Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

held out behind, like those of the Waders in flight; on the other hand, the short wings are used efficiently in these circumstances, like fins; so that the bird may be said literally to fly beneath the surface. “Their movements under water precisely resemble those of the Dyticidæ or common Water-beetles; the principal motion being more or less vertical, instead of horizontal as in the Grebes and Loons; they are therefore, together with the distinct group of Penguins, the most characteristic divers of the Class.”*

The characters of the Family are, that the beak is varying in length, more or less compressed; the upper mandible curving to the tip, which is sometimes hooked: the wings are generally short, and in some little more than rudimentary; the tail short and graduated; the tarsi short and compressed; the toes entirely webbed, the hind toe either wanting or very small.

These birds frequently associate in immense numbers on rocky islets and precipitous cliffs that overhang the sea, on the shelves and narrow ledges of which they lay their eggs, one only deposited by each bird; the female keeping it between her feet for the purpose of incubation, as she sits in an erect position. The procuring of the eggs and young of these and similar birds, forms an important means of subsistence to many families.

The storm-lashed and iron-bound coasts of Northern Europe and America, and of the extreme southern portion of the latter continent, with the frozen islands of both the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, are the dreary homes of the

* Mr. Blyth, in Cuvier's Anim. Kingd. Lond. 1840.

birds of this Family; some of which roam hundreds of miles out to sea.

GENUS FRATERCULA. (Briss.) This is a remarkable genus, in which the beak rivals, in its development, the monstrous proportions which are seen in the Toucans and Hornbills. This organ, shorter than the head, is

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

higher than its length, somewhat triangular in outline, very much compressed, with both mandibles arched to the point: the culmen or ridge as high as the top of the head, with a cutting edge, the sides cut into transverse furrows; the corners of the mouth bordered with a dilatable skin; the nostril is a narrow slit placed close to the inner angle of the mandible. The wings are short, narrow, and pointed; the legs, placed far back,

are short; the toes webbed, armed with curved claws, the hind toe wanting.

The Puffins are inhabitants of the northern regions, but are migratory visitors to the more temperate regions, keeping near the shore, concealing themselves by night in the clefts of rocks, or in burrows, which they themselves excavate to the depth of a yard or more. In these burrows the female lays a single egg on the bare ground. Their flight is heavy and rather quick, but only sustained for short distances, commonly just above the surface of the water, which they sometimes strike with their feet to acquire an additional impetus. In the water their speed is great, and they dive with great facility. They principally feed on marine mollusca and crustacea, to which small fishes are added.

The Common Puffin or Coulterneb (Fratercula arctica, Linn.) visits the rocky shores of the British Islands in summer, for the

purpose

of breeding; remaining from April to August. It is a bird of singularly grotesque appearance: its short thickset form, its erect attitude, and above all, its extraordinary beak, grooved over with furrows, and marked with bright colours, give it a very peculiar aspect. It is not much larger than a pigeon, but of stouter form, and with a greater head : the crown, hind head, whole upper parts, and a collar round the neck are black; the sides of the head and face pale grey, the whole under parts pure white: the central portion of the beak is pale blue, the base with the mouth yellow, the grooves and tip orange; the latter is the hue also of the eyelids, and of the legs and feet.

The shallow surface-earth on the summit of the

coast-cliffs affords an opportunity to the Puffin to excavate its burrow; but not unfrequently it saves itself some labour by taking possession of the burrow of the rabbit; the formidable beak of the

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

bird presenting an unanswerable argument to the discomfited quadruped, when he would presume to dispute the tenancy. Mr. Yarrell enumerates as lodging-stations around this country, the Isle of Man, the coast of Anglesey, the Scilly Islands, where it is more common than in Cornwall; the high cliffs of the Isle of Wight, between the Needle-rocks and Freshwater-gate; the Yorkshire coast; the Fern Islands; Puffin Island in the

Frith of Forth, and others of the numerous Scottish islands.

“Many Puffins," observes Mr. Selby, "resort to the Fern Islands, selecting such as are covered with a stratum of vegetable mould ; and here they dig their own burrows, from there not being any rabbits to dispossess upon the particular islets they frequent. They commence this operation about the first week in May, and the hole is generally excavated to the depth of three feet, often in a curving direction, and occasionally with two entrances. When engaged in digging, which is principally performed by the males, they are sometimes so intent upon their work as to admit of being taken by the hand, and the same may also be done during incubation. At this period I have frequently obtained specimens, by thrusting my arm into the burrow, though at the risk of receiving a severe bite from the powerful and sharpedged bill of the old bird. At the farther end of this hole the single egg is deposited, which in size nearly equals that of a Pullet. Its colour when first laid is white, sometimes spotted with pale ash-colour, but it soon becomes soiled and dirty from its immediate contact with the earth, no materials being collected for a nest at the end of the burrow. The young are hatched after a month's incubation, and are then covered with a long blackish down above, which gradually gives place to the feathered plumage, so that, at the end of a month, or five weeks, they are able to quit the burrow, and follow their parents to the open

Sea." *

At the lone island of St. Kilda many of these

* Brit. Birds, iii. 470.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »