C. A. (Charles Alexander) Johns.

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livid flesh-colour. _Young_ mottled with white, grey, and light
brown; shafts of the quills white; in other respects like the
last, but the bill is longer and stouter. Length about
twenty-nine inches; breadth five feet two inches. Eggs as in
the last, but of a greener hue.

The Glaucous Gull, a large, handsome, and powerful bird, resembles in
many of its habits the species last described, but it has not been
known to breed in even the most northerly of the British Isles. It
pays occasional visits to our shores in winter. A few specimens only
have been shot in the southern portion of the island, and no large
number in Scotland; but in the neighbourhood of the whale fishery it
is common enough. It is very voracious, and not only eats fish,
whether dead or alive, and shares with the whale-fisher in his booty,
but pursues other sea-fowl, compels them to disgorge their prey, robs
them of their eggs, and, if they resist, kills and devours them.[52]
In short, it is the very tyrant of the Arctic Ocean. Its predatory
habits were noticed by the early navigators in these waters, who gave
it the name of Burgomaster; but as no accurate description of the bird
was brought home, and as some of our other large Gulls are open to a
charge of similar rapacity, the name was naturally transferred by
Willughby to another species, which he calls the Wagel (probably the
Great Black-backed Gull in immature plumage). This was in 1676. A
hundred years later Brunnich gave it the name of Glaucous Gull; but it
is still called Burgomaster by the Dutch, and by Arctic voyagers

Mr. St. John gives the name of Wagel to the Great Grey Gull.

[52] A specimen shot in Norfolk was found to contain a
full-grown Golden Plover entire.


Hind toe represented by a small knob without a claw. _Summer
plumage_ - head and neck pale bluish ash, a few fine dusky
streaks before the eyes; forehead, region of the eyes, and all
the under parts, pure white; upper plumage bluish ash; first
primary with the outer web black, four first tipped with black,
two or three of them ending in a small white spot, fifth having
the tip white bordered with black; bill greenish yellow; orbits
red; irides brown; feet dark olive-brown. In _winter_, the
whole of the head and neck is white. _Young birds_ have the
head white, mottled with grey and dusky; upper feathers tipped
with brown; bend and upper edge of the wing black; primaries
black; tail black, towards the end tipped with white; bill,
orbits, and irides, black; feet pale brown. Length fifteen and
a half inches. Eggs stone-colour, spotted with grey and two
shades of brown.

The Kittiwake Gull takes its name from the cry with which in the
breeding season it assails any intruder on its domain. It is a
beautiful bird, especially in its variegated immature plumage,
remarkable for its delicacy of colouring and the easy grace of its
flight, frequenting high cliffs in summer, while engaged in the duties
of incubation, and at all other times preferring the open sea to
estuaries, and feeding on such small fish as swim near the surface. It
is very abundant in the Arctic regions of both hemispheres during
summer, and extends its southern limits so far as to include the
British Isles, but is most numerous in the north. Its nest, built of
sea-weed or bents, is placed high up in the face of a precipitous
cliff, generally on a narrow ledge, and in close proximity with others
belonging to birds of the same species. It contains three eggs, and
the young birds remain in their airy nest until fully fledged, when,
as well as their parents, they disperse over the neighbouring seas,
rarely venturing either to perch on land or fly over it. The young of
the Kittiwake, previous to its first moult, is sometimes called the
Tarrock. Colonel Irby says that the Kittiwake is a partially resident
species. Marked birds have been known to follow vessels across the
North Atlantic.


Herring Gull.

Little Gull, _imm._

Kittiwake [M]

Brown-headed Gull [F]

[_face p. 289._]]


Twist Tailed or Pomatorhine Skua

Richardson's Skua

Great Shearwater

Great Skua]



Upper plumage brown, of several shades; shafts of the quills,
basal half of the primaries, and shafts of the tail-feathers,
white; under, reddish grey, tinged with brown; two central
tail-feathers but slightly elongated, not tapering; tarsus two
and a half inches long, somewhat rough at the back. Length
twenty-five inches. Eggs olive-brown, blotched with brown.

The Skuas, called also Skua Gulls, are sufficiently distinguished from
the true Gulls by their strong hooked bills and talons, and by the
habits of daring and voracity founded on these characters. The
present species, though called common, is only to be so considered in
high latitudes; for it is very rarely seen on the coasts of England,
and has become scarce even in the Shetland Islands, where it was at
one time frequent. Mr. Dunn[53] says: "I never saw this bird in
Orkney, and there are only three places in Shetland where it
breeds - viz. Foula, Rona's Hill, and the Isle of Mist; in the latter
place it is by no means numerous, and is strictly preserved by the
landlords, on whose property it may have settled, from a superstition
that it will defend their flocks from the attacks of the Eagle. That
it will attack the Eagle if he approaches their nests is a fact I have
witnessed: I once saw a pair completely beat off a large Eagle from
their breeding-place, on Rona's Hill. The flight of the Skua is
stronger and more rapid than that of any other Gull. It is a great
favourite with the fishermen, frequently accompanying their boats to
the fishing-ground, or Haaf, which they consider a lucky omen; and in
return for its attendance, they give it the refuse of the fish which
are caught. The Skua Gull does not associate in groups; and it is
seldom that more than a pair are seen together. During the breeding
season it is highly courageous; and will strike furiously at, and will
even pursue, any one who may happen to approach its nest, which is
constructed among the heath or moss; the female laying two eggs."

Some authors state that the Common Skua obtains its livelihood by
levying contributions on the White Gulls, compelling them to disgorge
their prey, and catching it before it reaches the water; but Dr.
Edmonston, who had great opportunities of watching the habits of these
birds, says that they do not adopt the practises correctly attributed
to the Arctic Gull, or Richardson's Skua. The voice of the Common Skua
is said to resemble that of a young Gull, being sharp and shrill; and
it is from the resemblance of its cry to that of the word Skua, or
Skui, that it obtains its popular name. That it is remarkably
courageous and daring, all accounts agree. Mr. Low says that, when the
inhabitants are looking after their sheep on the hills, the Skua often
attacks them in such a manner that they are obliged to defend
themselves with their cudgels held above their heads, on which it
often kills itself; and Captain Vetch, In the _Memoirs of the
Wernerian Society_, says that it not only drives away Ravens and
Eagles, but that the larger quadrupeds, such as horses and sheep,
which venture near its nest, are immediately put to flight. Its
northern name is Bonxie.

[53] _Ornithologist's Guide to Orkney and Shetland_, p. 112.


Upper plumage uniform dark brown; feathers of the nape long,
tapering lustrous; sides of the face and under plumage white; a
collar of brown spots on the breast, and similar spots on the
flanks; shafts of the quills and tail-feathers white, except at
the tip; two central tail-feathers projecting three inches, not
tapering; tarsus two inches long, rough at the back, with
projecting scales. Length twenty-one inches. _Young
birds_ - upper plumage dusky brown, mottled with reddish yellow;
under, yellowish white, thickly set with brown spots and bars.
Eggs ash-green, spotted with dusky.

The habits of this bird vary but little from those of the other
species. Its home is in the Arctic seas, from which it strays
southwards in winter, and has been occasionally seen on our coasts.
The following account of the capture of one of these birds, in 1844,
indicates a bird of unusual daring and voracity: "About the beginning
of last October, a Pomarine Skua was taken in the adjoining village of
Ovingdean. It had struck down a White Gull, which it would not quit:
it was kept alive above a fortnight, and then died. The very first day
of its captivity it (is said to have) devoured twenty-five Sparrows.
Once it escaped, and immediately attacked a Duck, which it held till

[54] _Zoologist_, vol. iii. p. 880.


Crown dusky; cheeks, neck, and under plumage white, tinged with
yellow or brown; rest of the plumage dusky, the wings and tail
the darkest. Two central tail-feathers tapering from the base,
pointed, and projecting six inches; tarsus less than two
inches. Length twenty-one inches. Eggs olive, with a circle of
brown spots near the larger extremity, the rest speckled with
the same colour.

This species of Skua, most familiarly known, perhaps, as the Arctic
Gull, received its distinctive name, 'Richardson's', in honour of the
eminent Arctic naturalist. It is distinguished from the species
already described by its longer tail, but the habits of all are much
alike; indeed, the names of 'Arctic Gull', 'Boatswain', 'and
Man-of-War', appear to be sometimes employed indiscriminately.
Richardson's Skua, like the rest, inhabits the Arctic seas, but
extends its wanderings southwards in far greater numbers than either
of the other species, so that its occurrence on the east coast of
England is not unusual. According to Mr. Dunn, 'numbers of this bird
breed in Orkney and Shetland, appearing regularly in May and leaving
in August: it is confined to a few situations and is strictly
preserved, from the same motive as the Skua Gull. It constructs its
nest on low, not mossy, heaths in exposed situations. The female lays
two eggs, and has recourse to the same stratagems that the Plover
employs to decoy you from the nest; but when a person approaches near
to the place where the nest is built, becomes bold and fierce, and
strikes severely with the feet and bill.' The following account is
taken from Mr. St. John's _Wild Sports of the Highlands_: "I was much
amused the other day by the proceedings of a pair of the Black-toed
Gull or Boatswain. These two birds were sitting quietly on an elevated
ridge of sand, near which a number of other Gulls of different kinds
were fishing, and hovering about in search of what the waves might
cast up. Every bird, indeed, was busy and employed, excepting these
two black robbers, who seemed to be quietly resting, quite
unconcerned. When, however, a Gull had picked up a prize, these birds
seemed instinctively to know it, and darting off with the rapidity of
a Hawk (which bird they much resemble in their manner of flight), they
attacked the unfortunate Gull in the air, and in spite of his screams
and attempts to escape, they pursued and beat him till he disgorged
the fish or whatever he had swallowed, when one of them darted down
and caught the substance before it could reach the water. The two then
quietly returned to their sandbank, where they waited patiently to
renew the robbery, should an opportunity occur. As the flock of Gulls
moved on with the flow of the tide, the Boatswains moved on also,
hovering on their flank like a pair of plundering freebooters. I
observed that, in chasing a Gull, they seemed perfectly to understand
each other as to who should get the spoil; and in their attacks on the
largest Gulls (against whom they waged the most fearless warfare),
they evidently acted so as to aid each other. If another pair of
Boatswains intruded on their hunting-ground they immediately seemed to
send them further off; not so much by actual battle, as by a noisy and
screaming argument, which they continued most vigorously till the
new-comers left the neighbourhood.

"I never saw these birds hunt for their own living in any other way
than by robbing the other Gulls. Though not nearly so large as some of
the birds which they attack, their Hawk-like swoops and great courage
seem to enable them to fight their way most successfully. They are
neatly and powerfully made, their colour a kind of sooty dull black,
with very little gloss or shining tints on their feathers."


Black Guillemot [M] [F]

Puffin [M]

Guillemot [F]

Razor-bill [M]

[_face p. 290._]]


Red-throated Diver [F] Winter and [M] Summer.

Black-throated Diver _imm._ and [M]

Little Auk [F]

Great Northern Diver [M]]




Wings reaching to the origin of the tail; head and upper parts
black; a band across the wing; an interrupted line from the eye
to the base of the bill, and all the under parts white; bill
black, with three or four furrows, of which the middle one is
white; irides hazel; legs dusky. In _summer_ the line from the
eye to the bill is pure white, and the whole of the throat and
neck is black, tinged with red. Length seventeen inches. Eggs
white, blotched and spotted with two shades of brown.

In general habits, the Razor-bill closely resembles the Guillemot and
Puffin. Indeed, in some parts of the coast, the Razor-bill is called a
Puffin, and the latter a Sea Parrot; and in Cornwall both Guillemots
and Razor-bills are known by the common name of Murre. At a distance
the birds can only be distinguished by a practised eye; but on a close
inspection they cannot be possibly confounded.

Razor-bills are common on many parts of our coast during the later
summer months. They are more frequently seen swimming than flying, and
if pursued by a boat are little disposed to take alarm until they are
approached to within twenty or thirty yards, when they dive, but soon
reappear not very far off. If two birds be in company and one be
killed by a shot from a gun, its companion, instead of taking
measures to insure its own safety, seems to lose the power of
self-preservation. It paddles round its companion as if unable to
comprehend the reason why it neither dives nor flies, and if pursued
suffers itself to be overtaken and knocked down by an oar. This
sympathetic feeling is not confined to birds which have paired, or to
members of the same family; for in an instance which came under my own
notice, both birds were only a few months old, and, as the Razor-bill
lays but one egg, the birds could not possibly have grown up together.
Towards winter, Razor-bills migrate southwards, either to avoid cold
or to find waters where their prey swims nearer to the surface than in
our climate. In spring they return northwards, and repair, like
Puffins, to places of habitual resort for the purpose of breeding. At
this season, also, they are eminently social, laying each an egg in
close proximity on a ledge in the rocks, lower down than the Puffins,
but above the Guillemots, all of which birds flock to the same portion
of coast, often in countless multitudes. The egg differs from that of
the Guillemot not only in colour but in shape, being less decidedly
pear-shaped. It is much sought after as an article of food, and is
said to be very palatable.

The 'Auk' of Arctic voyagers is this bird. The Razor-bill is one of
the best known of the Auk family, or Alcidæ, although less plentiful
than the Guillemot or the Puffin.


Bill much compressed, longer than the head, greyish black;
upper plumage brownish black; the secondaries tipped with
white; a whitish patch behind the eye on each side; under
plumage white; feet dusky; iris brown. Length nearly eighteen
inches. Eggs greenish or bluish, blotched and streaked with

This is one of our common sea-birds during a great portion of the
year, though little known to ordinary sea-side visitors, owing to its
habit of keeping well out to sea and having nothing ostentatious in
its habits. Yet, during a cruise in a yacht, on almost any part of the
coast, a practised eye will often discover a few stragglers,
distinguished among other sea-birds by their black and white colours,
short neck, and sharp beak. They swim low in the water; and when
disturbed do not invariably dive like the Grebes and Divers, but
readily take wing. They are essentially marine birds, never resorting
to fresh water, and living exclusively on fish, which they capture by
diving, an art in which they are scarcely less skilful than the true
Divers, and which they practise in the same way - by the means, namely,
of both wings and feet. Occasionally, a small party may be observed,
flying in single file near the surface of the water. On the eastern
coast of England, the Guillemot is best known by the name of Willock.
It is also called Tinker's Hue, or, as Yarrell gives it,
'Tinkershere'; and in the west of England it is often called a Murr.
The old writers describe it under the name of Greenland Dove, or Sea
Turtle-Dove; and in Scotland it has a variety of other names. Tinker's
Hue is, I presume, the sobriquet of a white bird with a smutty back;
Murr is clearly a corruption of Mergus, or 'diver'. Yet more commonly
it is known as the 'Foolish Guillemot', a term of reproach analogous
to that of 'Booby', given to it from the indifference which it
evinces, in the breeding season, to one of its few, but that one the
most formidable of its enemies, man. Early in spring Guillemots throng
together from all parts of the open sea, and repair to some lofty
cliff, where, on a narrow ledge of rock, which in their folly they
deem inaccessible, they lay each a single egg. As the bird holds the
egg between her legs, she could not well cover more than one; and
though a concave nest is very needful to keep eggs together when there
are several, no such contrivance is necessary when there is one only;
so the Foolish Guillemot builds no nest, but lays a solitary egg on
the bare rock. The egg, which is large, is thick-shelled and rough, so
that it receives no detriment from the rock; and it is not likely to
roll off, for at one end it is thick, and at the other tapers almost
to a point; consequently, if accidentally moved by the parent bird
when taking flight, it turns as if on a pivot, but does not fall off.
At this season, the cliffs to which Guillemots resort are frequented
also by myriads of other sea-birds, such as Razor-bills, Puffins, and
Gulls, each congregating with its own species, but never consorting
with another. In Iceland, the Faroe Islands, St. Kilda, the Orkneys,
and many parts of the coast of Scotland, the breeding season of these
birds is the harvest-time of the natives. Either by climbing from
below, or by being let down with ropes from above, the egg-collectors
invade the dominions of these literally feathered 'tribes'. The
Foolish Guillemots, rather than leave their charge, suffer themselves
to be knocked on the head, to be netted, or noosed. Although stationed
so close to each other that a Foolish Guillemot alone could know its
own egg, they learn no wisdom from the fate of their nearest
neighbours. They are captured in detail for the sake of their
feathers; and their eggs are taken for food. In St. Kilda and,
perhaps, elsewhere, young birds are also taken in large numbers, and
salted for consumption in winter. Such as escape this systematic
slaughter flounder, as well as they are able, into the sea when nearly
fledged, or are carried thither by their foolish mothers. There they
learn to swim, to dive, and to fish, and about the middle of August
old and young disperse.

Huge baskets of their eggs are sometimes brought to the markets of
seaport towns (I have seen them so far south as Devonport), and sold
for a price exceeding that of domestic fowls, for they are much
larger, and are said to afford good eating. Wilson, in his _Voyage
round the Coasts of Scotland_, says that the natives of St. Kilda
prefer the eggs of these, and other sea-fowl, 'when _sour_; that is,
when about ten or twelve days old, and just as the incipient bird,
when boiled, forms in the centre into a thickish flaky matter, like
milk.'[55] Great quantities are used in the neighbourhood of
Flamborough Head early in the nesting season.

[55] Vol. ii. p. 45.


Upper plumage black; middle of the wings and under parts white;
iris brown; feet red. Length thirteen and a half inches. Eggs
whitish grey, blotched and speckled with grey and two shades of

The Black Guillemot, is a resident species breeding on the Isle
of Man, and on the Irish coasts. In Scotland it is common. Its
mode of life, as described by Macgillivray, who was familiarly
acquainted with it, differs in no material respect from that of
the species already described. It is, however, much smaller,
and lays two or sometimes three eggs. Macgillivray says that,
on those parts of the coast which it frequents, attempts are
often made to rear it in captivity; but always unsuccessfully.
In summer, these birds may be readily distinguished from other
sea-fowl, by their black and white plumage and red feet: the
predominant tint of the plumage in winter is white, with a
tinge of grey; and in high latitudes the proportion of white


Head and upper parts black; two bands across the wings; a spot
above the eye and all the under parts white. In _summer_ the
throat and front of the neck are also black. Length about seven
inches. Eggs uniform pale blue.

The Little Auk is essentially a northern sea-bird, coming to us in
winter, and is described by Arctic voyagers under the name of Rotche.
It is an indefatigable swimmer, and has considerable powers of flight;
but it does not possess the faculty of diving to the same degree as
the Divers and Grebes, as it generally stays but a short time under
water. Hence it must find its food near the surface; and this is
supposed to consist of the small crustaceous animals which are so
abundant in the Arctic waters. Little Auks are eminently social birds,
and have been observed occasionally in such numbers on the water and
floating masses of ice as almost to hide their resting-place. They
rarely travel far south; and when they visit our shores, which is in
winter, and after tempestuous weather, they are supposed to have been
driven hither against their will. Instances are recorded of specimens
having been found far inland, disabled or dead. It lays only a single


Crown, collar, and upper parts, black; cheeks, region of the
eyes, and throat, greyish white; under parts pure white; bill
bluish grey at the base, yellow in the middle, bright red at
the tip; upper mandible with three transverse furrows, lower,
with two; iris whitish; orbits red; feet orange-red. Length
twelve and a half inches. Eggs whitish, with indistinct
ash-coloured spots.

Unlike the majority of sea-birds which have been passing under our
notice, Puffins visit the shores of the British Isles in summer, and
even in winter they are not absent. They make their appearance about
April or May, not scattering themselves indiscriminately along the
coast, but resorting in vast numbers to various selected
breeding-places, from the Scilly Islands to the Orkneys. Their home
being the sea, and their diet small fish, they possess the faculties
of swimming and diving to a degree of perfection. They have, moreover,
considerable powers of flight; but on land their gait is only a
shuffling attempt at progress. Their vocation on shore is, however,
but a temporary one, and requires no great amount of locomotion. Soon
after their arrival they set to work about their nests. Fanciful
people who class birds according to their constructive faculty as
weavers, basket-makers, plasterers, and so on, would rank Puffins

Online LibraryC. A. (Charles Alexander) JohnsBritish birds in their haunts → online text (page 36 of 39)