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Notes on the Habits of the Water Ousel (Cinclus Mexicanus)

J. S. Burcham
Publication Information
2 (March-April)
From Field and Study

Notes on the Habits of the Water Ousel (Cinclus mexicanus)

My attention was first drawn to these birds by a gentleman who claimed he had seen them eat young salmon. At the first opportunity I began watching to see if I could verify his statement.

The birds are seen at all hours of the day flying near the surface of the water, chasing each other from stone to stone, until they alight on some large boulder where they sit and sing. The song is as clear as a linnet's and considerably louder. The first time I heard one singing was on the 15th of October. The old birds were feeding their young until October 7, and whether this prevented their singing, or whether they do not begin to sing until cold weather, as the people here say, I cannot just now definitely state.

So far as I have been able to observe, their food consists of insect larvæ, water-bugs, and salmon eggs and young fry. In their search for food they alight on the surface of the water and paddle about with their wings, their feet, I believe, being absolutely useless at this time. They can make headway easily against a strong current. In moving over the water they dip their head at intervals beneath the surface, drawing the white, nictitating membrane over the eyeball before each dip. In this way they locate their food before diving. Once the food is seen they dive immediately and bring it up in their bill, swallowing after they reach the surface. They always come to the surface in nearly exactly the same place that they go down, and I have seen them dive repeatedly for salmon eggs, and bring them up, in two feet of swift water. Their stay under water is short, not longer than ten seconds.

The larva of a small black fly that infests the waters here, and attaches itself to every submerged stone or stick, forms a great part of the food of the ousel. He perches himself on a rock in mid-stream, dives above it, allows the current to carry him back past the stone, and tears off the larva as he goes by.

One bird found his way into the hatching house, one day, through the aperture which allows the water to come in from the flume outside. The hole is submerged three inches under water, yet the bird never hesitated when frightened to find the opening and go out.


Lilooet, B. C.

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