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gularly sent in considerable quantities to the markets at Norwich and Lynn ... The young birds leave the nest as soon as hatched, and take to the water. When they can fly well, the old ones depart with them, and by the middle of July they all leave Scoulton. We were a little surprised at seeing some of these Gulls alight and sit upon some low bushy willows which grew on the island. No other than the Brown-headed Gull breeds at this mere; a few of them breed also in many of the marshes contiguous to the sea-coast of Norfolk.”
FAMILY IV. PELECANIDÆ.
(Pelicans.) The most characteristic mark of this the last Family of Birds, is, that the hind-toe, which can be brought partially round to point forward, is united to the others by a connecting membrane, so that the whole four toes are webbed. Notwithstanding this structure, which seems to fit them more completely for an aquatic life, most of these birds do not swim or dive at all, but on the other hand, they perch much on trees. They are all good fliers, and some, from the extreme expanse of their wings, have extraordinary powers of flight. They spend a great deal of time upon the wing, some soaring far out over the ocean, or mounting to a most sublime elevation, others beating over a limited space, till the appearance of a fish beneath them arrests their attention, when they plunge down upon it, and instantly rise again into the air.
With the exception of the Phaetons, which have many of the characters of the Larida, the members of this Family have more or less naked skin about the face, and on the throat, which latter is dilatable: the tongue is very minute, and the nostrils are mere slits, scarcely or not at all perceptible; in the nestling bird, however, they are open. They all live on fishes, are almost exclusively marine, and nestle and roost either on rocks or on lofty trees : the eggs are encased with a soft, absorbent, chalky substance, laid over the hard shell; the young are at first covered with long and flossy blackish down; they remain long in the nest, and when they leave it, are generally equal, or superior to the adults in weight.
The Pelecanidæ are found in the seas and around the coasts of most parts of the globe: but the species are not numerous. The prevailing colours of their plumage are black, often glossed with metallic reflections, and white.
Genus PHALACRACORAX. (Briss.) The Cormorants, to which genus belong two out of the three species of Pelecanide that inhabit the British coasts, are distinguished by having the beak long, straight, compressed, the upper mandible terminating in a powerful hook, the base connected with a membrane which extends to the throat, which, as well as the face, is naked. The legs are short, robust, and placed behind the middle of the body: the four toes connected, the hind-toe jointed on the inner side of the tarsus; the outer toe the longest; the claw of the middle toe comb-like on one edge. The wings moderately long, the third quill the longest; the tail stiff and rigid.
These voracious birds are of dark, but often rich colours, they undergo a seasonal change of plumage, and the young differ from the adults. In winter they perform a partial migration inland to the lakes or rivers; they habitually perch on trees, or sit on the ledges of precipitous sea-ward rocks, on which they make large nests and breed. They are susceptible of domestication, and in some countries still, as in our own formerly, are trained to catch and bring in fish.
The Green Cormorant, or Shag (Phalacracorax cristatus, STEPH.), is abundantly distributed around the British coast, and that of the north of Europe : it was also found at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr. A. Smith. The adult male in his winter dress has the whole plumage of a rich, dark, and lustrous green; the upper parts finely bronzed, and each feather margined with a border of fine velvety black; the tail is of a dead black; the base of the beak and small throat-pouch are of a fine yellow hue; the iris of the eye clear green. During the spring a fine tuft or crest of wide and outspread feathers, about an inch and a half high, capable of erection, rises from the crown and hind head, which is lost after the breeding
The habits of the Shag are decidedly maritime: it rarely quits the sea to follow the course of a river, nor does it perch on trees, like the other Cormorants. It makes a large nest, composed of sea-weed, in the fissures, and on the ledges of rocks; many associating together; Col. Montagu says he has seen thirty nests close together on a small rock. Three or four eggs are laid, as large as those of a hen, of a chalky white surface, varied with pale blue.
“ The most extensive colony,” observes Sir William Jardine, “which has ever come under our observation, is one in the Isle of Man, on the precipitous coast adjacent to the Calf, of such elevation that the centre was out of range, either from the top or from the sea; there they nestled in deep horizontal fissures, conscious apparently of their security, and would poke out their long necks, to ascertain the reason of the noise below, or when a ball struck the rock near them, with the hope
of causing them to fly. There were hundreds of nests, and the birds not sitting kept flying in front of the rock, passing and repassing so long as any thing remained to disturb them. On approaching this resort, and also at a similar, but smaller, one on St. Bee's Head, few of the birds quitted the rock; but at the surprise of our first shots, they fell, as it were, or darted straight to the water, some of them close to the boat, so much so as at first to cause us to think that great havoc had been made ; in which we were soon undeceived, by seeing numerous heads appearing at a distance, and the birds immediately making off in safety. They soon, however, learned to sit and look down in content, though at new stations we procured specimens by one firing at the rock, and another taking the birds as they darted to the water. Caves are also resorted to as breeding places by this bird, on the ledges of which the nest is placed. On the Bass Rock, and the Isle of May, where only a few resort, they select the deep caves : and a boat, stationed at the entrance, but out of sight, may some times procure shots at the disturbed birds flying out, although they more frequently dive into the water of the cave, and swim under until far past the entrance.” *
As an example of the great depth to which marine diving birds will descend in pursuit of prey, Mr. Yarrell mentions that the Shag has been caught in a crab-pot fixed at twenty fathoms, or one hundred and twenty feet below the surface.
We may here allude to some observations by
* Nat. Lib. ORNITHOLOGY, iv, 240.