Icterus - Encyclopedia




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ICTERUS, a bird so called by classical authors, and supposed by Pliny to be the same as the Galgulus, which is generally identified with the golden oriole (Orioles galbula). 1 It signified a bird in the plumage of which yellow or green predominated, and hence Brisson did not take an unhappy liberty when he applied it in a scientific sense to some birds of the New World of which the same could be said. These are now held to constitute a distinct family, Icteridae, intermediate it would seem between the BUNTINGS (q.v.) and STARLINGS (q.v.); and, while many of them are called troopials (the English equivalent of the French Troupiales, first used by Brisson), others are known as the American GRACKLES (q.v.). The typical species of Icterus is the Orioles icterus of Linnaeus, the Icterus vulgaris of Daudin and modern ornithologists, an inhabitant of northern Brazil, Guiana, Venezuela, occasionally visiting some of the Antilles and of the United States. Thirty-three species of the genus Icterus alone, and more than seventy others belonging to upwards of a score of genera, are recognized by Sclater and Salvin (Nomenclator, pp. 35-39) as belonging to the Neotropical Region, though a few of them emigrate to the northward in summer. Cassicus and Ostinops may perhaps be named as the most remarkable. They are nearly all gregarious birds, many of them with loud and in most cases, where they have been observed, with melodious notes, rendering them favourites in captivity, for they readily learn to whistle simple tunes. Some have a plumage wholly black, others are richly clad, as is the well-known Baltimore oriole, golden robin or hangnest of the United States, Icterus baltimore, whose brightly contrasted black and orange have conferred upon it the name it most commonly bears in North America, those colours being, says Catesby (Birds of Carolina, i. 48), the tinctures of the armorial bearings of the Calverts, Lords Baltimore, the original grantees of Maryland, but probably more correctly those of their liveries. The most divergent form of Icteridae seems to be that known in the United States as the meadow-lark, Sturnella magna or S. ludoviciana, a bird which in aspect and habits has considerable resemblance to the larks of the Old World, Alaudidae, to which, however, it has no near affinity, while Dolichonyx oryzivorus, the bobolink or rice-bird, with its very bunting-like bill, is not much less aberrant. (A. N.)

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