Hortulanus Caroliniensis: The Rice-Bird.
In the beginning of September, while the Grain of Rice is
yet soft and milky, innumerable Flights of these Birds arrive from
some remote Parts, to the great detriment of the inhabitants. Anno
1724, an Inhabitant near Ashley river had forty acres of Rice
devoured by them, that he was in doubt, whether what they had left,
was worth the expence of gathering in.
They are esteemed in Carolina the greatest delicacy of all
other Birds. When they first arrive, they are lean, but in few days
become so excessive fat, that they fly sluggishly and with difficulty;
and when shot, frequently break with the fall. They continue about
three weeks, and retire by that time Rice begins to harden.
There is somewhat so singular and extraordinary in this Bird, that
I cannot pass it over without notice. In September, when they
arrive in infinite swarms, to devour the Rice, they are all Hens,
not being accompanied with any Cock. Observing them to be all feather'd
alike, I imagin'd they were young of both sexes, not perfected in
their colours; but by opening some scores prepared for the spit, I
found them to be all Females; and that I might leave no room for doubt,
repeated the search often on many of them, but could never find a
Cock at that time of the year.
Early in the Spring, both Cocks and Hens make a transient visit together,
at which time I made the like search as before, and both sexes were
plainly distinguishable. The Hen, which is properly the Rice-Bird,
is about the bigness of a Lark, and colour'd not unlike it on the
Back; the Breast and Belly pale-yellow, the Bill, strong sharp-pointed,
and shap'd like most others of the graniverous kind. This seems to
be the Bird describ'd by the name of MAJA, Will. App.
p.386. In September 1725. lying upon the deck of a Sloop in
a Bay at Andros Island, I and the Company with me heard, three
nights succesively, Flights of these Birds (their Note being plainly
distinguishable from others) passing over our heads northerly, which
is their direct way from Cuba to Carolina; from which
I conceive, after partaking of the earlier crop of Rice at Cuba,
they travel over sea to Carolina, for the same intent, the
Rice there being, at that time fit for them.
The Cock's Bill is lead-colour, the forepart of the Head black, the
hind-part and the Neck of a reddish yellow, the upper-part of the
Wing white, the Back next the Head black, lower down grey, the Rump
white, the greatest part of the Wing, and whole Tail, black, the Legs
and Feet brown in both sexes.