University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate LXXIV. Fork-tailed gull. (Xema sabinei.),   pp. 113-114

Page 113

-~~~~~GLSSO  GOE13
Fork-tailed Gull. (Xema Sabinei.)
-         Fig. 1.
Captain J. Sabine has the honor of introducing this interesting
species, in i8i8. It was discovered at its breeding station on some
low rocky islands, lying off the west coast of Greenland, associ-
ated in considerable numbers with the Arctic Tern, the nests of
both birds being intermingled. Nuttall says: " It is analogous to
the Tern, not only in its forked tail, and in its choice of a breeding-
place, but also in the boldness which it displays in the protection
of its young.  The parent-birds flew with impetuosity toward
those who approached their nests, and, when one was killed, its
mate, though frequently fired at, continued on the wing close to the
spot. They were observed to collect their food from the sea-beach,
standing near the edge of the water, and gleaning up the marine
insects which were cast on shore. A single individual was seen
in Prince Regent's Inlet, and many specimens were procured in
the course of the second voyage on Melville Peninsula. A pair
were also obtained at Spitzbergen, so that it is a pretty general sum-
mer resident on the shores of the Arctic Seas, and may thus be
enumerated amongst the European as well as the American birds.
It arrives in these remote boreal regions in June, and retires to the
southward in August. The eggs, two in number, are deposited on
the bare ground, and hatched in the last week of July. They are
of an olive color, with many brown blotches, and about an inch
and a half in length."
Western Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull.-(Larms argentatus, var.
Fig. 2.
This bird is now considered a variety of the species known as
the Herring or Common Gull. (Plate LIV., fig. 2.) It can
readily be distinguished by the slaty bluish coloration of its man-
tle. The Western Gull is abundant on the Pacific coast. Brehm
says: " Gulls are to be met with in every quarter of the globe,
but are most abundant in northern regions. A few species wan-
der to a considerable distance from land, always, however, return-
ing to the vicinity of the shore. All may, therefore, properly be
called coast birds, and to the mariner they are always welcome
as sure harbingers of land. Their flights inland are even more
frequent than their excursions into the open sea, and many of them
may often be seen following the course of large rivers, or winging
their way from lake to lake, into the interior of the country. Some
species will frequently settle in the vicinity of inland lakes, and
most of them prefer a similar situation as their breeding-place.
All of them live more or less upon fishes, but some also greedily
devour insects, and then later migrate with the greatest regularity.
Besides the above articles of nourishment, Gulls eagerly pick up
whatever small animals or animal substances they may happen to
meet with. Carrion they devour as greedily as do the Vultures,
even if it be in a putrid condition. In short, they appear to share
the appetites of many other birds, and to be quite as omnivorous
as the Crows. All Sea Gulls walk well and quickly; they swim
buoyantly, lying in the water like so many air-bubbles, and dive
with facility, but to no great depth, plunging probably for not more
than one or two feet below the surface. Their voice consists of a
harsh, disagreeable scream. As their breeding time approaches,
these birds begin to assemble in flocks, which are frequently
joined by other parties, until at last they form a numerous host.
The larger species crowd less closely together at these times than
the smaller ones, the latter often literally covering the rocks on
which their nests are so closely placed, that the brooding parents
press upon each other. The structure of the nests varies in differ-
ent localities; when grass and seaweeds are procurable they are
carefully heaped together, but when these fail the nests are of still
scantier proportions. The brood consists of from two to four com-
paratively large oval eggs, with strong, coarse, brownish green, or
greenish brown shells, spotted with gray and brown; upon these
both male and female sit by turns for the period of three or four
weeks. The young are clothed in a thick covering of speckled
down, and shortly after emerging from the shell may be seen trot-
ting about upon the sand, hiding themselves if alarmed behind lit-
tle hillocks, or boldly plunging into the water. Such, however,
as are born upon the ledges of perpendicular rocks, must neces-
sarily remain there until their wings are strong enough to enable
them to come down from their lofty perch, for they appear not to
take the desperate leaps into the sea attempted by so many sea-
birds to their destruction. During the first few days the young are
fed with half-digested food from their parents' crop, and afterward
with freshly-caught fishes, or other small animals. For some little
time after they are able to fly they remain together, but soon quit
their birth-place, and spread themselves along the coast."
Saddle-back, Great Black Backed Gull, or Cobb. (Larus marinus.)
Fig. 3.
This is one of the largest-sized species of Gulls that are met
with along the Atlantic coasts of America and Europe. At the
approach of winter it migrates toward the Southern States, but
rarely visits the interior or fresh waters. Nuttall says: "The
Black-backed Gull feeds ordinarily upon fish, both dead and living,
as well as on fry and carrion, sometimes also on shell-fish, and,
like most of the tribe of large Gulls, it is extremely ravenous and
indiscriminate in its appetites when pressed by hunger. It
watches the bait of the fisherman, and often robs the hook of its
gain. As Mr. Audubon justly and strongly remarks, it is as
much the tyrant of the sea-fowl as the Eagle is of the land-birds.
It is always on the watch to gratify its insatiable appetite. Power-
fully muscular in body and wing, it commands without control
over the inhabitants of the ocean and its borders. Its flight is ma-
jestic, and, like the Raven, it soars in wide circles to a great ele-
vation; at which times its loud and rancous cry or laughing bark
of ' cak, cak, cak,' is often heard. Like the keen-eyed Eagle,
it is extremely shy and wary, most difficult of access, rarely ob-
tained but by accident or stratagem. It is the particular enemy of
the graceful Eider, pouncing upon and devouring its young on
every occasion, and often killing considerably sized Ducks. In pur-
suit of crabs or lobsters it plunges beneath the water; has the in-
genuity to pick up a shell-fish, and, carrying it high in the air,
drops it upon a rock to obtain its contents; it catches moles, rats,
young hares, gives chase to the Willow Grouse, and sucks her
eggs, or devours her callow brood; it is even so indiscriminate in
its ravenous and cannibal cravings as to devour the eggs of its
own species. In short, it has no mercy on any object that can con-
tribute in any way to allay the cravings of its insatiable hunger
and delight in carnage. Though cowardly toward man, before
whom it abandons its young, its sway among the feathered tribes is
so fierce that even the different species of Joegers or Skua Gulls,
themselves daring pirates, give way at its approach. The length
of this species is thirty, and extent about sixty-five inches."
Snow Goose, White Brandt. (Anser hyperborecs.)
Fig. 4
This is one of our North American species, that is said to be
very abundont in the West, much more so than in the East. Whe

Go up to Top of Page