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Ocean, yet several specimens have been obtained in this country.
FAMILY V. LARIDÆ.
(Gulls.) Through the Skuas, which have somewhat of the form of beak we have last described, the passage from the Petrels to the Gulls is
and obvious. These are, for the most part, birds of large size, in which the swimming and diving structure recedes, and the most prominent actions are those of flying and walking. 6. The whole of the Family," observes Mr. Vigors, who includes in it the Petrels, “is distinctly characterized by the strength and expansiveness of their wings, with the aid of which they traverse immeasurable tracts of the ocean in search of their food, and support their flight at considerable distances from land, seldom having recourse to their powers of swimming. We may thus discern the gradual succession by which the characters peculiar to the Order descend from the typical groups that swim and dive well and frequently, but make little use of their wings for flight, to the present groups, which are accustomed to fly much, but seldom employ their powers of swimming, and never
One can scarcely look at a Gull, without being strongly reminded of the Wading-birds, and particularly the Plovers, to which in general form, in attitude, in the long and slender tarsus, with the hind-toe minute and set high up (as in Vanellus), in the naked space above the heel, and
* Linn. Trans. vol. xv.
even in the form of the beak, straight, slender, and swelling towards the tip, as well as in their internal anatomy, they shew a manifest approach. The typical Gulls are much more land-birds than any others of their Order : those of the subgenus Xema in particular roam much inland, feed on insects and worms, build their nests ainong herbage in low meadows near the sea, lay eggs of an olive colour marked with large brown spots, and undergo seasonal changes of plumage ; all of which might be predicated of the Charadriada.
The characters of the Family may be thus summed up: the beak is slender, compressed, gradually, not abruptly bent; the nostrils pierced in the middle of the mandible: the wings are very long and pointed; the hind toe elevated, very small, and not united by a membrane. The prevailing colour of the plumage is white, often varied on the upper parts by a pearly grey, or black.
These birds are found in all parts of the world, feeding greedily on all kinds of animal substances; others, as already remarked, seek their food in the interior of the land, which consists of slugs, worms, and the larvæ of insects. Some few are bold and cunning, attacking other marine birds, and forcing them to disgorge the fish they have swallowed, which these then snap up before it reaches the sea.
GENUS LARUS. (LINN.) In this genus the beak is strong, hard, compressed, cutting, slightly curved towards the point; the lower mandible with a strong angle : the nostrils lateral, near the middle of the beak, pervious. The wings long, pointed; second quill feather longest, but the first nearly equal. The legs set near the middle of the body, slender, naked at the lower part; the tarsi long, palmated, yet formed for walking the tail square or slightly forked.
One of our most abundant species is the Blackheaded, or Laughing Gull (Larus ridibundus, LINN.), the upper parts of whose body are pearlgrey, the lower parts, with the whole neck, pure white; the head, and the tips of the wings black; the beak and feet scarlet.
During the summer this Gull frequents marshes and wet meadows, where it produces and brings up
its young; in the winter it retires to the sea
shore. Their periodical migrations from the coast to their breeding localities and back, are so regular that they may be calculated on almost to a day.
The food of this species consists of insects, worms, spawn, fry, and small fishes; it has been seen dashing round some lofty elms catching cockchafers. In spring it follows the plough as regularly as the Rook, and from the great number of worms and grubs which it devours renders no unimportant benefit to the farmer. Nor is this the only way in which these birds are useful; for both their
young are valued for the table. Of the former Mr. Selby speaks as being well-flavoured, free from a fishy taste, and when boiled hard, as not easily distinguishable from those of the Lapwing, for which they are sometimes substituted in the market. He adds, that the young are still eaten, though not in such demand as they formerly were, when great numbers were annually taken and fattened for the table, and when a Gullery produced a revenue of from 501. to 801. to the proprietor. Willoughby describes one of these colonies, which in his time annually built and bred at Norbury in Staffordshire, in an island in the middle of a great pool. “About the beginning of March hither they come; about the end of April they build. They lay three, four, or five eggs, of a dirty green colour, spotted with dark brown, two inches long, of an ounce and a half weight; blunter at one end When the young are almost come to their full growth those entrusted by the lord of the soil drive them from off the island through the pool into nets set on the banks to take them. When they have taken them they feed them with the entrails of beasts, and when they are fat sell them for fourpence or fivepence a-piece. They yearly take about a thousand two hundred young ones, whence may be computed what profit the lord makes of them. About the end of July they all fly away and leave the island."
Another breeding station, which seems to have been occupied by these birds for more than three hundred years, is described in the “ Catalogue of Norfolk and Suffolk birds.” “Near the centre of the county of Norfolk, at the distance of about twenty-five miles from the sea, is a large piece of water called Scoulton Mere. In the middle of this mere there is a boggy island of seventy acres extent, covered with reeds, and on which there are some birch and willow trees. There is no river communicating between the mere and the sea. This mere has from time immemorial been a favourite breeding spot of the Brown-headed Gull. These birds begin to make their appearance at Scoulton about the middle of February; and by the end of the first week in March the great body of them have always arrived. They spread themselves over the neighbouring country to the distance of several miles in search of food, following the plough like Rooks. If the spring is mild the Gulls begin to lay about the middle of April; but the month of May is the time at which the eggs are found in the greatest abundance. At this season a man and three boys find constant employment in collecting them, and they have sometimes gathered upwards of a thousand in a day. These eggs are sold on the spot at the rate of fourpence a score, and are re