TACHYCINETA THALASSINUS (Swains.).
Hirundo thalassina, Swains. Phil. Mag. new ser. i. p. 366 (1827) ; Audub. B. Amer, pl. 385 ; id. Orn. Biogr. iv. p. 597 (1838) ; Bp. Comp. List B. Eur. & N. Amer, p. 9 (1838) ; Audub. B. Amer. i. p. 186, pl. 49 (1840) ; Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 58 (1845) ; Lenny, P. Z. S. 1847, p. 38 ; Cass. Ill. B. Calif, p. 245 (1856) ; Brewer, N. Amer. Ool. i. p. 102 (1857) ; Baird, Cass., & Lawr. B. N. Amer. p. 311 (1860) ; Baird, Review Amer. B. p. 299 (1865) ; Brewer, Amer. Nat. i. p. 122 (1867) ; Brown, Ibis, 1868, p. 421 ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 71, no. 841 (1869) ; Cooper, B. Calif, p. 107 (1870) ; Scl. & Salv. Nomencl. Av. Neotr, p. 14 (1873) ; Baird, Brewer, & Ridgw. Hist. N. Amer. B. p. 347, pl. 16. fig. 11 (1874).
Cecropis thalassinus, Less. Compl. Buff. viii. p. 499 (1837).
Chelidon thalassina, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 171.
Herse thalassina, Bp. Consp, i. p. 341 ; Coues, Ibis, 1865, pp. 159, 163.
Tachycineta thalassina, Cab. Mus. Hein. Th. i. p. 46 (1850) ; Sumichr. Mem. Bost. Soc. N. H. i. p. 547 (1869) ; Coues, Key N. Amer. B. p. 113 (1872) ; id. B. N - West, p. 86 (1874) ; Ridgw. Rep. Surv. 40th Par. iv. p. 443 (1877) ; Coues, B. Color. Vall. p. 419 (1878) ; Belding, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. i. p. 409 (1879) ; Scott, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, iv. p. 93 (1879) ; Minot, op. cit. v. p. 228 ; Ridgw. Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. iii. p. 175 (1880) ; Drew, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, vi. p. 85 (1881) : Coues, Cheek-list N. Amer. B. p. 42 (1882) ; Allen & Brewster, Bull. Nutt. Orn. Club, viii. p. 160 (1883) ; Belding, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. v. p. 557 (1883) ; Coues, Cheek-list N. Amer. B. 2nd ed. p. 323 (1884) ; Drew, Auk, ii. p. 15 (1885) ; Beckham, t. c. p. 141 ; Agersb. t. c. p. 354 ; Hensh. t. c. p. 333 ; Scott, t. c. p. 354 ; Anthony, Auk, iii. p. 170 (1886) ; Everm. t. c. p. 183 ; A. O. U. Check¬list N. Amer. B. p. 293 (1886) ; Lloyd, Auk, iv. p. 294 (1887) ; Townsend, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. x. p. 222 (1887) ; Scott, Auk, v. p. 31 (1888) ; Merrill, t. c. p. 360 ; Jefferies, Auk, vi. p. 222 (1889) ; Mearns, Auk, vii. p. 260 (1890) ; Chapman, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. iii. p. 149 (1890).
Petrochelidon thalassina, Cass. Cat. Hirund. Philad. Mus. p. 5 (1853) ; Scl. & Salv.
Ibis, 1859, p. 13 ; iid. P. Z. S. 1864, p. 173.
Tachycineta thalassinus, Salv. & Godin. Biol. Centr.-Amer., Aves, i. p. 232 (1883) ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. x. p. 119 (1885).
T. uropygio minime albo : dorsi postici et uropygii lateribus albis : cauda fere quadrata : supracaudalibus purpuraseentibus : dorso toto aenco vel purpurseenti-viridi : macula postoeulari alba.
Adult male. General colour above dark green with a slight bronzy shade, becoming rather more bluish green ou the rump and mixed with purple on the upper tail-coverts ; on each side of the rump a white patch ; scapulars green like the back ; wing-coverts black, the lesser and median series tipped with bluish green ; greater coverts, bastard-wing, primary-coverts, and quills black, externally glossed with deep indigo ; tail-feathers also black with a bluish gloss ; crown of head bronzy green ; occiput and nape purple, with a concealed narrow collar of ashy round the hind neck, caused simply by the grey bases of the feathers ; lores dusky ; feathers over the eye extending down behind the latter, ear-coverts, cheeks, sides of face, and entire under surface of body silky white ; under wing-coverts and axillaries smoky brown with whitish edgings, the coverts near the edge of the wing and the lower greater coverts darker ; quills dusky brown below, rather more ashy on their inner edge : “bill black ; feet brownish black ; iris brown ; mouth pale yellow” (Coues). Total length 4.5 inches, culmen 0.3, wing 4.3, tail 1.65, tarsus 0.45.
Adult female. Not so brilliant in colour as the male, and distinguished by the browner colour of the sides of the face and ear-coverts, the throat having a slight wash of ashy brown ; the head is also decidedly browner with a bronzy-green shade, but never so brilliant as in the adult male. Total length 4.3 inches, culmen 0.3, wing 4.25, tail 0.6, tarsus 0.4.
Adult male in whiter plumage (Duenas ; O. Salvin). Differs from the breeding-plumage in being entirely bronzy or oil-brown washed with purple. This purple shade is much more strongly pronounced than in summer, and the remains of it are noticeable in the description of the breeding-dress, where the purple occiput and hind neck are alluded to as contrasting with the crown. The green and purple shades on the rump and upper tail-coverts are the same in both seasons, and the under surface and facial markings do not differ.
Young male (Santa Fe Mountains, N.W. Mexico, Aug. 4 ; H. W. Henshaw). Brown, the entire back with a purplish or greenish gloss (according to the light), which is lacking on the head, lower back, and rump ; on either side of the lower back a white patch ; wings and tail brown, with a faint gloss of steel-green on the former, the inner secondaries edged with ashy at the ends ; sides of face brown, as in the adult female, with a very faint indication of the white above the ear-coverts ; cheeks, throat, and under surface of body silky white, with a brownish shade aeross the fore neck ; gape yellowish.
The series in the Henshaw collection shows that in the winter the adult birds are distinguished by broad white tips to the inner secondaries, and the violet colour of the rump is very dull and almost obliterated by greenish blue. By April the white edgings to the inner secondaries have become entirely abraded. There is considerable difference in the colour of the back, some specimens being of a beautiful deep green, whilst others are more oily green ; and in the 'Catalogue of Birds' it was suggested that this might be due to the wearing of the feathers during the breeding- season. An examination of the Henshaw series, however, induces us to modify this opinion, for we find a bird from Pueblo, in Colorado, shot on the 27th of July, which is bright green on the back, and equals in brilliancy any of the specimens procured in the earlier spring. These more brightly-coloured individuals may therefore be older birds, and the dull-coloured ones be the birds of the previous year.
Hab. Middle and Western Provinces of the U. States, north to British Columbia and Vancouver Island, east to S.E. Dakota and Western Texas, south in winter to Lower California, and to Guatemala in Central America.
THIS is one. of the most beautiful of all the Swallows, and is an inhabitant of the Western United States, as well as some of the Central Provinces. Professor Elliott Coues, in his 'Birds of the Colorado Valley,’ has given a most excellent account of the species, which has been made the foundation of our present article. We have also studied the notes of Messrs. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway in their ‘History of North- American Birds,’ and those of Messrs. Salvin and Godman in the 'Biologia.’ Since these gentlemen wrote, however, many further observations of interest have been recorded in the ‘Auk’ and other journals, the details of which are given below. The northern¬most point in its western distribution to which the Violet-and-Green Swallow extends its range seems to be Vancouver Island, whence we have seen specimens collected by Mr. A. Forrer. Dr. Robert Brown states that it breeds there, building in knot-holes of trees. The late Mr. J. K. Lord, during the Boundary Commission on the 49th Parallel, noticed this species at Colville, to the west of the Pocky Mountains, He numbers the species among the earliest visitors, arriving in March in small flocks, increasing in numbers in May, and building in June in holes of trees. Mr. Clark P. Streator also found it breeding at Ashcroft, in British Columbia, He writes :—“ Ashcroft is located one hundred miles north of the United States Boundary, and two hundred miles east of the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This place is almost a desert : only sage-brush, small cactus, and now and then a few stunted trees and plants are to be seen. But the mountains, two thousand feet high, are covered with scattering pine-forest.”
Drs. Suckley and Cooper state that in Washington Territory it arrives early in May m Puget Sound. Both in the interior of Oregon and of Washington Territory the bird was found to be quite abundant, frequenting entirely the high prairies, bordered with oak and deciduous trees, and breeding in knot-holes or in the deserted holes of Wood¬peckers. Professor Coues states that he observed a few individuals on the 26th of June. 1874, on the Upper Missouri, above the mouth of the Yellowstone, near the Quaking- Ash River. The species was also collected by Dr. Hayden in the Wind River Mountains, in Wyoming. Dr. Mearns also states that he has found the species breeding in the mineral formation about the hot springs and geysers of the Yellowstone National Park and in the bluff banks of the Big Horn Hiver in Montana. Mr. Agersborg records it as probably accidental in South-eastern Dakota, but breeding there.
Many good notices of the range of the species throughout Colorado have been published. Mr. Brew states that the upper limit of its range in spring is 7000 feet. in summer 11,000 feet, and in autumn 9500 ; it breeds from 5000 to 10,500 feet. The same observer states that he found it “ very abundant in San Juan County." Mr. Minot Speaks of it as a common summer resident of local abundance, ranging up to the timber line. Mr. Scott, as stated in his paper on the ornithology of the Twin Lakes, found it abundant in localities, but not generally distributed. Mr. Beckham also states that he observed the species but once at Pueblo, when a dozen or more were seen on the 10th of June. In their paper on the birds of Colorado, Messrs. Allen and Brewster remark:—
“ First seen May 4th. A considerable number observed on the 14th, and at frequent intervals later. In July and August large numbers were seen near West Monument Creek, where they outnumbered all the other Swallows.”
In Utah, as in Arizona and New Mexico, Mr. Henshaw states that this Swallow inhabits the higher regions, being abundant in all suitable localities, and preferring the open spaces or edges of the pinaries and groves of oaks, where it breeds in old Wood-pecker-holes.
Mr. Ridgway has recorded the species as abundant on the main island in Pyramid Lake, Nevada, in the month of May, and in July he saw it again among the limestone walls of the eastern canons of the Ruby Mountains, where it was also nesting.
Mr. Anthony, in his paper on the birds of Washington County, Oregon, says that it is “a very common migrant, a few remaining to breed, nesting in colonies in hollow stubs.” Dr. Merrill did not observe it himself at Port Klamath, but says that it must occur there ; he found it, however, very common at the outlet of Diamond Lake early in August.
The observations on the species in California have been numerous and varied. The following note is given by Messrs. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, from the writings of Dr. Hepburn, a very well-known observer:—“This Swallow has quite an extensive range along the Pacific coast, but it is restricted as to the localities it inhabits. At the Pulgas Ranche, near San Francisco, it is even more common than T. bicolor, while a few miles from thence not one is to be seen. He has also seen it on the bank of the Fresno, near its junction with the San Joaquin River, and again in the Yosemite Valley, without meeting with a single specimen in the intervening country. About Victoria this was the prevailing species. These Swallows, as far as Mr. Hepburn observed, always build in holes of trees. Their nest, he states, is formed of a few fine dry stems of grass, placed at the bottom of the hole, covered over with a thick mass of feathers. These birds have two broods in a season. In 1864 he noted their arrival in San Mateo County on the 28th of March.” Dr. Cooper says :—“I have not observed this species west of the Coast Range, except when emigrating. They appeared at Santa Cruz in 1866, on March 19th, and a large flock, with a few Choetura, stopped for a few hours on then- way southward, October 5th, which dates are probably about the usual ones for their migrations.”
Mr. Charles Townsend, in his account of the birds of Northern California, says that “the Violet-green Swallow was often seen flying over the almost inaccessible limestone rocks which crowned the high ridge opposite the United States Fishery.” Here he procured his first and only specimen on July 4, 1883.
Mr. L. Belding, in his paper on the Birds of Central California, says that it was first recognized on the 7th of August at Dunbar’s Mill, when at least a hundred were in sight. Three days afterwards it was seen flying over the meadows at Big Trees, and thereafter nearly every day till August 27. They chose as a resting-place the top branches of a tall dead pine near the hotel, out of shooting-range ; and often, when flying, were so high as to be seen with difficulty ; occasionally, however, they mingled with Barn-Swallows near the ground.
Mr. Evermann states that the species is rather common in Ventura County during the spring migration, and a few remain to breed. Mr. Belding often saw the species in winter in the extreme south of Lower California.
In Arizona Professor Elliott Cones found the Violet-and-Green Swallow nesting near Fort Whipple. Mr. Scott, in his paper on the birds observed by him in spring in Southern Arizona, says that it was “not uncommon in small flocks at the very highest altitude and in the heaviest pine-timber. They frequently alighted on the upper limbs of dead trees, and doubtless breed here in the deserted "Woodpecker holes.” Later he writes:—“ In the Catalinas this is the commonest of the Swallows, but, curiously, at the lower altitudes (4000 feet) in the spring it is rare or does not occur. In the spring of 1S85, I found it common in late April on the summit of the mountains in the pine-woods, but though I had looked for it carefully all the preceding six weeks at the altitude of my house I only saw a single individual, on March 14th. In the late summer and fall, from August 15th till October 7th, it was common in the region near my house. It probably breeds in the pines of the Catalinas in numbers.”
Dr. Mearns has recently published the following note:—“This exquisite bird is highly characteristic of the wooded mountain regions of Arizona, where it breeds, not only in the hollows of trees, but very frequently in cavities in cliffs. While for the most part retiring to the higher land during the breeding-season, a good many pass the summer and breed in the wooded canons in which there are streams, in the lower country. None were found breeding in the immediate valley of the Verde, in the vicinity of Fort Verde, but they were sure to be found after ascending, for a short distance, any of the tributary streams that flow through canons from the high plateau. There they usually nest on the limestone cliffs which form the walls of the canons.”
In New Mexico Professor Coues found the species abundant on the Baton Moun¬tains, and Mr. Henshaw writes:—“This, the only Swallow spending the summer in New Mexico, or in fact occurring at all, was extremely numerous all through the. pine- woods, where it finds every convenience for nesting in the multitude of perforated .stubs. After the young were on the wing, the birds left the pine-woods and resorted to the tops of the ridges and the open valleys, where, high in mid-air, they were seen busily hunting for insects. On September 8th they were still to be noticed, though the majority had departed some time before. A few days later and the last had disappeared.’’
Mr. W. Lloyd, in his paper outlie birds of Western Texas, states that it was seen as a fall migrant in Concho County, being observed and taken on the 1st of September, and seen again on the 1st of October. It has not been recorded from Tom Green countv.
In Mexico this beautiful Swallow has been obtained by Mr. Lloyd at Tetuaca in Chihuahua in March. Dr. Couch met with the species also at Saltillo in the State of Coahuila, and Mr. W. B. Richardson has procured specimens in Jalisco, in the Sierra de Bolanos, in July, at 3500 feet ; these specimens, now in the Salvin-Godman collection, are in worn plumage and were apparently breeding.
The species appears to be not rare in the Valley of Mexico, for numerous examples were procured by M. Ferrari-Perez between the months of January and July. The following are the localities as evidenced by the series in the Salvin-Godman collection:— Tetelco (Xochimilco), Jan. 18 ; Coapa (Tlalpam), Feb. 29, March 6 ; Mexicalcingo (Tlalpam), Feb. 6 ; Axotla (Tacubaya), March 4 ; Huipulco (Tlalpam), April 23 ; Atoto-nilco (Huejotzingo), April 15, July 15 ; Chimalpa (Tacubaya), May 4. The specimen obtained at Huipulco on the 23rd of April looks as if it had somewhat abraded plumage, as if nesting ; and the bird procured at Atotonilco in July is in full moult, and has already put on some of the winter secondaries with white edges. M. Duges gives the Hacienda de Tapatero as a locality.
The late Mr. Sumichrast found that in the State of Vera Cruz the species was resident, being seen not only in the hot belt of the coast, but also in the temperate region and throughout the plateau at almost all heights, being everywhere very common. Messrs. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway state that the species breeds on the plateau of Vera Cruz ; but, as Messrs. Salvin and Godman have pointed out in the ‘ Biologia,’ there is nothing in Sumichrast’s published papers to confirm this assertion, though it is most probable that the Violet-and-Green Swallow really does breed there, as it is included by Sumichrast in his list of the resident birds of the State. In Orizaba it has been collected by Le Strange and by Sumichrast. Mr. Godman procured specimens at Pinal and Amecameca in the State of Puebla in April, and his collector, Manuel Trujillo, has also met with the species in Oaxaca, viz. at Villa Alta in March, and at Totontepec in February. Messrs. Salvin and Godman remark :—“ In Guatemala we only observed it in the winter months, from November till March. It was then common about the open lands near Duenas and about the plains of San Geronimo, at an elevation of about 3000 feet. It has also been obtained by Mr. Sarg at Coban.”
The best summary of the facts connected with the breeding of the Violet-and-Green Swallow is given by Professor Elliott Coues in his ‘Birds of the Colorado Valley,’ from which work we make the extracts given below. The earliest accounts of the breeding of the species are those of Townsend and Nuttall, the former stating that it built a “nest of mud and hay on clay bluffs,” and that it also nested in hollow trees. “ The latter statement,” says Professor Coues, “ is correct ; in making the former, Townsend seems to have got the species mixed with the Cliff-Swallow. Nuttall says that they appeared to occupy nests of the Cliff-Swallow, instead of building for themselves, and supposes them to sometimes breed in trees. Audubon supplied Dr. Brewer with a drawing of an egg of this species, got by Nuttall in Oregon, which Dr. Brewer says was the first know¬ledge he acquired of the ‘markings’ of the egg. The error about the egg and nidification flourished beyond 1857, when Dr. Brewer elaborated it with care, describing and figuring the speckled egg of the Cliff or Barn Swallow as that of the Violet-green, and discrediting Nuttall’s observation respecting the probable nesting of the species in trees. The fact is, that the Violet-green Swallow nests in holes in trees and elsewhere, and lays a pure white egg, exactly like T. bicolor.”
Professor Coues proceeds :—
“I am uncertain to whom we owe the discovery of the fact that the eggs of the Violet-green Swallow are white and unmarked. The information was long delayed in coming, partly owing, no doubt, to the difficulty of getting at the eggs, even when the artfully hidden retreat is discovered. The nest may be in honey-combed rocks, entirely out of reach ; or in the top of a blasted tree, too rotten to be scaled with safety ; or out of reach in a knot-hole in strong sound wood. After they were found out, and the hole-breeding character of the species was established, it -was natural that the subsequent accounts of the eliff and rock nests should be received with caution or mistrust ; and so much has been said one way and another, that it will tend to put the history of the species in the best light to review the testimony on the subject.
“When in New Mexico, in 1864, I found the Violet-green Swallows to be very common in the Raton Mountains. This was in June, and I have no doubt that the birds were then nesting, though I had no chance of observing them closely. I noticed their close resemblance to White-bellied Swallows in general appearance, and particularly in mode of flight ; and I observed then, as subsequently, the curiously misleading circum¬stance that the birds appeared to have white rumps. In faet, as is well known, the rump is like the rest of the upper parts in colour, but the fluffy white feathers of the flanks lie over the part during flight, sometimes meeting over the root of the tail, thus causing the appearance observed. This appearance of trieoloration—violet, green, and white—is striking. The following year, at Port Whipple, in Arizona, I made quite a study of these birds, whose exquisite beauty could hardly fail to touch even the most insensible observer. They nestled in considerable numbers in the pine-woods about the fort, usually referring the edges of the timber, and constructed their nests of hay and feathers in the natural crevices of trees, or in old Woodpecker holes. Sometimes isolated pairs occupied the deciduous trees in the vicinity, as the cotton-woods along the creek and the oaks of the open hillsides ; but most of the birds gathered in little colonies in clumps of pine-trees. The birds reached this elevated locality the second or third week in March, and remained until late in September. I considered them the commonest of their tribe, quite characteristic, in fact, of the Arizona pine-belt.”
Mr. Ridgway has given the following account of the species as observed by him in Nevada in May :—
“They were very abundant, and frequented chiefly the cliffs of calcareous tula, where they were observed to enter the fissures of the rock to their nests within. In July we saw it again among the limestone walls of the eastern canons of the Ruby Mountains, where it also nested in the crevices on the face of the cliffs, its associates being the White-throated Swift (Panyptila saxatilis) and Cliff-Swallow (Petrochelidon lunifrons). Their nests were in almost every case out of reach, only two of those that were found being accessible. Both were in horizontal fissures, scarcely large enough to admit the hand, the nest consisting of a flattened mass of sticks and straws, lined with feathers, like those of the Bank-Swallows (Cotile and Stelgidopteryx) ; one of them contained five young birds, hut the other had apparently been tampered with in some way, since the parent was dead and her three eggs broken. The latter, like those of T. bicolor and the two species above-mentioned, were pure white, without markings.
“Although other observers, whose statements we do not in the least doubt, have described the habits of this bird as arboreal, like those of the White-bellied Swallow (T. bicolor) and the Purple Martin, we never found it so in any locality during our trip, it being everywhere a strictly saxicoline species, and an associate of Panyptila saxatilis, Petrochelidon lunifrons, and Hirundo horreorum rather than of the species named, and to be found only where precipitous rocks, affording suitable fissures, occurred. When on the wing the appearance of this lovely Swallow is very striking, and so unlike that of any other that it may be immediately distinguished. No other species resembles it except the T. bicolor, which is somewhat similar on account of the pure white lower parts ; but a more attentive examination discovers the greater amount of white on the side of the head, and if the bird is viewed from above the plumage is seen to be tricoloured—the rump rich intense violet, and the back lustrous green, the two colours being separated by a very conspicuous broad and apparently continuous band of snowy white aeross the upper part of the rump, caused by the elose approximation of the two white flank-patches.
“This Swallow appeared to be a very silent species, but a few notes were heard, which called to mind the chirping of young Purple Martins, as heard in rainy weather.”
“This is enough,” adds Professor Coues, “ to settle the question we asked each other for some years, Where does the Violet-green breed ? We have here simply a hole-breeder, indifferent whether the cavity it occupies be tree or rock ; and we need not be surprised to learn any day that it has been found nestling in a bank of earth, in a natural excavation, or even in a Kingfisher’s or Bank or Bough-winged Swallow’s hole. One thing, however : it has never learned the plasterer’s trade, at which the Cliff and Barn Swallows are such clever artisans ; and yet it has been stated by me, in the ‘Birds of the Northwest,’ p. 88, on the authority of Mr. T. M. Trippe, to have been found 'nesting under the eaves of houses, like the Cliff-Swallow,’ the fact being adduced to show that, like most others of its tribe, this bird had at length paid its compliments to human civilization. The details of the circum¬stance had not been communicated to me in 1874 ; but Mr. Trippe yesterday (March 17, 1878) visited my study, and we had some conversation on the subject. He described the nests, in which Violet-green Swallows certainly had their eggs, as bulky structures of mud, and like those of Cliff-Swallows. Being perfectly familiar with the birds, he could not have been mistaken in identifying the species; and he agreed with me that the birds must have occupied in these instances the deserted nests of other Swallows. This brings up Nuttall’s early testimony to the same effect, and makes it seem much more probable— if it may not indeed be regarded as confirmatory—thoiigh he or Townsend certainly got hold of the wrong egg, a drawing of which subsequently came into Dr. Brewer’s posses¬sion through Audubon. We should expect the Violet-greens, on yielding to civilization, to come to terms in the same way the Martins and White-bellies have, by occupying boxes set up for their use, or else to enter knot-holes or the crevices behind weather- boards, as the Wrens ; but that their habits will be modified in seme way, and at no distant day, there is no reasonable doubt. With which understanding, I leave the wilful and capricious little creatures to enjoy their hermitages, whether of tree or rock, as long as they please.”
The descriptions have been drawn up from the series in the British Museum, and the figures have been drawn by Mr. Wyatt from specimens in the Salvin-Godman collection.
TACHYCINETA THALASSINUS (Swains.).