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

[Plate LXXV. Great auk. (Alca impennis.) cont.],   pp. 115-116

Page 116

busily employed, it is difficult for the eye to follow their rapid evo-
" Like many other divers, they dig, by means of their beak and
claws, holes in the greensward, with which their breeding-place is
generally covered, to the depth of two feet, or even more; their
excavations having more the appearance of rabbit-holes than of
nesting-places for a bird; at the bottom they are slightly wider
than elsewhere, and here they lay their eggs, without making any
nest. Occasionally, however, they collect a few stalks of grass
together, upon which their eggs are deposited. Not unfrequently
they merely take possession of the holes prepared in preceding
years. Their nesting-place being completed, each female lays a
solitary egg, which is of large size. Upon this egg the male and fe-
male sit by turns for a very long period; how long has not yet been
ascertained, but it extends over several weeks; if disturbed during
their confinement, the parents become much excited, and defend
their nests vigorously, uttering cries which have been compared
to the growling and yelping of young dogs, at the same time
spreading out their tails and biting their opponent with their sharp
bills." Nuttall says: " Their bite is, however, very severe, and
they can, when irritated, take out a piece of flesh from a man's
hand without any extraordinary effort. When reared and domes-
ticated they become quite tame, and, in the end, familiar." The
length of this species is about thirteen inches.
Tufted Puffins, or Tufted Mormons. (Pratercula cirrhata.)
Fig. 5.
In its manners and characteristics, this species resembles the
Sea Parrot, or Common Puffin. (Plate LXXV, fig. 4.)
In length it is from fifteen to eighteen inches. Over each eye
arises a tuft of feathers about four inches in length.
Fulmar, Petrel, Fulmar. (EPulmarus glacialis.)
Fig. 6.
This species is a very common and constant resident in the Arc-
tic Ocean. In winter its migration extends to the United States.
Its length is from fifteen to eighteen inches; its breadth forty-one
to forty-three inches; the length of its wings twelve to thirteen
inches; length of tail four inches and two-thirds.
"The Fulmar," says Captain Scoresby, " is the constant
companion of the whale-fisher. It joins his ship immediately
on passing the Shetland Islands, and accompanies it through
the trackless ocean to the highest accessible latitudes. It keeps
an eager watch for everything thrown overboard; the smallest
particle of fatty substance can scarcely escape it. Though few
should be seen when a whale is about being captured, yet, as soon
as the flensing process commences, they rush in from all quarters
and frequently accumulate to many thousands in number. They
then occupy the greasy track of the ships, and, being audaciously
greedy, fearlessly advance within a few yards of the men employed
in cutting up the whale. It is highly amusing to see the voracity
with which they seize the pieces of fat that fall in their way; the
size and quantity of the pieces they take at a meal; the curious
chuckling noise which, in their anxiety for dispatch, they always
make; and the jealousy with which they view, the boldness with
which they attack, any of their species that are engaged in de-
vouring the finest morsels. When carrion is scarce, the Fulmars
follow the living whale, and sometimes, by their peculiar motions
when hovering at the surface of the water, point out to the fisher
the position of the animal of which he is in pursuit. They can
not, however, make much impression on the dead whale until some
more powerful animal tears away the skin, for this is too tough for
them to make their way through."
Mr. John MacGillivray, who visited St. Kilda, the principal
breeding-place of this species, in June, i840, says: "This bird
exists here in almost incredible numbers, and to the natives is by
far the most important of the productions of the island.  It forms
one of the principal means of support to the inhabitants, who daily
risk their lives in its pursuit. The Fulmar breeds on the face of
the highest precipices, and only on such as are furnished with
small grassy shelves, every spot on which, above a few inches in
extent, is occupied with one or more of its nests. The nest is
formed of herbage, seldom bulky, generally a mere excavation in
the turf, lined with dried grass, and the withered tufts of the sea-
pink, in which the bird deposits a single egg, of a pure white
color, when clean, which is seldom the case.  . . . The birds
are very clamorous on being handled, and vomit a quantity of
clear oil, with which I sometimes observed the parent birds feed-
ing them by disgorging it. The old birds, on being seized, in-
stantly vomit a quantity of clear amber-colored oil, which imparts
to the whole bird, its nest, and young, and even to the rock it fre-
quents, a peculiar and very disagreeable odor. Fulmar oil is the
most valuable production of St. Kilda.  . . . Besides supply-
ing their lamps, this oil is used by the inhabitants of the island as
a medicine."
Stormy Petrel, Mother Carey's Chicken. (Procellaria pelagica.)
Fig. 7.
This is another of our species that is numerously to be met with
near the shores of the Atlantic coast.
II In their usual habitat, that is, in the wide sea, the Storm Petrels
live in a constant state of activity, and may be seen flying about
during the entire day, and heard throughout the night. Occasion-
ally they may be seen disporting themselves singly, but more gen-
erally they make their appearance in small or more numerous
companies, during fine as well as in stormy weather. All day long
they are occupied in flying over the waves, the risings and failings
of which they exactly follow, or in mounting high in 'the air like
Swallows, when they descend again, as though about to plunge
into the water, but rise again without touching it. Sometimes,
again, they settle down upon the water, and remain motionless, as
if unable to move from the same spot, though all around them is in
constant agitation and turmoil. When flying, they make but few
strokes with their wings, but these are obviously very effective, and
their action much diversified. Sometimes they may be seen with
their wings widely expanded, and in this manner they sail along
for minutes together, without the slightest effort; then, suddenly
bestirring themselves, a few quick, powerful strokes, given after
the manner of a Swift, raise them above the waves, when they as-
tonish the observer by the masterly precision of their evolutions,
as they shoot down obliquely over the billows, or mount up again
high into the air. Should they espy anything in' the shape of food,
they at once hasten toward it, running upon the water, and, hav-
ing seized it with their beak, immediately resume their aerial pas-
time. As to their powers of swimming, they seem so seldom to
adopt that mode of locomotion, that many careful observers declare
that they never swim at all, but that they only sit down, as it were,
and float on the sea, without ever using their legs as instruments of
propulsion. Their strength of wing is wonderful; they literally
fly about all day long without resting at all. It is only after the
long continuance of a storm that they seem- to be wearied, and yet
even this fatigue is not produced by their exertions in battling with
the wind, but because, during the violence of the tempest, they
are unable to obtain their usual supply of food, and, consequently,
are exhausted for want of nourishment. Their voice is seldom
heard in the daytime, which, in truth, appears to be to them the
season of repose; it is in the evening, shortly after the sunihas
gone down. that they seem most active and alert: at that time.
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