Rough legged Falcon
This handsome species, notwithstanding its formidable size and appearance, spends the chief part of the winter among our low swamps and meadows, watching for mice, frogs, lame ducks, and other inglorious game. Twenty or thirty individuals of this family have regularly taken up their winter quarters, for several years past, and probably long anterior to that date, in the meadows below this city, between the rivers Delaware and Schuylkill, where they spend their time watching along the dry banks like cats; or sailing low and slowly over the surface of the ditches. Though rendered shy from the many attempts made to shoot them, they seldom fly far, usually from one tree to another at no great distance, making a loud squeeling as they arise, something resembling the neighing of a young colt, though in a more shrill and savage tone.
In one spring, at different times, I met with more than forty of them, generally flying or sitting exposed. I also once met with one of their nests, containing three young, in the crotch of a white oak, among thick foliage. The nest was rudely put together, composed outwardly of sticks, intermixed with some dry grass and leaves, and lined with smaller twigs. At another time, in passing through the woods, I perceived something white, on the high shaded branch of a tree, close to the trunk, that, as I thought, looked like a cat asleep. Unable to satisfy myself, I was induced to fire, when, to my surprise and regret, four young owls, of this same species, nearly full grown, came down headlong, and, fluttering for a few moments, died at my feet. Their nest was probably not far distant. I have also seen the eggs of this species, which are nearly as large as those of a young pullet, but much more globular, and perfectly white.
It has the stern aspect of a keen, vigorous, and active bird; and is reputed to be an excellent mouser. It flies frequently by day, and particularly in dark cloudy weather, takes short flights; and, when sitting and looking sharply around, erects the two slight feathers that constitute its horns, which are at such times very noticeable; but, otherwise, not perceivable. No person on slightly examining this bird after being shot, would suspect it to be furnished with horns; nor are they discovered but by careful search, or previous observation, on the living bird.