or six weeks before they begin to build, they seem to be holding an incessant dispute ; and however many eligible chinks and holes there may be, the contention is always just as great among them, and is doubtless referable to opposing claims to the best places. The excited twittering, the constant striving of two birds to alight on the same square inch of wall, and the chases they lead each other round and round the house, that always end exactly where they began, tell of clashing interests and great unreasonableness on the part of some among them. By-and-by the quarrel takes a more serious aspect ; apparently every argument of which a Swallow is capable has been exhausted, and a compromise more impossible than ever, and so fighting begins. Most vindictively do the little things clutch each other, and tumble to the earth twenty times an hour, often struggling on the ground for a considerable time, and heedless of the screams of alarm their fellows set up above them; for often while they lie struggling do they fall an easy prey to some wily pussy, who thrives on their disputes. When these troubles and feuds are finally ended, they address themselves diligently to the great work, and build a rather large nest. They are not neat or skilful workers, but merely stuff a great quantity of straw and other light material into the hole they build in, and line it thickly with feathers and horsehair. The eggs are white and pointed, from five to seven in number.
“All those species that are liable at any time to become the victims of raptorial birds are much beholden to this Swallow, as he is the most vigilant sentinel they possess : often when the Hawk is still far off and the other birds unsuspicious of his approach, the Swallows suddenly rush up towards the sky with a wild rapid flight, announcing the evil tidings with distracted screams. These are well understood; and the alarm spreads like lightning through the feathered tribes, which are all in terrified commotion, crouching in the grass and plunging into thickets, or mounting upwards to escape by flight. I have often wondered at this ; for surely this swift-winged little bird is the least likely to fall a prey himself.
“They have another habit which cannot but be grateful to the mind of every lover of nature who is an early riser. An hour before sunrise, and ere any wild bird has broken the profound silence of night, multitudes of these Swallows, as at the signal of a leader, begin their song, at the same time mounting upward into the still dusky sky. Their notes at this time are different from the hurried twitterings they utter through the day ; they are impressive, and, though soft, may be heard at a long distance; sounding far and near, up in the sky, from so many throats, they have a most charming effect that seems in peculiar harmony with the shadowy morning twilight.”
In another letter Mr. Hudson writes:—“I continue to meet so frequently with single birds and small parties of the Hirundo leucorrhoa, even on the coldest days of winter, that I am quite positive the birds of this species breeding as far north as Buenos Aires city migrate in an exceedingly irregular manner, many remaining with us all the year, and that the further south we go we find their migrations become more strict and definite ; for in Patagonia from March to August I saw not one of them. The same may be said of some oilier migratory species in this region.”
The migrations of this species are not at all easy to follow, as it appears to be somewhat irregular in its movements, as detailed above by Mr. Hudson. Where the large numbers which pass through Buenos Aires spend the winter has yet to be ascertained for a certainty. The records quoted above show that the species breeds in the neighbourhood of Buenos Aires in October, and further south, in the Chuput valley, it was breeding in December. In the latter locality it had left by the 1st of March, but it remains at Buenos Aires till April ; and Mr. Barrows states that it returns early in July, though Mr. Durnford considers August the month of arrival. It is therefore absent, as a rule, from May till August, and Mr. White met with it in Corrientes in May, and Natterer at Matogrosso in June; but that some birds remain in their northern home seems to be proved by its occurrence in San Paulo and in Peru in October.
The description and measurements are taken from the series in the British Museum. The specimen figured is from Pelotas, and is evidently a young bird, not having the pure white rump of the adult. (See our remarks above.)
TACHYCINETA LEUCORRHOUS (Vieill.).