Birds of the open woodlands

Habitat: Open woodlands

Open woodlands are low-density forests. These habitats include areas where the forest borders on fields, grasslands and meadows.

Birds of the open woodland avoid dense woods but prefer some cover for protection from predatory birds, such as raptors.

Many species that make the woodland home can also be found in wetlands, grasslands, along streams, in towns and suburbs, and even in tropical rainforests.

“I have seen a couple thus engaged, when one of them had just seized a young rabbit or a squirrel… The one would attack the other with merciless fury…”

—John James Audubon describing the Red-tailed Hawk in his Ornithological Biography.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (Plate 51)
Buteo jamaicensis

Although it is one of the largest birds in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk only weighs about three pounds. Its light weight makes it a very skillful and agile flier.

Audubon observed males and females attacking each other mid-flight in a powerful fight over prey.

He depicted the female holding a hare in her talons, as the male drives her towards the ground.

Scarcely one of his race would be left in the land, did he not employ all his ingenuity … in counteracting the evil machinations of his enemies.

—John James Audubon describing the American Crow in his Ornithological Biography.


American Crow

American Crow (Plate 156)
Corvus brachyrynchos

The American Crow has a reputation for being an intelligent bird, quick to take advantage of any available food source.

Its opportunistic nature is not always appreciated by humans, however. Audubon expressed dismay at the widespread slaughter of the crow.

Despite past attempts at extermination, the species continues to adapt and thrive in farmlands, towns, and even cities.

 “Now and then, it glides silently close over the earth, with incomparable velocity, and drops, as if shot dead, on the prey beneath.”

—John James Audubon describing the Great Horned Owl in his Ornithological Biography.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl (Plate 61)
Bubo virginianus
1827 - 1838

The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl in North America. It can be found in many different habitats.

Audubon drew this pair in a passive pose, but in his writing he seems fascinated by the species’ nocturnal hunting habits and manners of flight.

He also described the bowing and bill-snapping of the bird’s mating ritual as “extremely ludicrous”.

The appetite of the Cedar-bird is of so extraordinary a nature as to prompt it to devour every fruit or berry that comes in its way.”

—John James Audubon describing the Cedar Bird in his Ornithological Biography.

Cedar Bird

Cedar Bird (Plate 43)
Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla carolinensis
1827 - 1838

Audubon portrayed this masked bird on the branches of the red cedar tree, which is where the bird gets its name.

The waxwing feasts on the tree’s berries and other fruits, occasionally becoming intoxicated when the fruit is overripe.

It is known as a glutton, sometimes over-eating to the point where it cannot fly.


American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch (Plate 33)
Carduelis tristis
1827 - 1838

The bright yellow American Goldfinch is often found in patches of thistles and weeds, climbing about acrobatically to reach the plant’s seeds.

The goldfinch breeds later than most birds because it waits for the peak supply of thistle and milkweed seeds, which it uses to build its nests and feed its young.

Children's Warbler

Children's Warbler (Plate 35)
Yellow Warbler, Dendroica petechia
1827 - 1838

The Yellow Warbler's nest often hosts unwelcome eggs left by the Brown-headed Cowbird.

The warbler, however, is not easily fooled. The bird builds a new layer of grass on top of the cowbird egg to prevent it from being incubated.

This can happen repeatedly, resulting in nests that are up to six layers deep.

American Magpie

American Magpie (Plate 357)
Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica

The Black-billed Magpie is a social and inquisitive bird with a wide-ranging diet.

Although killed as pests in large numbers in the early 20th century, the magpie continues to outwit their foes. They are quite widespread today.

Carolina Turtle-Dove

Carolina Turtle Dove (Plate 17)
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
1827 - 1838

“Look at the female, as she assiduously sits on her eggs, embosomed among the thick foliage, receiving food from the bill of her mate, and listening with delight to his assurances of devoted affection. Nothing is wanting to render the moment as happy as could be desired by any couple on a similar occasion.”

—John James Audubon describing the Carolina Turtle Dove in his Ornithological Biography.


Cardinal Grosbeak

Cardinal Grosbeak (Plate 159)
Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

Go where it may, it is always welcome, and every where a favourite, so rich is its song, and so brilliant its plumage.

—John James Audubon describing the Cardinal Grosbeak in his Ornithological Biography.


Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole (Plate 12)
Northern Oriole, Icterus galbula
1827 - 1838

Here, amongst the pendulous branches of the lofty tulip-trees, it moves gracefully up and down, seeking in the expanding leaves and opening blossoms the caterpillar and the green beetle […].”

—John James Audubon describing the Baltimore Oriole in his Ornithological Biography.