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birds are said to be taken as they sit on the ledges of the rocks, by means of a noose of horse-hair attached to a slender rod of bamboo-cane. This mode is most successful in wet weather, as the Puffins then sit best upon the rocks, allowing a person to approach within a few yards, and as many as three hundred may be taken in the course of one day by an expert bird-catcher. They are sought principally for their feathers, * which, like those of all these and similar birds, are copious, soft, and downy; and therefore well adapted for beds.
FAMILY IV. PROCELLARIADÆ.
(Petrels.) The form of the beak in these birds is very remarkable, as it appears to be constituted of several distinct pieces: the upper mandible has the basal portion separated from the tip by a deep oblique furrow, and carrying on its summit, a tube (or two united into one) which contains the nostrils; the point of this mandible takes the form of a curved and pointed claw or nail; the lower mandible is likewise seamed in a similar manner, and its tip is hooked downwards.
The fore-toes are united by a membrane, the hind-toe is rudimentary, and reduced to a mere claw, which is elevated upon the tarsus. The wings are usually long, and the flight powerful.
The Petrels are eminently oceanic birds, wandering over the boundless seas in all latitudes, rarely approaching the land except in the breeding
season. Some of them appear as if they were almost constantly on the wing, for they follow the course of ships for many days together, and are never seen to alight on the water, either by day
BEAK OF PETREL. or night. Their food consists of small mollusca and crustacea, and the oily particles which may be found floating on the surface of the sea; some of the species inhabiting high latitudes are the constant attendants on whalers, feasting on the fat of slaughtered whales with extreme voracity. Their flesh becomes, from the nature of their food, saturated, as it were, with oil; and when offended or alarmed many of them eject from their nostrils a quantity of fetid oil, as a defence. Foolish and groundless superstition, in former times, connected these birds with the production of tempests, and many silly names were given them in consequence.
GENUS THALASSIDROMA. (VIGORS.) In these little birds, the smallest of web-footed fowl, the beak is short, much compressed in front of the nasal tube; the tip of the upper mandible suddenly curving downwards, that of the lower angled and following the curve of the upper. The nostrils contained in one tube, but shewing two orifices.
The tarsi long and slender; fore-toes webbed : hind-toe merely a small, dependent nail ; the wings long and pointed; the tail square or slightly forked.
Several species seem to have been formerly confounded under the name of the Stormy Petrel, which are now found to be distinct: we select for illustration that known as Wilson's Petrel (Thalassidroma Wilsoni, BONAP.), the most commonly seen in the Atlantic. It is about as large as a Lark; of a sooty black hue, with a broad band of rusty brown across each wing, and one of pure white across the rump; the legs are long, and, with the toes and their membranes, are black, with the centre of the latter pale.
The habits of this species are well described by the admirable ornithologist to whose memory it is dedicated. - In the month of July, on a voyage from New Orleans to New York ...
... on entering the Gulf Stream, and passing along the coasts of Florida and the Carolinas, these birds made their appearance in great numbers, and in all weathers, contributing much, by their sprightly evolutions of wing, to enliven the scene, and affording me every day several hours of amusement. It is indeed an interesting sight to observe these little birds in
a gale, coursing over the waves, down the declivities, up the ascents of the foaming surf that threatens to burst over their heads, sweeping along the hollow troughs of the sea, as in a sheltered
valley, and again mounting with the rising billow, and just above its surface, occasionally dropping its feet, which striking the water throws it up again with additional force, sometimes leaping with both legs parallel, on the surface of the roughest waves for several yards at a time. Meanwhile, it continues coursing from side to side of the ship's wake, making excursions far and wide, to the right and to the left, now a great way a-head, and now shooting astern for several hundred yards, returning again to the ship as if she were all the while stationary, though perhaps running at the rate of ten knots an hour. But the most singular peculiarity of this bird is its faculty of standing, and even running on the surface of the water, which it performs with apparent facility. When any greasy substance is thrown overboard, these birds instantly collect around it, and, facing to windward, with their long wings expanded, and their webbed feet patting the water, the lightness of their bodies, and the action of the wind on their wings, enable them to do this with ease. In calm weather they perform the same manoeuvre, by keeping their wings just so much in action, as to prevent their feet from sinking below the surface.” *
Wilson appears to have had no knowledge of the domestic economy of this bird, but Audubon informs us that it breeds on some small islands near the southern extremity of Nova Scotia, formed of sand and light earth, scantily covered with grass. Thither the birds resort in great numbers about the beginning of June, and form burrows about two feet deep, in the bottom of which each female lays a single white egg, as large as that of a pigeon, but more oblong. A few pieces of dried grass form the only apology for a nest. The young are able to follow their parents in their seaward flights by the beginning of August. .
The present species appears to affect the American more than the European side of the Atlantic
* Wilson's Amer. Ornith. (Edin. 1831), iii. 166.