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Title: British Sea Birds
Author: Dixon, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           British Sea Birds

                             CHARLES DIXON
                               AUTHOR OF
                         “ANNALS OF BIRD-LIFE”;
                   “THE MIGRATION OF BRITISH BIRDS”;
                               ETC. ETC.

                       _WITH EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS_
                            CHARLES WHYMPER

[Illustration: ]

                        BLISS, SANDS AND FOSTER



                      _John William Pease, D.C.L._

                    [Pendower, Newcastle-upon-Tyne]


                       _This Volume is Inscribed_


                              THE AUTHOR.


                               CHAPTER I.
                           _GULLS AND TERNS._
  The Gull Family—Changes of Plumage—Characteristics—Great
      Black-backed Gull—Lesser Black-backed Gull—Herring Gull—Common
      Gull—Kittiwake—Black-headed Gull—Skuas—Great Skua—Richardson’s
      Skua—Terns—Sandwich Tern—Common Tern—Arctic Tern—Roseate
      Tern—Lesser Tern—Black Tern                          _Pages_ 13-60

                              CHAPTER II.
                       _PLOVERS AND SANDPIPERS._
  Characteristics and Affinities—Changes of Plumage—Structural
      Characters—Oyster-catcher—Ringed Plover—Kentish Plover—Golden
      Plover—Gray Plover—Lapwing—Turnstone—Phalaropes—Gray
      Phalarope—Red-necked Phalarope—Curlew—Whimbrel—Godwits—
      Black-tailed Godwit—Bar-tailed Godwit—Redshank—Sanderling—
      Knot—Curlew Sandpiper—Dunlin—Purple Sandpiper—Other species 61-121

                              CHAPTER III.
  Affinities and Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Guillemot—
      Brunnich’s Guillemot—Black Guillemot—Razorbill—Little Auk—
      Puffin                                                     123-150

                              CHAPTER IV.
                   _DIVERS, GREBES, AND CORMORANTS._
  Divers—Affinities and Characteristics—Great Northern Diver—
      Black-throated Diver—Red-throated Diver—Grebes—
      Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Great Crested Grebe—
      Red-necked Grebe—Black-necked Grebe—Sclavonian Grebe—
      Little Grebe—Cormorants—Characteristics—Changes of
      Plumage—Cormorant—Shag—Gannet                              151-184

                               CHAPTER V.
                       _DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS._
  Ducks—Characteristics—Non-diving Ducks—Characteristics of—Changes
      of Plumage—Sheldrake—Wigeon—Pintail Duck—Various other
      Species—Diving Ducks—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Eider
      Duck—King Eider—Common Scoter—Velvet Scoter—Scaup Duck—Tufted
      Duck—Pochard—Golden-eye—Long-tailed Duck—Mergansers—
      Characteristics and changes of Plumage—Red-breasted Merganser—
      Goosander—Smew—Geese—Characteristics—Gray Lag Goose—
      White-fronted Goose—Bean Goose—Brent Goose—Bernacle
      Goose—Swans—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Hooper
      Swan—Bewick’s Swan                                         185-240

                              CHAPTER VI.
  Petrels—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Fulmar Petrel—
      Fork-tailed Petrel—Stormy Petrel—Manx Shearwater           241-258

                              CHAPTER VII.
                         _LITTORAL LAND BIRDS._
  Littoral Land Birds—White-tailed Eagle—Peregrine Falcon—
      Raven—Jackdaw—Hooded Crow—Chough—Rock Pipit—Martins—Rock
      Dove—Stock Dove—Heron—Various other Species                259-278

                             CHAPTER VIII.
                       _MIGRATION ON THE COAST._
  The Best Coasts for Observing Migration—Migration of Species in
      Present Volume—Order of Appearance of Migratory Birds—In
      Spring—In Autumn—Spring Migration of Birds on the Coast—The
      Earliest Species to Migrate—Departure of Winter Visitors—
      Coasting Migrants—Arrival of Summer Visitors—Duration of
      Spring Migration—Autumn Migration of Birds on the Coast—The
      Earliest Arrivals—Departure of our Summer Birds—Arrival of
      Shore Birds—Direction of Flight—Change in this Direction to
      East—The Vast Rushes of Birds across the German Ocean—The
      Perils of Migration—Birds at Lighthouses and Light
      Vessels—Netting Birds—Rare Birds                           279-295

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  Black-backed Gull and Common Tern                      _Faces page_ 15
  Ruffs—_Sparring_                                                ” ” 63
  Guillemot and Razorbill                                        ” ” 125
  Great Northern Diver                                           ” ” 153
  Tufted Duck                                                    ” ” 187
  The Stormy Petrel                                              ” ” 243
  The Chough                                                     ” ” 261
  Migration Time (_on the Friskney foreshore_)                   ” ” 281

                           _Gulls and Terns_

[Illustration: BLACK-BACKED GULL AND COMMON TERN. Chapter i.]

                               CHAPTER I.
                            GULLS AND TERNS.

  _The Gull Family—Changes of Plumage—Characteristics—Great Black-backed
  Gull—Lesser Black-backed Gull—Herring Gull—Common
  Gull—Kittiwake—Black-headed Gull—Skuas—Great Skua—Richardson’s
  Skua—Terns—Sandwich Tern—Common Tern—Arctic Tern—Roseate Tern—Lesser
  Tern—Black Tern._

Amongst the many natural objects that confront the visitor to the sea,
there are none more readily detected than birds. The wide waters of the
ocean and its varied coast-line of cliff or sand, shingle or mud-flat,
are the haunts of many birds of specialised type. Many of these birds
are only found on or near the sea; they are as inseparably associated
with it as the beautiful shells and seaweeds and anemones themselves.
Some of these birds are common and widely distributed; others are scarce
or local in their habitat; some frequent the shore, others the water;
whilst many are equally at home on both. Again, many of them are
migratory, or of wandering habits; some but summer visitors, others
winter refugees. It matters little, however, what the season may be, for
many interesting birds are sure to be met with by the sea; the wide
waters and wet tide-swept shores are a perennial feeding place, and a
safe and congenial refuge.

Of all the birds that haunt the sea and the shore, those of the Gull
family are the best known. From whichever direction the sea is reached,
almost invariably the first indication of its vicinity is a Gull,
sailing along, it may be, in easy, careless flight, or wheeling and
gliding high in air above the waste of restless waters. The Gull and its
kindred then are inseparably associated in the minds of most people with
the sea, and with them, therefore, it certainly seems most appropriate
to commence our study of marine bird-life.

The Gull family is divided by many systematists into three fairly
well-defined groups or sub-families, viz., the typical Gulls or Larinæ,
the Skuas or Stercorariinæ, and the Terns or Sterninæ. The Skuas,
however, are included with the typical Gulls by many naturalists, a
proceeding for which much may be said, thus reducing the three
sub-families to two. In their distribution the Gulls and Terns may
almost be regarded as cosmopolitan, but the Skuas are chiefly boreal in
their dispersal, four of the half dozen known species breeding in the
Arctic Regions, and two others dwelling in the higher latitudes of the
Southern Hemisphere. Some of the species are very widely distributed;
the dispersal of others is just as remarkably restricted. For instance,
the Glaucous Gull has a circumpolar habitat, and the Black-headed Gull
ranges from the Faröe Islands to Japan; but, on the other hand, Larus
fuliginosus is said to be peculiar to the Galapagos Islands and Larus
bulleri to New Zealand. Three out of the four species of Arctic Skuas
are circumpolar in their distribution; the fourth may possibly be so.

In adult plumage the Gulls are not remarkable for any great diversity of
colour. French gray predominates upon the upper parts; the under parts
are white, often suffused with a delicate rosy tint; the primaries are
usually dark gray, brown, or black, in many species spotted and tipped
with white. Some species assume (by a change of colour and not by a
moult) a sooty-brown or black head or hood during the breeding season;
Ross’s Gull dons a black narrow collar at that period. The wings are
ample, long, and pointed; the tail is even, except in Ross’s Gull in
which it is wedge-shaped, and in Sabine’s Gull in which it is forked.
The legs are comparatively short, and the feet are webbed.

Gulls moult twice in the year. When first hatched young Gulls are
covered with down. Young, in first plumage of the Black-headed group of
Gulls, have the feathers of the mantle, the scapulars, and the innermost
secondaries, brown with pale margins; the crown, nape, and ear-coverts
brown; and the tail with a broad sub-terminal band of the same colour.
The second plumage—assumed as soon as the foregoing is completed—retains
brown marks of immaturity on the scapulars and innermost secondaries;
the wing-coverts are streaked with brown, and the tail still retains its
brown sub-terminal band. This plumage is carried until the following
spring, when the brown hood—assumed for the first time—is mottled with
white; the tail-band is more or less broken; whilst the scapulars and
innermost secondaries assume the colour peculiar to the adult. For
several years the white markings on the primaries gradually increase in
extent until the bird arrives at perfect maturity. The larger Gulls—of
which the Herring Gull may be taken as a typical species—mature much
more slowly, the perfectly adult plumage not being assumed until the
bird is four years old. The plumage succeeding the downy stage is brown
on the upper parts, each feather with a pale margin, and white on the
under parts streaked with brown. After each succeeding moult in spring
and autumn, the traces of immaturity grow less, the wing-coverts and
tail retaining them longest. The white spots on the primaries are the
latest signs of complete maturity. The colour of the feet, bill, iris,
and irides, slowly changes until that characteristic of the adult is

Gulls, popularly speaking, are inseparably associated with the sea, yet
the haunts of many species, especially during the breeding season, are
by no means exclusively marine ones. Almost every kind of coast is
frequented by these birds—rocky headlands, precipitous downs, sandy
dunes, mud-flats or slob-lands, and marshes; whilst every harbour round
the shore of our islands is periodically visited. Gulls are not very
pronounced migrants. They wander about a good deal during the
non-breeding season, and many Arctic species draw southwards during
winter, but all the indigenous British forms are residents on and off
the coasts throughout the year. With these few words of introduction we
will now proceed to give a more detailed account of the strictly British

                        GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL.

This, the largest of the Gulls, and scientifically known as _Larus
marinus_, is one of the least common British species, most locally
distributed during the breeding season. It is not known to breed
anywhere on the east coast of England, and but very locally on the south
coast, in Dorset. It becomes more numerous in the wilder districts, in
Cornwall, the Scilly Islands, and Lundy, and thence locally along the
Welsh coast and in the Solway district. In Scotland it becomes more
common, especially among the islands of the west coast, including St.
Kilda, and on the north coast to the Orkneys and Shetlands. It is also
widely distributed in Ireland, but there, as everywhere else, extremely
local, and nowhere, comparatively speaking, numerous. During the
non-breeding season it wanders more, and is then seen at many places
along the coast. I have seen as many as fifty of these fine birds in Tor
Bay, after heavy gales from the eastward. Montagu asserts that this Gull
is locally known as a “Cob,” but the term is of pretty general
application to the larger Gulls, and, so far as I can learn, has no
distinctive significance. In St. Kilda, where I had many opportunities
of studying the habits of this Gull, it is regarded with hatred by the
natives, owing to its depredations amongst the eggs of the other
sea-fowl. In this island it is universally known by the name of
“Farspach.” No Gull is more wary, and yet on occasion none are bolder
and more daring. I have seen a bird of this species tear to pieces a
Puffin I had shot as it floated upon the sea, and that in spite of
several shots I had at it with a rifle. It is a sad robber of the other
and more weakly Gulls, not only pillaging their nests at every
opportunity, but chasing them, and making them relinquish bits of food
they may chance to pick up within view. Like the Raven and the Crow, it
seems fully conscious of its marauding misdeeds, and correspondingly
artful, as if always instinctively fearing that treatment it metes out
so lavishly to creatures more helpless than itself.

The Great Black-backed Gull is one of the least gregarious of the
family, and the large gatherings of this species that are sometimes
witnessed are chiefly due to such accidental causes as an unwonted
supply of food, or a continued spell of boisterous weather, which often
drives Gulls in thousands into sheltered bays and estuaries. This Gull
is generally met with beating about in a solitary manner; less
frequently three or four may be seen together; whilst even in the
breeding season, when most Gulls congregate into colonies whose size
seems only to be regulated by the accommodation presented, it is
certainly the least sociable of all the British species. It is a great
nomad during the non-breeding season, often wandering far from land,
resting and sleeping on the sea. On the other hand, it is one of the
least frequent visitors of the Gull-tribe to inland districts, and, as
its specific name of _marinus_ indicates, is closely attached to the
sea. The usual call-note of this fine Gull is a loud, whining,
oft-repeated _ag-ag-ag_. Notwithstanding the purity of its plumage, and
the magnificence of its presence, the Great Black-backed Gull is almost
as unclean in its habits as the Raven or the Vulture. No kind of carrion
is refused, either lying on the shore or floating on the sea—weakly,
death-stricken lambs or wounded birds, eggs or chicks left unguarded by
their owners, fish basking or sleeping near the surface, offal cast from
the fishing boats or quays, animal refuse of all kinds, form the prey of
this Gull.

The usual breeding place of this Gull is the top of an isolated rock
stack, a little distance from the mainland; less frequently it selects a
range of high cliffs overhanging the sea. A small island in a mountain
loch is sometimes selected, and occasionally this may be some
considerable distance inland. In a few chosen spots the birds nest in
such close, if somewhat scattered proximity, that we might call it a
colony, but the rule is for odd and more or less isolated pairs to be
met with, and often at considerable distances apart. The fact that this
Gull may be found nesting in one chosen spot year by year, warrants the
supposition that it may pair for life. The usually scanty nest is made
in a hollow amongst the short turf, or heath, or on the flat ledge of a
precipice. Sometimes the eggs are laid in a bare hollow amongst the
rocks. It is formed of grass, dry sea-weed, twigs, and stalks of marine
plants, and occasionally a tuft of wool or a few odd feathers are placed
in the lining. The eggs are usually three in number, but sometimes only
two, or even one. They are grayish-brown, or brown sometimes tinged with
olive in ground colour, spotted with dark umber-brown and brownish-gray.
This Gull is a very light sitter, but is bold and clamorous when
disturbed from the nest.

                       LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL.

Very similar in appearance, but much smaller in size—it is only about
half the weight—this pretty Gull, the _Larus fuscus_ of Linnæus, is one
of the most familiar birds of the coast, especially in the more
northerly portions of the British Islands. It is a more trustful species
than its larger ally, admits man to approach it with less show of fear
or wariness, and may often be seen on the meadows and ploughed fields
near the sea, seeking for its food as familiarly as a Rook or a Daw.
Singularly enough, the east and south coasts of England are not resorted
to by this Gull for breeding purposes. It is not known to breed south of
the coast of Northumberland, or east of that of Devonshire; and this is
all the more remarkable, seeing that one of its most important colonies
in our area is situated upon the Farne Islands. It breeds locally from
Cornwall to the Solway, but further northwards becomes more generally
dispersed, right up to the Orkneys and the Shetlands. In Ireland, again,
this Gull is a very local breeder, and is only known to nest in one or
two localities. During the non-breeding season it wanders far from home,
and may then be met with on and off most of the British coasts: young
and immature birds do not resort much to the nesting colonies, but roam
widely at all seasons. It is a very remarkable fact that adult Gulls of
this species are so rarely seen near Heligoland, as the species breeds
commonly on the Baltic and Scandinavian coasts, and yet its average
appearance at the island is about once in ten years! The Heligolandish
name for this Gull is very appropriate, signifying “little mantle
wearer,” and refers to the dark slate-gray mantle. Unlike its larger
ally the present species is very gregarious, and socially inclined at
all seasons, mixing freely not only with its own kind, but with the
Herring Gull and the smaller forms, such as the Kittiwake, and the
Common Gull. These latter birds, however, must too often prefer its room
to its company, for it repeatedly robs them of their prey, and is,
Gull-like, ever ready to profit by the labours of its weaker congeners.
Like the preceding species it is almost omnivorous in its tastes, and
will as readily make a meal from stranded garbage on the shore, as from
the living fish it deftly swoops upon as they swim near the surface. On
the Lincolnshire coasts it visits the flight nets, in company with the
Hooded Crows, and preys upon any birds that may be entangled in them. It
is also a persistent follower of ships, attending the trawlers, and
feeding upon the refuse fish cast overboard when the trawl net is
emptied. It swims lightly enough even on a rough sea, riding like a cork
on the wave-crests, and sleeps upon the water, when roaming far from
land. Flocks of this Gull may often be seen standing upon the mud-flats
or level sandy reaches, preening their plumage, and waiting, it may be,
for a turn of the tide that may bring some particular food of which they
are in quest. It will be remarked that these larger Gulls, especially,
often run for a short distance before taking flight, and that when
alighting they frequently keep their long wings unfolded and erect for a
moment or two before finally closing them. Great numbers of Lesser
Black-backed Gulls and other species collect in Tor Bay during the
herring and sprat seasons, and at these times they will wait and watch
about the harbours and quays in fluttering hosts for the odd fish and
offal. The note of this Gull very closely resembles that of the Herring
Gull, so closely, in fact, that no symbol can denote the difference. It
may be syllabled as _klĭ-ou-klĭ-ou_, and during the breeding season is
very persistently uttered. Owing to its relatively longer wings, this
Gull looks more graceful in the air than its larger and heavier
congener: its flight is remarkably easy and buoyant, and on occasion

The usual breeding places of the Lesser Black-backed Gull are low rocky
islands—these larger Gulls always prefer an island, covered with coarse
marine grass, sea campion, and the like—but in some localities a rock
stack, an island in an inland lake, on grassy downs, in mosses, and
flows. This Gull usually breeds in colonies, and some of these are very
large. One of the most extensive, within the present writer’s
experience, is situated on the Farne Islands. The entire group of
islands may be regarded as one vast colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls,
if we except a few of the outlying rocks, where the Cormorants breed. It
is more than likely that this Gull pairs for life, seeing that it
resorts to the same nesting places, year by year, for time out of mind.
The nest, even in the same colony, varies a good deal in size and
general completeness. Some birds are content merely to line a hollow in
the rocks with a little dry grass; others are more bulky yet slovenly
structures, rude heaps of turf, heather stems, sea campions, or dry
grass and sea-weed, the lining being composed of finer grasses, many of
them often semi-green. Occasionally a feather or two are seen, but these
may be due more to accident than to design. Few sights in the bird-world
are prettier than a colony of disturbed Gulls during the breeding
season. As their haunts are invaded, the frightened birds rise in
fluttering thousands, drifting to and fro like a snowstorm, in which
each flake is a startled bird. The noisy din, the rush of wings, the
swooping, soaring, fluttering Gulls, the ground strewn with nests—all
combine to form a picture in the mind that time can never efface! The
eggs of this Gull are usually three in number, sometimes as many as
four. They vary to an almost incredible degree. The ground colour varies
from pale green to dark olive-brown and gray, spotted, blotched, or
streaked with dark liver-brown, pale brown and gray. Vast numbers of the
eggs of this Gull are collected for food, especially at the Farne
Islands. The birds do not appear to suffer in any way by this systematic
pillage, for they are always allowed to rear a brood from a second
clutch at the Farnes, and most rigorously protected whilst doing so.


Of all the gulls that frequent the British coasts, this, the well-known
_Larus argentatus_ (_i.e._ “silver-winged”), is certainly the most
common and widely dispersed. It is no exaggeration to say that the
Herring-Gull may be met with on every part of the British coasts, from
the Orkney and Shetland Islands on the north, to Cornwall and the Scilly
Islands in the south; from the Blasquets in the wild west of Ireland, to
the mouth of the Thames and the Bass Rock in the east. It is the Gull
_par excellence_ associated in the popular mind with the sea shore—the
“Sea Gull” of the visitor to marine resorts, ubiquitous, well-known from
the Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s. For its size, it is certainly the
tamest and least suspecting Gull found on British waters. It may be
readily recognised, when adult, by the pale grey colour of its mantle,
but the young and immature birds are less easily identified. During the
non-breeding season it wanders far and wide like the rest of its kind,
and is a very frequent visitor to the fields, not only adjoining the
sea, but at some distance inland. Whilst tilling operations are in
progress, especially in spring, it passes regularly from the coast to
the fields, following the plough, or collecting upon the newly-manured
pastures, in quest of food. Wild, stormy weather, I have repeatedly
noticed, will also drive this Gull landwards sooner, perhaps, than any
other species. Like its congeners, it is practically omnivorous. Carrion
is sought after as readily as living fish and other marine creatures. I
have also known this species regularly to visit a slaughter-house near
the coast, to feed upon the offal thrown upon the pastures for manure;
and I have repeatedly watched the pure-plumaged birds fighting with the
Rooks and Crows for a share of the feast. This Gull will also feed on
grain, grubs, and worms, is a constant follower of vessels, and
congregates in unusual numbers at fishing harbours during the sprat and
herring seasons. In its flight it is graceful in the extreme, and it may
often be seen soaring at a vast altitude like a Vulture. Writing on the
flight of this Gull, Gätke (in his fascinating work, _Heligoland, as an
Ornithological Observatory_) says: “Not only are these Gulls able to
soar in a calm atmosphere in a direction straight forwards, or sideways,
on calmly outspread wings, but, as has been more fully discussed in the
case of Buzzards, they can also, in a manner similar to theirs, soar
upwards to any desirable altitude. The Gulls are able to perform their
soaring movements on the same plane in all phases of the weather, during
the most violent storm, as well as in a perfect calm, progressing
forwards or sideways at the most variable rates of velocity; now darting
along with the swiftness of an arrow, now merely gliding, as it were, at
the slowest pace imaginable. In the latter case, indeed, we are
frequently, even against our will, forced to the conclusion that these
birds must have at their command some unknown means or mechanism which
prevents their sinking; for neither is the surface-area of their wings
large enough, nor are these organs sufficiently concave in form, to
allow of their supporting the bird after the manner of a parachute.” I
can endorse these remarks fully from my own observations (Conf. _Idle
Hours with Nature_, pp. 261, 262). That these flights are accompanied
with any vibratory movements of the feathers is erroneous, as I have had
many opportunities of satisfying myself, especially when observing the
flight of the Fulmar at St. Kilda, the birds then not being more than
six feet away from me, when I am positive every individual feather was
in perfect rest.

But to return from this digression to the general habits of the Herring
Gull. The breeding season of this Gull is in May and June. Owing to its
remarkable aptitude for accommodating itself to the various
peculiarities of the coast, it is certainly the most widely dispersed
Gull of the British species during the season of reproduction. Perhaps
its favourite breeding place is a low rocky island, but failing this it
is equally at home upon a range of sea cliffs, a stack of rocks, or less
frequently an island in a loch, or, as at Foulshaw Moss in Westmoreland,
a marsh. The nest is made on a ledge or in a hollow or chink of the
cliffs; in a sheltered hollow of the grassy downs: or amongst the thick
growth of sea campion, thrift, and other marine plants that often grow
so luxuriantly in the bird’s haunts. I have remarked that the nest is
usually larger when built on a cliff than when on the ground, and in
some cases is almost dispensed with. It is composed of turf, dry
sea-weed, coarse grass, and stalks of various marine plants, lined with
finer grass often gathered green. The eggs are two or three in number,
varying in ground colour from pale bluish-green through yellowish-brown
to olive-brown, and the spots are small and few and dark brown, pale
brown, and gray. This Gull will lay a second lot of eggs if the first
clutch be taken, as they often are, for culinary purposes. When the
nesting places are intruded upon by human visitors, the Gulls, as usual,
become very noisy, the birds whose eggs are most directly threatened
being filled with the greatest clamour. I have often remarked that Gulls
whose nests were safe in inaccessible parts of the cliffs have remained
quietly sitting on them, while their less fortunate neighbours have been
filled with noisy alarm, as they watched the fate of their eggs from the
air above. The note is very similar to that of the preceding species.

                              COMMON GULL.

This pretty Gull, the _Larus canus_ of Linnæus, is, during the summer
months especially, one of the most locally distributed of the British
species. The Common Gull formerly bred in Lancashire, but at the present
time is not known to do so anywhere in England. From the Solway
northwards, it becomes tolerably common as a breeding species, right up
to the Shetlands, in many inland localities, as well as on the coast. It
is also a somewhat local bird in Ireland. The Common Gull, or “Blue
Maa,” as it is locally known, is about half the size of the Herring
Gull, with a mantle, in the adult, almost as dark as that of the Lesser
Black-backed Gull. During the non-breeding season this Gull is fairly
well distributed along the coast, and then visits localities where it is
never seen in summer. It is a decided shore species, rarely wandering
far out to sea, and is one of the first Gulls driven inland by stormy
weather. Although popularly believed to be so inseparably associated
with the sea, the Gulls, and especially the smaller kinds such as the
one now under notice, often resort to fields even at some distance from
the water. The Common Gull seems as much at home inland as on the shore.
I have seen it on the high moorlands, and in Scotland flying about many
a loch pool, or land-locked sea arm; it is equally at home on the
ploughed lands and the pastures, yet its plumage seems strangely out of
place in such localities, and the incongruity is further intensified
should the startled birds take refuge in a neighbouring tree, as they
sometimes do. There is nothing specially remarkable about the flight of
this Gull; it is performed in the slow and deliberate manner of all
these birds, and is equally wonderful in many of its characteristics.
The food of this Gull is composed indiscriminately of marine and
terrestrial creatures. The bird will follow the plough, or search the
pastures for grubs, insects, and worms; it searches the shore for any
stranded creature to its omnivorous taste; it hunts the wide waste of
waters in quest of fish, and follows vessels to pick up any refuse that
may be thrown from them. This Gull is to a great extent nocturnal in
autumn and winter. Its note is a harsh and persistently uttered
_yak-yak-yak_, most frequently heard when its breeding places are
invaded by man or predaceous animals. The Common Gull is a thoroughly
gregarious and social bird, often congregating in large flocks, and
mingling with other species.

By the end of April most of the adult Common Gulls have left all our
southern coasts and retired northwards to their breeding places. As
these are visited yearly in succession, it is not improbable that this
Gull pairs for life. Its nest colonies are situated both inland and on
the coast. An island in a mountain lake, the marshy shore of a loch, the
flat table-like summit of a rock stack, or the rolling grassy downs near
the open sea, in little populated districts, may be chosen; but so far
as my experience with this Gull extends, I have found the favourite site
to be rocky islands in quiet secluded sea-lochs. These colonies of
Common Gulls vary a good deal in size; and in some districts, perhaps
where suitable sites are scarce, the bird breeds in scattered pairs
only. The eggs are laid during the last half of May and the first half
of June; only one brood is reared in the season, but if the first eggs
are taken they are generally replaced. The nest of this Gull varies much
in size; some structures are mere hollows lined with a tuft or two of
grass; others are more elaborate, composed of heather stems, pieces of
turf, sea-weed, and stalks of marine plants, lined with finer grass,
often gathered green. They are built indiscriminately amongst the long
herbage, in hollows and crevices of rocks, or on ledges of the bare
cliffs. In Norway the eggs of this Gull have been taken from the
deserted nest of a Hooded Crow, in a pine tree, but no instances of a
similar character have occurred, so far as is known, in our islands. The
Common Gull usually lays three eggs, but instances of four are not rare.
They run from olive-brown to buffish-brown in ground colour, spotted and
often streaked with darker brown and brownish-gray. The eggs of this
Gull are extremely good eating. One often wonders why they are not
gathered for the table, just as much as those of the Lapwing.


This charming Gull, the _Larus tridactylus_ of scientists, so named from
its entirely absent or rudimentary hind toe, is one of the best known,
as it is one of the most widely distributed, British species. These
remarks are however most applicable to the non-breeding season; for
during the nesting time it is rather more local, owing to the conditions
under which its young are reared. The Kittiwake very closely resembles
the Common Gull in general appearance, but the mantle is paler, the legs
and feet are dark brown, and the primaries, or longest feathers of the
wings, have broad black tips: it is also a perceptibly smaller bird, the
smallest in fact of the typically marine Gulls. Of all the British Gulls
the Kittiwake is certainly the most maritime in its habits, and is never
known to visit inland districts, unless driven from the coast by storms
of exceptional violence. Save in the breeding season it may be met with
on all the low-lying coasts, visiting harbours, bays, and fishing
villages, and imbuing many a littoral scene with life. The Kittiwake is
a much more oceanic bird than the Common Gull, and often wanders immense
distances from land in quest of food. It is said that birds of this
species have been known to follow vessels across the North Atlantic, but
this seems almost incredible—not because the bird is physically unable
to perform the feat, but because we can scarcely believe any bird would
wander of its own free-will so far from the local centre of its habitat.
One of the most striking characteristics of the Kittiwake is its
peculiar cry, heard to the best advantage at the nesting places. This
note, from which the colloquial name of the species is derived,
resembles the syllables _kitty-a-ake_, requiring but little play upon
the imagination to render as _get-a-way-ah-get-away_. It is only during
the breeding season that this cry is heard to perfection, and after that
is over the bird becomes a singularly silent one. The flight of this
Gull is light and buoyant, but powerful and often long sustained. The
bird may often be observed fishing at no great distance from shore,
flying to and fro every now and then, poising and hovering previous to
pouncing down upon a fish or other floating object. It is also an adept
swimmer, and very frequently sleeps whilst sitting on the waves. The
Kittiwake is perhaps more exclusively a fish-feeder than any other
British Gull. It seldom searches for food on shore, and does not exhibit
those omnivorous tastes that characterise so many of its congeners. It
is a persistent follower of fish shoals, especially herrings and sprats,
and will remain in the company of fishing fleets for weeks together. A
scrap of food thrown from a ship will speedily be seized by one of these
birds; whilst a few crustaceans and other marine creatures are taken
from time to time.

The Kittiwake is a rather late breeder. It most probably pairs for life,
as the same nesting places are resorted to each season. Of all the Gulls
none breed in more inaccessible situations. The nests are almost always
built upon a beetling ocean cliff, against which the waves are for ever
beating in ceaseless strife. Except during the three months or so of the
breeding season, this Gull is seldom seen at its nesting sites. In April
or May the birds collect at their various stations, never quite to leave
them again until the young are able to fly. It is a very gregarious
bird, and some of these “gulleries” are very extensive, containing many
thousands of pairs. In some localities, however, where the accommodation
is either limited or unsuitable, but a few birds congregate to form a
colony. The nests, often made as close together as they can be wedged,
are built upon the ledges, shelves, and prominences of the rocks.
Favourite spots are where the cliffs overhang, or at the entrance of a
cave or hollow in the precipice. They are made at varying heights on the
cliff, tier above tier, the lowest often within a few feet of high-water
mark, but the most crowded places are usually about midway up from the
sea. The nests are large and well made, many of them apparently the
accumulation of years, composed externally of turf and roots, with much
of the soil attached, and caked together. Upon this foundation a further
nest of sea-weed and the stalks of various plants is formed, finally
lined with finer and dry grass, and sometimes a few feathers. The nests
and the cliffs in their vicinity are thickly whitewashed with the
droppings of the birds. The eggs are two or three in number, rarely
four, and vary from greenish-blue, through pale buff and buffish-brown
to brownish-olive, blotched and spotted with reddish-brown, paler brown,
and gray. No words of mine can adequately describe the beauty and
animation of a colony of Kittiwakes. Their cries are deafening, and when
the frightened birds flutter from the cliffs, and pass to and fro in
thousands like a living snowstorm, the effect, whether seen from the
water or from the cliffs above is charming in the extreme. It is sad to
think that such a spot should too often become a scene of slaughter. But
such is the case; the poor birds breeding too late fully to profit by
the protection afforded by law. Vast numbers of this pretty gentle Gull
are killed yearly, for the sake of their plumage. Even when the breeding
places are left, the poor birds are shot in thousands out at sea. The
Kittiwake is the most trustful perhaps of the Gulls, and a flock will
remain hovering round a boat until almost decimated by the gunners. The
young Kittiwake is widely known along the coast under the name of

                           BLACK-HEADED GULL.

In most inland districts frequented by this Gull (the _Larus ridibundus_
of Linnæus) it is known as the “Peewit,” the “Peewit Gull,” or the
“Laughing Gull.” It is not only one of the most widely distributed but
one of the best known of our sea birds. And yet to describe the
Black-headed Gull as a “sea” bird in the sense we have hitherto used the
term is, to say the least, somewhat misleading. This species belongs to
a small group which might more appropriately be termed “marsh” Gulls. It
is almost as much seen in certain inland localities as it is in marine
ones; whilst in many of its habits it bears a close resemblance to the
Rook—feeding on the pastures, following the plough, and perching
regularly in trees. During spring and summer many of these Gulls resort
to inland haunts to breed—as for instance at Scoulton Mere in Norfolk,
Twigmoor in Lincolnshire, and Aqualate Mere in Staffordshire—and from
these centres visit the surrounding country for miles, in quest of food.
Slob-lands and low muddy coasts are favourite haunts of this Gull, but
during the non-breeding season it may be met with on almost all parts of
the coast. In winter it often wanders up the larger tidal rivers for
miles; and the Gulls that visited the Thames in such abundance during
recent winters, were principally of this species, doubtless from Norfolk
and Essex. Many of these Gulls appear to pass our southern coasts,
especially in spring, and I have remarked them again in great plenty
during the sprat season in late autumn. I may in addition state that
this migration has been observed along the coast of South Devon, the
nearest breeding station being near Poole in Dorset. The birds linger
about Tor Bay in spring until, in many cases, the full breeding
plumage—the sooty-brown head—is assumed.

Owing to the great diversity of its haunts the Black-headed Gull is
almost omnivorous in its diet. Inland it feeds on grubs—especially
wire-worms—insects, worms, fresh-water fish, and newly sown grain, as I
have often ascertained by dissection; on the sea coast it subsists on
fish, crustaceans, and various odds and ends obtained about harbours or
vessels. It seeks its food both whilst swimming about the water,
fluttering above it, or when walking on the shore. This Gull is much
more Tern-like in its habits than the larger species we have already
dealt with. Of its services to the agriculturist there can be no
question; it is just as useful on the land as the Rook, without that
bird’s few little pilfering ways.

The Black-headed Gull is an inland breeding species, and resorts to
marshes, wet moors, and meres, at varying distances from the sea.
Sometimes these breeding-places are in fairly well-timbered districts,
and often surrounded by trees and bushes. This Gull, too, is remarkably
gregarious during the breeding season, and some of its colonies are very
extensive, consisting of many thousands of pairs. The “gulleries” are
visited for nesting purposes in March or April, and as the birds return
to the same spots year after year, they probably pair for life. Nesting
begins in April. Most of the nests are made upon the ground in rush
tufts, in hassocks of coarse grass and sedge, amongst reeds in shallow
water, on masses of the previous year’s decayed aquatic vegetation, or
on the flat, spongy, moss-covered ground. Odd nests are occasionally
made in the trees and bushes, or even on boat-houses. Many of the nests
can only be described as mere rounded hollows in the cushions of grass
or sedge; the more elaborate structures are usually in the wettest
situations, and these latter are often added to as incubation advances,
either to replace the wear and tear from the incessant wash of the
water, or to provide a sufficiently large platform on which the young
may rest. The nests are made of bits of reed and rush, coarse grass,
flags, and scraps of moss, lined with finer materials of similar
description. The eggs of this Gull are usually three in number,
sometimes four. They are subject to much variation, ranging from rich
brown to pale bluish-green in ground colour, spotted, blotched, blurred,
and streaked with several shades of brown and gray. Large numbers of
these eggs are gathered for culinary purposes, the crop being
systematically taken, and the birds always allowed eventually to sit
upon their final clutch. Many of these eggs are passed off for those of
the Peewit by unscrupulous dealers, notably in Leadenhall market. Few
scenes in the bird world are prettier than a colony of Black-headed
Gulls. When disturbed at their nests the birds rise in fluttering
crowds, drifting noisily to and fro, anxious for the safety of their
eggs or helpless young. As is the invariable rule with birds that
continue to replace their taken eggs, but one brood is reared in the

                               THE SKUAS.

These birds may be readily distinguished, even when on the wing, by the
cuneiform or wedge-shaped tail, and by the dark upper plumage. The bill
is also much stouter and hooked at the point, whilst the claws are sharp
and curved. Skuas are only exceptionally seen by the ordinary visitor to
the sea-side. In the first place, they only breed in our islands in the
extreme north or west of Scotland, and in the second place they are
decidedly oceanic in their habits, after the nesting season is passed.
Occasionally Skuas may be seen on migration, especially in autumn, and
along our eastern and southern seaboard; occasionally they are driven
shorewards by protracted stormy weather, and under these circumstances
have frequently been known to visit inland localities. Odd birds are
generally seen, perhaps a party of half a dozen, but on very exceptional
occasions large flocks make their appearance—witness the thousands of
Pomarine Skuas that visited the coast of Yorkshire during the autumns of
the years 1879 and 1880.

The Skuas are birds of remarkably powerful flight, displaying marvellous
command over themselves in the air, turning and twisting with great
speed. These birds are the Raptors of the sea; a terror to the Gulls and
Terns; merciless robbers of the hard-won spoil of more weakly species;
destroyers even of the eggs and helpless young of other sea birds. All
the four species of northern Skuas are visitors to the British Seas, but
only two of them are indigenous to our islands. The first of these to be
noticed here is the Great Skua, _Stercorarius catarrhactes_, one of the
most local of British birds during the breeding season, as its only
known nesting places in our area are on Unst and Foula, two small
islands of the Shetland Group. Except during the breeding season, the
Great Skua is mostly oceanic in its habitat, wandering long distances
from land in quest of prey, attending vessels and fishing fleets, only
drawing landwards by stress of weather or unusual abundance of food.
This Skua is practically omnivorous. During its summer sojourn near and
on the land it repeatedly raids the colonies of other sea fowl, to prey
upon exposed eggs or unguarded young; it captures the smaller Gulls,
notably the Kittiwake: it also picks up any stranded fish or other
carrion; and is constantly on the watch to chase any Gull or Tern that
catches a fish, following the poor bird with fatal persistency until,
terror stricken, it disgorges its food, which is promptly seized by the
voracious Skua. The call note of this Skua is very similar to that of
the Lesser Black-backed Gull, but when under the excitement of chasing
other birds, or of seeking to guard its own domain, the bird utters a
loud cry which is likened by many observers to the word _skua_ or

The Great Skua resorts to its breeding grounds in April, and the eggs
are laid in May. As it returns yearly to the same places, it very
possibly pairs for life. The nests are made upon the ground of the high
moorlands, amongst the heath and grass, and are mere hollows in the
moss, sometimes lined with a little dry grass. The eggs of this Skua are
two in number, and vary from pale buff to dark olive-brown in ground
colour, sparingly spotted and speckled with dark brown and
grayish-brown. These eggs are large in size, and very closely resemble
those of the Herring Gull. But one brood is reared in the year, and by
the end of August the young birds and their parents desert the nesting
colony, and adopt their pelagic habits. Few birds are so courageous in
defence of their nests as the Skua. Even such predaceous creatures as
Eagles, Ravens, and dogs are driven off; whilst human intruders are
screamed at and approached within a few feet, the birds wrathfully
extending their legs as if they would strike, and skimming to and fro in
rage. Many tales of this bird’s daring at its nesting places are current
in Shetland, where it is known almost universally as the “Bonxie.”

Our second species is Richardson’s Skua, the _Stercorarius richardsoni_
of some systematists, the _S. crepidatus_ of others. Although not quite
so local as the preceding species, its breeding area is remarkably
restricted, so far as the British Islands are concerned. It breeds on
the Hebrides, in Caithness and Sutherlandshire, and on the Orkneys and
Shetlands. Richardson’s Skua is a more gregarious species than its
larger relative, but its habits generally are much the same. It is, for
its size, equally daring and rapacious; is also remarkable for its
powers of flight; but differs from the Great Skua in being more
gregarious. Richardson’s Skua is for the most part a summer migrant to
the British Islands, and numbers of birds pass along our coasts in
spring to their northern breeding-grounds. It is only during the seasons
of passage that the visitor to our southern coasts may hope to fall in
with this bird, and even then it does not approach the land much. Like
the other Skuas, the present species is a relentless robber of the Gulls
and Terns, chasing them up and down until they disgorge their fish, and
repeating the process at every opportunity. Eggs, young birds, and
carrion, are also eaten. It is said to capture weakly birds, but I do
not think it is so much addicted to this Hawk-like habit as the
preceding species. During summer insects and ground fruits are eaten,
whilst it has been known to take worms and molluscs. The note of this
Skua is described either as a plaintive _mee_ or _kyow_, and when in
chase of a bird it has been likened to the syllable _yah_, oft repeated.

Richardson’s Skua reaches its breeding-grounds in the British Islands
early in May. Its haunts at this season are open moors, at no great
distance from the sea. Although social at its breeding-places, it can
scarcely be described as gregarious, and the nests are usually scattered
up and down the moorland area. This Skua appears to pair annually, and
the nest, always made upon the ground, is merely a hollow, carelessly
lined with a little dry herbage, and sometimes nothing but a shallow
cavity in the moss. The eggs, normally, are two, but sometimes three
have been found, and occasionally but one. They range from olive to
brown in ground colour, spotted and speckled with darker brown and
grayish brown. Incubation is performed by the female, and lasts about a
month. At its breeding-places Richardson’s Skua is very demonstrative,
and often reveals the situation of the nest by its anxious movements
above the intruder’s head. After the young are reared the moors are
deserted, and for the remainder of the year this Skua is decidedly
pelagic in its habits and haunts.

We now pass to the Terns. These pretty graceful birds—widely known as
“Sea Swallows”—differ in many respects from the Gulls and Skuas. They
most closely resemble the former in general appearance, but may be
easily distinguished by their slender form, small size, and forked tail.
Of the dozen species that have been regarded as “British,” no less than
five breed within the limits of our islands. The Terns are far more
locally distributed than the Gulls. Many miles of coast may be traversed
without one ever seeing a Tern. They are all migratory birds with us,
visiting Britain in summer to breed, and retiring south again in autumn.
It is only during the season of passage, therefore, that they are at all
widely dispersed, for the remainder of their sojourn on our coasts is
spent at or in the near vicinity of their breeding-stations. The five
indigenous British species follow.

                             SANDWICH TERN.

This fine species—the _Sterna cantiaca_ of Gmelin, and the _S.
sandvicensis_ of Latham—is not only the largest of the indigenous
British Terns, but one of the rarest. It was formerly much more widely
dispersed along our coasts, but persecution has thinned its numbers, and
the seaside holiday-maker has banished it from many of its old-time
haunts. Special interest attaches to this bird, because it is one of the
very few species that have been first made known to science from
examples obtained in the British Islands. It was first discovered in
1784, at Sandwich, on the coast of Kent, and described by Latham three
years later. Alas! no longer does this beautiful Tern breed in its early
haunts on the Kentish coast; it has disappeared from there, as it has
from many another locality, without hope of return. The most important
breeding-place of this Tern, and certainly the most accessible to the
majority of observers, is situated on the famous Farne Islands; even
here the bird is much less common than it used to be. There are small
colonies on Walney Island, in Cumberland, in the Solway district, on
Loch Lomond, in the Firth of Tay, and on the coast of Elgin. Its only
known breeding-station in Ireland is in Co. Mayo.

The Sandwich Tern reaches the British coasts in April or early in May.
But little is seen of this species whilst on passage, for it evidently
keeps some distance from shore as a rule, or passes quickly and
unobserved. The smaller Terns, for instance, are commonly seen on the
coast of South Devonshire in Spring and Autumn, but I cannot recall a
single strong migration of the present species in that locality. This
Tern is seldom or never seen at any distance from the sea. Most of its
waking time is spent in the air, flying about with easy, graceful
motion, in quest of its finny prey. The Sandwich Tern, however, is
nothing near so graceful looking on the wing as its smaller relatives,
the heavier body, broader wings, and much less acutely forked tail
giving it a heavier, more cumbersome appearance. Most of its food is
obtained whilst it hovers above the sea. The way in which all the Terns
feed is very pretty. They poise and hover above their finny victims, and
every now and then dart downwards like a stone into the water and
capture a fish, fluttering up again, or remaining for a moment to
swallow their capture. A flock of Terns (of any species) fishing is one
of the prettiest sights imaginable. In addition to small fish the
Sandwich Tern devours crustaceans of various kinds, whilst its young are
fed largely upon sand-lice and beetles. The Terns are much cleaner
feeders than the Gulls, and I have never known them touch carrion or
refuse. I have, however, seen them pounce down upon scraps of food
thrown from a vessel. The usual call-note of the Sandwich Tern is a
somewhat shrill scream.

This Tern probably pairs for life, and returns regularly every season to
its old-accustomed haunts to breed. These are by preference low, rocky,
or sandy islands, covered with marine herbage, varied with barer
patches, and with beaches of rough shingle. Similar conditions are
sought on the mainland, in a secluded spot on the coast, but an island
is always preferred. The Sandwich Tern is gregarious, but its colonies,
with one exception, in our islands are nowhere very extensive. This one
exception is at the Farne Islands, where it has been computed the birds
number upwards of a thousand pairs. As the nesting-places are visited
very regularly year by year this Tern probably pairs for life. I have
noticed, however, that the birds shift their actual breeding ground from
time to time, using several spots in succession. One year they will nest
here, another year there, on the same small island perhaps, but
sometimes removing _en masse_ to another one of the group. The nests are
always placed upon the ground, either amongst the sand shingle and
drifted _debris_, a short distance from high water mark, or amongst the
sea campion, thrift, and coarse grass further inland; sometimes a bare
mound on the highest part of the island is selected. Many nests are made
within a small area, sometimes so close together as to render walking
amongst them without treading on their contents a difficult matter. The
nests are slight enough, mere hollows lined with a few bits of withered
herbage, and in some cases even this simple provision is neglected. The
eggs, which are laid from about the middle of May to the middle of June,
are generally two in number, but sometimes three. These vary from
creamy-white to rich buff in ground colour, handsomely blotched and
spotted with various shades of brown and gray. During the hot June days
the eggs seem to require little incubation, but there are always plenty
of birds about the spot, ready to rise fluttering and screaming into the
air when their breeding grounds are invaded by man. But one brood is
reared in the season, yet if the first clutches of eggs be lost they
will be replaced.

                              COMMON TERN.

This Tern, known as the _Sterna hirundo_ of Linnæus, by most British
ornithologists, although there can be little doubt that the great
Swedish naturalist applied the term indiscriminately to this and the
Arctic Tern, is one of the best known British species, especially round
the English and Welsh coasts. It becomes rarer in Scotland, where it is
largely replaced by the Arctic Tern. The Common Tern, distinguished by
its white underparts from the Arctic Tern, is migratory and arrives on
the British coasts towards the end of April, retiring south in Autumn.
Its favourite haunts during the summer are the various groups of low
rocky islands, and the more secluded portions of the coast where
sandbanks and shingle occur. Save on passage, this Tern is seldom seen
far from the vicinity of its nest colony. The flight of the Common Tern
is exceedingly buoyant and graceful, the long slender wings and acutely
forked tail assisting greatly in the general effect. Like the Swallows
the tarsus of the Terns is remarkably short, so that on the ground the
birds seem awkward, and rarely attempt to walk far; on the sea, however,
they are quite at home and swim well. There are few prettier sights
along the shore than a flock of Terns busy in quest of food. Where the
beach is rocky, and the water somewhat deep inshore, the birds may be
watched with ease. In a serried throng they flutter to and fro; ever and
anon a bird falls down like a fragment of white glittering marble into
the sea with a loud splash, and in a moment rises again with its finny
prey. Bird after bird keeps dropping so; now and then a bird remains
swimming on the water; now and then two birds chase each other in rapid
flight. And so for miles the Terns will continue to follow the shoal
until hunger is satisfied, or the fish retire to greater depths. The
food of this species is chiefly composed of small fish, but insects and
crustaceans are also devoured. The note of the Common Tern is a shrill
_krick_ or _kree-ick_, most frequently uttered when the bird is flying
alarmed over its invaded nesting place.

The Common Tern is rather a late breeder, its eggs not being laid until
the end of May or early in June. It breeds in companies of varying size,
the suitability of the site being in some measure a determining cause.
This Tern is equally capricious in the site selected for the nests;
sometimes one spot is chosen, sometimes another; but there can be little
doubt that the bird pairs for life, and evinces considerable attachment
for its accustomed haunts. I have found almost invariably that the
Common Tern habitually lays its eggs farther from the water than the
Arctic Tern, and always prefers to conceal them amongst vegetation of
some kind. Islands are always preferred to the mainland, doubtless
because of their greater safety. We cannot class this bird as an
elaborate nest builder, a mere hollow, scantily lined with a little
withered grass or weeds, being the only provision. The two or three eggs
vary from buff to grayish-brown in ground colour, blotched and spotted
with several shades of rich brown and gray. But one brood is reared, and
as soon as the young are strong upon the wing, the nesting places are
deserted, and the movement south begins.

Terns migrate leisurely in autumn, often remaining a day or so here and
there, on and off the coast, and are then seen in localities which they
never frequent during summer.

                            THE ARCTIC TERN.

This Tern, widely known to systematists as the _Sterna arctica_ of
Temminck, was unaccountably confused with the preceding species, until
the German naturalist, Naumann, appears first to have pointed out their
specific distinctness. The Arctic Tern is _par excellence_ the Tern of
our northern coasts, say from the Farne Islands and Lancashire onwards
to the Orkneys and the Shetlands. I am not aware that it breeds anywhere
on the English coast between Spurn and the Scilly Islands, but there are
a few scattered colonies on the west coast of England and Wales. This
pretty Tern may be distinguished from its near ally, the Common Tern
(which it closely resembles in size and general appearance), by its
grayer under parts and perceptibly longer outermost tail feathers. Like
all its congeners, the Arctic Tern is a summer migrant to the British
seas and coasts, arriving from the south late in April or early in May.
It prefers very similar haunts to those of the preceding species—low
rocky islands with sandy or shingly beaches, and with a fair amount of
grass and other marine vegetation upon them. It is equally gregarious in
its habits, breeding in colonies, and returning regularly to certain
districts to rear its young. Its slenderer form, and proportionately
longer wings and tail, make it even more elegant looking in the air than
its congener. It catches its food in the same Hawk-like or Gannet-like
manner, pouncing down into the water and seizing the tiny fish as they
swim near the surface. No Tern dives, and it is certainly exceptional
for the bird completely to immerse itself; usually it flutters on the
surface for a moment, then rises again. Small fish and crustaceans form
the principal food of this species. Its note is very similar to that of
the preceding Tern—a shrill and monotonous _krick_, often prolonged into
two syllables.

The nesting season of this Tern begins in June, and fresh eggs may be
found throughout that month. Rocky islands seem everywhere to be
preferred for nesting places, and the same habit of changing the exact
hatching ground prevails in this as in the preceding species. The Farne
Islands are, or used to be, a great breeding station of the Arctic Tern,
and there I have taken great numbers of its eggs. The bird probably
pairs for life. It differs somewhat in its nesting arrangements from the
Common Tern, inasmuch that it never makes any nest. No lining of any
kind is placed in the hollow which contains the eggs, and this hollow is
generally selected ready made. Another peculiarity is that the eggs are
far more generally laid nearer to the water; and this applies not only
to the Farne Islands, but to every breeding place of this Tern that I
have visited. The two or three eggs are laid in any little depression in
the coarse sand or shingle on the line of drift, or amongst small
pebbles, or even on the bare ground or rock. These eggs vary from buff
to olive, and even pale bluish-green in ground colour, heavily blotched
and spotted, especially at the larger end, with dark brown, paler brown,
and gray. They are decidedly smaller than those of the Common Tern, more
elongated in shape, and are much more olive in general colour. When
disturbed from their eggs the Arctic Terns become very noisy, and rise
in fluttering crowds above the sacred spot, continuing to fly to and
fro, screaming anxiously until the intruder retires.

                             ROSEATE TERN.

It is with some hesitation that I include this species, the _Sterna
dougalli_ of Montagu, in the present work, because if it really does
visit our coasts now to breed, it is so exceedingly rare and local, that
any ordinary observer of bird life by the sea could scarcely hope to
meet with it. It is interesting to remark that the Roseate Tern was
first made known to science from a skin that was sent to Montagu, from
the Cumbrae Islands, in the Firth of Clyde. It was subsequently found
breeding on the Farne Islands by Selby; it formerly bred on the Scilly
Islands, as well as on Foulney and Walney; but so far as I can ascertain
there is no direct evidence that it breeds at any of these places now.
It may be distinguished from the Common Tern by its rosy under plumage;
but as this is very apt to fade, a still more infallible distinction,
according to Mr. Saunders, is the white inner margin to the primaries.

The Roseate Tern is a very late migrant, not reaching its breeding
places until towards the end of May. In its flight and habits generally,
it very closely resembles those of the preceding species; but its note
is hoarser than that of the Common Tern. The favourite breeding grounds
of this Tern appear to be low rocky islets and—so far as our islands are
concerned—it is partial to nesting among a larger colony of Arctic or
Common Terns. It does not appear to make any nest, but deposits its two
or three eggs on the bare ground, usually in a little hollow amongst the
shingle. These eggs very closely resemble those of the Common Tern; so
closely in fact that no reliable means of distinguishing them can be

                              LESSER TERN.

This species (_Sterna minuta_) is by far the smallest of the Terns that
visit the British coasts in summer to breed. It cannot be said to be
anywhere common, and its breeding stations are few and far between.
Curiously enough, it is not known to breed on that great resort of
British sea fowl, the Farne Islands. There can be no doubt that this
Tern is slowly becoming rarer, and in view of this fact I do not feel
justified in assisting its extermination, by naming a single locality
known to me where it now breeds. The bird-loving reader will, I am sure,
appreciate this reticence. Small colonies of this pretty Tern are
situated here and there round the British coasts, and in one or two more
inland localities. The partiality of the Lesser Tern for the coast of
the mainland, rather than for islands, as a nesting ground, contributes
largely to the decrease in its numbers. It arrives on our coasts in May,
and is readily distinguished from all its congeners by its small size.
In its habits it is certainly gregarious, but nowhere are its gatherings
as extensive as in the other common British species. Like its congeners
it is eminently a bird of the air, flying up and down in restless
uncertain flight, living almost entirely on the wing during the daytime,
only seeking the sands or the sea to sleep or to rest. It may be watched
flying along the coast, a short distance from land, in a slow irregular
way, every now and then poising for a second, and then dropping into the
water with a tiny splash to seize a fish or a crustacean. Its note is
not quite so harsh as that of the larger species, and may be described
as a shrill _pirr_, most frequently uttered when its breeding places are
invaded. Its food is composed of small fish, insects, sand-lice, and
crustaceans, most of which is secured whilst the bird is on the wing.

The Lesser Tern begins breeding in June. Like all the other species it
returns unfailingly to certain spots along the coast each summer, and
may, therefore, be presumed to pair for life. Its favourite
breeding-grounds are extensive stretches of sand, varied with slips and
banks of coarser shingle. It makes no nest, not even so much as
scratching a hollow for its eggs, but lays them on the bare ground. It
is most interesting to remark that this Tern never lays its eggs on the
fine sand, but always on the bits of rough beach—where the ground is
strewn with little stones, broken shells, and other _débris_ of the
shore—where their colour harmonises so closely with surrounding objects
that discovery is difficult. The eggs are from two to four in number—I
have on two separate occasions taken clutches of the latter—but three
may be given as the average. They vary from buff to grayish-brown in
colour, blotched and spotted with various shades of darker brown and
gray. During the hottest hours of the day the female sits but little
upon them, and it is remarkable how quickly these shore birds will rise
from their nests at the first sign of impending danger—the alarm
doubtless being given by the male bird from the air above. It is a most
exceptional thing to see a conspicuously coloured bird rise from its
nest in a bare situation; the eggs are generally coloured protectively,
and resemble the objects around them; the presence of the showily
attired parent would inevitably lead to their discovery. Early in
autumn, when the young are strong upon the wing, the return journey to
the winter home on the African coast begins, and it is during these
migration journeys that the bird is, perhaps, most commonly observed
along the British seaboard.

                              BLACK TERN.

Allusion may here, perhaps, be permitted to the _Sterna nigra_ or
_Hydrochelidon nigra_ of ornithologists. The Black Tern formerly bred
commonly in our marshes and fens, but has long ceased to do so. The “Car
Swallow,” as it used to be widely called in the fens, belongs to the
group known as Marsh Terns—birds that rarely frequent the sea coast at
all, so that its absence from our avi-fauna, although greatly to be
deplored, could scarcely be remarked by the observer of marine species
alone. The White-winged Black Tern and the Whiskered Tern complete this
division, known as “Marsh Terns.” Both these latter are occasional
wanderers to the British Islands.

                        _Plovers and Sandpipers_

[Illustration: RUFFS—Sparring. Chapter ii.]

                              CHAPTER II.
                        PLOVERS AND SANDPIPERS.

  _Characteristics and Affinities—Changes of Plumage—Structural
  Characters—Oyster-catcher—Ringed Plover—Kentish Plover—Golden
  Plover—Gray Plover—Lapwing—Turnstone—Phalaropes—Gray
  Phalarope—Red-necked Phalarope—Curlew—Whimbrel—Godwits—Black-tailed
  Godwit—Bar-tailed Godwit—Redshank—Sanderling—Knot—Curlew
  Sandpiper—Dunlin—Purple Sandpiper—Other Species._

In the present chapter we commence the study of an entirely different
class of birds. The Gulls are for the most part seen flying in the air
or swimming upon the sea, but the Plovers and the Sandpipers spend the
greater part of their time on the ground. Again, Gulls, when adult, are
remarkably showy birds, but the Plovers and allied species are just as
inconspicuous. Many of the haunts frequented by Gulls are utterly
unsuited to the Plovers and Sandpipers. These principally delight in low
sandy coasts, mud-flats, slob-lands, and salt marshes. Rocks and ranges
of cliff have no attraction for these little feathered runners of the
shore; they obtain their food on the shallow margin of the sea, on the
sand and shingle, the mud and the ooze, or at low water among the
weed-draped stones. They are emphatically beach birds. Such parts of the
coast that have little or no beach uncovered at high water, on which
they may rest whilst the tide is turning, or at low water on which they
can seek for food, are but little frequented by these Limicoline birds.
Consequently we find them much more abundant on the flat eastern coasts
of England, and some parts of the southern coasts, with their miles of
sand and mud and wide estuaries, than on the much more rock-bound north
and west.

The Plovers, with their allied forms, the Sandpipers and Snipes, and
between which no very pronounced distinction is known to exist,
constitute a well-defined group of birds, perhaps on the one hand most
closely allied to the Gulls, and on the other hand to the Bustards.
There are more than two hundred species in this group, distributed over
most parts of the world. The Limicolæ (under which term we include the
Plovers, Sandpipers, and their allies) present considerable diversity in
the colour of their plumage, and in a great many species this colour
varies to an astonishing degree with the season. The most brilliant hues
are assumed just prior to the breeding season; the winter plumage is
much less conspicuous. To a great extent this colour is protective, the
brighter plumage of summer in many species harmonising with the inland
haunts the birds then frequent: the duller hues characteristic of winter
assimilating with the barer ground—the sands and mud-flats. It is worthy
of remark that the species which do not present this great diversity in
their seasonable change of plumage—such as the Snipes and
Woodcocks—confine themselves to haunts clothed with vegetation all the
year round; or—as in the case of the Ringed Plovers—to bare sands and
shingles. In their moulting the Limicolæ are most interesting. It is
impossible to enter very fully into the details of this function in the
present volume, nor is it necessary, for the purpose of this study of
marine bird-life, to do so. A few of the most salient facts, however,
may be mentioned. The young of all Limicoline birds are hatched covered
with down, and are able to run soon after their breaking from the shell.
They consequently spend little time in the nest, after they are hatched.
This down varies considerably not only in the pattern of the colour, but
in the colour itself. Some of these chicks, or young in down, are
beautifully striped or spotted; others are sprinkled or dusted with
darker or lighter tints than the general colour. In all, however, the
colours are eminently protective ones, and harmonise so closely with the
hues of surrounding objects that discovery is difficult; more especially
so as the chicks possess the habit of crouching motionless to the ground
when menaced by danger. The first plumage of the young bird in the
present order, approaches more or less closely in colour that of the
summer plumage of the adult. At the beginning of autumn, however, these
bright colours begin to be changed for a dress which resembles the
winter plumage of their parents. This is not effected, however, by a
moult, but by a change in colour of the feathers, only the very worn and
abraded ones being actually replaced. In the spring following, these
immature birds moult into summer plumage, similar to that of the adults,
although the wing coverts retain their hue, characteristic of summer or
the breeding season, until the next autumn, when for the first time
these feathers are changed for the gray or brown ones of winter. It
should here be remarked that the wing coverts of the adults seem only to
be moulted in the autumn, so that this portion of their plumage is
always the same colour after the bird reaches the adult stage of its
existence. The phenomenon of the alteration of colour in the plumage of
birds, and especially in Limicoline species, without moulting or an
absolute change of the feathers, is a profoundly interesting one. One of
the most remarkable facts in connection with this phenomenon is the
restoration of the worn and ragged margins of the feathers in some
Limicoline species to a perfect condition without a change or moult of
the notched and damaged feather. Schlegel was the first naturalist,
apparently, to discover that this wonderful renovation took place, but
his statements seem to have been doubted by naturalists. Fortunately
Schlegel’s opinions have been fully confirmed by Herr Gätke; and the
reader interested in the subject is referred to that great naturalist’s
remarks thereon in his book on the birds of Heligoland.[1] This seasonal
change of colour may be produced both by a moult and by actual
transition, without cast of feather, even in the same bird: the
restoration of ragged feathers and development of colour upon them may
also be progressing at the same time. Thus the black markings on the
head and neck of the Golden Plover are the result of colour alteration,
but the black on the breast is attained by moult. The colour changes in
the Sanderling, the Knot, the Dunlin, the Redshank, and numerous other
allied birds, are perfectly astonishing: in the Redshank especially so,
the profusely barred upper plumage being developed without change of
feather, and the feathers reacquiring a pristine freshness and
perfectness which seem almost incredible without a complete moult!

Comparatively speaking, the haunts frequented by Limicoline birds during
summer, or the season of reproduction, are not, in the strict sense of
the term, littoral ones. But few species breed on the actual coast—in
our islands they are represented by such birds as the Oyster-catcher and
the Ringed Plover; the vast majority rear their young in inland
localities, on moors and downs, by the side of rivers, streams, and
lakes, in swamps, and so on. As soon, however, as the duties of the year
are over great numbers of species resort to the sea coasts, where, in
all districts suited to their requirements, they form one of the most
characteristic avine features. It is amongst birds of this order that
the habit of migration is exceptionally pronounced, some species
journeying every year many thousands of miles between their summer
haunts, or breeding grounds, and their winter homes, or centres of
dispersal. In the present group of birds the wings are generally long
and pointed, a form best adapted for prolonged and rapid flight, whilst
the legs are usually long—in some species, as, for instance, the
Black-winged Stilt, exceptionally so—enabling the birds to wade through
shallows and over soft mud and ooze. In some species the feet are
semi-webbed, as in the Avocets, in others they are lobed, as in the
Phalaropes. The bill varies to an astonishing degree amongst birds of
this class, and seems specially modified to meet the varying methods by
which food is obtained. Thus we have presented to us the decurved bill
of the Curlew type, the recurved bill, characteristic amongst others of
the Avocet or the Godwits, the nearly straight bill of such forms as the
Oyster-catcher and the Phalarope, hard and chisel-like in the former,
and finely pointed in the latter; then, again, the bill in many species
is hard and horny, in others it is acutely sensitive, full of delicate
nerves, as in the Snipes and many others. The bill of the typical
Plovers differs strikingly from that of the Sandpipers and Snipes,
inasmuch that it tapers from the base to the end of the nasal groove,
then swells towards the tip. It is utterly impossible in a work like the
present, which only attempts a slight sketch of marine bird-life on
British coasts, to deal adequately with the astonishing amount of
variation, even in this single organ of Limicoline birds. We will,
therefore, now proceed to notice the most characteristic species found
on the tideways of our islands, either as resident species, as passing
migrants, or as winter visitors. It will, perhaps, be most convenient,
as well as most interesting, to deal first with those species that are
resident on our coasts, as being the most characteristic forms of this
group of shore birds.


During summer, this species (the _Hæmatopus ostralegus_ of Linnæus and
other systematists) south of the Yorkshire and Lancashire coasts, is
decidedly local and rare; but north of those localities it becomes one
of the most common and characteristic birds of the shore, even extending
to the Shetlands, the wildest of the Hebrides and St. Kilda. It is of
interest to remark that in some parts of Scotland the Oyster-catcher
drops its marine habits, and frequents the banks of rivers and lochs.
There is, perhaps, no more conspicuous, no more handsome, no more noisy
bird along the coast, than the Oyster-catcher. It is worthily named “Sea
Pie,” its strongly contrasted black and white plumage recalling at once
the Magpie of the inland fields and woods. The favourite haunts of this
species are long stretches of low, rocky coast, relieved here and there
by patches of shingle and long reaches of sand, broken with quiet bays,
creeks, and lochs, where a large amount of beach is exposed at low
water. One may generally find an Oyster-catcher about rocky islands; it
is also very partial to resting on these, between the tides. Few birds
look daintier or prettier than the present species, as it stands
motionless on some weed-grown rock, its pied plumage, rich
orange-coloured bill, and flesh-pink legs, coming out boldly against the
olive-green masses of algæ. It is not often, however, that we can
approach sufficiently close to see such details; as a rule the bird
rises piping shrilly into the air, before it is actually seen, and long
before unaided vision can distinguish colours distinctly. During summer
the Oyster-catcher can scarcely be regarded as gregarious, but in
winter, when its numbers are increased by migrants from the north,
flocks of varying size may be met with. When flushed, the flight of this
bird is very erratic and very rapid, performed by quick and regular
strokes of the long-pointed wings; and perhaps it is now that the
colours of the bird are seen to best advantage. The call note is heard
most frequently and persistently as the bird hurries away in alarm, or
careers about the air overhead, anxious for the safety of its eggs or
young. This note cannot readily be confused with that of any other bird
upon the coast. It may best be described as a loud shrill
_heep-heep-heep_. The food of the Oyster-catcher is composed of mussels,
whelks, limpets, crustaceans, and small fish, together with various
tender buds and shoots of marine plants. Its chisel-shaped bill enables
it readily to detach limpets from the rocks, or force open the closed
valves of the mussel or the cockle. Oyster-catchers often frequent
certain spots on the coast to feed, visiting them as soon as the tide
admits, with great regularity. It may here be remarked that this bird
wades often through the shallows, but never swims, as far as I know,
unless wounded.

The eggs of the Oyster-catcher are laid in May or June, in the north a
little later than in the south. The nesting-place is usually a stretch
of rough pebbles or a shingly beach in some quiet bay, a low rocky
island, or even a stack of rocks. Although Oyster-catchers cannot be
said to breed in colonies, like some of the Gulls and Terns, numbers of
nests may be found at no great distance apart. The nest is simple in the
extreme—a mere hollow, in and round which are neatly arranged flat
pebbles and bits of broken shells. As a rule, several mock nests may be
found near to the one containing the eggs. These eggs are usually three
in number, but sometimes four, pale buff or brownish-buff in ground
colour, blotched, spotted, and streaked with blackish-brown and gray.
Two distinct types are noticeable: one in which the markings are
streaky, and often form a zone; the other in which they are large,
irregular, and distributed over most of the surface. As soon as the nest
is approached the ever-watchful birds rise screaming into the air, and
should many pairs be breeding in company, the din soon becomes general
and deafening. It is under these circumstances alone that the
Oyster-catcher permits man to approach it closely; at all other times it
is certainly one of the shyest and wariest of birds on the coast.

                             RINGED PLOVER.

With the present species—or resident large race, the _Ægialitis
hiaticula major_ of Tristram, as we should more correctly describe it—we
reach the true Plovers. The Ringed Plover is one of the most widely
distributed of our coast birds, frequenting all the flat sandy shores of
the British Islands, from the Shetlands, in the north, to the Channel
Islands, in the south. And not only does it haunt the coast, but it is
found on the banks of rivers and lochs in many inland districts. In many
places this species is known as the “Ring Dotterel”; in others its local
name is the “Sand Lark.” The favourite haunts of the Ringed Plover are
the sandy portions of the beach; but in autumn and winter this bird
frequently visits mud-flats. The Ringed Plover is about the size of a
Thrush, and may be easily recognised by its broad white collar, black
breast and cheeks, brown upper parts, and snow-white under parts. Its
actions on the shore are most engaging, tripping here and there along
the margin of the waves, over the wet sand and shingle, darting this way
and that as some tempting morsel of food is discovered. If in autumn or
winter, this Plover will generally be met with in flocks of varying
size; if in summer in scattered pairs or parties composed of the birds
breeding in the immediate neighbourhood. Ringed Plovers are most
attached to certain haunts, and seem to frequent them year by year,
notwithstanding continued persecution and disturbance. It is the same
when they are feeding. If alarmed they usually rise in a compact bunch,
fly out to sea a little way, then return inshore, perhaps passing two or
three times up and down before finally alighting. Again and again may
this action be repeated, although the flock has a tendency to break up
if flushed many times in quick succession, and odd birds will fall out,
or remain skulking amongst the shingle. A dense flock or bunch of Ringed
Plovers is a pretty sight. The birds fly quickly, and wheel and turn
with astonishing precision, now close to the waves, then up in the air
above the horizon, often persistently uttering their shrill call note,
which resembles the syllables _too-it_ rapidly repeated. Occasionally a
fair sprinkling of Sanderlings and Dunlins may be observed in the flocks
of this species. If seriously alarmed the entire flock will mount up
high, and go off to a distant part of the coast, or even divide into
several smaller ones, each retiring to a different spot; but almost
invariably they return, and reform into a single company on the old
familiar sands, within a hour or so of their scattered departure. The
food of this pretty little Plover consists of the smaller creatures of
the shore, such as minute sand-worms, shrimps, sand-hoppers, tiny
molluscs, and insects. That this species occasionally eats vegetable
substances I have assured myself by repeated dissection.

Although the Ringed Plover appears only to rear one brood in the year,
its laying season is prolonged from the middle of April to the beginning
of June. Early in April the winter flocks begin to disband, and the
birds to disperse over their breeding places. Many pairs may be found
breeding on one large stretch of sand in a suitable district. Some
individuals seek an inland site for their eggs, on the bank of a stream
or lake, but the majority prefer the sands of the sea-shore.
Occasionally the nest has been discovered remote from water. This Plover
makes no nest. The eggs sometimes are laid in a hollow of the sand, but
just as frequently on the level surface. The fine sand is always
preferred to the shingle, as the eggs best harmonize in appearance with
it, their fine markings becoming more conspicuous on the coarser
surface. The bird sits lightly: indeed it is most exceptional to see one
rise from its eggs, unless the spot had been previously marked. When
disturbed, the birds exhibit but little outward manifestation of alarm.
They may be seen running to and fro about the sand, but their behaviour
is very different from that of the Lesser Terns, which often nest on the
same sands. The eggs of the Ringed Plover are always four in number,
very pyriform in shape, and invariably laid with the pointed ends turned
inwards. They are large in proportion to the bird, and pale buff or
stone colour sparingly spotted and speckled with blackish-brown and
ink-gray. During May and June a smaller and darker race of Ringed Plover
passes along our coasts, to breed further north; appearing on the return
journey during August, September, and October. There is some evidence to
suggest that this race breeds sparingly on the coasts of Kent and

                            KENTISH PLOVER.

This species, the _Ægialitis cantiana_ of ornithologists, is one of the
most local of British birds. Stragglers have been obtained here and
there along the coast line between Yorkshire and Cornwall, but its only
known nesting places are on certain parts of the coasts of Kent and
Sussex. It is now nearly a century ago since this Plover was first made
known to science by Lewin, who figured it in his _Birds of Great
Britain_; and by Latham, who described and named it in the supplement to
his great work, the _Index Ornithologicus_, from examples which had been
obtained on the Kentish shingles by Mr. Boys of Sandwich. The Kentish
Plover bears a superficial resemblance to the Ringed Plover, but may
readily be distinguished by the broken pectoral band, represented by a
dark patch on each side of the breast, and the reddish-brown nape and
crown. Unlike the preceding species, this Plover is a summer migrant
only to the British coasts, arriving towards the end of April or early
in May, and departing again with its young in August or September. Odd
birds, however, have been met with during winter. The Kentish Plover
does not differ in its habits in any marked degree from the Ringed
Plover, and frequents very similar localities, stretches of sand and
shingle. Like that bird, it also gathers into small parties during
summer; but in our islands, where its numbers are limited, we more
usually find it in isolated pairs on various suitable parts of the
shore. It possesses the same restless habits; running about the wet
shining sands and shingles close to the breaking waves, in quest of the
sand-hoppers, crustaceans, worms, and other small marine creatures on
which it feeds. It cannot be regarded as a shy bird, permitting a
somewhat close approach, and manifesting little fear or alarm even when
its breeding grounds are invaded by man. Its alarm note may be described
as a shrill _ptirr_, but the usual call is a clear loud _whit_, which,
during the love season, is frequently uttered so quickly as to form a
sort of trill, as the cock bird soars and flies round and round above
his mate. The Ringed Plover utters a very similar trill during the
pairing season.

The Kentish Plover rears but one brood during the summer, and
preparations are made for this towards the end of May. It is not
improbable that this Plover pairs for life, seeing that the same
localities are visited year by year for nesting purposes. It makes no
nest, the eggs being laid in a little hollow amongst the coarser sand or
the shingle, or on a drift of dry seaweed and other shore _débris_. The
eggs are usually three, but occasionally four in number, and are pale or
dark buff in ground colour, blotched, scratched, and spotted with
blackish-brown and slate-gray. As is the almost invariable custom with
birds breeding on bare plains and beaches—and whose eggs are
protectively coloured—the Kentish Plover sits lightly, rises from her
eggs as soon as danger is discovered, and evinces but little outward
anxiety for their safety; although, in some instances, the feigning of
lameness has been resorted to, especially when the eggs have been on the
point of hatching. The young birds and their parents form a family party
during the autumn, and apparently migrate southwards in close company.

With the present species we exhaust the number of Limicoline birds that
nest upon the shore in the British Islands. All the other species that
make our sands and mud-flats their winter home, or their place of call
during their spring and autumn migrations, breed away from the actual
beach on marshes and moors and uplands, or do not rear their young at
all within our area. Closely associated with most of these birds are the
fascinating problems of Migration. We miss the feathered hosts from sand
and mud-flat as the spring advances; we note the fleeting appearance of
others along the shore bound to far away northern haunts: and then long
before the first faint signs of autumn are apparent these migrant birds
begin to return, and imbue the wild lone slob-lands and shingles with
life. To and fro with each recurring spring and autumn, the stream of
avine life flows and ebbs; by day and by night the feathery tides press
on, calling forth wonder from the least observant, filling more
thoughtful minds with the complexity and the mystery of it all. We have
not space to deal here with this grand avine movement; but, content with
this passing allusion to it, pass on to a study of the other feathered
dwellers by the sea. (Conf. _p._ 281).

It is rather remarkable how few species of Limicoline birds breed on the
British coast-line. Not a single Sandpiper nor Snipe does so, and but
two or three Plovers, as we have already seen. So far as summer is
concerned, these wading birds cannot be regarded as a very remarkable
feature of avine life upon the coast; and it is, doubtless, because they
are so little known to the majority of seaside visitors, that they
appeal so much less to the popular mind than the more ubiquitous Gulls.
But from September onwards to the following spring, Plovers and
Sandpipers are the most prominent characteristics of all the more
low-lying coasts. We will briefly glance at those species that not only
frequent such situations regularly every season, but occur in sufficient
numbers to place them beyond the category of abnormal visitors, or
storm-driven wanderers from their natural haunts.

                             GOLDEN PLOVER.

This species, the _Charadrius pluvialis_ of ornithologists, is, from the
regularity of its appearance and its great abundance, known almost
everywhere as _the_ Plover of the coast. It derives its trivial name
from the profusion of golden yellow drop-like spots which adorn its
upper plumage, and may always be distinguished from allied species by
its barred tail feathers and white axillaries. Large flights of Golden
Plover begin to appear on our low-lying coasts in September, and through
October and November the number steadily increases. Many of these birds
simply pass along our shore-line to haunts in the Mediterranean basin,
but many linger thereon through the winter. One of the great haunts of
this Plover is along the shores of the Wash—that vast area of mud, and
sand, and salt-marsh, which extends for miles in drear monotony, only
enlivened and made endurable by the hordes of wild fowl that congregate
upon its treacherous surface. Here, at the end of October, or during the
first week in November, the migration of the Golden Plover can be
observed in all its strength. Day after day, night after night, I have
remarked the passage of this bird, in almost one unbroken stream, flock
succeeding flock, so quickly as to form a nearly continuous throng. Upon
the sands this Plover often associates with Dunlins, Gray Plovers,
Lapwings, and other waders. Great numbers are, or used to be, shot or
netted in this district, and sent to inland markets, for their flesh is
justly esteemed for its delicacy, ranked by some as second only to that
of the Woodcock. Golden Plovers feed and move about a good deal at
night, especially by moonlight. Their food, during winter at least,
consists of sand-worms and hoppers, molluscs, small seeds, and so on.
The whistle of this Plover is one of the most attractive sounds of the
mud-flats and salt-marshes. It may, under suitable atmospheric
conditions, be heard for a long distance across the wastes, and sounds
something like _klee-wee_, occasionally prolonged into _klee-ee-wee_.
This note is uttered both while the bird is on the ground and in the
air. In the pairing season it is run out into a trill. The movements of
the Golden Plover during winter are largely regulated by the weather,
and I have known it desert a district entirely, or become very restless
and unsettled, just previous to a storm.

In spring the sea coasts are deserted, and the Golden Plover retires to
its breeding-grounds. These, in our islands, are situated on the upland
moors and mountain plateaux. The nest, invariably made upon the ground,
is often placed on a hassock of coarse herbage, or on a tuft of cotton
grass, and consists merely of a hollow, lined with a few bits of
withered grass or dead leaves. The eggs are four in number, buff
blotched and spotted with various shades of brown, and more sparingly
with gray. They are much richer and yellower in appearance than those of
the Lapwing, otherwise closely resemble them.

                              GRAY PLOVER.

This handsome bird, generically separated by many ornithologists from
the preceding, on account of its possessing a minute and entirely
functionless hind toe, is the _Vanellus helveticus_ of Brisson, and the
_Charadrius helveticus_ of writers who ignore the genus _Squatarola_,
founded by Leach on the above-named trivial and, all things considered,
utterly inadequate character. The Gray Plover is the first species we
have considered in the present work that does not breed in the British
Islands. Many birds of this species only pass our coast on migration in
going to, and returning from, their Arctic breeding-grounds, but a fair
number linger upon them throughout the winter. The Gray Plover may be
readily distinguished from the preceding, as well as from all other
allied forms, by the presence of a rudimentary hind toe, and by its
_black_ axillaries. In its seasonal changes of plumage it closely
resembles its ally. In the adult plumage, however, it never exhibits any
of the yellow, drop-like, spots on the upper parts, so characteristic of
that bird in every feather stage of its existence. Gray Plovers begin to
arrive on the British coasts as early as August, and the migration
continues with increasing strength until October or November. Such
individuals as pass our islands for more southern haunts return along
the British coasts during May and June. During its sojourn with us, the
Gray Plover confines itself almost entirely to the mud-flats and salt
marshes. It does not gather into such large companies as the Golden
Plover—but this may be due, perhaps, to its smaller numbers—and is often
seen in pairs or small parties, whilst odd birds will occasionally
attach themselves to flocks of Knots and Dunlins. In its habits
generally, in its flight, and in its food, it closely resembles its
commoner and better known ally. The note uttered whilst the bird lives
upon our coasts resembles that of the Golden Plover.

The breeding-grounds of the Gray Plover are on the tundras and barren
grounds in the Arctic regions of the Old and New Worlds, above the
limits of forest growth. The nest is always made upon the ground, and is
merely a slight hollow, lined with a few scraps of withered herbage. The
four eggs very closely resemble those of the Lapwing, but are not quite
so olive. When once flushed from the nest the Gray Plover becomes very
wary and restless, and does not return for some time; should the young
be hatched various alluring antics are indulged in to withdraw attention
from them.


This bird is the typical species of Brisson’s genus _Vanellus_, and is
known to most naturalists as _Vanellus cristatus_ or _vulgaris_. It
cannot easily be confused with any other British bird, and is readily
identified by its long conspicuous crest, metallic green, suffused with
purple upper parts, and bright chestnut upper and under tail coverts.
Further, its appearance in the air, so far as British Limicoline birds
are concerned, is unique; the curiously rounded wings, and deliberate
Heron-like flight, together with the peculiar note, make the matter of
its identification easy to the veriest tyro in ornithology. The Lapwing
is also not only the commonest of its order found in Britain, but
certainly the most widely dispersed. Nevertheless, it is only during the
non-breeding season that the Lapwing can fairly be described as a marine
bird. From March onwards to the early autumn it retires to inland moors,
pastures, and rough undrained lands to breed, returning coastwards again
when the young are reared, especially from the more exposed and elevated
localities. The favourite marine haunts of the “Green Plover,” or
Peewit, as this bird is otherwise called, are rough saltings, mud-flats,
and slob-lands; sands and shingles it rarely visits unless when driven
to do so by heavy snowfalls; and at all times it prefers ground
overgrown with herbage to the bare beaches. As this species presents
little difference between summer and winter plumage, means for
concealment may have some influence in its choice of haunt. When
standing or running on the ground the Lapwing is a very ordinary looking
bird; graceful enough, it is true; but the moment it rises into the air
the observer is struck with the singularity of its appearance; the broad
and rounded wings are unfolded and moved in a slow flapping Owl-like
manner; very often grotesque evolutions are indulged in, the bird rising
and swooping down again, turning and twisting in a most erratic way, and
all the time persistently uttering the wild, mewing, plaintive cry that
is absolutely characteristic of this Plover—an unmistakable and unique
note among birds. It may be expressed on paper as a nasal _pee-weet_,
frequently modulated into _weet-a-weet_, _pee-weet-weet_.

As the autumn days draw on the Lapwing becomes more gregarious, often
forming into flocks of enormous size, which wander about a good deal as
the varying weather affects their supply of food. This, in winter,
consists chiefly of worms, grubs, molluscs, crustaceans, and other small
marine creatures; in summer, seeds, shoots of herbage, and various
ground fruits and berries are added. The Lapwing in its movements on the
ground is light and elegant, running and walking well, standing high
upon its legs, but it seldom seems to wade, and never, so far as I know,
attempts to swim under any normal circumstances. Great numbers of
Lapwings are killed for the table, but the flesh cannot be compared with
that of the Golden Plover, being not only dark in appearance, but
unpleasant in taste, especially after the birds have resided long in
littoral haunts.

The Lapwing at the approach of spring retires inland to breed, visiting
for the purpose moors, rough lands, water meadows, pastures, and grain
fields. The nesting habits of this species are certainly better known
than those of any other member of the Plover tribe, at least, as far as
British birds are concerned. Every person at all familiar with the
common objects of the country, knows the nest of the Lapwing, and must
time and again have been amused with the bird’s erratic behaviour, as
its breeding grounds are invaded by human intruders. The nest is always
made upon the ground, generally in a hollow of some kind, often in the
footprints of cattle and horses. Sometimes it is cunningly hidden
beneath a tuft of rushes or hassock of sedge and grass; whilst the
summit of a mole-hill is not rarely chosen. The hollow is lined with a
few bits of the dry and withered surrounding herbage; and in many cases
even this slight provision is omitted. The four eggs (five have been
recorded!) very like pears in shape, are buffish-brown or pale olive in
ground colour, handsomely blotched and spotted, especially on the larger
half, with blackish-brown, paler brown, and gray. If the flesh of the
Lapwing is not held in very high repute its eggs make ample amends for
the deficiency. Vast numbers are systematically gathered for the table;
and as the birds will replace their stolen eggs again and again, the
harvest may be prolonged over several weeks. The first eggs are laid in
April; in more northern localities not before May. In the early days of
the Plover egg season, these commodities frequently realise as much as
twelve shillings per dozen, and are a source of profit to many a dweller
in country districts. Dogs are sometimes trained to search for them.
When the young are hatched the Lapwing displays many curious tricks to
lure enemies from them, feigning death or broken wings, or swooping with
loud cries to and fro.


It is rather a remarkable fact that this species, the _Strepsilas
interpres_ of naturalists, does not breed in the British Islands. Some
naturalists have suspected that it does so on the Hebrides, and it has
been said to nest on the Channel Islands, but no direct proof has yet
been obtained. Under exceptional circumstances the Turnstone may be met
with inland, especially during the season of its migrations, but
otherwise it is strictly a coast-bird, as much so as the Oyster-catcher,
and rears its young upon the shore. This somewhat singular bird is met
with on the British coasts, most commonly during its passage north or
south, comparatively few individuals remaining upon them for the winter.
The Turnstone cannot readily be confused with any other coast bird, its
mottled black and chestnut upper parts, black throat and breast, and
white belly, being very distinctive. The wings and tail during flight
exhibit a good deal of white upon them. Turnstones, chiefly young birds,
begin to arrive on the British coasts at the end of July, and the
migration of the species continues through August and September; the
return passage in spring may be remarked towards the end of April, and
lasts for about a month. Mud-flats, slob-lands, and salt-marshes are not
frequented much by the Turnstone; it always prefers the low rocky
coasts, and seems specially fond of haunting rocks and islands. Social
to a great extent in summer, in winter this bird is more or less
gregarious; but many odd individuals attach themselves to parties of
other shore-frequenting species. An example now lying before me was shot
from the company of Common Sandpipers. The Turnstone is a restless
little creature, ever on the run in quest of food. It may be watched
hunting about the beaches, or running amongst pebbles, and over the
piles of drifted rubbish that the tide washes up in a long irregular
line along the shore. In watching the actions of this bird, the observer
cannot fail to remark its singular habit of turning over shells and
other objects, in quest of the small marine creatures that lurk under
them, with its conical shaped beak, and perhaps occasionally with its
breast as well. This peculiarity has gained for the Turnstone its
trivial name. Not only does it run about the sand and rocks, but it
frequently wades, and has even been seen to swim just outside the line
of breakers, rising from time to time, flying a little way and then
settling upon the water again. The flight of this bird is not very
rapid, and generally taken close to the ground; its note is a shrill
whistle, resembling the syllable _keet_. During the love season this
note is run into a rapid trill. The food of the Turnstone is composed of
sand-worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and other small marine animals.

The Turnstone changes its haunts but little during the breeding season.
It rears its young on the beaches or on rocky islets, placing its nest
amongst the scanty marine herbage, beneath the shelter of a tuft of
grass or a little bush. This is merely a hollow lined with a few bits of
dry grass or other vegetation. The four eggs are olive-green or pale
buff in ground colour, blotched, spotted, and clouded with olive-brown,
dark reddish-brown, and violet-gray. But one brood is reared in the
year, and the eggs are laid in June. As soon as the young are able to
fly the movement south begins. The Turnstone breeds throughout the
northern parts of the Nearctic and Palæarctic regions, as far as land is
known to extend. Its nearest breeding stations to the British Islands
are in Denmark, on some of the Baltic Islands, and in Iceland. During
winter it visits the coasts of almost every part of the world, south of
the Arctic circle.


But three species of the genus _Phalaropus_ are known, and two of these
are British birds, one of them the Red-necked Phalarope, _P.
hyperboreus_, breeding very sparingly and locally within our limits, the
other the Gray Phalarope, _P. fulicarius_, a more or less regular
visitor to our coasts in autumn and winter. From many points of view the
Phalaropes are very interesting birds. They are distinguished from all
other Limicoline forms by the structure of the feet, which are lobed
like those of the Coot—a peculiarity which induced Edwards, in 1741, to
describe a Phalarope as the “Coot-footed Tringa.” They are by far the
most aquatic of the Charadriidæ, swimming as readily as Gulls or Ducks,
and often going for hundreds of miles out on to the open sea; indeed
they spend most of their time upon the water, only visiting land for any
lengthened period during the breeding season.

There can be little doubt that the Gray Phalarope is a more abundant
visitor to British waters, in autumn and winter, than is generally
supposed. It has little reason to visit land at all at such a season,
unless driven towards it by exceptionally severe weather. Occasionally,
however, this Phalarope has occurred on our coasts in great numbers,
something similar to the visitations of Sand Grouse, with which
doubtless most readers are familiar. The autumn of 1866 is specially
famous for a great “rush” of Gray Phalaropes to the British seas and
coasts, and it is estimated that upwards of 500 were caught, of which
large number nearly half occurred in Sussex! The most recent irruption
of Gray Phalaropes was in 1886. The Gray Phalarope lives almost entirely
out at sea, after the breeding season is over, wandering immense
distances from land, and even accompanying whales, for the sake of
catching the various small marine creatures disturbed by the “blowing”
of those mighty animals—hence to the sailor it is often known as the
“Whale Bird.” So hardy is this little bird, that it has been watched
swimming about amongst icebergs far from land. It swims lightly and
buoyantly as a foam fleck, with a peculiar bobbing motion of the head,
but it is not known to dive. It apparently flies with reluctance, always
preferring to swim out of danger. Its food principally consists of
insects, but crustaceans, worms, and scraps of vegetable substances are
eaten. The call note of this Phalarope is described as a shrill _weet_,
and the alarm note, heard most frequently during flight, as a rapidly
repeated _bick-abick-a_.

The Gray Phalarope is not known to breed anywhere on continental Europe,
but does so in Spitzbergen, in Iceland, Greenland, and probably
throughout all suitable parts of Arctic America and Asia, as far north
as land extends. In winter it is very widely dispersed, even wandering
as far as New Zealand. The Gray Phalarope is one of those species that
change greatly in the colour of their plumage according to season. In
winter dress—the plumage perhaps most familiar to British observers—the
back is gray, and the under parts pure white; but in summer the whole of
the latter are rich bright bay, and the feathers of the upper parts are
dark brown with pale reddish-brown margins. In this plumage it is known
as the Red Phalarope. Another interesting fact is that the female is
much more brightly and richly coloured than the male, and the latter not
only performs the duty of incubating the eggs, but takes the greater
share in tending upon the young! It may thus be inferred that the
pairing habits of this Phalarope are most singular, the female
conducting the courtship! The Gray Phalarope remains practically
gregarious throughout the year, breeding in colonies of varying size.
Its favourite nesting-places are beside the marshy pools and lakes on
the tundras, at no great distance from the Arctic Ocean. The nest is
made upon the ground, and consists of a mere hollow in the moss or
lichen, lined with a few dry leaves and grasses. The four pyriform eggs
are pale buff, tinged with olive, blotched and spotted with dark brown
and paler brown. At the nest the old Phalaropes are remarkably tame and
confiding, showing little fear of man, but when the young are hatched
often trying to delude him away by various deceptive antics. As soon as
the young are sufficiently matured, the nesting-places are deserted, and
young and old repair to the sea for the remainder of the year.

The second British species, the Red-necked Phalarope, is scarcely less
known to the majority of people than the Gray Phalarope. It seldom
visits the land except for breeding purposes, and as its nesting-places
in our area are not only few, but in the remotest part of it,
opportunities for observing its habits are few and fitful. It is a
summer visitor to certain parts of the Outer Hebrides, to the Orkneys,
and the Shetlands. Outside our limits its range is very extensive. It
breeds in suitable localities throughout the Arctic regions of the New
and Old Worlds, above the limits of forest growth; in winter it wanders
far southwards, and is then found on the coasts of Europe, Southern
Asia, Mexico, and Central America. Like the preceding species it is
thoroughly marine in its choice of a haunt, but does not appear to
wander for such great distances from land. It is just as tame and
confiding, just as social in summer, and as gregarious in winter. It
swims equally as well and buoyantly, with the same peculiar bobbing
motion; whilst on the land it is able to run and walk with ease. It
exhibits the same reluctance to take wing, preferring to retreat from
danger by swimming, although it flies on occasion quickly and well. Its
food is very similar, and its note is a shrill but rather low _weet_. As
Professor Newton has remarked, both this and the preceding species of
Phalarope are entrancingly interesting in their habits. “Their graceful
form, their lively colouration, and the confidence with which both are
familiarly displayed in their breeding-quarters can hardly be
exaggerated, and it is equally a delightful sight to watch these birds
gathering their food in the high-running surf, or, when that is done,
peacefully floating outside the breakers.”[2]

So far as concerns Scotland, the breeding season of the Red-necked
Phalarope commences in May, but in more Arctic localities it is deferred
until several weeks later. It returns with unerring regularity to the
old accustomed spots to rear its young. These are on the marshy moors,
beside the pools, at no great distance from the sea. The nest, usually
made on the ground, (in the valley of the Petchora it has been found in
a hassock of coarse grass a foot or more above it), is a mere hollow
lined with a few scraps of dead grass and rush. The four eggs are buff
of various shades, or pale olive, spotted and blotched with amber and
blackish-brown, pale brown and gray. As previously remarked the male
bird incubates them. When disturbed at its breeding grounds, the
Red-necked Phalarope slips off the nest and takes refuge in the water,
manifesting little concern for its safety. As soon as the young are
sufficiently matured, they and their parents resort to the sea, moving
southwards as autumn advances, and for the most part keeping to the
water until another nesting season comes round.


This species, (_Numenius arquata_), is not only the largest Limicoline
bird that frequents the coast, but also one of the best known. There are
few parts of the shore during autumn and winter where an odd Curlew
cannot be found, whilst in some localities it may be classed as
absolutely common. The Curlew is another of those species that present
little difference between summer and winter plumage, and yet the haunts
it selects in summer differ very considerably from those it seeks in
winter. It is a resident in the British Islands, but its numbers are
very considerably increased in autumn, by migrants from more northern
latitudes. It may be found, as previously inferred, on almost all parts
of the shore, but such beaches where wide expanses of sand, mud, and
broken rocks occur, are specially preferred—as are also salt-marshes and
wet meadows close to the sea. Of all wild fowl the Curlew is one of the
wariest, never allowing a close approach unless stalked with the
greatest care, or surprised in some unusual way, which does not often
happen. In some districts where little beach is exposed during
high-water, the Curlews will retire some distance inland, but return
with remarkable punctuality as soon as the tide begins to ebb. Shingle
banks and islands are also often visited between tides. Curlews when
feeding are very restless birds, running and walking about the beach,
seemingly in a very careless and unsuspecting manner, but sentinels are
ever on the watch to sound the warning note, which sends the big
long-billed speckled birds hurrying away to safer haunts. The Curlew
feeds both by day and by night; and its wild somewhat mournful note,
shrill and far-sounding, _curlee_, _cur-lee_, may repeatedly be heard
during darkness. The flight of this bird is both rapid and well
sustained. Gätke, on evidence which seems absolutely conclusive,
estimates its speed on certain occasions to be not less than a mile a
minute, and possibly very much more! Although the Curlew repeatedly
wades, it is not known to swim under normal circumstances, but has
occasionally been seen to perch in a tree. All through the autumn and
winter the Curlew continues gregarious. It migrates in vast flocks, and
frequently associates with other wild fowl, although it may be that
these other and smaller species seek its company to profit by its
extraordinary vigilance. Sand-worms, crustaceans, and molluscs form its
principal food whilst living on the coast, but in summer, at its
breeding-grounds, worms, grubs, insects, ground fruits, and berries are
eaten. The European form of the Curlew is pretty generally distributed
over the western half of the Palæarctic region, and in winter is found
throughout Africa.

The Curlew begins to leave the coast for more or less inland haunts in
March, scattering over most of our swampy moorlands and rough higher
grounds to breed. The eggs are laid during April and May. The nest is
invariably made upon the ground, and consists merely of a shallow
cavity, lined with a few bits of withered herbage or dead leaves.
Numbers of pairs often nest within a comparatively small area of
suitable ground, and should one pair be disturbed, the entire community
is soon thrown into a state of alarm. The four eggs of the Curlew vary
from olive-green to buff, blotched and spotted with olive-brown and pale
gray. The Curlew begins to wander coastwards as soon as the young are
reared. By far the majority seen first are young birds, and these arrive
from the middle of July onwards.


This species—which is the _Numenius phæopus_ of systematists—is best
known on the British coasts during its annual migrations, passing our
islands so regularly that it has received the name of “May Bird.” On the
Lincolnshire coast, as well as in many other districts, the Whimbrel is
almost universally known as the “Jack-Curlew.” During its seasonal
movements it visits most parts of the British coast-line, but mud-flats,
salt-marshes, estuaries, and extensive reaches of sand, are the most
favoured localities. Its habits are very similar to those of the
Curlew—a bird which it somewhat closely resembles in general appearance,
although it is much smaller. It is also a less wary bird, especially
upon its arrival; much stalking, however, soon teaches it shyness.
Perhaps the Whimbrel is not so often seen on the actual beach as the
Curlew; it seems to prefer to resort to slob-lands, and swampy meadows
adjoining the beach. It not only wades, but is said even to swim
occasionally, and is fond of bathing, throwing the water over itself as
it stands breast-high in the sea. In autumn and winter the Whimbrel is
certainly gregarious, but its gatherings are never so large on our
coasts as those of the Curlew. This, however, is entirely due to local
causes, for Gätke reports that on the bright warm days of April and May
they pass over Heligoland in successive flocks, at a vast height, and
flying at a tremendous speed. On migration the note of the Whimbrel may
be described as a shrill _hee-hee-hee_. Its food, during its sojourn in
small numbers on the British coasts, consists principally of
crustaceans, sand-worms, and molluscs.

The Whimbrel is a later breeder than the Curlew. During the nesting
season it is one of the most local of our birds, and is only known to
nest on North Ronay—one of the Hebrides—the Orkneys, and the Shetlands.
Its favourite breeding-grounds are the wild moors, at no great distance
from the sea. Although not gregarious during summer, many pairs often
nest on the same portion of the moors. The nest is made upon the ground,
sometimes amongst heather, or beneath the shelter of a tuft of grass,
and consists of a few bits of withered herbage, arranged carelessly in
some slight hollow. The four eggs are very like those of the Curlew, but
are much smaller. The bird’s actions at the nest are very similar to
those of the preceding species. Outside the British limits, the breeding
range of the typical Whimbrel reaches from Iceland and the Faröes,
across Arctic Europe, whilst its winter home is in Africa.


These birds rank amongst the rarest and most local of the British
species of Limicolæ, so that little more than a passing allusion to them
is necessary in a work of the present character. One of them, the
Black-tailed Godwit, _Limosa melanura_, formerly known as the “Yarwhelp”
or “Barker,” used to breed regularly in some of the eastern counties of
England, but for nearly fifty years now it has not been known to do so.
The reclamation of its fenland haunts, and the practice of netting it
during the breeding season, have probably been the chief causes of its
extirpation. A few birds still continue to appear on our coasts,
especially on the vast mud-flats and salt-marshes of East Anglia, during
their annual migrations, and a few remain to winter. Outside our limits
it nests in Iceland and the Faröes, and in Scandinavia; but its chief
breeding-area extends across Europe, from Holland to the south of
Russia. In winter it draws southwards, visiting the Mediterranean basin
and parts of Africa. The Black-tailed Godwit appears on the British
coasts on passage, during April and May, the return journey beginning in
August, and lasting for about a month. In its habits it is very like the
Curlew, picking up its food on the muds and marshes, walking
deliberately to and fro, wading through the shallows, and sometimes
standing in the water breast-high to sleep. Whilst on actual migration
it is a restless bird, continually shifting its ground, but later in the
year it becomes more settled, and will visit certain spots to feed with
great regularity. Its food, whilst on our coasts, consists of insects
(especially beetles), worms, crustaceans, and molluscs. Its call-note is
a loud and shrill _tyii-it_. This Godwit breeds in May, making a slight
nest on the ground, concealed amongst herbage, in which it lays four
pyriform eggs, olive-brown, spotted with darker brown and gray.

The second and smaller species, the Bar-tailed Godwit, _Limora rufa_, is
certainly the best known, and by far the most abundant. So far as my
observations extend, this Godwit occurs in greatest numbers on the
mud-flats and salt-marshes of the Wash, where it is known in some places
as the “Scamell.” There it is often taken in the flight-nets, and it is
a well-known bird to the gunners of the coast. This Godwit passes along
the British seaboard towards the end of April, and early in May,
returning from the end of August up to the first week in November.
According to Professor Newton the 12th of May is known as “Godwit day”
on the south coast of England, because about that date large flocks of
this bird arrive thereon, on their passage north. Whilst with us its
habits are much the same as those of the preceding species. It is
gregarious throughout the winter, and often associates with other
shore-haunting birds. Both these Godwits are readily distinguished from
other Limicoline species on the British coasts by their long and
recurved bills. They also present much diversity between summer and
winter plumage. The most marked difference is seen in the colour of the
underparts, which the present species changes from white in winter to
rich chestnut in summer, whilst in the Black-tailed Godwit the chestnut
characteristic of the breeding season is confined to the neck and
breast. It is only in summer plumage that the tail of the Bar-tailed
Godwit is barred; in winter it is uniform ash-brown. Upon its first
arrival on our shores the Bar-tailed Godwit is often remarkably tame,
admitting a close approach. It is very fond of frequenting the creeks
and dykes that intersect the salt-marshes and muds, and during high
water often goes inland a little way to wait for the ebb. The food of
this Godwit consists of worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and similar marine
creatures. The note resembles the syllables _kyă-kyă-kyă_, often very
persistently repeated as the birds fly up and down the coast. In its
quest for food it frequently wades, but never swims nor dives, unless

But little is known respecting the nidification of the Bar-tailed
Godwit, and its eggs, very rare in collections, have hitherto only been
obtained in Lapland. These so closely resemble those of the preceding
species, that no known point of distinction can be given.


During the greater part of the year this species—the _Totanus calidris_
of modern naturalists—resides upon the coasts, retiring to more or less
inland districts to breed. There are few prettier and more graceful
birds along the shore than the Redshank, distinguished by its long
orange-red legs, and white lower back, rump, and secondaries—the latter
marbled with brown at the base. In the breeding season the grayish-brown
upper plumage, and the white breast characteristic of winter, are
mottled with rich dark brown. In autumn our resident Redshanks are
largely increased in numbers by migratory individuals from more
northerly latitudes; many of these pass on to winter quarters further
south, but many others remain with us for the winter. Sociable at all
times, and freely consorting with other Limicoline species on the coast,
in winter, especially, the Redshank becomes very gregarious. Its
favourite haunts are mud-flats and salt-marshes, and it is here that the
largest flocks congregate, but many odd birds frequent coasts of a more
rocky character. Redshanks are sprightly, restless birds, almost
constantly in motion when on the feed, and scattering far and wide,
running to and fro with dainty action, wading through the little pools,
and even occasionally swimming the shallows between one mud-bank and
another. They are ever alert, and take wing as soon as danger threatens,
the scattered flock soon forming into a compact mass again. Between the
tides Redshanks often collect on some mud-bank, where in a serried
throng they keep up a confused babel of subdued cries, as if all were
talking and none listening. Its flight is rapid and most unsteady
looking—the black and white wings producing an idea of irregularity
which is more imaginary than real. Upon the coast the Redshank feeds on
sand-worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and such like marine creatures, but
during summer at its breeding-grounds, worms, insects, ground-fruits and
berries are among the substances sought. The call note of this wader is
a loud shrill _tyü-tyü_ most persistently repeated when the bird is
excited or alarmed; whilst during the pairing season the love song or
trill is happily described by Professor Newton—who has had exceptional
opportunities for observing this species—as a constantly repeated
_leero-leero-leero_, accompanied with many gesticulations, as he hovers
in attendance on the flight of his mate; “or with a slight change to a
different key, engages with a rival; or again, half angrily and half
piteously, complains of a human intruder on his chosen ground.”[3]

The Redshank breeds somewhat locally in the marshy districts of our
islands, perhaps most commonly in the low-lying eastern counties of
England, and in Scotland. It is one of the earliest waders to quit the
coast in spring, and to retire to its nesting places, which are fen and
marsh lands, swampy moors, and the boggy shores of lochs and tarns.
Numbers of nests may be found within a small area of suitable ground,
and certain spots appear to be visited annually for breeding purposes,
in some cases even after the district, by reclamation, has lost its
original marshy character. The nest is slight, but usually well
concealed, often beneath the shade of a tuft of grass or other herbage,
or in a hassock of sedge or under a little bush or tall weed. It
consists of a mere hollow scantily lined with a few bits of withered
grass or leaves. The four eggs are very pyriform in shape, and vary from
pale buff to dark buff, handsomely and boldly blotched and spotted with
rich dark brown, paler brown and gray. When disturbed the old birds
become very noisy and excited, careering wildly to and fro, and should
the young be hatched they become even more demonstrative, and by various
antics seek to decoy an intruder away. A return to the coast is made as
soon as the young are sufficiently matured. Many eggs of this bird are
gathered and sold as “Plover’s eggs.”


During the period of its spring and autumn migrations—especially the
latter—this pretty little bird, the _Tringa arenaria_ of ornithologists
who ignore the genus _Calidris_, named first by Cuvier in 1800, and
formally founded eleven years later by Illiger, established as it is on
such a trivial character (all things considered) as the absence of a
minute and functionless hind toe—is one of the commonest and most widely
distributed of Limicoline birds. Comparatively few individuals remain on
our coast to winter, and these collect more especially on the southern
beaches. In winter plumage—the dress in which it is most familiar to
British observers—the Sanderling is a delicate silvery-gray above and
pure white below; but in the breeding season, although the underparts
remain unchanged in colour, the upper parts become mottled with chestnut
and black. Comparatively few Sanderlings reach the British coasts before
August, and the southward migration continues during September. By the
middle of the latter month the bulk of the individuals has passed beyond
our limits; by the end of October but few remain, although some of these
prolong their stay over the winter. The return migration begins in
April, and lasts over May into June. There can be little doubt that the
Sanderling migrates by night. Few birds are more trustful and engaging
than this pretty little Arctic stranger. It not only frequents the long
reaches of sand, but mud-flats, estuaries, and the creeks and streams in
salt-marshes; its favourite haunts, however, are the sands. During its
sojourn on our coast it consorts in flocks of varying size; and very
frequently a small party attach themselves to a larger gathering of
Dunlins, or Ringed Plovers. Indeed for the society of the latter birds
the Sanderling shows a strongly marked preference. We may safely say
that, during the migration period, most large bunches of Ringed Plovers
contain a varying number of Sanderlings. Its actions on the sand are
very similar to those of the Ringed Plover, but it does not appear ever
to run in such fits and starts, searching the ground more
systematically, after the manner of a Stint or a Dunlin. During high
water the Sanderling very often resorts to the higher shingle, and
skulks amongst the pebbles, sometimes remaining unseen until nearly
trodden upon, so closely does its white and gray dress resemble the
stones among which it nestles. Upon the dark muds and the wet shining
brown sands it is much more conspicuous; and there are few prettier
sights along the shore than a scattered flock of Sanderlings, standing
head towards the observer, looking like so many white balls of animated
snow. It searches for its food by running to and fro about the beach,
often on the very margin of the spent waves, sometimes wading through
the shallows, or quickly dodging the foam-flecked in-driving surf. Its
food consists of sand-worms, crustaceans, various insects and great
quantities of small molluscs. In summer, however, it is almost
exclusively insectivorous, but also feeds on the buds of the Arctic
saxifrages. The note of this bird during its sojourn on our coasts is a
shrill _whit_, but this is not very frequently or persistently uttered.

During winter the Sanderling is a great wanderer, visiting parts of
Africa, Southern Asia, Australia, and South America, but in the breeding
season its range seems confined to the Arctic regions. But very little
is known of the nesting habits of the Sanderling, and few of its eggs
are in collections. It is said to arrive at its Arctic haunts in May or
early June, as soon as the water is free from ice, and the ground bare
of snow. Its nesting haunts are the barren grounds and tundras near, and
the beaches of, the Arctic Ocean. The nest is a mere hollow, scantily
lined with dry grass and leaves, and the four eggs are buffish-olive in
ground colour, mottled and spotted with pale olive-brown and gray.


This species, the _Tringa canutus_ of Linnæus, and most modern
ornithologists, is another of the Arctic migrants that pass the British
coasts regularly on their journeys, and linger here in much smaller
numbers over the winter. Camden, in 1607, appears to have been the first
author to connect the name of the Knot with King Canute, but much
difference of opinion exists as to the reason thereof. Some authorities
assert that it was in connection with the story of that king upon the
seashore; others, and perhaps with greater reason, because of the Royal
Dane’s great liking for its flesh. The bird continued to be so closely
associated with the king by successive writers, that Linnæus followed
them in applying the specific name of _canutus_ to the Knot, which is
still retained by the majority of naturalists.

The migrations of the Knot are very marked and regular. The bird begins
to arrive on the British coasts early in August, and from then to the
end of October a nearly constant stream pours upon them, reaching its
greatest volume in September. By far the greater number pass on to still
more southern haunts, but a sufficiently large portion remain to winter
as to render the species one of the most familiar of Limicoline forms to
habitues of the coast. The return migration begins on our coasts in
April, and continues throughout May. The principal haunts of the Knot in
the British Islands are situated on the eastern and south-eastern
coasts. Mud-flats, salt-marshes, wide, expansive sands, and big
estuaries, are the spots where Knots most do congregate, for these
furnish it with a constant supply of food. Ten years ago, I remember,
great numbers of Knots used to be caught in the flight-nets on the Wash,
during October and November, but the numbers of late years have
considerably decreased. The Knot is not only very gregarious, but
social, and often mixes with companies of other waders. When feeding
Knots keep close together, generally all heading in the same direction,
and moving about quickly. If the flock is a very large one some of the
individuals are almost constantly in the air, flying over the heads of
their companions, and alighting again, as if eager to get the first look
over the ground. They are very wary when congregated in such large
assemblies, easily flushed, and often performing various evolutions,
both over the sands or the water, before alighting again. The Knot more
often runs with a series of short, quick steps than walks, and it flies
both rapidly and well. After feeding, the entire flock will often stand
for a long time on a certain piece of the shore, sleeping and preening
plumage, but even on these occasions they are somewhat restless, and it
is rare to see all still at once. They feed both by night and by day.
The call-note is seldom or never uttered, although when on migration the
birds appear to be noisy enough, crying incessantly to each other as
they fly along in the gloom.

But little is known of the nesting economy of the Knot. Its great
breeding grounds—the nesting places of the vast flocks that pass
southwards in autumn—still remain undiscovered. Where they are situated
it is useless to speculate. Naturalists are ignorant of its eggs, which
still remain unknown in collections, although the young in down have
been obtained. The Knot breeds in the high Arctic regions, in the North
Polar Basin, mostly, if not entirely above lat. 80°; and here it has
been met with during summer by various travellers. The Knot is another
bird remarkable for the great seasonal changes which its plumage
undergoes. In winter, the plumage is ash-gray above, white below; in
summer, the feathers of the upper parts become black margined with
reddish-brown and mixed with white, those of the lower parts rich bay or
chestnut. It has been remarked that the birds that winter on our coasts
do not assume such rich tints in summer as individuals that pass along
our coasts from more southern latitudes. This is probably because the
birds wintering with us are younger individuals, only the oldest
penetrating to the remoter winter home. The Knot has a wide distribution
during winter, including the Southern States, and Mexico, Africa, and it
is said Australia, and New Zealand! It is possible that in the latter
countries the Eastern Knot—the _Tringa crassirostris_ of science—is
confused with the present species.

                           CURLEW SANDPIPER.

This pretty little species, known to many as the “Pygmy Curlew,” and to
modern naturalists by the scientific name of _Tringa subarquata_, is one
of the rarest of the British Limicolæ. It very closely resembles the
Knot in the colour of its plumage, and in the seasonal changes that
plumage undergoes, but it is not much more than three-fourths the size,
and has a curved Curlew-like bill. This little Sandpiper, like most of
its order, is a migrant, breeding in some yet undiscovered part of the
Arctic regions, retiring southwards to winter in Africa, various parts
of southern Asia and in Australia. It is during these journeys between
the Arctic regions and the tropics that it occurs on the British coasts,
a few individuals even remaining upon them all the winter through. As
might naturally be expected it is most frequently observed on the vast
stretches of low coast on the eastern side of England; it is also a
tolerably frequent visitor to the south coast, even as far westwards as
Devon and Cornwall. A few Curlew Sandpipers arrive on our coasts in
April, but the greater number pass along them in May, stragglers
lingering until June. The return flight is noticed in August, and
consists mostly of young birds, the older ones reaching us during
September and October. The habits of this Sandpiper very closely
resemble those of the Dunlin, in whose company the bird is very
frequently found, and from which it may readily be distinguished, even
at a distance, by its pure white upper tail-coverts. It prefers coasts
of a muddy rather than a sandy character, haunting saltings, estuaries,
and muds. Here, its actions are much the same as those of all these
little sand birds; it feeds both by day and night; and often retires
during high water to some wet land near the sea, to wait the ebb. The
food of this species consists of crustaceans, worms, molluscs, and
insects. Its note is described as being louder than that of the Dunlin.

Absolutely nothing is known of the nidification of the Curlew Sandpiper,
and its egg has never yet been described. It is, to say the least,
remarkable that some of the great breeding-places of these Arctic birds
have not yet been discovered—a fact that seems to suggest a vast area of
land somewhere in the vicinity of the Pole.


Owing to the great seasonal changes of plumage which this Sandpiper—the
_Tringa alpina_ of most naturalists—undergoes, considerable confusion
has prevailed concerning it. Linnæus described birds of this species in
summer plumage as distinct from individuals in winter plumage, naming
them _alpina_ and _cinclus_; but Temminck (and before him B. Meyer) with
greater discernment united both under the name of _T. variabilis_. Birds
in the two plumages have also received distinctive colloquial names; in
summer dress, the bird is known as “Dunlin,” in winter dress as the
“Purre.” Other local names of wide application to this species are
“Ox-bird,” “Stint,” and “Plover’s Page,” the latter being derived from
the habit of the Dunlin to accompany a Golden Plover, flying to and fro
over the moors, where the two species chance to be nesting. Perhaps the
Wryneck has in like manner, gained the name of “Cuckoo’s Mate” from its
habit of flying in attendance with that bird; although some writers
attribute the term to the fact of the two species appearing in our
country about the same time.

The Dunlin is absolutely the commonest Limicoline bird of the shore, and
certainly the most widely dispersed. It possesses the habit, in common
with so many other species of this order, of retiring to moors to breed;
but as soon as nesting duties are done it returns to the coast, and for
the remainder of the year continues to reside upon it. The Dunlins that
breed in our islands represent but a very small portion of the vast
number that winter on the British coasts. The majority of these are from
more northern haunts, winter migrants, that haste away again with the
return of spring. During its residence on the coast the Dunlin is
remarkably gregarious, assembling often in flocks of thousands, which,
by preference seek such portions of the shore as are low-lying and
muddy. Salt-marshes, slob-lands, estuaries and creeks, and vast expanses
of mud—as the Wash for instance, are the favourite haunts of the Dunlin.
These large flocks of Dunlins are much more difficult to approach than
smaller gatherings or individual birds. Dunlins are active little birds,
almost incessantly in motion, running daintily about the muds, by the
margin of the waves, or wading through the shallow tide pools. During
the course of feeding a large flock will become widely scattered, and it
is remarkable how quickly the broken ranks reform. There are few sights
so pretty along the salt-marshes and mud-flats than a large flock of
Dunlins, in the act of performing those graceful aerial movements so
characteristic of this little bird during its winter sojourn upon the
coast. The whole flock, as with a single impulse, will spread out like a
net, close up again, apparently vanish, appear black, or like a flash of
silver, just as the birds turn and expose their dark or white plumage to
the light. Sometimes the flock will head straight away down the coast,
passing the observer with a rush and whirr of wings, and a chorus of
_purring_ cries; at other times a large flock will rise _en masse_ from
the muds, pass out to sea a little way, turn, and go some distance along
the shore, come back again, repeating the movement time after time, ever
and anon appearing as though about to alight, dipping and rising with
marvellous regularity. No doubt these movements will recall to the
observer the gyrations of the autumn flocks of Starlings, for there is
much in common between the two. During its sojourn upon the coast the
Dunlin feeds upon crustaceans, sand-worms, molluscs, and other small
marine organisms; but in summer insects, grubs, worms, and ground-fruits
are eaten. The usual note of the Dunlin is harsh, and resembles the word
_purr_—hence one of the bird’s trivial names; during the breeding season
it is a long drawn _peezh_. In the pairing season, when the male
indulges in certain aerial gambols, he utters a trill, which has been
likened by some observers to the continuous ringing of a small bell.

It is a rather remarkable fact that the Dunlin is the only species of
_Tringa_ that nests in the British Islands. It breeds sparingly and
locally in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, perhaps in Wales, and thence
northwards, more generally, over the remainder of England, and in
Scotland up to the Shetlands. Dunlins begin to move from the coasts in
March and April, and to resort to their breeding places, which are
situated on the marshy moorlands and mountain swamps, often at no great
distance from the sea, or at least from tidal waters. The nest is a mere
depression, often in a tussock of grass or rushes, or beneath a small
bush, or even in a patch of thrift on bare sandy soil, lined with a few
scraps of withered vegetation, or enclosed with a few twigs or roots.
The four pyriform eggs are pale olive or pale brown, blotched and
spotted with reddish- and blackish-brown and gray. We remark the same
extraordinary difference between summer and winter plumage, as we have
already observed in the Knot and some others. In summer or breeding
plumage, the Dunlin is rich reddish-brown above, striped with dark
brown; lower breast or gorget, deep black; remainder of under parts
white. In winter the upper parts are chiefly ash-gray, and the under
parts white, except the gorget, which is now grayish-brown. Outside the
British Islands the Dunlin has a very wide distribution, breeding not
only in the Arctic regions of both hemispheres, but in many temperate
latitudes of the same; in winter it is dispersed over North Africa,
Southern Asia, the Southern States of America, and the West Indies. At
Heligoland, flocks of Dunlins invariably indicate bad weather.

                           PURPLE SANDPIPER.

This species, the _Tringa maritima_ of Brunnich and most modern
naturalists, but erroneously identified with the _T. striata_ of
Linnæus, by certain recent writers on ornithology, is a fairly common
and widely distributed bird on the British coasts during autumn and
winter. The fact that a few odd birds are sometimes met with on our
shores during the summer, has led to the supposition—totally
unsubstantiated as yet—that the Purple Sandpiper may breed here. During
some years this species is much more abundant than others, a fact
perhaps due to exceptionally favourable breeding seasons. The Purple
Sandpiper, readily distinguished from all other British Limicolæ by its
nearly black rump and upper tail coverts, the purple gloss of its upper
plumage, and its yellow legs—makes its appearance with us early in
September, and continues to arrive in increasing numbers during that
month and October, and leaves us by the following May. This Sandpiper is
most partial to a rocky coast, where the huge boulders shelve down into
the water, and large masses of rock and shingle are exposed at low tide.
It may, however, be frequently observed in the company of Knots,
Dunlins, and Ringed Plovers, on the mud-flats and sandy reaches. It
usually seeks for its food close to the water, running over the rocks as
each great wave breaks and retires, even darting into the seething
drifts of surf, or coursing along the very edge of the rollers, where
each one threatens to annihilate it as it breaks upon the shore.
Occasionally it may be seen to swim just outside the surf, and when
flushed it sometimes even alights upon the sea. Its food consists of
crustaceans, sand-worms, molluscs, and insects; and, during summer, of
seeds as well. Although most of this food is obtained whilst the tide is
driving in, the bird may be seen in quest of it at the ebb. It
frequently retires inland a little way, or rests upon a rocky islet or
point, between the ebb and the flow of the tide. Its flight is rapid and
straightforward, and often accompanied by its shrill and quickly uttered
_tee-wit_. The Purple Sandpiper, though social, is never seen on our
coasts in very large flocks, and, perhaps, most frequently in pairs or
alone. In Norway, however, Collett states that it assembles in countless
flocks during the winter. It is certainly one of the least shy of the
Limicolæ, and often permits of a close approach, especially when alone.

The best known breeding-place of the Purple Sandpiper, and one of its
most southerly summer stations, is on the Faröes. Other breeding places
are in Iceland, in Norway, Spitzbergen, and Nova Zembla, and on various
parts of the north Siberian coasts, and in Arctic America to Greenland.

It arrives at its nesting grounds in May or June. These are rarely
situated far from the sea, although in the Faröes it retires to the
fells, where it begins to nest even before the snow has all melted. The
nest is but a shallow depression, scantily lined with scraps of withered
vegetation, and is made either close to the beach on broken ground,
covered with a sparse vegetation, or in some marshy spot on a hill in
the vicinity of the ocean. The Purple Sandpiper may pair for life, as
there is some evidence to show that it returns annually to certain
spots, to breed. The four eggs are pale olive- or buffish-brown,
beautifully blotched and spotted, mottled and streaked with blackish-
and reddish-brown and gray. The sitting bird lingers long upon her nest,
sometimes remaining till almost trodden upon before she starts up, and,
by feigning lameness, seeks to draw the intruder away. So closely is the
Purple Sandpiper attached to the coast, that even during the nesting
season, when its duties call it more or less inland, it always visits
the shore to feed. In summer plumage, the upper parts are marked with
rich chestnut, and in winter dress, the underparts are more spotted.

There are certain other Limicoline birds found upon our coasts, more or
less frequently, which at least deserve some passing notice; but as they
are species that are merely fleeting visitors during their annual
migrations, and never occur in sufficient number to form a dominant
feature in the bird-life of the shore, they do not call for any
lengthened description, or minute study, in a work which seeks only to
sketch the more enduring avine characteristics of the British seaboard.
We will deal with the commonest species first. During the period of its
migrations, the Common Sandpiper, or Summer Snipe (_Totanus hypoleucus_)
is a pretty frequent visitor to the coast, especially in the
south-western parts of England; and there is strong reason to believe
that a limited number may pass the winter thereon. Its habits on the
shore are very similar to those of the other Limicoline species. It
breeds commonly by the side of our inland waters, and is certainly, as
its name implies, the most abundant and the most widely dispersed of the
British waders. Another fairly regular and frequent visitor to the
British littoral in spring and autumn is the Greenshank (_Totanus
glottis_). It is most often met with on the low-lying eastern coasts;
but it is said a few birds winter in Ireland. The Greenshank breeds very
locally in Scotland, and is best known to us at its more or less inland
nesting stations. It may be distinguished by its white lower back and
central upper tail coverts, and nearly uniform gray secondaries. Of even
rarer and more local appearance is the Wood Sandpiper (_Totanus
glareola_), sometimes met with in small parties on our eastern and
southern coasts; whilst the Green Sandpiper (_Totanus ochropus_) is a
less frequent visitor still. This species is remarkable for its peculiar
mode of nesting, for instead of laying its eggs upon the ground—as is
the almost universal custom of birds of this order—it places them in the
deserted nests of other birds in trees. We must also not forget to give
a passing reference to the singular-looking Ruff (_Machetes pugnax_).
Drainage of the fens has long banished the Ruff from its ancestral
haunts, where it was once so common that a regular trade was carried on
in netting and fattening it for the table. The Ruff takes it name from
the singular, yet remarkably beautiful, frill of elongated feathers
that, during the love season, adorns the neck of the male bird. The
extraordinary variation in the colour of this fleeting sexual ornament
can only be described as marvellous, it being almost impossible to find
two birds exactly alike. This sexual development of feather ornament
seems closely associated with the polygamous habits of the Ruff; the
cock bird takes no share in family duties, and during the pairing season
wages endless battles with his rivals for the possession of the hens.
Odd birds frequent our coasts during the migration periods, and less
frequently during the winter. Two species of Stint—the most diminutive
of the Sandpipers—also deserve a brief allusion. The first and most
frequent visitor is the Little Stint (_Tringa minuta_), most numerous on
its autumn passage south. It is chiefly seen on the eastern coast-line,
but is a visitor to the Solway district. The Little Stint breeds in the
Arctic regions of Europe and West Siberia, and is a late migrant in
spring, seldom seen in any numbers on our coasts before May. It
frequents, whilst with us, mud-flats, salt-marshes, and long reaches of
sand, and often joins the Dunlins in quest of food. Its stay with us is
brief, especially in spring, and even in autumn most have gone away
before October. It may be distinguished by its small size (wing under 4
inches in length), tapering bill, and black legs and feet. The second
species, Temminck’s Stint (_Tringa temmincki_), is a larger bird than
the foregoing, and readily distinguished from all other Tringæ by its
white outer tail feathers. It is much rarer in its appearance, too, and,
as usual, most frequent on the low-lying eastern coast-line; even this
district is beyond the more general limits of its migrations. It is also
not so maritime in its haunts, and seems to migrate along more inland

                  _Guillemots, Razorbill, and Puffin_

[Illustration: GUILLEMOT AND RAZORBILL. Chapter iii.]

                              CHAPTER III.

  _Affinities and Characteristics—Changes of
  Plumage—Guillemot—Brunnich’s Guillemot—Black
  Guillemot—Razorbill—Little Auk—Puffin._

Few birds are more thoroughly marine in their haunts and their habits
than those which are included in the present chapter. They are
inseparably associated with the sea; they form one of the most
interesting features of marine life, whether in summer, when they crowd
in countless hosts at their breeding stations upon the cliffs and
islands, or in winter, when they spread themselves far and wide over the
waste of waters. From whatever point of view we study them, they are
intensely interesting birds.

The Auks, as they are collectively termed, form the small yet
well-defined family Alcidæ. Although the Auks are a specialised group,
systematists pretty generally agree in associating them more or less
closely with the Divers, the Grebes, the Gulls, and the Limicolæ. Auks
are web-footed birds, with no hind toe, with the legs placed far back,
and the bill subject to great variation in size, and in some species
presenting considerable change in appearance according to season. All
the Auks have comparatively short and narrow wings; in the recently
extinct Great Auk these were incapable of supporting the bird in the
air; and the tail is remarkably short, in some species being scarcely
perceptible under ordinary circumstances. The Auks are exclusively
confined to the north temperate and polar regions of the Northern
Hemisphere: and by far the greater number of species inhabit the
Northern Pacific. They number some thirty species. The prevailing
colours of the Auks are black and white; none of them are showy birds;
but some species are remarkable for their eccentric nuptial plumes, and
for the brilliancy of colour of the bill. The Auks are thoroughly
aquatic, and not adapted in any way for a terrestrial existence. They
swim well, dive with marvellous skill, and save during the incubation
period, pass most of their time on the sea. None of the species are
remarkable for any great migration flights; as a rule they wander little
from their high northern homes. They are all gregarious birds, breeding
in companies wherever possible. Some species undergo but little change
in their appearance between summer or winter plumage; others are more
remarkable in this respect. During the breeding period some species
resort to lofty cliffs washed by the sea; others burrow into the ground.
Many species make no nest whatever, but others form slight structures in
which to deposit their eggs. The young of the Auks are hatched covered
with down, assuming their first plumage in a few weeks. Adult Auks moult
in September; the difference in the colour of the plumage peculiar to
the pairing season, apparently being entirely due to a change in the hue
quite irrespective of a moult. The complete change from white to
brownish-black observed prior to the breeding season on the necks and
heads of Guillemots and Razorbills is very curious and interesting.
According to the observations of Herr Gätke, the shafts of the feathers
are the first portions in which the black appears; yet almost at the
same time this colour is seen in the form of minute specks on the lower
third of the feathers, quickly spreading into crescentic markings, and
ultimately covering the entire surface. Half a dozen species are
British. Of these, four breed more or less abundantly in our area, and
the other two are irregular winter visitors. The now extinct Great
Auk—the largest known representative of the family—formerly bred in
certain parts of the British Islands, but, alas, is now only known as a
fast receding tradition. We will now proceed to a short study of these
British Auks.


Of all the various sea birds that cluster on the cliffs of Albion this
species, the _Uria troile_ of most modern ornithologists, is by far the
commonest, and of the present family of birds the most widely
distributed. During summer it may be met with in colonies of varying
numbers, here and there on most of our rocky coasts, from the Scilly
Islands to the Shetlands, from Flamborough Head in the east to the
Blaskets in the west. Not, perhaps, so familiar to the sea-side wanderer
as the Gull, whose ærial habits bring it more frequently into notice,
the Guillemot, nevertheless, is a seldom absent feature of marine bird
life. It is gregarious and social at all times, but joins into greatest
companies during the season of reproduction. When the nesting season has
passed the birds spread themselves more generally along the coast and
out at sea, and it is at such times that they are most ubiquitous.
Between October and March the Guillemot may often be met with swimming
close in shore, in quiet bays, and especially in the neighbourhood of
fishing villages. On these occasions it is not particularly shy, and
will allow a sufficiently close scrutiny, but it is ever wary, diving at
the least alarm, and appearing again well out of danger. The Guillemot
swims well and buoyantly; it also dives with remarkable agility, and
obtains most of its food whilst doing so. The Guillemots are rarely seen
upon the land after the young have quitted their birthplaces; they spend
their entire time upon the sea, seeking shelter during rough weather in
bays or under the lee of headlands, but not unfrequently great numbers
perish in a gale, their dead bodies strewing the coast where the tide
has cast them ashore. Except during the breeding season the Guillemot
flies very little, but during that period it often feeds far from its
rocky haunts, and may then be seen, especially at eventide, flying in
little bunches, or in compact flocks, swiftly and silently just above
the waves, returning to them. The food of this bird is almost
exclusively composed of fish, especially such small species as pilchards
and sprats; it is also extremely partial to the fry of the herring and
the pollack. Few birds are more expert at catching fish than the
Guillemot; it dives after them, and chases them beneath the surface with
marvellous speed and unerring certainty. In this chase of fish it
sometimes comes to grief by getting entangled in the drift-nets. The
Guillemot is a remarkably silent bird. I have repeatedly been amongst
thousands of these birds, both at sea and on the rock stacks where they
breed, and the only sound I have ever heard them utter is a low,
grunting noise. My experience has been chiefly confined to the earlier
part of the breeding season, and the autumn and winter months. It would
appear, though, that when the young are partly grown the birds become
more noisy, for Gätke describes their cries at the breeding-stations as
a “confused noise of a thousand voices, the calls of the parent
birds—_arr-r-r-r_, _orr-r-r-r_, _err-r-r-r_, and mingled with these the
countless tiny voices of their young offspring on the face of the
cliff—_irr-r-r-idd_, _irr-r-r-idd_—uttered in timid and anxious
accents.” I should here remark that the Guillemot never flies over the
land, never flies inland from the rocks, but always when disturbed
unerringly makes for the sea, which is almost, if not quite, as much its
element as the air.

The actions of the Guillemot are interesting enough upon the sea, few
sights being prettier than a number of these birds busily engaged in
capturing their finny food; but the most attractive scenes in the life
of this bird are to be witnessed at its breeding places. Formerly these
were much more numerous than is now the case, especially in England, but
there, on the southern coast line notably so, many a large colony has
disappeared for ever, and many another has been sadly reduced in
numbers. The distribution of the Guillemot becomes much more local
during summer, the birds crowding in vast numbers to certain
time-honoured spots. Fortunately some of these still remain fairly
accessible to the lover of birds. One of the most famous breeding
stations is at the Farne Islands; another on the cliffs at Bempton;
whilst less noted places are in the Isle of Wight, the Scilly Islands,
and the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The great number of local names by
which the Guillemot is known round our coasts speak to its former
abundance; Lavy, Marrock, Murre, Diver, and Willock—the latter
applicable to the young—may be mentioned as a few of the best known. The
birds congregate at their old accustomed haunts in Spring, with
remarkable regularity, often punctually arriving on the same day for
years in succession. At Heligoland, and certainly other places,
Guillemots return to their nesting places from time to time during the
winter, appearing in the morning for a little while, just as Rooks are
wont to do at the nest trees. The Guillemot rears its young on the face
of the lofty ocean cliffs, or on the flat tops of rock stacks. Cliffs
with plenty of ledges and hollows are preferred, and in such chosen
spots the birds crowd so closely that, at some stations, the wonder is
how each individual can possibly find room to incubate its egg, or even
secure a standing place in the general throng. There can be little doubt
that in such crowded spots as the “Pinnacles,” many of the eggs never
reach maturity. The Guillemot makes no nest of any kind, but lays its
single large pear-shaped egg on any suitable ledge, or in any available
hollow where it can be tolerably safe from toppling over into the sea.
There are few more stirring sights in the bird-world than a large colony
of Guillemots. I still retain the vivid impressions made upon my mind by
the vast hordes of these birds at St. Kilda, at the Farne Islands, and
elsewhere. Even whilst I write, I can once more see the struggling,
quarrelling, rowdy hosts of Guillemots that crowd the famous
“Pinnacles”; still see them pouring off in endless streams, headlong
into the water, as I prepared to scale their haunt. Once more memory
recalls and paints in vivid scene the beetling St. Kildan cliffs, with
their rows and rows of white-breasted Guillemots, sitting tier upon
tier, upwards and upwards towards the dark blue sky; my tiny boat
tossing like a cork on the wild Atlantic swell, and the countless swarms
of Guillemots swimming in the sea around me, hastening to the cliffs or
returning from them, beaten off by more fortunate possessors of a place.

The Guillemot lays a single egg, without making a nest of any kind for
its reception. If this egg be taken, however, the bird will lay a second
or a third, and advantage is taken of this fact by those persons that
gather them for a livelihood. The egg of no other known bird varies to
such an extraordinary extent as that of the Guillemot, whilst few, if
any, are more beautiful. Greens, browns, yellows, pale blues, and white,
form the principal ground colour; the markings, which take the form of
spots, blotches, streaks, and zones, are composed of browns, grays, and
pinks, of every possible tint. One variety is white, intricately laced,
netted, and streaked with pink; another is a beautiful green, streaked
in the same manner with yellow, light brown, or nearly black; others of
various ground colours are zoned with blotches, or marked with
fantastic-shaped spots and rings. Some eggs of the Guillemot closely
resemble those of the Razorbill, but may be distinguished by the
yellowish-white interior of the shell when held up to the light.

There has been much controversy as to the way in which the Guillemot
chicks reach the water from their lofty birthplace. Some writers assert
that the parent bird carries them down to the sea on its back; on the
other hand, Gätke maintains that the chicks tumble off the ledges into
the water, being enticed to do so by the old birds swimming on the sea
beneath the cliffs. He writes: “in its distress, the little chick tries
to get as near as possible to the mother waiting for it below, and keeps
tripping about on the outermost ledge of rock, often of no more than a
finger’s breath, until it ends by slipping off, and, turning two or
three somersaults, lands with a faint splash on the surface of the
water; both parents at once take charge of it between them, and swim off
with it towards the open sea. This is the only way in which I have seen
this change of habitat of the young birds accomplished, during some
fifty summers.” As soon as the young are sufficiently matured, the sea
in the vicinity of the breeding-stations is deserted, and the colonies
disperse far and wide. From this time forward, to the following
breeding-season, the Guillemot’s movements are to a certain extent
unknown. As Professor Newton justly asks,[4] What becomes of the
millions of Guillemots and other Auks that breed in northern latitudes?
The birds that are met with round the coasts of temperate Europe, and
elsewhere, bear no proportion whatever to the mighty hosts whose
position and movements remain unrevealed. At present the only feasible
explanation seems to be that the birds, during the non-breeding-season,
are scattered in quest of sustenance over many thousands of square miles
of water; in summer only is their vast abundance palpable, when all are
gathered into a comparatively small area.

In connection with the Guillemot mention should be made of the Ringed
Guillemot, the _Uria ringvia_ of Latham. It only differs from the Common
Guillemot in having a narrow white band round the eye, which is
prolonged into a streak for some distance behind and below it. It may be
seen breeding in company with the commoner form, and is not known to
differ in its habits. Whether it be a distinct species—as Gätke
states—or merely a variety of the Common Guillemot, as many naturalists
believe, still remains to be decided.

                         BRUNNICH’S GUILLEMOT.

This Guillemot, the _Uria bruennichi_ of Sabine and most modern writers,
is a very rare visitor to the British Islands, its home being in the
Arctic regions, from Greenland possibly to the Liakoff Islands, off the
coasts of northern Siberia. It deserves a passing notice, for it is
possible that it occurs in British waters more frequently than is
generally supposed. It is a perceptibly stouter bird than the Common
Guillemot, and has the base of the upper mandible pale gray. In its
habits and economy it is not known to differ in any special manner from
the better known species, of which it is the Arctic form.

                            BLACK GUILLEMOT.

This species, the Dovekey, or Greenland Dove, of northern mariners, the
Tysty of the Shetlanders, and the _Uria grylle_ of naturalists, is by
far the most local of the Auks that are indigenous to the British
Islands. During the breeding season it is only known to frequent one
English locality, the Isle of Man; but in Scotland it is pretty
generally distributed along the western and northern coasts, including
St. Kilda, the Orkneys, and the Shetlands. Its chief resorts in Ireland
are on the north and west coasts. The difference between the summer and
winter plumage of this little bird is most extraordinary. In spring it
assumes a rich black dress, glossed with green, except a patch of white
on the wings; in winter it is uniformly mottled black and white; the
legs and feet are bright coral red. With us the Black Guillemot is
strictly marine in its haunts, but in Spitzbergen it was found breeding
more than a mile inland—a habit very different from any it displays with
us. In its actions it very closely resembles its larger allies. Like
them it is an expert diver—I have seen it dive repeatedly at the flash
of a gun, and thus escape the shot. It is, on the whole, a more trustful
bird, often permitting a near approach, and frequently remaining on the
surface until the boat is about to pass over it, when it will dive and
reappear quite unconcernedly a short distance away out of danger. This
Guillemot often feeds quite close in shore. At St. Kilda I used to see
parties of this species every evening, fishing under the cliffs; but, on
the other hand, I have often met with them searching for food many miles
from land. The Black Guillemot is nothing near so gregarious as the
Common Guillemot, nor does it appear to wander so far from its breeding
places to feed. It is partially nocturnal in its habits in summer,
feeding well into the dusk, and during winter seldom comes upon the
land, sleeping out at sea. Although capable of flying swiftly, it always
prefers to escape danger by diving; it swims lightly, usually sitting
high in the water, but it has the power of sinking itself more than half
below the surface when apparently alarmed. Black Guillemots may often be
seen in strings, flying to and from a distant feeding place, hurrying
along close to the water, their short wings beating rapidly, and
rendered very conspicuous by the broad white bar. The food of this
Guillemot is largely composed of the fry of the herring and the
coal-fish, but other small fishes are eaten, as are crustaceans, and
various marine insects. I have never heard the Black Guillemot utter a
sound beyond a low grunting; but its note has been described as a
whining sound, that of the young birds being more shrill. In chasing its
finny prey under the water the Black Guillemot displays astonishing
powers, darting to and fro, aided by its wings and feet. During winter
these birds wander southwards, and then they may sometimes be seen off
our more frequented coasts.

The Black Guillemot retires to its breeding-stations in May. These are
situated, in our islands, on rocky headlands and islands, and on ocean
cliffs. Here its colonies are never very large, and often much
scattered. It very probably pairs for life, and resorts often to one
particular spot year after year. The bird deposits its eggs in a hole or
cranny of the cliffs, occasionally in the clefts amongst fallen rocks at
the foot of the precipice, or on rock-strewn downs sloping to the sea.
It makes no nest, and the eggs rest upon the bare ground or rock. The
Black Guillemot, and its allies, are remarkable for the fact that their
eggs are two or three in number; in all other members of the Alcidæ the
eggs never exceed one. This peculiarity has induced some systematists to
restrict the genus _Uria_ to the Black Guillemots alone. The Black
Guillemot lays two eggs, much smaller than, and not so pear-shaped as,
those of the Common Guillemot, cream, buff, or pale green in ground
colour, blotched and spotted with rich dark brown, paler brown, and
gray. The young chicks are said not to repair to the sea at so early an
age as those of the preceding birds; and to be soon deserted by their
parents after doing so, congregating in flocks by themselves.


This bird, the _Alca torda_ of Linnæus and ornithologists generally, is
widely confused with the Common Guillemot, and many local names refer
indiscriminately to each—such as Murre, Marrot, and Diver. It is readily
distinguished from the Guillemots by its much deeper bill, crossed by a
white line at its centre, and by a narrow yet very conspicuous white
stripe, extending from the base of the bill to the eye. Otherwise, the
Razorbill closely resembles the Guillemot in appearance, both in its
summer and winter plumage. It is widely distributed round the British
coasts, breeding in most situations where the cliffs are sufficiently
suitable, but is much less abundant in the south, and is nowhere,
perhaps, so numerous as the Guillemot. During the non-breeding season it
becomes more generally scattered, and may then be met with, although
ever sparingly, in the seas round most parts of the British coastline.
Its actions in the water are almost precisely the same as those of the
Guillemot. Like that bird it may be seen swimming to and fro, sitting
highly and lightly on the water, often permitting a very close approach,
especially in districts where it is not much harassed by the shooter. It
dives with the same marvellous celerity as the Guillemot, pursuing its
prey through the water, often at a considerable depth, as readily as the
swallows chase an insect through the air. It is a very pretty sight to
watch the Razorbill in quest of food. This may often be done from the
summits of the cliffs, but certainly to better advantage from a boat, in
which the birds can be more closely approached, and consequently better
observed. A Razorbill in the water is a remarkably striking, if not an
actually pretty bird. He sits so lightly, riding buoyantly as a cork on
the swell, turning his head from side to side as the boat approaches,
swimming rapidly before it, and often nonchalantly dipping his head into
the water and throwing a shower over his upper plumage. The boat comes
too near at last, and the bird, with a scarcely audible or perceptible
splash, disappears into the water. Several moments afterwards he rises
again to the right or left, ahead or astern, and the salt spray rolls
off his plumage glinting like diamonds in the sun. Should fish be
plentiful the birds are diving and rising again incessantly, the time of
absence depending upon the depth descended or the length of the chase.
The Razorbill ever seems to use its wings with reluctance on these
occasions, always keeping out of harm’s way by diving or swimming. It is
capable of rapid flight though, and may often be seen in strings or
skeins, hastening along just above the waves to or from a favourite
fishing place. The Razorbill is gregarious enough during summer, but in
winter it is most frequently seen in small parties, or often alone. It
also goes some distance from land, where, should a gale overtake it,
great numbers often perish, as their dead bodies washed up on the coast
sadly testify. The food of the Razorbill is largely composed of fry,
especially of the herring, but many other small fishes are captured,
together with crustaceans and other small marine creatures. The bird, so
far as my experience extends, never seeks its food upon the shore, and
obtains most, if not all, of it by diving. The Razorbill is a remarkably
silent bird; the only sound I have ever heard it utter has been a low
grunting. This note is uttered both in summer and winter, on the rocks
as well as on the sea.

In May the Razorbill gives up its roaming, nomad life upon the sea, and
collects in numbers at the old-accustomed breeding-places. These are
situated on the ocean cliffs, such as contain plenty of nooks and
crannies being preferred to those of a more wall-like character. It is
possibly due to this that the Razorbill’s colonies are never so crowded
as those of the Guillemot, and that the birds are more scattered along
the coastline. There can be little doubt that the Razorbill pairs for
life. As a proof of this I have known a Puffin burrow resorted to
yearly, whilst eggs possessing certain peculiarities of form and colour
have repeatedly been taken from one nook in the cliffs, years and years
in succession. Like the Guillemot the Razorbill makes no nest, but lays
its single egg in a crevice or hole in the cliffs, or far under stacks
of rock, poised one upon another, where to reach it is an utter
impossibility. Like most birds that breed in such situations, the
Razorbill is much more loth to quit its egg than the Guillemot, often
remaining upon it until captured. When alarmed by man the birds may be
heard scrambling amongst the crevices, and uttering their grunting cries
of remonstrance.

The single egg of the Razorbill, though not displaying a tithe of the
variety observed in that of the Guillemot, is a remarkably handsome
object. The ground colour varies through every tint between white and
reddish-brown, and the handsome large blotches and spots are dark
liver-brown, reddish-brown, gray, or grayish-brown. No shade of green or
blue is ever apparent upon them externally, but the shells, when held up
to the light, have the interior of a clear pea-green tint—a character
which readily serves to distinguish them from such eggs of the Guillemot
that resemble them in external colour. If the first egg be taken the
bird will lay another, and this process may be repeated several times,
but on no occasion is more than one chick reared in the season. It is
said that the young of this species remain upon the cliffs for a much
longer period than the chicks of the Guillemot, and that they eventually
fly or flutter down to the sea, never revisiting the rocks. The parent
will sometimes dive with its offspring, just as the Little Grebe will

                              LITTLE AUK.

This species, the Rotche of Arctic navigators, and the _Mergulus alle_
of ornithology, is but an irregular visitor to British seas during
autumn and winter, and as it seldom comes near the land under ordinary
circumstances, is not a very familiar bird to the seaside observer.
Exceptionally severe weather not unfrequently drives this little bird
far inland. In its general colouration the Little Auk closely resembles
the Razorbill, but it is less than half the size, and has a considerable
amount of white on the wings. This curious little species congregates in
incredible numbers at certain spots in the Arctic regions, to breed.
Beechey, at the beginning of the present century, records that he has
seen nearly four millions of these birds on the wing at one time.
Colonies of the Little Auk are known in Nova Zembla, Franz-Josef Land
(?), Spitzbergen, Grimsey Island (to the north of Iceland), and the
coasts of Greenland. Like all its larger allies, the Little Auk is
thoroughly pelagic in its habits, apparently only visiting the land to
breed, living on the sea for the remainder of the year. It is well
adapted for its lengthened sojourn upon the waters. It swims well and
buoyantly, sitting rather low, flies rapidly when inclined, dives with
as much ease as a fish, and sleeps quite safely and comfortably upon the
waves. Voyagers in the Arctic regions have met with flocks of Little
Auks at most times of the year, often far from land, and occasionally
crowding upon the masses of floating ice. All observers agree in
describing it as a somewhat noisy bird, and its specific name of _alle_
is said to resemble its ordinary note. There is scarcely a winter that
the Little Auk is not obtained in varying numbers off the British
coasts, more frequently, of course, in the northern districts, but under
ordinary circumstances it keeps too far off the land to be observed, and
occurs most plentifully during periods of continued storm. Where the
uncounted millions of Little Auks winter, that are known to breed in the
Arctic regions, washed by the Atlantic, is still an unsolved problem.
The few that are observed are as nothing in comparison with the numbers
that crowd at certain spots during summer. Perhaps it is because the
area of distribution is so wide in winter, and, comparatively speaking,
so restricted during summer. The food of the Little Auk consists largely
of minute crustaceans, and possibly of small fish. The bird is said to
resort to the vicinity of fishing fleets, to pick up the refuse thrown

In May, the Little Auk resorts to the land to breed. It is eminently
gregarious, and some of its colonies consist of an almost incredible
number of birds. Curiously enough, its breeding places are not always by
the sea, some of them being situated a considerable distance from the
coast. Sloping rock-covered banks at the foot of the cliffs, seem to be
preferred to the cliff themselves. A favourite situation is on the
sloping ground below a range of cliffs, where the surface is covered
with stones and rock fragments that have, during succeeding ages,
crumbled from the precipices towering above. Here, in cavities, worn by
wind and storm, beneath large stones and rock fragments, or in various
hollows and holes under the fallen _débris_, the Little Auk deposits its
single pale greenish-blue egg, out of reach of the Arctic foxes that
prowl about the colony in quest of prey. The actions of the Little Auk
at its nesting colony, seem to be very similar to those of the Puffin
when breeding on slopes, as, for instance, on the island of Doon, one of
the St. Kilda group.


Of all the Auks the present species, the _Alca arctica_ of Linnæus, and
the _Fratercula arctica_ of modern ornithologists, is not only the best
known, but the most readily distinguished. The Puffin cannot readily be
mistaken for any other bird along the coast, his big brightly coloured
beak and comical facial expression, being never failing marks of his
identity. In the colour of its plumage the Puffin somewhat closely
resembles the Guillemot or the Little Auk, only the throat and the sides
of the head are white. The most striking feature in the Puffin is its
beak—a deep, laterally flattened, coulter-shaped organ, banded with
blue, yellow, and red, singularly grooved and embossed with horny
excrescences, although these latter are only assumed for the pairing
season, and are cast again when the breeding period is over! Unlike most
birds, therefore, the Puffin displays his wedding ornaments on his beak!
And this singular peculiarity appears to be common to various other
species, more distantly allied, yet undoubtedly of close affinity with
the English Puffin. Many local names have been applied to the Puffin in
consequence of its singular bill. Bottlenose, Coulterneb, and Sea
Parrot, may be mentioned as the most commonly used. Like most, if not
all, members of the Auk family, the Puffin is not seen much near the
land after the breeding season has passed. Indeed, it is very doubtful
whether the bird ever voluntarily seeks the coast after it leaves it in
early autumn with its young; continued gales and storms will
occasionally drive a bird even far inland, whilst rough weather often
causes it to perish at sea, its remains being sometimes washed up in
quantities. Its actions on the water are almost precisely the same as
those of the Guillemot and Razorbill. It is an adept swimmer, a
marvellous diver; it flies well and strongly, especially during the
summer, where I have seen it in swarms, drifting round and round the
highest peaks of its island haunt on apparently never-tiring-wing. At
the summit of the cliffs its powers of flight may often be witnessed to
perfection. At St. Kilda, I have watched it gracefully poising itself in
the air, its narrow wings beating rapidly, and its two orange-coloured
legs spread out behind acting as a rudder. Of all the Auk tribe, so far
as my experience goes, the Puffin flies the most. The Puffin feeds
principally upon small fish, especially sprats and the fry of larger
fishes; it also eats crustaceans, and various marine insects. It dives
often to a great depth, and is remarkably active beneath the surface;
when on the water it generally tries to escape from danger by diving.
Sometimes the Puffin may be seen close ashore during winter, but never
in any abundance.

The Puffin becomes by far the most interesting at its breeding places.
The regularity of its appearance at these has often been remarked. In
many localities it not only arrives punctually on a certain day, but
retires from them in autumn with its young almost as regularly! In some
places Puffins arrive on the land to breed as early as March; in others,
not before April; in others, yet again, not before the beginning of May.
With the exception of the south and east coasts of England—where it is
only sparingly and locally distributed—the Puffin, from Flamborough
northwards, is widely and generally dispersed. In some places its
numbers are almost incredible, as for instance, at Lundy Island, the
Farne Islands, on some of the Hebrides, and St. Kilda. There is a very
interesting colony of Puffins established amongst the walls of the
ancient fortress on the Bass Rock, but so far as my experience goes the
colony on St. Kilda stands unrivalled, and, at a very moderate
computation, must consist of many millions of birds! The Puffin most
probably pairs for life, and returns time out of mind to certain
familiar spots to rear its offspring. In most places the bird makes its
scanty nest in a burrow which it excavates itself, but in some
localities rabbit holes are frequently made use of. In some localities,
however, the bird makes a nest in a crevice of the cliffs or beneath
heaps of rocks. By the end of April both birds are engaged in scraping
out this burrow, if circumstances demand it, which often extends for
several yards in the loamy soil, sometimes sloping downwards, sometimes
tortuous, sometimes nearly straight. At the end, or elsewhere in some
cases, the slight nest of dry grass and a few feathers is formed.
Occasionally several pairs occupy one burrow, each pair enlarging a
portion of it for their own requirements into a kind of chamber; whilst
many of the burrows have several openings, and are evidently the work of
successive years. In this rude nest the hen Puffin lays a single egg,
dull white, sometimes tinged with blue or gray, and obscurely spotted
with pale brown and gray. Contact with the earth in the burrow and with
the wet feet of the sitting bird, soon discolours this egg, and renders
it almost like a ball of peat in appearance. When disturbed at their
breeding places, such Puffins as may chance to be outside the holes soon
fly off to the sea, and join the hosts of birds that swarm in the water
near every breeding station. Those in the burrows, however, remain,
allowing themselves to be dragged out without making any attempt to
escape. Great caution and gloves are recommended, for the Puffin resents
intrusion and bites fiercely, being able to inflict a nasty cut with its
powerful beak and sharp claws.

I still retain the most vivid impressions on my visit to the grand
colony of Puffins on Doon, one of the St. Kilda group. Every available
place is honeycombed with their holes; the ground cannot afford
accommodation for all, and numbers of birds have to seek nesting places
under the masses of rock lying on the grass-covered hillsides, or in the
crannies of the cliffs at the summit of the island. As soon as we had
fairly got ashore, and begun to walk up the slopes, the Puffins, in a
dense whirling bewildering host, swept downwards to the sea, or rose
high in air to circle above our heads, in the direst alarm. It seemed as
if the whole face of the island were slipping away from under me, just
like flakes of shale down a quarry side! Not a single bird, so far as I
could ascertain, uttered a note, but the whirring noise of the millions
of rapidly beating wings sounded like the distant rush of wind! But even
Doon does not harbour so many Puffins as find a home on the face of the
mighty cliff Connacher; and when we fired a gun and disturbed them from
this noble precipice, it seemed as though the face of the entire cliff
was falling outwards into the Atlantic, the enormous cloud of birds
overpowering one with its magnificence! As soon as the young are reared
the land is deserted, and the wandering pelagic life resumed.

In connection with this species mention may be made of its former repute
as an article of food. Old records inform us that the young Puffins were
regularly gathered by the owners of the breeding-places, and were salted
down for future food. Gesner and Caius assert that the Puffin was
allowed to be eaten during Lent, probably because, in the words of
Carew, of its coming nearest to fish in taste. More than two hundred
years ago Ligon, in his _History of Barbadoes_, complains of the ill
taste of Puffins which he had received from the Scilly Islands (once a
great centre of exportation of these birds), and asserts that this kind
of food is only for servants. The taste for salted and dried Puffin,
however, still lingers in the land; for at St. Kilda vast numbers are
caught, and so preserved by the natives for food. Dried Puffin, perhaps
a twelvemonth old, is one of the few delicacies of the island; whilst
the feathers help materially to pay the rent!

                    _Divers, Grebes, and Cormorants_

[Illustration: GREAT NORTHERN DIVER. Chapter iv.]

                              CHAPTER IV.
                    DIVERS, GREBES, AND CORMORANTS.

  _Divers—Affinities and characteristics—Great Northern
  Diver—Black-throated Diver—Red-throated
  Diver—Grebes—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Great Crested
  Grebe—Red-necked Grebe—Black-necked Grebe—Sclavonian Grebe—Little
  Grebe—Cormorants—Characteristics—Changes of

The birds included in the present chapter belong to three well-defined
families. None of them are so completely pelagic as the Auks, and yet,
according to season, many of them are interesting features in the
bird-life of the coast. Unfortunately for the summer visitor to the
seaside, the Divers will be absent. They are birds that resort chiefly
to inland districts to rear their young, or are only known as winter
visitors to the British Coasts. The Divers form a small but well-marked
family known as Colymbidæ, consisting of a single genus _Colymbus_, into
which are grouped the four species that are now known to science. The
Divers are allied to the Auks on the one hand, to the Grebes on the
other, although systematists are not yet agreed upon the degree of their
relationship. United, these three families form Dr. Sclater’s order
Pygopodes. In every way the Divers are remarkably well fitted for an
aquatic life. Their strong tarsi are laterally compressed, a form best
suited for cleaving the water, the hind toe is well developed, and on
the same plane as the rest, the feet are webbed, the bill is long,
straight, spear-shaped and conical, admirably adapted for seizing the
finny prey, the wings are comparatively short, yet capable of bearing
the bird at great speed, the tail is short and fairly developed. The
Divers in nuptial plumage are remarkably handsome birds, the neck being
striped or richly marked, and the upper plumage beautifully spotted or
adorned with white bars. They are all more or less gregarious birds
during winter, and well marked social tendencies are displayed in some
species during the breeding season. Their migrations, if comparatively
short, are pronounced and regular. The young are hatched covered with
down, able to swim with ease almost immediately. Adults moult in autumn,
and assume their nuptial plumage in winter—a period doubtless when they
pair—the winter plumage thus being carried for a short time. Young
Divers carry their first plumage through the winter until the following
spring (not moulting in December with their parents), when they assume
their summer plumage, but the nuptial ornaments are not so brilliant in
colour as in adults. Whether the vernal change in colour is effected
without moulting, as in the Auks and some of the Limicolæ, appears not
to have yet been ascertained. All the species of Divers are visitors to
the British Islands, but only two breed in them, and one is an
exceptionally irregular straggler. This is the largest of them all, the
White-billed Diver, _Colymbus adamsi_, and a species apparently
circumpolar in its distribution. The Divers are all birds of the
north-temperate or Arctic regions, during summer; in winter their range
is much more extended, almost reaching to the northern tropics. With
this brief résumé of their more salient characteristics, we will now
proceed to a more detailed examination of their economy.

                         GREAT NORTHERN DIVER.

This species, the _Colymbus glacialis_ of Linnæus and of ornithologists
generally, is, in its breeding plumage, one of the handsomest of British
birds. Its chief characteristics are its large size—about that of a
Goose—black head and neck, double semi-collars of white and black
vertical stripes, and black upper parts, marked with white spots of
varying size, and arranged in a series of belts. Whether it actually
breeds within our limits has not yet been absolutely determined,
although evidence is forthcoming that seems to point to the fact.
Unfortunately for the seaside student of bird life, the Great Northern
Diver is only known as a winter visitor. At that season, however, it may
be met with pretty frequently off the British coasts, the young birds
especially venturing into our bays and creeks and estuaries, older
individuals, as a rule, keeping further out to sea. Adult birds are,
however, often observed near the coasts of South Devonshire and
Cornwall. I have known them linger in the waters near here until the
summer has been well advanced. Young birds of this species, in the brown
and white dress characteristic of immaturity, may often be seen quietly
fishing under the cliffs, notably in Tor Bay. One very remarkable thing
about this Diver is its singular habit of immersing the body to such a
depth that the back is quite under water. It often so sinks itself when
menaced by danger, and then, almost out of sight, swims away with great
speed. If pursuit is still continued all but the neck is sunk below the
surface, and finally, if hotly pressed, the bird will disappear
entirely, and swim along under water at a speed absolutely astonishing,
Gätke records that this Diver, when chased by a boat under these
circumstances, will dive and allow the boat to pass over it, rising
again in the rear of it, a habit which my own observations of the bird
completely confirm. How this act of immersion, without apparent effort,
is accomplished remains a mystery, and offers a problem in animal
mechanics by no means easy of solution.

The Great Northern Diver is rarely seen on land, perhaps never except
during the breeding season. Its movements on shore are ungainly in the
extreme, the legs being placed so far back that the bird can only push
itself along in a crawling sort of a way; it is equally rarely seen in
the air, and apparently only uses its wings to fly when performing its
annual migrations. How the species still retains the function of flight
at all seems almost a mystery, but perhaps the constant use of the wings
in the water keeps them to a standard of efficiency. This Diver is one
of the least gregarious, and save on passage is rarely met with in
numbers greater than a pair. It seems to be the rule for odd pairs to
take up their residence in certain spots during the breeding season;
after that period the bird is usually met with solitary, and the young
individuals, unlike so many others that evince strong gregarious
propensities, for the most part wander about alone. This Diver, like
most big birds, is shy and wary, although I have repeatedly watched it
from the cliffs in Tor Bay evincing little concern at my presence. As
may be gathered from the foregoing remarks the Great Northern Diver is a
proficient in the art of diving, and is said to be able to remain as
long as eight minutes beneath the surface—a period of time which seems
incredible. The depth to which it sometimes descends is also enormous—it
has been captured in a net thirty fathoms from the surface. The food of
this Diver is almost, if not absolutely, composed of fish. During the
non-breeding season Divers are not particularly noisy birds, but at
their nesting-places the cries they utter are both loud and startling,
described by some listeners as similar to the screams of tortured
children; as shrieks of maddened laughter, or as weird and melancholy
howls by others.

It is a somewhat remarkable fact that the Great Northern Diver breeds
nowhere in Europe, except on Iceland. It is an American species, and
nests from Greenland westwards to Alaska, south of the Arctic circle to
the more northern of the United States. It reaches its breeding-grounds
in pairs towards the end of May, as soon as the northern waters are free
from ice. Its favourite nesting places are secluded tarns and lakes, and
an island is always selected if possible, doubtless from motives of
security. The nest—always made upon the ground—varies a good deal in
size, according to the local requirements. On wet marshy ground it is
large, and composed of a heap of half rotten sedges, rushes, reeds, and
such like vegetation, lined with dry bits of broken reed and withered
grass. On drier and barer situations it is little more than a hollow in
the sand or hard ground, with, perhaps, a few bits of dry grass for
lining. The birds are very alert and watchful whilst nesting, as if
fully conscious of their comparative difficulty in escaping from danger
on the land. One bird is generally on the look out whilst the other
sits, and at the least danger the alarm is given, and the incubating
partner shuffles off in a floundering way to the water. A path is soon
thus worn from the nest to the lake. The eggs are almost invariably two,
elongated, and varying in ground colour from russet-brown to
olive-brown, spotted sparingly with blackish-brown and paler brown. When
the young are sufficiently matured, the inland haunts are deserted, and
the nomad wandering life upon the sea resumed.

                         BLACK-THROATED DIVER.

The present species of Diver (much smaller than the preceding), the
_Colymbus arcticus_ of Linnæus and most other writers, is the rarest of
the three that visit the British Islands regularly, and perhaps we might
also say the most beautiful in nuptial dress. All its showy colours and
patterns, however, are on the head, neck, and upper parts, the under
surface being white. The head is gray, the throat patch black, above
which is a semi-collar of white striped vertically with black; the sides
of the neck are also striped with black and white; whilst the black
upper parts of the body are conspicuously marked with a regular series
of nearly square white spots, becoming oval in shape on the wing
coverts: the bill is black, the irides crimson. After the autumn moult
all this finery is lost, and the upper parts become a nearly uniform
blackish-brown. This Diver breeds sparingly in various parts of the
Hebrides and the Highlands, from Argyll to Caithness; elsewhere it is
only known as a winter visitor. In many of its habits it closely
resembles the preceding species. It is exclusively aquatic, only seeking
the land during the breeding season, but is, perhaps, not quite so
oceanic as that bird in the winter, when it not unfrequently haunts
inland waters. It dives with equal skill, flies with the same powerful
rapidity, and utters during the nesting season very similar unearthly
cries. Fish form the chief food of this Diver, but it is said also to
capture frogs. Most of the examples of this Diver that are seen close
in-shore (on our eastern and southern coasts principally) during winter
are immature, the older birds as a rule keeping further out to sea. The
Black-throated Diver indulges in the same peculiar habit of gradually
sinking its body in the sea when alarmed, and will frequently seek to
escape pursuit by diving outright, and swimming under water for a
considerable distance.

The Black-throated Divers that breed with us, retire to their inland
haunts in May. Its favourite nesting places are on islands in moorland
lochs, pools, and tarns. It displays few social tendencies at this
season, although several pairs not unfrequently nest within a
comparatively small area of exceptionally suitable country, each,
nevertheless, keeping to its own particular haunt. This Diver may also
pair for life, seeing that it evinces considerable attachment to certain
favourite nesting places. The nest is always made upon the ground, and
seldom very far from the water, to which the frightened bird can retire
readily. An island covered with short herbage is always preferred in
Scotland, but in some places the bare shingly beach is selected. This
nest, often of the slightest construction, is made of stalks of plants,
roots, and all kinds of drifted vegetable fragments, lined with grass.
Sometimes no nest whatever is made. The two eggs are narrow and
elongated, olive- or rufous-brown, sparingly spotted and speckled with
blackish-brown and paler brown. The sitting bird is ever on the alert to
slip off into the water at the first alarm; and sometimes both birds
will fly round and round in anxiety for the fate of their treasured
eggs. A movement seawards is soon taken when the young are sufficiently
matured. This Diver has a wide geographical range outside our limits,
extending across Europe and Asia to Japan and North-west America,
perhaps as far as Hudson Bay. American authorities, however, insist upon
the specific distinctness of most of the Black-throated Divers found in
Alaska, and have named this form _C. pacificus_.

                          RED-THROATED DIVER.

Smallest of the British Divers, the present species, the _Colymbus
septentrionalis_ of Linnæus and modern authorities, is also the best
known and the most widely distributed. It is also the least showy in
nuptial dress. In this plumage the throat is marked with an elongated
patch of chestnut; the head, and sides of the neck are ash-brown, the
latter striped with black and white, the general colour of the upper
plumage blackish-brown, sparingly spotted with white, and the under
parts are white. The plumage, as in all the Divers, is remarkably dense
and compact, adapted in every way to the aquatic habits of the bird. The
Red-throated Diver is a fairly frequent visitor, during autumn and
winter, off the English coasts, often entering bays and the mouths of
wide rivers. In summer, however, it becomes much more local, retiring
then to haunts in Scotland, especially in the Hebrides and along the
wild and little populated western districts, from the Clyde northwards
to the Shetlands. Outside our limits, this Diver has a very wide
distribution, occupying in summer the Arctic and north temperate regions
of Europe, Asia, and America; in winter migrating southwards for a
thousand miles or more. The Red-throated Diver is certainly the most
gregarious species, and in winter may not unfrequently be seen in
gatherings of varying size. In connection with this trait, mention may
be made of the extraordinary numbers of this bird that, on the 2nd and
3rd of December 1879, passed Heligoland. The movement was not strictly a
migratory one, but a grand flight of storm-driven, frozen-out birds,
seeking more congenial haunts. Gätke tells us that during this
visitation, there was about thirteen degrees of frost, an easterly wind,
and a snowstorm in the evening. The Divers were by no means alone in
their distress, for hundreds of thousands of Ducks, Geese, and Swans,
Curlews, Dunlins, and Oyster-catchers, passed from east to west. From
early morning until noon, on both days in succession, the Divers were
seen in one incessant stream, travelling north-east, in numbers
estimated almost by the million! Well may Gätke have wondered whence
such vast multitudes came, and whither they were going, and what was the
initial cause of such gregarious instincts, never manifested in this
Diver under any ordinary circumstances.

The Red-throated Diver is a master at the art of diving, and is often
seen slowly to sink its body under water when alarmed. It also flies
with great strength and speed, and is said to show more preference for
flying than either of its congeners. The food of this Diver is chiefly
composed of fish. Its ordinary note is a harsh _ak_ or _hark_; but at
the nesting places the same wild unearthly cries are uttered that are
equally characteristic of the other species. These cries are said to
foretell rain or rough weather, and have caused the bird to be called
“Rain Goose” in many Highland districts. The Red-throated Diver, however
agile and graceful it may be in the water or even in the air, is a
clumsy object on the land, incapable of walking upright, owing to the
backward position of its legs, and compelled to shuffle along with its
breast touching the surface. In winter these Divers are by no means shy,
and I have many times watched them pursuing their fishing operations,
from my station on the cliffs.

In May, the Red-throated Diver retires to its breeding stations—the wild
romantic lochs and pools so characteristic a feature of the Highlands
and the Hebrides. Solitary pairs generally scatter themselves over a
district, resenting intrusion, and keeping to their own particular
haunt. This Diver probably pairs for life, returning each successive
season to a certain spot to nest. An island is usually selected for the
nest, which is invariably made upon the ground, and consists generally
of little more than a hollow, into which is collected a few bits of
withered vegetation. As may be expected, this nest is seldom made far
from the water, so that at the least alarm the sitting bird can slip off
and shuffle into the water at once. The two narrow elongated eggs are
olive- or buffish-brown, spotted and speckled with blackish-brown and
paler brown.


In many respects Grebes are remarkable birds. They form so well defined
a group that no other known bird can possibly be confused with them,
their characteristics being absolutely unique among the class Aves. The
most noticeable external features of a Grebe are its relatively short
body, laterally compressed tarsi, lobed feet, rudimentary and
functionless tail, and dense compact plumage of a peculiar silky
texture. The twenty or so species of Grebes are grouped into a single
family, called Podicipedidæ, of which the genus _Podiceps_ (or more
correctly _Podicipes_) contains the greater number. The Grebes are
almost cosmopolitan. Five well-marked species are found in Europe, all
of which, being visitants or regular residents, are included in the
British avifauna. In the colours of their plumage the Grebes are not
very remarkable, with the exception of the crests or tippets assumed by
some species during the nuptial period: plain browns predominate on the
upper surface; the underparts are almost always glossy white. The Grebes
fly well; dive with great dexterity, but their movements on the ground
are not graceful. The young are hatched covered with close down, and
able to swim at once. The Grebes have a complete moult in autumn, and
assume their nuptial ornaments in spring. The quill feathers are moulted
so rapidly that for some little time the birds are unable to fly, as is
the case with the Geese and some others.

It is only during the winter months that the Grebes become pelagic or
marine in their habits, and even some species are much less addicted to
a sea life than others. We will now proceed briefly to glance at the
British species.

                          GREAT CRESTED GREBE.

This, the largest species, the _Podicipes cristatus_ of naturalists, is
chiefly an inland bird, but resorts to the sea when fresh waters are
frozen. I have sometimes met with half a dozen together in a quiet bay,
under these circumstances, and very graceful interesting birds they are.
They rarely come upon the land at these times, swimming about and diving
from time to time in quest of food. Like the Divers, they sometimes sink
the body very low in the water, but under ordinary conditions sit rather
high, with the long neck held well up, the head turned at intervals in
all directions as if on the look out for enemies. They always prefer to
dive when pursued; and as this species more especially is in great
demand by plumasiers, and subject to much persecution, it is wary and
shy in extreme. The food of this Grebe whilst on the sea is composed
largely of fish, but inland the bird’s tastes are more omnivorous.
Sometimes many of its own feathers are found in its stomach, mixed with
the food, but as yet ornithologists have been unable to assign any
plausible explanation of the fact. In Spring, the adults assume two very
conspicuous crests or horns of a dark brown colour, and a tippet or ruff
of bright bay, shading into nearly black on the margin. The birds now
retire inland to meres and lakes, where the shallows are full of reeds,
sedges, rushes, and other aquatic vegetation, and here, at some distance
from the shore, a large floating nest is made, composed of dead and
decaying vegetation. As the bird is sometimes gregarious several nests
may often be found within a small area—huge floating rafts moored to the
reeds, or built up from the bottom of the shallow water. In a shallow
depression at the top four or five eggs are laid, elliptical in shape,
chalky in texture, and white, until contact with the bird’s wet feet and
the wet nest covers them with stains. Several mock nests are often made
in the vicinity of the one containing the eggs, probably destined as
resting places for the future young. The sitting bird very dexterously
covers its eggs with weed when alarmed, previous to slipping off the
nest into the water. The note of this Grebe is a loud _kak_.

                           RED-NECKED GREBE.

This Grebe, the _Podicipes griseigena_ of Boddaert, and the _P.
rubricollis_ of most modern naturalists, is a fairly common winter
visitor to the seas off our eastern and southern coasts, from the
Orkneys to Cornwall. The range of the Red-necked Grebe outside our
limits is a wide one, and embraces during summer the sub-Arctic portions
of Europe, Asia, and America, becoming much more southerly in winter.
During winter this Grebe may be met with close inshore, yet it seldom or
never visits the land, living exclusively on the sea. Its habits at this
season do not differ in any marked degree from those of its congeners.
It may be seen swimming to and fro, sometimes just outside the fringe of
rough surf, diving from time to time in quest of its food, which at this
season is composed of fish principally. The nuptial ornaments of this
Grebe are not so conspicuous as those of the preceding species, the dark
crests are shorter, the tippet is scarcely perceptible, and the lower
neck and upper breast are rich chestnut. In winter plumage this Grebe is
best distinguished by its large size—next in this respect to the Great
Crested Grebe—and by the absence of the white streak over the eye, which
characterises that bird then. In April the Red-necked Grebe returns to
its accustomed inland summer haunts to breed. These are reed and
rush-fringed lakes and ponds. Here in the shallows a floating nest of
rotten vegetation is formed, smaller than that of the preceding species,
but otherwise closely resembling it. Many pairs may be found breeding
close together—in colonies, so to speak. The four or five elliptical
shaped eggs are laid in May or June, dirty white in colour, chalky in
texture. The same habit of covering the eggs with weeds, previous to
leaving them, may also be noted.

                          BLACK-NECKED GREBE.

This bird, the _Podicipes nigricollis_ of systematists, is so rarely met
with in the British area, that it scarcely requires more than a passing
allusion. Examples occasionally occur on our eastern and southern coasts
especially, but the bird is too rare to form any feature in the
ornithology of the British seaboard. It may be readily distinguished
from the other European Grebes by its decidedly up-curved bill, and by
the large amount of white on the primaries and secondaries. In the
nuptial plumage the head and neck are black. In its habits generally it
differs little from the other species.

                           SCLAVONIAN GREBE.

Along the eastern coasts of England, and round most of the Scottish
littoral, as well as off Ireland, this species, the _Podicipes cornutus_
of most naturalists, is of tolerably frequent occurrence during winter.
It requires all the skill of an expert ornithologist to distinguish this
Grebe in winter plumage, so closely does it resemble the Red-necked
species. It is a shorter winged bird, and has the three outermost
secondaries dusky brown, instead of white, as in that bird, whilst the
previous species is always distinguishable by its up-curved bill. There
is nothing in the habits of this Grebe to call for special remark: it
keeps exclusively to the water, dives to escape danger and to capture
prey, and swims beneath the surface as adroitly as a frog. The
Sclavonian Grebe is a wide ranging species, inhabiting during summer the
Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and America, retiring
southwards in winter. This Grebe is exceptionally remarkable for its
nuptial ornaments, but which, as usual, are confined to the head and
upper neck. Two chestnut or bay-coloured crests start backwards over the
eyes, whilst the tippet is black. This ornament, when extended to its
utmost, looks very beautiful, and gives the head an appearance of being
surrounded by a glittering aureole. This Grebe is a late breeder, the
eggs not being laid before June. It retires to fresh-water pools for the
purpose of nesting, and resembles the other species closely in its
habits at this season, making a slovenly floating nest, and laying four
or five dull white eggs.

                             LITTLE GREBE.

This species is the smallest of the European Grebes, and certainly by
far the best known member of the family found in the British Islands. It
is rather remarkable that the Little Grebe was unknown as a distinct
species to Linnæus. It was known to Brisson as _Colymbus minor_, and to
most modern ornithologists as _Podicipes minor_, although some few
writers speak of this bird as _P. fluviatilis_. Outside the British
Islands it has a very wide distribution in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but
the Little Grebe of America is a distinct species. The Little Grebe is
found more or less frequently on the coast during winter, driven thereto
when frosts seal up its inland haunts. On the coast this bird is more
partial to the brackish back-waters, dykes, and estuaries, than to the
open sea. The food of this bird consists not only of fish, but small
crustaceans and molluscs, aquatic insects, young frogs, and various
vegetable fragments. Its habits are very similar to those of the other
Grebes; its swimming and diving powers are wonderful; its flight on
occasion is rapid and strong, whilst its note is a shrill but not very
loud _weet_. In its nesting economy the Little Grebe closely resembles
its congeners. It quits the coast in spring, resorting to inland pools,
often of very small size, making its usually floating or
water-surrounded nest amongst the vegetation fringing the shallows, on
which it deposits five or six eggs, dull white in colour. The parents
often dive with their young from the nest to carry them out of impending
danger—a habit common to all species in this genus.


The Grebes are so little in evidence to the seaside naturalist that an
account of them seems more like a digression in our narrative, than a
continuation of our observations concerning the bird life of the sea. We
now, however, reach another pelagic group, consisting of birds that form
an important and seldom absent feature in marine ornithology. And yet,
so great is the adaptability of some species, the Cormorant is by no
means exclusively confined to the sea, has many inland breeding
stations, and repeatedly wanders from the coast to fresh waters, where
an abundant supply of fish offers a solace to its great voracity. The
Cormorants and the Gannet are members of the family Phalacrocoracidæ,
although generically distinct from each other. Their principal external
characteristics are the webbed feet, each toe, _including the hind one_,
being connected by a membrane, the long and powerful wings, and the
strong beak. The young birds in this family are hatched naked and blind,
but soon become clothed with down. The first plumage differs
considerably from that of maturity, and the latter is not rarely
attained for several years. These birds have but one actual moult in the
year, in autumn, but just previous to the pairing season in winter,
crests in some species, and ornamental filaments and tufts in others,
are assumed, but are lost by abrasion during the ensuing breeding
period. Three members of this family are British, and breed abundantly
within our limits. Cormorants and Gannets are widely dispersed species;
the former are almost cosmopolitan, only being absent from the polar
regions and Polynesia; the latter are most abundant in the tropics and
the southern seas. A detailed account of the three British species will
now be given.


From the autumn onwards to the following spring, there are few parts of
the coast, indeed, where this bird, the _Phalacrocorax carbo_ of
ornithologists, may not be seen; whilst even in summer it is
sufficiently widely dispersed to merit us classing it as common. It is,
however, seldom seen off low-lying coasts, save after the breeding
season, or except such individuals as have not yet reached maturity.
There is but one other British species with which the Cormorant may be
confused, and that is the Shag; but even then the difference in size is
sufficiently great for the much larger Cormorant to be readily
identified. Very black, very heavy, and very clumsy the Cormorant looks,
as he rises in slow cumbersome flight from the sea, or unfolds his big,
bronzed-green wings, and flutters into the air from a rock shelf, or
sea-girdled pinnacle; but very soon one’s opinion of him undergoes a
change, as, when once fairly on his way, he passes swiftly enough over
the sea to a distant resting place, or after flying some distance,
pitches down into the water. The colours of the Cormorant are not seen
to best advantage at a distance. Certainly the prevailing colour is
black, but this is richly loricated with green and purple tints, whilst
most of the upper plumage of the body is a beautiful bronzy-brown, the
feathers being margined with soft velvety-black, shot with green; the
throat is white, as are also the sides of the head; whilst the bright
yellow gape and bare portions of the throat form a pleasing contrast to
the more sombre hues. As the breeding season approaches the Cormorant
increases in beauty; large white patches of silky feathers spring out
from the thighs, and the dark head and neck become covered by feathery
filaments of white. Perhaps the Cormorant is most interesting when
engaged searching for food. This bird obtains its food in various ways.
Most frequently of all, it swims to and fro, diving with a headlong
plunge at intervals; sometimes it swims with its body low in the water,
and the head and neck below the surface peering about in quest of fish.
Less frequently it takes up its station on a rock, or even on a tree,
from which it flies from time to time, Kingfisher-like, to capture a
fish near the surface; or occasionally it dives from such a situation,
and pursues its finny food far down into the crystal depths. The
Cormorant, however, never fishes like the Gannets and the Terns, by a
headlong plunge from the sky. This bird may often be met with fishing in
fresh-water some distance inland. Waterton records how it used to visit
his lake at Walton Hall; but the habits of the bird on sea and shore
shall exclusively claim our attention here. After a meal the Cormorant
is very fond of resorting to a rock to rest, and to dry its plumage,
standing perfectly motionless with its wings uplifted and outspread.
Few, if any, birds can excel the Cormorant in diving: it vies with the
very fish themselves, and seems as much at home beneath the surface of
the water as in the air. The Cormorant when taken young is easily tamed,
and from the earliest recorded times it has been trained to capture fish
for its owner. To this day the Chinese and Japanese train Cormorants for
this purpose. In England this sport was once a regal pleasure, the
Master of the Cormorants finding a place in the Royal household.
According to Professor Newton, the sport still lingers amongst a few.
Willughby asserts that the trained Cormorant was carried hooded until
cast off, but nowadays its bearer protects his eyes from a stroke from
the bird’s beak, with a wire mask. A strap or a ring is fastened round
the Cormorant’s neck, to prevent it swallowing its captures, just as we
muzzle a ferret to prevent it lying up. All who have witnessed this
novel way of fishing testify to the bird’s marvellous skill in catching
fish after fish, until the gular pouch will hold no more, when the
Cormorant is taken, and the fish removed. The food of this bird is
composed almost entirely of fish. In winter Cormorants become even more
gregarious, often associating in large flocks which wander far in quest
of food. This bird is not so completely pelagic in its habits as the
Auks, the Divers, and the Grebes. It generally retires to the caves and
shelves of the cliffs to sleep, whilst stormy weather will drive it
shorewards soon, where it will sit and mope on the rocks, or shelter in
the quiet creeks, or under the lee of cliffs, as if waiting for the sea
to subside, and allow of its labours being renewed.

As the Cormorant returns for years in succession to one particular spot
to breed, there can be little doubt that it pairs for life. The birds
begin to associate closely in pairs somewhat early in spring; but actual
nesting duties do not commence for a little time after that event. In
most places the Cormorant breeds in colonies, the size apparently
varying according to the amount of accommodation. For the present
purpose we need not describe in detail any of the inland nesting places
of this species, beyond remarking that the bird often breeds in trees
like Rooks, making a huge nest of sticks and twigs, lined with grass.
Upon the coast the favourite breeding resorts of the Cormorant are
ranges of lofty cliffs, and small low islands and reefs. The nest may
thus either be on the ground—as at the Farne Islands, for instance—or on
a ledge of the cliffs. When in the former situation it is generally
composed of masses of seaweed, stalks of marine plants, and lined with
green grass or other herbage. A Cormorant’s nesting place is by no means
a pleasant one for persons whose olfactory nerves are sensitive, the
smell from the decaying fish, and from the droppings of the birds, that
literally whitewash the whole vicinity, being sickening in the extreme.
Other sea fowl usually give these colonies a wide birth. The eggs are
from three to six in number, of a delicate bluish-green—where the colour
can be detected through the abundant coating of lime—small for the size
of the bird, and long and oval in shape. When disturbed the sitting
Cormorants make little demonstration, but fly out to sea at once. But
one brood is reared in the season, and the eggs are deposited during
April or May, in the British Islands. The Cormorant is a silent bird:
the only note I have ever heard it utter has been a croaking one at the


This species, the _Pelecanus graculus_ of Linnæus and Latham, and the
_Phalacrocorax graculus_ of most modern writers, is readily
distinguished from the Cormorant by its smaller size, more glossy
appearance, and much greener general colouration. The Shag differs
structurally from the Cormorant in possessing only twelve tail feathers,
the latter bird having fourteen. The nuptial ornaments are also very
different, for just previous to the pairing season, in early spring, a
nodding plume or frontal crest of recurved feathers is assumed. The Shag
is a much more marine bird than the Cormorant, and its appearance inland
is exceptional. Of the two species the Shag is certainly the commonest
and most widely dispersed, being met with off almost all parts of the
British coasts, but preference is shown for such as are rocky, and where
the ranges of cliffs are full of hollows and caves. Outside our islands
the range of the Shag is restricted to the coasts of western Europe, and
the Mediterranean basin. As a rule the Shag keeps well into the coast,
seeking for its food in the somewhat deep water below the rocks, and
retiring to some fissure or cave to sleep. Its habits in most respects
are very similar to the larger species. It flies well and rapidly, if in
a somewhat laboured manner, dives as skilfully as its ally, and often
indulges in the habit of sitting on the rocks with wings extended,
basking in the sun. It is equally gregarious during the non-breeding
season, and it is no uncommon thing to see a hundred or more birds of
this species sitting in solemn statuesque rows on some sea-encircled
rock, gorged with fish and digesting their food. At these gatherings
many birds may be noticed still fishing in the sea around, or flying up
to or leaving the rocky resting place. The young birds congregate
indiscriminately with the adults. A fishing Shag is a very interesting
object. He may be watched quietly swimming along, and every now and then
springing half out of the water, arching his long neck, and then diving
head first into the sea. Soon he reappears again, the body coming into
view all at once, it may be close to where he dived, or it may be fifty
or a hundred yards away from the spot where he descended. The Shag feeds
almost exclusively on fishes, and these are chased through the water
with incredible skill. The bird may thus be watched by the hour together
swimming and diving, propelling itself by its feet, and bringing the
captured fish to the surface to swallow them. At the approach of night
the Shag almost invariably betakes itself to the shelter of some cave or
fissure; and it is no uncommon sight along the rock-bound shore to see a
dozen of these birds hurrying along close to the sea in silence towards
the rocks where they sleep.

The Shag breeds in May. Its favourite nesting haunts are the caves and
fissures in the cliffs, but where such are wanting, or not available,
the bird will content itself with a cranny amongst the rocks of a low
island. If plenty of accommodation exists many pairs of Shags will nest
in company; where suitable sites are scarce the birds breed in scattered
pairs along the coast. It is more than probable that the Shag pairs for
life: it returns season by season to its old nesting-place. The nest of
this species is either wedged into some crevice of the sides or roof, or
made upon a ledge in a cave; sometimes a hole in the face of a wall-like
cliff is chosen; less frequently a site is selected amongst the rough
boulders on a reef; or even on a ledge of the cliffs where they overhang
considerably. In most cases the nest is bulky and made of sticks, stalks
of plants, and sea-weed, lined with straws, coarse grass, and turf, all
more or less matted together with droppings, decaying fish, and slime,
and smelling most unpleasantly. Many nests are enlarged and patched up
year by year. The two, three, or four eggs are a little smaller than
those of the Cormorant, of a delicate bluish-green where the thick
coating of lime does not conceal it. The Shag shows more reluctance to
leave its nest than the Cormorant does. The effect is most startling as
the big birds dash out of the gloomy sea caves one after the other. The
only note I have heard this species utter has been a low croak.


This remarkable bird differs in many important respects from all other
pelagic species inhabiting the temperate portions of the northern
hemisphere. Outside the limits of the British Islands its only other
breeding places in Europe are on Iceland and the Faröes. The Gannet or
Solan Goose, the _Sula bassana_ of Brisson and modern naturalists, is
one of the most pelagic of birds. Except during the breeding season it
is rarely seen near land, the thousands of birds that congregate in a
few chosen spots round the British coasts dispersing themselves far out
to sea as soon as the duties of the year are over. Like the Albatross,
the Gannet may almost be said to live in the air. Its powers of flight
are simply magnificent. Occasionally a few odd birds may be observed
here and there fishing in the bays, during autumn and winter; but the
person who would study its habits and movements thoroughly must visit
one of its breeding places. There are many colonies of Gannets round the
British coasts, one of the most accessible, and perhaps the most famous,
being on the Bass Rock, in the Firth of Forth. There are small ones on
Lundy Island and Grassholm; large ones on Suleskerry, Sulisker, St.
Kilda, Ailsa Craig, and Little Skellig. The adult plumage of the Gannet
is white, tinged with buff on the head and neck, except the primaries,
which are black. The bare skin round the base of the bill is blue. The
bird probably does not attain its white plumage until nearly four years
old, passing through a series of mottled stages of black, brown, and
white. The young are hatched blind and naked, but eventually become
clothed in dense white down. Other structural peculiarities are the
closed nostrils, and the subcutaneous air cells almost covering the
body, which the bird can fill with air at will, as they communicate with
the lungs. Whether seen at its nest, or when fishing at sea, the Gannet
is a remarkably interesting bird. As may naturally be inferred, a bird
so light and buoyant as the Gannet does not obtain its food by diving.
It is incapable of submerging itself even for a little distance, except
by gaining sufficient momentum from a plunge headlong from some distance
in the air. Nevertheless, the Gannet feeds exclusively on fishes, which
it catches almost like a Tern, by dropping from a great height and
seizing or impaling them with its strong bill. The Gannets follow the
shoals of fish as they swim near the surface. First one bird, and then
another, will be seen to poise itself, and then, with closed wings, to
dash downwards, glinting like a piece of white marble in the sun, into
the sea, disappearing for a moment, then rising again into the air to
prepare for another descent. Many Gannets at these times may, perhaps,
be seen swimming, but they are merely resting, not fishing. The captured
fish is invariably swallowed at once. The sitting birds are kept well
supplied with fish by their mates. These fish, however, are not conveyed
to them in the beak, but in the gullet, from which they are disgorged,
and left by the nest side to be eaten as required. Very often a Gannet
will disgorge several large fish before leaving its nest, whilst many
more fish are brought to the rocks than are actually eaten. The Gannet
is a voracious eater, and often so gorges itself with food as to be
incapable of flight. The power of wing of this beautiful bird is
wonderful in the extreme. I have seen the Gannet repeatedly keep the air
for hours together, apparently without effort, wheeling in graceful
curves, and ascending to vast heights, just as Vultures are wont to do.

Although the Gannet is a resident in British waters, it seldom comes
near land except to breed. During the nesting season it is very
gregarious, and some of its stations contain many thousands of pairs.
Early in the spring Gannets begin to assemble at the breeding places,
and towards the end of April nest building commences. The nests are made
either on the ledges of the cliffs, amongst the broken rock fragments at
the summit, or on the flat table-like tops of pinnacles and stacks.
Where the birds are numerous and the accommodation limited, great
numbers of nests are crowded together; and as may readily be inferred,
such close companionship leads to not a few battles between the birds
themselves. Indeed, a sort of guerrilla warfare is being waged
constantly, and is by no means one of the least interesting features of
the never-to-be-forgotten scene. The nest of the Gannet possesses little
architectural beauty, and is generally so trodden out of shape as to
resemble a mere heaped mass of rubbish, caked together with droppings,
and slime, and filth, giving off an almost unbearable stench, especially
on a calm hot day in May or June. Seaweed, masses of turf, straws, moss,
and stalks of marine plants are the principal materials. The nest is
shaped like a flattened cone, the cavity at the top being shallow. It is
no unusual thing to see the birds adding to their nests, even when
incubation is in progress. The Gannet lays but a single egg, but if this
be taken—as it often is, especially in colonies easily accessible to
man—the bird will replace it several times in succession. It is pale
bluish-green, but generally so thickly coated with chalky matter—and
later with stains—as to hide all trace of this colour. There are few
more noisy animated scenes in bird life than a Gannet colony, during the
height of the breeding season. The stirring sight once witnessed can
never be forgotten. The air, for many yards from the face of the cliffs
and high above it, is filled with thousands of flying Gannets; every
available spot, on the edges and face of the rock itself, is occupied by
a Gannet, the standing birds vieing with each other in uttering harsh
cries, the flying birds silently drifting to and fro in a mazy
bewildering throng. Many of the flying birds are carrying nest
materials; many of the birds standing on the rocks are fast asleep! On
every side the Gannets are eyeing you suspiciously, some disgorging fish
previous to taking wing, others barking defiance as you approach them,
and stubbornly remaining upon their egg until absolutely pushed from it.
Rock, sea, and air teem with birds. It will, however, be remarked that
none of the birds fly over the land; all keep to the face of the cliffs.
At the Bass Rock, numbers of young Gannets used to be taken for food,
the proprietor baking quantities, and selling them to the country people
round about. The taste for baked Solan Geese, however, is not so
prevalent as formerly, and the custom seems likely to die out. At St.
Kilda, however, the Gannet harvest still continues to be gathered, and
the young birds form a welcome article of food.

                       _Ducks, Geese, and Swans_

[Illustration: TUFTED DUCK. Chapter v.]

                               CHAPTER V.
                        DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS.

  _Ducks—Characteristics—Non-diving Ducks—Characteristics of—Changes of
  Plumage—Sheldrake—Wigeon—Pintail Duck—Various other species—Diving
  Ducks: Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Eider Duck—King Eider—Common
  Scoter—Velvet Scoter—Scaup Duck—Tufted
  Duck—Pochard—Golden-Eye—Long-tailed Duck—Mergansers—Characteristics
  and Changes of Plumage—Red-breasted
  Merganser—Goosander—Smew—Geese—Characteristics—Gray Lag
  Goose—White-fronted Goose—Bean Goose—Brent Goose—Bernacle
  Goose—Swans—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Hooper Swan—Bewick’s

Most of the species contained in the present chapter can only be
described as Sea-birds during winter. In summer they are chiefly inland
species, and resort to fresh waters. Again, the majority of these birds
do not breed within the limits of the British Islands; they are winter
visitors from more northern lands, and return to those lands in spring.
Still there are a few species resident in our area eminently marine in
their habits, and forming constant and pleasing features in the
bird-life of the coast. United, the Ducks, Geese, and Swans form the
well-defined family Anatidæ, which may be readily divided into
half-a-dozen sub-families, all but one of which are represented at some
time of the year on our seaboard. The most important external
characteristics of the birds in this family are the peculiar laminated
bill, the short legs, the webbed feet, and the dense compact plumage.
The family is almost cosmopolitan in its distribution.

                           NON-DIVING DUCKS.

Representatives of no less than three of the four sub-families into
which the Ducks have been divided by systematists, are found on the
British coast-line. Each sub-family contains some thoroughly marine
species. We will deal first with the Anatinæ, containing the Sheldrakes
and non-diving Ducks. The birds in this sub-family are distinguished
from all others by having the tarsus scutellated or plated in front, and
by having only a narrow membrane attached to the hind toe. A peculiarity
about these Ducks is that they never dive for their food. This is
obtained only in shallow water, by submerging the fore half of the body
and dabbling and probing amongst the mud and weeds. In the Sheldrakes
the sexes are nearly alike in colour, but in the remaining species there
is usually considerable difference in this respect, the males or drakes
being handsome, showy birds, the females or ducks brown and
comparatively sombre-looking. The Sheldrakes moult once in autumn, the
remaining species the same, but the drakes of these latter change their
small feathers twice, once in early summer and once in autumn. The young
are hatched covered with down, and able, to a great extent, to shift for


This remarkably handsome species, the _Anas cornuta_ of S. G. Gmelin,
and the _Tadorna cornuta_ of most modern naturalists, is a resident on
such parts of the British coasts as are suited to its needs.
Unfortunately, continued persecution has driven this beautiful Duck from
many a haunt along the coast, and it is now almost entirely confined
during the breeding season to the more secluded districts, or to such
places where man may accord it some measure of protection. Low sandy
coasts, and extensive dunes by the sea, are the favourite resort of the
Sheldrake; and, owing to its secretive habits and exceptional wariness,
it is a species that may be very easily overlooked. During the breeding
season, an observer may wander for hours up and down the haunts of this
Duck without seeing a single bird. Once seen, however, it is easily
identified—no other bird along the coast more readily. The harlequin
arrangement of the colours is more eccentric, perhaps, than beautiful.
The bill, to begin with, is crimson; the head and upper neck are dark
metallic-green; the lower neck is white, and below this is a broad band
of bay or chestnut; the rump, upper tail coverts, and tail (except the
tip, which is black), part of the secondaries and innermost scapulars,
the wing coverts, the sides of the belly and the flanks, are white; the
remainder of the wings and outermost scapulars, and a broad line from
the breast to the vent are black; the alar speculum is green; the tarsus
and feet are pink. At a distance the bird looks like a patchwork
arrangement of black, white, and red, which becomes even more pronounced
when it takes flight, and in a slow, Heron-like way, with measured beats
of the wings, passes out to sea, or down the coast to more secluded
haunts. During the breeding season, this Duck frequents the sand dunes
on the English coast, but is rare and local in the south; in Scotland it
is commoner, and may be met with in almost all places suited to its
requirements, including the Hebrides. In Ireland, however, it becomes
local and uncommon, although widely dispersed. When the young are reared
the bird becomes more widely distributed, but even then its preference
for the sand makes it still local. The Sheldrake is known by many
provincial names, among which may be mentioned “Burrow Duck,”
“Bergander,” and “Shell-duck.” The origin of this Duck’s colloquial name
is somewhat obscure, although Willughby and Ray attribute it to the
bird’s strongly-contrasted plumage—“sheld” being the East Anglian
equivalent for parti-coloured.[5] The Old Norse name for this Duck was
skjöldungr, from _skjöldr_, a piebald horse. The Sheldrake is certainly
a social bird, but can scarcely be termed a gregarious one. Small
parties may be seen feeding in the shallows or swimming in the sea. The
bird obtains its food either whilst wandering along the shore—its gait
is more elegant than that of most Ducks, owing to the comparatively
longer legs—or when swimming in water just deep enough for it to reach
the sandy bottom, when the fore part of the body is submerged, and the
hind quarters held almost perpendicular. This food consists chiefly of
sand-hoppers, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish; but on shore the
bird also eats grass, stems and leaves of aquatic plants, and worms. The
Sheldrake rarely wanders far from the sea, its visits to the land seldom
extending beyond the dunes or the rough saltings. The note of this Duck
is a harsh quack, but in the pairing season an oft-repeated tremulous
cry is uttered, and when the young are abroad a guttural _kurr_ is

The breeding season of the Sheldrake begins in April or May. Although
instances of this bird breeding some distance from the coast are on
record (Stevenson’s _Birds of Norfolk_), its ordinary nesting-places are
never far from the sea. Its favourite breeding-grounds are sand dunes,
links, flat sand-banks, and small islands in sea lochs, firths, or
estuaries. The bird is not very social at this period, and although many
pairs may occupy a comparatively small area of coast, each seems to keep
closely to its own particular domain. The nest is made at the end of a
burrow, a rabbit hole being frequently selected; but sometimes the bird
is said to excavate one for itself, in which case it follows a nearly
circular direction. Sometimes the nest is ten or fifteen feet from the
entrance, and in places where rabbits are numerous, it is often an
almost hopeless task to discover it, one burrow running into another in
bewildering perplexity. At the end of the burrow a rude nest of dry
grass is formed—a rabbit’s nest is not unfrequently utilised—which, as
incubation advances, is thickly lined with down from the parent’s body.
Few nests are more difficult to find; sometimes the parents will betray
its whereabouts when one bird relieves the other; but, as a rule, the
male is seldom seen near it, and both sexes are remarkably cautious in
leaving or visiting it. The eggs are usually from six to twelve, but as
many as sixteen have been known. They are creamy-white in colour, smooth
and polished in texture. The down in the nest of the Sheldrake is a
beautiful lavender-gray. The young are soon taken to the beach after
they are hatched, where the little creatures are remarkably active in
catching sand-hoppers.


Of all the more typical birds in this sub-family, the present species,
the _Anas penelope_ of naturalists, is by far the best known along the
coast. The male bird is a very pretty and conspicuous one, in his
beautifully pencilled back and flanks, and distinguished from afar by
his bright buff forehead and crown, and white wing coverts. The female
is much less showily coloured. The Wigeon arrives upon our seaboard,
from the Arctic regions, in vast numbers every autumn, and from that
time forward to the following spring resides with us. This autumn
migration of the Wigeon begins late in September, and lasts well on into
November. The birds begin to leave us again in March, and most have
departed by the end of the following month. The Wigeon, whilst with us,
is one of the most gregarious of the Ducks, and flocks of vast size may
sometimes be observed in our shallower seas close inshore, in estuaries
and bays, but perhaps more frequently further out at sea. These birds
obtain most of their food at night in such localities where they are
subjected to much persecution, as often happens, for their flesh is
valued as an article for the table, coming landwards at dusk, and
retiring to the open sea at dawn. The flight of this species is rapid,
yet almost noiseless, and the bird may sometimes be seen gliding down
from the air to the water on stiff and motionless wings, but flapping
them rapidly just as it drops, tail first, into the sea. Its note is
highly characteristic, a shrill, far sounding _mee-ow_, or _wee-ow_. The
food consists of grass, buds, and leaves of aquatic plants, grass wrack,
crustaceans, and molluscs. Many Wigeons are caught in the flight-nets on
the Wash, a locality which is, or used to be twenty years ago, a
favourite resort of this Duck.

A few Wigeons remain in our Islands to breed, frequenting the northern
counties of Scotland, including the Orkneys and the Shetlands, but the
vast majority return to the Arctic regions to do so. Its favourite
nesting-places are scrubby woodlands, swamps, and heaths, clothed with
coarse herbage, studded with lakes and tarns, and intersected by
streams. Although not gregarious at this period, the numbers of nests
found scattered over a small area, suggests at least a social tendency.
The nest is usually made close to the water-side, amongst heath or
grass, or sheltered by a little bush, and is made of dry herbage and
leaves, warmly lined with down plucked from the body of the female. The
six to ten eggs are cream- or buffish-white, smooth in texture, but with
little gloss. These are laid in May.

                             PINTAIL DUCK.

This elegant species, the _Anas acuta_ of Linnæus, by some modern
writers generically distinguished as _Dafila acuta_, is, next to the
Wigeon perhaps, the most abundant of the non-diving Ducks upon the
coast. Like that bird it visits the British seas in some numbers in
autumn, returning north in spring. From the extreme length of the two
central upper tail coverts, which project two inches or more beyond the
tail, this Duck has been termed the “Sea Pheasant” in some districts,
although in others the name is applied to the Long-tailed Duck—a member
of the next sub-family. The male is distinguished by his brown head,
shot with bronze tints, black nape, and white stripe on either side of
the neck, which runs into the white underparts; by the green speculum
emphasised above with pale chestnut, and below with white, and finely
pencilled black and gray upper plumage: the long pointed black
scapulars, broadly edged with dull white, are also a noteworthy feature.
The female is much less showily coloured, mottled-brown above, and
grayish-white below, but the brown tail feathers, obliquely barred with
white, readily distinguish her from allied species. The favourite haunts
of the Pintail, during its sojourn with us, are the shallow estuaries,
especially on our eastern and southern coasts. It arrives on our coasts
chiefly in October and November, and leaves them in April. The Pintail
is a remarkably gregarious species, congregating in large flocks during
winter, and it has been observed that many of these gatherings are
composed exclusively of male birds. It is a shy and wary bird, feeding
principally at night, visiting the land or the shallows at dusk, and
when so engaged, sentinels are generally on the look-out, ready to give
the alarm. It obtains its food by dipping the fore half of the body
under water, and exploring the mud with its bill; but sometimes stubbles
and meadows near the sea are visited for the purpose. This food consists
chiefly of aquatic plants, grass, insects, worms, molluscs, and
crustaceans. This Duck swims well and buoyantly, looking very graceful
on the water; it rarely dives, even when wounded; whilst on the ground
it walks with long neck extended and tail raised. The Pintail flies well
and rapidly, the wings making a peculiar and easily recognised swishing

The Pintail migrates northwards in flocks, and reaches its Arctic
breeding grounds as soon as the ice begins to break up, crowding on the
little pools and narrow belt of open water, on the sides of the rivers,
and filling the air like swarms of bees. A few pairs remain in the
British Islands for the summer. Swampy moors, and the banks of lakes and
ponds, are the favourite nesting-places of this Duck. The nest, made
upon the ground amongst herbage, or under the shelter of a rock or bush,
is composed of dry grass, withered leaves, sedges, and rushes, and lined
copiously with down. The eggs are from six to ten in number, and are
pale buffish-green, smooth, but lustreless. These are laid in May. The
Pintail is by no means a noisy bird; a low chattering may be heard from
a flock whilst feeding, a soft quack when the bird is alarmed; whilst
the drake, during the season of courtship, utters a deep _clük_,
preceded by a hiss, and followed by a low grating note. Outside our
islands the Pintail has a very wide distribution, breeding in the
Palæarctic and Nearctic regions, and wintering almost to the Equator.

Of the remaining five species of Ducks belonging to the present
sub-family, which are either regular visitors to our islands, or
residents in them, none can fairly be classed as being typically marine
in their haunts. The well-known Mallard _Anas boschas_, the Teal _Anas
crecca_, and the Shoveller _Anas clypeata_, visit the low-lying coasts,
especially during severe weather, but they are all eminently fresh-water
species, and form no dominant feature in the bird-life of the coast.
Still less familiar to the sea-side naturalist are the Gadwall _Anas
strepera_, and the Garganey _Anas circia_. The former species is rare in
our islands, even during winter, whilst the latter is a summer visitor
only, excessively local, but breeding sparingly in the Broads District,
where, from the peculiar note of the male, it is known as the “Cricket
Teal.” We will, therefore, pass on to a study of the next sub-family,
which contains birds eminently marine in their habits and economy.

                             DIVING DUCKS.

These birds, described somewhat ambiguously by certain authorities as
Sea Ducks, for all the species are by no means exclusively marine, yet
all are expert divers, form a fairly well-defined and homogenous group,
or sub-family, termed by systematists, Fuligulinæ. They are
characterised by having a pendant lobe, or membrane, attached to the
hind toe, and by their anteriorly scutellated tarsi. All the Ducks in
this sub-family habitually dive for their food, and their movements in
the water are remarkably agile. The sexes generally present considerable
difference in colour, the males, as usual, being the most handsome and
conspicuous. The young are always hatched covered with down, and soon
able to accompany their parents on the water. The females have a single
moult in autumn, but the males a partially double one. Diving Ducks, in
fact all species in the family, in first plumage, closely resemble the
old female, and acquire the adult plumage after the first autumn moult.
We will deal first with the resident species, as being constant features
in the bird life of the coast and sea.

                              EIDER DUCK.

No Duck is more thoroughly attached to the sea than this species, the
_Anas mollissima_ of Linnæus and Latham, but the _Somateria mollissima_
of most modern ornithologists. Unfortunately it is somewhat restricted
in its distribution, only breeding in one locality on the English coast,
occurring more or less accidentally elsewhere. Ireland is not even so
fortunate, for no nesting station is known round the entire coastline of
the island. The Eider Duck is a decidedly northern bird, and is found,
if somewhat locally, round the coasts of Scotland, extending to the
outlying islands, including St. Kilda, where I have taken its nest. To
most people, perhaps, the down of the Eider Duck, in the form of a
coverlet, is more familiar than the bird itself. Although somewhat
clumsy in appearance, the male Eider is a singularly handsome and
conspicuous bird—conspicuous, one might say, when standing on the rocks
or paddling about the still water near the shore, but even in a very
moderately rough sea the bird is detected with difficulty, especially at
a distance, for the white crests and dark waves effectually harmonise
with, and conceal, its striking piebald plumage. The two predominating
colours of the male Eider are black and white, the latter occupying most
of the upper surface, the former most of the lower; the head, however,
is variously marked with black, white, and pale green. The female is
dark chestnut-brown, variegated with brownish-black. The Eider Duck is
so thoroughly sea-going in its habits, that it rarely even flies over
the land, except to reach its nest, and will rather follow the windings
of the coast than cross even a narrow headland. In our islands it is
practically sedentary, only wandering south a little way during winter.
Its favourite haunts are rocky islands and coasts, where bays and quiet
fjords offer it a haven of safety. The Eider is not so gregarious as
many other Ducks, but it may be seen in parties all the year round, the
drakes keeping company on the sea while their partners are on their
nests, and when these latter come off them to feed, all join into a
scattered company. The male bird is exceptionally wary at all times, but
the female during the nesting period, becomes absurdly tame in districts
where not persecuted, often allowing an observer to stroke her gently
whilst she sits upon her eggs. The food of the Eider Duck consists of
minute marine insects, crustaceans, and shellfish, especially mussels
and small crabs. Most of this food is obtained by diving, the Eider
being marvellously expert at this, not only descending to a great depth,
but remaining for a long time below. A favourite method of feeding with
this species is to draw shorewards with the tide. It may be watched
gradually swimming towards the land in some sheltered bay, feeding as it
comes, until the very edge of the breakers is reached. Then comes by far
the prettiest sight of all, as the bird swims through each mighty wave
just before it turns over and breaks upon the beach, floating light as a
foam fleck on the huge rollers, now high up on the white crests, then
momentarily lost to view in the green glassy depths. If alarmed on these
occasions, the Eider generally swims quickly out from shore, but if
further pursued or fired at, it instantly takes wing, rising from the
water with little splash, and flying rapidly and steadily just above the
surface to a safer refuge. The Eider is a day feeder, abroad at dawn,
and continuing its labours well into the dusk. As a rule the Eider is a
very silent bird. The usual note is a somewhat low _kurr_, but in the
season of courtship the male utters a cooing sound when paying his
addresses to his mate, as he swims round and round her, guarding her
from the attentions of rivals. This cooing noise may be heard for a long
distance across a quiet loch, especially, as often happens, if several
drakes are together.

The favourite nesting places of the Eider Duck are low, rocky islands,
well covered with marine vegetation, such as campion, thrift, and grass.
Late in spring the flocks begin to separate more into pairs, although
the immature non-breeding individuals may be observed to continue
gregarious all the summer, and not to visit the nesting stations. The
laying season is in May and June. The female alone selects a site for
and makes the nest, the male rarely, if ever, visiting the spot,
although he keeps in attendance on the sea near the islands, and joins
her when she comes to feed. The nest is made upon the ground, sometimes
amongst the dense beds of campion, sometimes in a crevice of the
boulders, or on a ledge of rock. Occasionally, as I remarked at St.
Kilda, it may be placed on the top of cliffs hundreds of feet above the
sea. It is large and well made, consisting of coarse grass, dry seaweed,
heather, and bits of dead vegetation, profusely lined with down and a
few curly feathers from the body of the female alone. This lining
gradually accumulates as the eggs are laid. Numbers of nests may be
found close together, especially where the birds are tolerably common,
as, for instance, at the Farne Islands, where, by the way, the Eider is
known as “St. Cuthbert’s Duck.” The eggs are from five to seven, or
rarely even eight, pale olive-green or greenish-gray in colour, and
smooth and wax-like in texture. In many places the Eider is jealously
protected for the sake of its precious down, especially in Iceland and
Norway, and the taking of the eggs or down by unauthorized persons is an
offence punishable by law. Outside our limits, the Eider inhabits most
of the coasts and islands of the North Atlantic. The much rarer King
Eider, _Somateria spectabilis_—an occasional visitor to the British
Seas—claims a passing reference, for it is by no means improbable that
the species actually breeds within our limits.

                             COMMON SCOTER.

Of all the hordes of Ducks that pour southwards in autumn, down the
western coasts of Europe, and find a winter resort in the British Seas,
the present species, the _Anas nigra_ of Linnæus, the _Fuligula nigra_
of many writers, and _Œdemia nigra_ of others who regard the Scoters as
generically distinct from the Pochard and allied forms, is certainly by
far the commonest. It is known on almost all parts of the coast as the
“Black Duck.” Few other Ducks are so absolutely marine as the Scoter; no
weather is bad enough to drive it ashore, and it seldom visits the land
at all, except for purposes of reproduction. It is a gregarious bird,
and so large are some of its gatherings off the British coasts, that it
literally blackens the sea with its numbers. To see such a mighty host
of birds rise _en masse_ from the water is a most imposing, nay, even a
thrilling sight. The Common Scoter begins to arrive with us in
September, and the migration continues right through the following
month. The return passage begins in April and lasts into May. All the
birds, however, do not pass northwards, for flocks of immature Scoters
frequent British waters through the summer, whilst a few pairs of adults
are even known to breed in the north of Scotland. The Scoter is found
most abundantly off our eastern coasts, from the Orkneys to the
Goodwins, and thence, but in smaller numbers, along the English Channel.
The western districts are not visited so plentifully, the flat coasts of
Lancashire, the north of Ireland, and the Solway area being its
principal resorts. This Scoter is an adept diver; in fact, almost all
its food is obtained in that way. Like the Eider the Scoter is fond of
working shorewards with the tide, feeding as it comes, and retiring from
the land again when its appetite is satisfied. The food of this Duck
consists in winter chiefly of molluscs and crustaceans; but in summer
the leaves, roots, and buds of aquatic plants are eaten, as are also
insects. The Scoter flies well and rapidly, and is not unfrequently seen
in the air, especially when in flocks. These sometimes circle and gyrate
for some time after they are flushed before settling on the sea again.
The usual note of the Scoter is a harsh _kurr_, modulated into a more
musical sound by the drake during the pairing season.

Even during the breeding season the Common Scoter does not retire far
from the sea. Its favourite breeding grounds are by the lakes and rivers
amongst dwarf-willow and birch-scrub, and an island is always preferred.
The nest is a mere hollow in the ground, into which is collected a
little dry herbage. This, however, is plentifully lined with down before
the female begins to sit. The bird is a late breeder, the eggs not being
laid much before the middle of June. These are six to nine in number,
grayish-buff in colour, smooth in texture, and with little gloss. Only
one brood is reared, and the female alone appears to take the entire
duty of caring for the ducklings. I should here remark that the adult
male Scoter is uniform bright black, with the exception of an
orange-coloured stripe—said to vary considerably in extent—along the
central ridge of the upper mandible. The female is nearly uniform
dark-brown. The Scoter is an inhabitant of Arctic Europe and West
Siberia, visiting more southern latitudes in winter.

                             VELVET SCOTER.

Although this species, the _Fuligula fusca_ of ornithology, is a regular
winter visitor to the seas off the British coasts, it nowhere approaches
in numbers the preceding species. It may be readily distinguished from
the Common Scoter by its very conspicuous white wing bar, and less
observable white spot under the eye; otherwise it closely resembles it
in general colouration. The Velvet Scoters that visit our seas are
generally observed mixed with the gatherings of the Common Scoter. The
habits of the two species are much alike in some respects, very
different in others. Thus it exhibits the same skill in diving for food,
and obtains it under very similar conditions; its flight is equally
rapid and well sustained; it seldom visits the land, and is, when on it,
just as clumsy and waddling in its gait; its food is similar; its
migrations take place at much the same periods. On the other hand, the
Velvet Scoter is not such a strictly maritime species, being frequently
found on inland waters, and even, during winter, is partial to wandering
up tidal rivers and visiting lakes. Its breeding-places are also, as a
rule, much farther from the sea, and the nest is not unfrequently found
at long distances from any water at all. Odd pairs of this Scoter are
occasionally met with in our area during the summer, and it has been
suggested that the species even breeds within the British limits; no
direct evidence, however, is forthcoming.

This Scoter is a late breeder, its eggs not being laid before the end of
June, or even early in July. Although migrating in flocks, the birds
appear to separate into pairs as soon as the summer quarters are
reached. The duck and drake keep close company as usual, until the eggs
are laid, after which the latter leaves his mate to bring up the brood
alone. The Velvet Scoter breeds in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of
Europe and Asia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and winters in
temperate latitudes. The breeding-places are chiefly situated on the
tundras, amongst scrub or coarse vegetation, near the rivers and lakes.
The scanty nest of dry grass and dead leaves is often made under some
bush, and, before incubation commences, is lined with down from the body
of the female. The eight or nine eggs are greyish-buff in colour,
smooth, and with little gloss. As soon as the young are capable of
flight, a movement south is made.

                              SCAUP DUCK.

This Duck, the _Anas marila_ of Linnæus, or _Fuligula marila_ of modern
naturalists, derives its trivial name from its habit of frequenting the
“mussel-scaups,” or “mussel-scalps,” and is tolerably abundant round the
British coasts during winter. The adult male is distinguished by having
the head and neck black, shot with metallic-green and purple, and the
back and scapulars vermiculated with white and black. The general colour
of the female is brown, shading into grayish-white on the belly, whilst
a broad white band extends round the base of the bill. Scaup Ducks begin
to arrive off our more northern coasts in September, but not until a
month later in the south. They begin to leave us again in March, and the
migration continues through the whole of April into May, the bird thus
being one of the last Ducks to retire north in spring. Although by no
means unfrequently met with on inland waters during migration and in
winter, the Scaup Duck is, for the most part, a dweller on the sea,
resorting, by preference, to bays, estuaries, and the mouths of large
rivers, especially where a considerable amount of mud is left bare at
low water. It is gregarious at this season, often congregating into
large flocks, and not unfrequently associates with other Sea Ducks,
notably with Wigeon and Pintail. It is a most expert and ready diver,
spends most of its time upon the water, and appears always to prefer to
dive, rather than to fly, in avoiding pursuit. If compelled to take
wing, it rises with much splashing: but, when once fairly in the air, is
capable of rapid flight, the quickly-beating pinions making a whistling
or rustling sound. The food of the Scaup Duck consists largely of
molluscs, but crustaceans and marine plants are also eaten by this
species. When thus diving for food, the bird often remains below for a
minute at a time. It feeds much at night, and passes pretty regularly
from its usual haunts by day to its feeding-places. The note of this
Duck is a most harsh and discordant _scaup_, but during flight or
courtship a hoarse and grating _kurr_ is uttered.

The Scaup Duck arrives at its Arctic breeding-grounds with the break-up
of the ice. The bird may probably pair for life, as the sexes keep close
company all the year. Even at its breeding-grounds it is a social bird,
many pairs nesting in a small area, and collecting at certain spots to
feed. Its breeding-grounds are on the Arctic tundras, near the
rush-and-grass-fringed lakes, amidst the thickets of birches, junipers,
and willows. The nest is placed under a bush, or amongst herbage on a
bank, and is merely a hollow lined with dry grass and sedge and dead
leaves. To this, however, the usual lining of down is added. The eggs,
from six to nine in number, are greenish-gray, and of smooth texture.
The female, as usual, takes sole charge of the young. The Scaup Duck
inhabits, during summer, the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and
America, drawing southwards in winter almost to the tropics.

                              TUFTED DUCK.

This species, the _Anas fuligula_ of Linnæus, and the _Fuligula
cristata_ of most modern ornithologists, is a fairly common winter
visitor to the British coasts. It is not so exclusively a marine species
as some of the other diving Ducks, being often met with on inland waters
during that season. The Tufted Duck derives its name from the bushy
crest or tuft of feathers growing from the top of the head, and drooping
down over the back of the neck on the male. The head, neck, and crest
are glossy black, shot with purple and green; the upper parts, the
breast and the under tail coverts, are black; the remainder of the
underparts and the alar speculum are white. In the female, the black is
replaced by dark brown, and the white with brownish-gray: the white
speculum remains. Many Tufted Ducks breed, and are apparently resident
in our islands in certain inland districts; but the majority of the
birds that occur round the coasts are migrants from the north. This Duck
begins to arrive off the British coasts towards the end of October, and
continues to do so into November. It remains in our area until the
following spring, passing north in March and April. Its principal haunts
are the more low-lying coasts, especially in the vicinity of estuaries
and mud-banks. It is gregarious enough at this season, some of the
flocks consisting of many thousands of birds. In its habits generally,
it very closely resembles the Scaup Duck, a species whose company it
often keeps. It swims in much the same low manner, dives with equally
marvellous adeptness, and shows the same propensity for keeping well out
to sea during the day, coming shorewards and into shallower water at
night to feed. It rises from the sea in the same apparently laboured
way, striking the water with its feet—the splashing thus made by a flock
of birds being audible for a long distance. Its alarm note during winter
is a harsh _kurr_, but the bird is not a very noisy one. The food of
this Duck consists of molluscs, small fish, and the roots, stems,
leaves, and buds of various water plants—all of which is obtained by
diving, the bird sometimes remaining beneath the surface for as long as
a minute.

The Tufted Duck retires to inland waters for the summer, its favourite
resorts being meres, lakes, and marshy grounds full of small ponds. A
partiality is also shown for small pools on heaths, or fairly
well-timbered ground. This Duck probably pairs for life; in the breeding
season it is certainly social, many males consorting together, and many
females making their nests within a small area. The nest is usually made
in a tussock of sedge, beneath a bush, or amongst rushes and coarse
grass, and is a mere hollow lined with a little dry vegetation, and an
abundance of down from the female. The eggs are usually from eight to
ten in number, and greenish-buff. They are laid, according to locality,
from April to June. The female alone brings up the young. Outside our
islands, the Tufted Duck breeds in the Arctic or temperate parts of
Europe and Asia, visiting the southern portions of those continents, as
well as North Africa, during winter.


This handsome Duck, the _Anas ferina_ of Linnæus, and the _Nyroca_ or
_Fuligula ferina_ of modern writers, is another winter visitor to the
British Islands, where, however, it breeds locally, and in somewhat
limited numbers, thus coming within the category of our resident
species. In some districts the male of this Duck is known as the
“Red-headed Poker,” the female as the “Dunbird” or “Dunker.” The colours
of this Duck are very distinctive. The head and neck of the male are
rich chestnut; the back scapulars and flanks are white, finely-pencilled
or vermiculated with black; the gorget and tail coverts are black; the
under-surface grayish-white; the quills brown. The female has the head
and neck reddish-brown, the chin white, and the remainder of the plumage
much browner and more dingy than in her mate. The Pochard is by no means
exclusively a marine Duck; in fact, this species appears to be as much
attached to fresh-waters as to the sea. Unfortunately, there is one
thing about most of these Sea Ducks which does much to detract from
their interest, and that is, they cannot readily be observed from the
shore, and appear upon our seas at a season when the elements render the
coast least attractive. Most of these Ducks lie well off the land, where
the wild-fowler alone is tempted to follow them; or if approaching the
shore more closely, it is generally during rough tempestuous weather,
when all but the enthusiastic naturalist and the gunner prefer to remain
warm and comfortable at home. The Pochard is no exception in this
respect. It arrives along our coasts in October, and remains with us
until the following March. It is thoroughly aquatic in its habits,
rarely visiting the land, feeding both by day and by night (chiefly the
latter), and often flying for considerable distances, about dusk, to
waters where food is abundant. Although its flight, at first, is slow
and laboured, it soon becomes very rapid, and the quickly-beating wings
make a rustling sound very characteristic of this species. The Pochard
is another expert diver, and by this means obtains most of its food,
visiting the bottom and bringing up masses of weeds to eat them on the
surface. On the coast its food largely consists of crustaceans and
molluscs, as well as marine plants. The note of this species is a loud
and harsh _kurr_.

The haunts of the Pochard in summer are large and open sheets of water,
surrounded by a luxuriant growth of sedge, rush, iris, and similar
plants, or situated on higher ground clothed with heath, gorse, and
coarse grass. It is a social bird during the breeding period, several
females often nesting close together. The nest is always made near fresh
water, and in many cases absolutely floats on rafts of fallen and
rotting vegetation several yards from the bank, or rests in some tussock
surrounded by shallow water. A bed of iris, or a crown of rushes, is
another favourite spot. It is made of dry grass and fragments of any
aquatic vegetation obtainable, and lined with down from the female’s
body. The eggs—usually from eight to twelve, sometimes more—are
brownish-gray. As is usual among Ducks, the female alone brings up the
numerous family. This Duck is widely distributed over many parts of
Europe, Northern Asia, and North America, the birds of the latter
continent being regarded by some ornithologists as a distinct species.


Misled by the variations of colour, due to age, sex, or season, in this
species, Linnæus described different examples of it under the names of
_Anas clangula_ and _A. glaucion_; whilst even in our own day the
females and immature birds are known as “Morillons,” and regarded as
distinct from the much-rarer adult males or “Golden-Eyes,” which are
locally termed “Rattle wings” or “Whistlers” from the noise produced by
the wings during flight. The Golden-Eye forms the type of the
well-marked genus _Clangula_ of Fleming and of Boie, and is known to
most modern ornithologists as _C. glaucion_. The male is a singularly
striking and beautiful bird, with the general colour of the upper parts
black, shot with metallic-green tints on the head, which is adorned with
a small, yet distinct, drooping crest; with a large white patch at the
base of the bill under each eye, and with the drooping, elongated
scapulars, and the underparts, white. The female is much less
conspicuous, the black being replaced by dark brown, the elongated
scapulars are wanting, and the spot under the eyes only faintly
indicated. The white double alar speculum is, however, very strongly
marked in both sexes. The Golden-Eye is certainly more addicted to
fresh-water than the sea, and in most cases only quits these inland
lakes and ponds, when continued frost compels it to do so. It then
prefers such coasts as are low-lying, especially delighting in
estuaries. It usually arrives in the British Islands in October, and
remains in them until the following April or May. It is not so
gregarious as some of the other Ducks, and generally assembles in
parties rather than in flocks, the larger gatherings being caused by
exceptional circumstances. Its habits very closely resemble those of
allied birds. It is seldom seen on the land, and there walks with the
waddling gait peculiar to most Ducks; on the water, however, it is
active and graceful enough, swimming well, and diving with great
celerity, usually seeking by this means to escape from danger. The note
of this Duck is a low croaking _kurr_, uttered both when the bird is
flying and when at rest. Its food consists of crustaceans, molluscs,
small fishes, and various water plants and weeds. Most of this is
obtained by diving; and whilst a flock of birds is feeding, several
individuals keep watch, all never diving together.

The evidence for this Duck having bred in Scotland, is neither reliable
nor conclusive. The Golden-eye breeds throughout the Arctic and
sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and America, up to the limits of the
growth of trees: its winter range extends to the tropics. It retires to
its northern summer haunts with the first signs of spring. The favourite
breeding resorts of this Duck are tracts of more open forest country,
where the woods are full of swamps and lakes, and the timber contains
plenty of holes. The nest is usually made in a hollow tree, in a hole in
the trunk, or in a hollow branch, sometimes as many as thirty feet from
the ground; whilst the partiality of the bird for a tree near a
waterfall, or running stream, has been noticed by more than one
observer. The nest consists entirely of the down plucked from the
female’s body. The ten or twelve eggs are laid in May or June, and are
bright green in colour. The nest-hole is never made by the Duck itself.
The peasants of Northern Scandinavia place hollow logs in suitable
places on the tree-trunks, which the Golden-Eyes appear readily to avail
themselves of, and from which the eggs and down are systematically
taken. The young are conveyed to the ground, one by one, pressed between
the female’s bill and her breast. The male is not known to assist in the
task of incubation, but may possibly do so.

                           LONG-TAILED DUCK.

This beautiful and remarkably elegant species, the _Anas glacialis_ of
Linnæus, and the _Fuligula_ or _Harelda glacialis_ of modern writers, is
another winter visitor to the British seas. It is only of somewhat rare
occurrence in our southern waters, but northwards, off the Scotch
coasts, it becomes more frequent, and in certain localities—notably the
Hebrides, and the Orkneys and Shetlands—even abundant. In the latter
islands it is locally known as the “Calloo”; in other parts of Scotland
the clear, gabbling cry of this Duck has been freely translated into the
words “coal-an’-can’le-licht.” To many American gunners the bird is
known as “Old Squaw,” from its oft-repeated cries. The male bird is
singularly graceful in appearance, his long, black central tail feathers
projecting five inches beyond the remaining white ones. The head and
neck are white, but on either side, below the ears, is a dark brown
circular patch; the gorget and the upper parts generally are black,
against which, however, the long, elongated white scapulars are very
conspicuous; the underparts, below the gorget, are white. The female is
much less showy, the black parts in the male being dark brown in this
sex, and the white parts are suffused with brown; the elongated
scapulars are wanting. During exceptionally severe weather the
Long-tailed Duck sometimes approaches our coasts in unusual numbers, and
in districts where it is generally a scarce bird. This Duck is a late
migrant, seldom reaching even our most northerly coasts before November.
It returns north in April. It is strictly marine in its haunts during
winter, often wandering long distances from land, and approaching the
shore usually under pressure of stormy weather. Then it shows a decided
preference for rock-bound coasts, frequenting the creeks and inlets
which afford a considerable amount of shelter. The Long-tailed Duck is
gregarious at this season, like most of its kind, although the flocks
are seldom or never so large as the gatherings of Scoters and others.
Its flight is remarkably quick, the long tail making the bird look
extremely elegant. It is also an expert diver, disappearing as quick as
thought, and often going for long distances beneath the surface, like a
Grebe or a Shag. It obtains most of its food by diving, and, like the
Eider, often comes shorewards with the tide. It feeds in deeper water,
too, than many of its allies, as much of its prey is captured, not at
the bottom, but floating in the sea. This food consists of small
molluscs, crustaceans, minute marine animals, insects, and water plants,
and weeds. Its note may be described as a loud _cal-loo-oo_.

The Long-tailed Duck breeds in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and
North America, above the limits of forest growth, and, possibly, as far
north as land exists. During summer, it frequents inland pools and
lakes; odd pairs taking possession of the former, many pairs
congregating on the latter. The birds arrive in the Arctic regions with
the break-up of the ice, congregating in the pools amongst the floes.
The nest is usually placed in some sheltered nook, amongst birch and
willow scrub, in long grass, or on the drifted rubbish by the banks of
the subsided rivers. It is little more than a hollow, lined with down.
In this, during June or early July, from seven to twelve buffish-green
eggs are laid by the female. It is a most remarkable fact that the drake
of this species assists the duck in bringing up the young, but not, so
far as I can learn, in incubating the eggs. During the whole breeding
season this Duck is remarkably tame, loth to take wing, and swimming out
into the centre of the lake for safety, if threatened by danger. The
winter migrations of this Duck are not very extended, the Mediterranean
Basin, perhaps, marking the extreme southern limits.


The Mergansers are a well-defined little group of fish-eating Ducks,
forming the sub-family Merginæ. They are characterised by their slender,
narrow bill, furnished on both upper and lower mandible with saw-like
lamellæ or denticulations. The head is always more or less crested; in
most other respects they resemble the Diving Ducks, all the species
seeking for their food by diving. The sexes differ in colour of plumage,
but not, perhaps, to such a marked extent as in some other divisions of
the Anatidæ. Six species of Mergansers are known to science, of which
four are included in the British list—one as a rare visitor from North
America. Of the remaining two species, one inhabits South America, the
other the Auckland Islands. The young, as usual, are hatched covered
with down, and able soon to follow the female to the water. In their
moulting and progress to maturity they resemble preceding species.

                        RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.

This handsome sea-bird, the _Mergus serrator_ of Linnæus and most modern
ornithologists, is unfortunately a winter visitor only to English
waters. In Scotland and Ireland, however, it is one of the most familiar
coast birds all the year round. The Red-breasted Merganser cannot
readily be confused with any other Duck. The crested head and upper neck
are black, shot with green and purple, the lower neck and upper breast
are buff, streaked with black, the feathers on the sides of the breast
having broad black margins, the flanks are strongly vermiculated with
black, the back is black, vermiculated with gray on the lower portions,
the inner scapulars are black, the outer ones white, the speculum is
white, barred with black, and the underparts (except the flanks) are
white. The female has the head and neck reddish-brown, and the upper
parts brown, the black-bordered feathers on the sides of the breast are
absent. Although found in many inland districts, the favourite resorts
of the Red-breasted Merganser are wild, rocky coasts, such as contain
plenty of quiet bays and creeks, and lochs studded with islands. Waters
where the bottom is sandy or rocky, are preferred to those in which it
is composed of mud. Many birds of this species visit our coasts for the
winter from more northern haunts, whilst some of those dwelling in
Scottish waters draw southwards at that season. This Merganser is more
or less gregarious, and may be met with in flocks out at sea, or during
rough weather sheltering nearer the land in lochs. Early in spring, and
onwards through the summer, the Red-breasted Merganser lives closely in
pairs, flying and feeding in company. I have noticed that this bird
visits certain spots to feed very regularly, according to the state of
the tide; almost to the minute I could depend upon certain pairs passing
certain spots on their way to these feeding-grounds. I know of few
prettier sights than the actions of a pair of Mergansers in some quiet,
deep sea loch in early summer. The birds swim side by side close inshore
below the rocks, first one diving, and then another, rarely, if ever,
both descending at the same time when feeding; but when engaged in
courtship, the drake will pursue the duck, and splash about in the water
in a most uproarious way, often diving after her in the eagerness of his
chase. The bird swims well, if rather low in the water, and dives head
foremost with a leap just like the Shag. The food of this species
consists largely of fish, but crustaceans, crabs especially, and
molluscs are also devoured. Most of this food is obtained whilst diving,
each capture being brought to the surface to be swallowed, the bird
drinking after doing so, and not unfrequently rising three parts out of
the water and flapping its wings. The note is a guttural _kurr_, heard
chiefly during flight. The bird flies well and rapidly when once free
from the water, but often flaps along the surface for several yards
before that is accomplished.

The Red-breasted Merganser breeds in May, the eggs being laid during the
latter half of that month, and the first half of June. Although not
gregarious during this period, it is, at any rate, social, for several
pairs may be found nesting very close together, if keeping somewhat to
themselves. An island is always preferred to the mainland. The nest is
placed under a rock or bank, in a rabbit burrow, or amongst dense
heather and gorse at no great distance from the water. In many cases the
eggs are laid upon the bare ground, in others a few dry vegetable
fragments are collected into a slight hollow, but a plentiful bed of
down gradually accumulates around them. From eight to twelve olive-gray
eggs are laid, upon which the female alone sits. The male, however, is
in attendance on the water near by, and the duck joins him there during
the short periods that she leaves her charge to feed and to bathe. If
alarmed, the hen bird slips off very quietly. When the young are hatched
the drake retires to moult, and the female brings them up unaided.
Outside our islands this Merganser is widely distributed over the
northern parts of Europe, Asia, and America, drawing southwards in


As this beautiful Duck, the _Mergus merganser_ of ornithologists, not
only occurs in some numbers in British waters as a winter visitor, but
breeds sparingly within our limits, it has some claim to be included in
the present volume, although it cannot be regarded as a very striking
feature in coast bird life. It is also far less exclusively marine than
the preceding species. The Goosander is an even more handsome bird than
the Red-breasted Merganser, and is the largest species in the present
sub-family. The colours of the male are arranged in a most effective and
strongly-contrasted way. The head and neck are dark metallic-green, the
breast is a delicate and beautiful pink, the upper parts and the wings
are black and white, the under parts below the breast white. The female
has the head reddish-brown, the upper parts grayish-brown or pale
chestnut, the lower buffish-white. In its habits and in the haunts it
frequents, the Goosander very closely resembles its smaller ally. When,
in winter, frequenting the coast it delights in the bays and fjords, but
occasionally wanders to less precipitous shores, notably estuaries and
the mouths of tidal rivers. It is a remarkably agile bird in the water,
swimming and diving with equal ease, but on the land its movements are
ungainly, the bird wriggling along with its breast almost touching the
ground, in a very Diver-like manner. In diving, it often descends to a
great depth. Although not often seen much on shore, it possesses the
Cormorant-like habit of basking on some rock jutting from the water,
sitting with its body upright and wings half expanded. Its food consists
of fish, crabs, molluscs, and aquatic insects. Most of this is obtained
whilst the bird is diving.

The Goosander, in our islands, is as yet only known to breed in a few
localities in the Highlands. Its eggs are laid during April and May. Its
favourite nesting haunts are open, swampy forests, containing lakes and
rocky streams. The nest is generally made in a hole in a tree, but
crevices in rocks, or cavities in exposed tree roots by the water side,
are sometimes selected. But little nest is made, although when the full
clutch of eggs is deposited a thick and abundant bed of down surrounds
them. The eggs are from eight to twelve in number, creamy white and
glossy. It is not known whether the drake assists in the duty of
incubation. The Goosander has a wide geographical range, which extends
over Arctic and North temperate Europe, Asia, and America, and more
southern areas during winter.


This species, the _Mergus albellus_ of systematists, is not only the
smallest of the Mergansers, but by far the least common in British
waters. Its visits are chiefly confined to the eastern coast line of
England and Scotland and the south coast of England. Even in these areas
adult males—from their strongly-contrasted black-and-white plumage
locally known as “Nuns”—are much more rarely met with than females and
young birds, called by the gunners of the east coast “Red-headed Smews.”
Unfortunately, the male Smew is a bird that does not approach the coast
much, and the female, from her duller colouration and small size, is
readily overlooked. Lastly, it is the least maritime of the family. The
male Smee or Smew, in nuptial plumage, is black and white—some of the
former colour displayed in curious crescentic markings on the shoulders
and in front of the wings, the elongated crest is pearly white,
emphasised by greenish black, and the flanks are finely vermiculated
with gray. The female has the head reddish-brown. During winter the Smew
is gregarious, living in flocks of thirty or forty individuals, mostly
immature. It prefers the more open water at some distance from shore,
seeking to evade pursuit by swimming, but, if fired at, diving at once
and reappearing far out of danger. When feeding most of the birds dive
at once, rising in scattered order, but soon bunching together as each
bird swims to a central rallying point. The Smew does not visit the land
much, and even sleeps upon the water. It is a most accomplished diver,
descending to great depths, and using its wings to assist it through the
water, which it traverses with as much ease as a Cormorant or an Auk.
Upon our coasts its food consists principally of small fishes and
crustaceans. Its note is a harsh _kurr_, but at its breeding grounds it
is said to utter a bell-like call, hence in Northern Asia it has been
called the “Bell Duck.”

The Smew breeds in the forest swamps of the Arctic regions, making its
nest in a hollow fallen log, or in a hole in a tree or stump. The eggs
are laid upon the powdered wood, but are eventually surrounded with a
quantity of down from the body of the parent. The seven or eight eggs,
creamy-white in colour, are laid late in June or early in July. The
ducklings are said to be conveyed to the water by the female in her


The Geese form an extensive and well-defined sub-family of the Anatidæ
termed Anserinæ. They are distinguished from their allies by having the
lores covered with feathers, and the tarsus reticulated back and front.
The Geese differ further from the Swans, in having a relatively longer
tarsus, and much shorter neck; and from the Ducks by their short,
robust, subconical bill. Geese frequent both land and water, inland
districts as well as the coasts and seas. The sexes do not present such
striking contrasts of colour as in the Ducks. Geese moult once in the
year, in autumn. The distribution of the sub-family is almost a
cosmopolitan one, but the New World contains the greatest number of
species. Half-a-dozen species are more or less abundant visitors to our
islands in winter, but one species only breeds within our limits, and
even this has been extirpated from most of its ancient haunts. These
half-dozen species divide themselves into two distinct groups, four of
them consisting of the Gray Geese, and two the Black Geese. The birds in
the former group are the least maritime in their haunts, visiting the
land to feed, whilst those in the latter division are inseparably
associated with the sea during their sojourn in our area. As the former
group contains the familiar “Wild Goose”—which is the original stock
from which the farmyard Goose has been derived—we will deal first with
the species contained in it.

                            GRAY LAG GOOSE.

This fine bird, the type of the genus _Anser_, and the _Anser cinereus_
of most modern writers, claims distinction not only as being the origin
of the domestic race, but as the one species indigenous to the British
Islands. For nearly a hundred years, however, the Gray Lag Goose has
ceased to breed in its old haunts, the English Fens; it continues to
breed, yet very locally, in the Hebrides, and in certain parts of the
Highlands. Its domestication must extend to a very ancient date; yet
captivity, beyond increasing its size and its fecundity, has caused but
trifling variation in its colour. The bird, therefore, must be too
familiar to every reader to require any description here. Once
apparently so common, the Gray Lag Goose is now one of our rarest birds,
a fact of great significance to the student of the geographical
distribution or dispersal of species. The derivation of one of this
bird’s trivial names—Lag—has given rise to much speculation, until
Professor Skeat[6] apparently solved the riddle by suggesting that the
word—which is an equivalent for late—applied to the bird’s habit of
lagging behind to breed in the Fens, after other migratory Geese had
departed north. A few Gray Lag Geese locally appear, chiefly on our
eastern seaboard in winter, and it is more than probable that, normally,
most of these birds are the individuals still continuing to inhabit the
British Islands. These birds generally resort to the coast, frequenting
sand-banks and low islands during the day, as a safe retreat in which to
rest and sleep, coming landwards again at dusk to feed. This Goose,
although gregarious during winter, seldom or never consorts with other
species, although ready enough to mingle with its tame descendants on
the stubbles and pastures. Where not persecuted, this Goose is a day
feeder: but incessant shooting has caused it to vary its habits in this
respect, and to defer its visits to dangerous grounds until darkness has
set in. It shows little partiality for water, only resorting thereto
when alarmed, or during the helpless period of its moult, when its
quills all drop out together and incapacitate it for flight. It swims
well and buoyantly, however, and when wounded has been known to dive.
The flight of this species is both rapid and powerful, the birds usually
forming into Vs or Ws to perform their journeys. The call-note is a
loud, far-sounding _gag-gag_, variously modulated on different
occasions. Its food consists largely of grass and tender grain plants,
but grain of all kinds is sought, together with various buds and leaves.

The Gray Lag Goose breeds early, in some localities the eggs being laid
in March or April, a month later in the more northern districts. It is a
social bird at this period, and numbers of nests are often made close
together. Its breeding grounds are secluded moors and swamps. The huge
nest, made on the ground, is placed amongst heath or dense vegetation,
and is composed of branches of heather, dry grass, rushes, bracken,
turf, and so on, and lined with down. The six or eight eggs are
creamy-white. The gander keeps guard close to the nest, whilst the goose
incubates the eggs; and when the young are reared a move is usually made

                          WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.

This Goose, the _Branta albifrons_ of Scopoli, but the _Anser albifrons_
of most modern writers, is a winter visitor to our islands, not only
local in distribution, but much more abundant in some years than others.
It may be readily distinguished from the preceding species by its
orange-yellow bill, white face (a narrow and varying line of white
feathers round the base of the bill), and broad black bars across the
belly. It is, perhaps, most abundant on the Irish coasts, those of the
south and south-west of England coming next, whilst on the east coast—a
region so famous for Wild Fowl—it becomes rare. In Scotland its
principal resorts are in the Outer Hebrides. The habits of all these
“Gray” Geese are very much alike. During winter the present species is
gregarious, and passes with great regularity from the sand-banks, where
it rests and sleeps, to the more inland pastures where it feeds. Its
food, flight, and actions generally resemble those of allied birds. The
note is said to be more harsh and cackling than that of the preceding
species, hence the name “Laughing Goose,” applied in many places to this

The White-fronted Goose breeds in the Arctic regions, and was met with
by Middendorff breeding in great numbers on the Siberian tundras. The
nest was a mere hollow at the summit of a grassy knoll, lined with down.
The eggs, from five to seven in number, are creamy-white.

                              BEAN GOOSE.

This species, the _Anas segetum_ of Gmelin, and the _Anser segetum_ of
modern ornithologists, is locally distributed round the British coasts
during winter, but of more general occurrence on passage, especially in
autumn. The Bean Goose may be distinguished from the two preceding Geese
by the colour of its bill, which has only the central portion
orange-yellow, the base and the nail being black. This species arrives
in our area during October and November. It is gregarious during winter,
congregating in flocks of varying size, which wander about considerably,
influenced by the exigencies of the weather and the supply of food.
These gatherings are difficult to approach. During the day the Bean
Geese come inland to search for their food, on the stubbles and
newly-sown grain lands. A long-continued frost will keep them to the
coast; but during spells of open, yet rough and stormy weather, they
prefer to remain in inland haunts, from which, however, they soon depart
at the sign of a coming frost. When feeding, Bean Geese generally
station sentinels to guard the flock by giving timely notice of the
approach of an enemy. Their food consists of grass, grain, tender shoots
of grain, and the roots of various plants. During night, when they are
certainly more easily approached, they repair to sand banks and low
islands, or to the open sea, where they sleep and preen their feathers.
This Goose swims well, but rises from water in a somewhat laboured
manner. Its note is the familiar _gag-gag_, variously modulated
according to circumstances.

The Bean Goose breeds on the Arctic tundras, beyond or near the limits
of forest growth, across Europe and Asia, from the Atlantic to the
Pacific. The nest is made early in June, amongst the tall grass and
sedge of an islet on one of the tundra lakes, or on rising ground on the
bank, and is merely a hollow, into which is gathered a little dry grass
and a quantity of down from the body of the parent. In this nest three
or four creamy-white eggs are laid. As soon as the young are half-grown,
the Bean Geese begin to collect into flocks again, and to complete their
moult. Like other Geese, at this time they are very helpless, being
incapable of flight, as the quills drop out suddenly, and nearly all

Allusion must here be made to the Pink-footed Goose, the _Anser
brachyrhynchus_ of Baillon, long confounded with the Bean Goose, and
perhaps only sub-specifically distinct from it. As pointed out by Mr.
Cecil Smith, the characters mainly depended upon to distinguish this
bird from the Bean Goose—pink legs and central portion of the bill—are
not constant; but this may be due to accidental reversion. A more
important difference, because apparently constant, is the bluish-gray
colour of the upper wing coverts. These, however, are questions that do
not come within the scope of the present volume, and must be left to the
more advanced students of birds. The Pink-footed Goose is a tolerably
common winter visitor to our islands, especially to the eastern
districts. Its habits are not known to differ in any important respect.
But little is known of its habits during the breeding season. The nest
is said to be made on low rocks near the sea, or on higher cliffs in the
fjords some distance inland. The four or five eggs are creamy-white.

                              BRENT GOOSE.

The “Black” Geese differ in many important respects from their allies
the “Gray” Geese, and are generally separated from them under the
scientific terms of _Bernicla_ or _Branta_. These birds are
characterised by their short, sub-conical bills, in which the lamellæ
are concealed, or nearly so, and by the general dark colour of the
plumage, relieved by white, or, in some cases, various
strongly-contrasted colours. Two species are British, in the sense of
visiting us during winter. The first of these the Brent Goose—the _Anser
brenta_ of Brisson, and the _Bernicla brenta_ of modern naturalists—is
by far the most common and widely distributed of the Geese in our
islands, but it exclusively confines itself to the sea. It may be met
with off almost all parts of our coast-line, but is most abundant along
the east and south. The adult bird may readily be distinguished by the
general black colouration of the breast and upper parts, relieved by
small white patches on the sides of the neck, the pale margins to the
wing coverts and mantle, and the white upper tail coverts. The lower
parts below the breast are dark slate-gray, many of the feathers having
paler margins. Young birds, however, do not display the white neck
patches. The Brent Goose is seldom seen in any numbers on our seas
before October; but from that date onwards vast flocks continue to
arrive, and the bird continues abundant until the end of the following
March. Certainly some districts are far more favoured by this species
than others. In my own experience I may name the Wash, where I have seen
this Goose in such enormous packs as densely to cover many acres of
mud-flat; whilst their noisy clamour, in the still hours of early
morning, could be heard for a mile or more across the wide, desolate
salt-marshes. The Brent Goose passes its time either on the sea or on
the muds. It is remarkably gregarious, young and old congregating
together, wary and watchful always, and never allowing a close approach
on the land. So densely do the birds pack, that a disturbed flock taking
wing looks as though the very surface of the mud or sea were rising in
one solid, inseparable mass. The principal food of this Goose consists
of grass, wrack, and laver. On certain mud-banks these plants grow very
thickly, and to these the Brents resort as soon as the tide recedes
sufficiently for them to reach and to tear up their favourite food. In
studied order the birds advance, feeding as they come, sentinels
remaining on the look-out in turn, until all are satisfied, or the
incoming tide covers their food-plants. Then back, in a solid mass, they
go towards the open sea, or to some low bank, there to rest and preen
their plumage, and to wait until another tide has ebbed, and left
exposed their pastures. This bird, for the most part, is a day feeder;
but during moonlight nights it will visit the exposed banks, doubtless
the tide having considerable influence on its habits in this respect.
The flight of this Goose, if rather laboured, is powerful and
well-sustained; and during its progression the birds often form into Vs
or Ws, or some other lineal pattern. The note of the Brent Goose is a
loud, oft-repeated, and variously-modulated _hank_ or _honk_, uttered,
not only when the bird is on the ground, but during flight.

But very little is known of the nidification of the Brent Goose. It
breeds in the highest Arctic latitudes, selecting, if possible, an
island near the coast, making a rude nest in some hollow in the ground,
of dry grass, stalks of plants, and moss, and warmly lined with down.
The four or five eggs are creamy-white in colour. The gander keeps watch
and ward near the nest, whilst the goose incubates the eggs. By the end
of July most of the Brent Geese begin to moult, and during some part of
the time they are quite incapable of flight. At this critical period
they keep closely to the sea. Mr. Trevor-Battye, in his interesting
book, _Icebound on Kolguev_, gives a graphic description of the way the
Samoyeds capture the Brent Goose whilst it is incapable of flight.
Instinctively aware of their helplessness, the Geese endeavour to get to
the sea, and on it congregate in large flocks, until their quills have
grown. But the Samoyeds cleverly surround them—often taking advantage of
a dense sea-fog to do so—and quietly drive them into a netted enclosure
on the shore, where they are killed at leisure. One of these grand
“drives” witnessed by Mr. Trevor-Battye resulted in the capture of
upwards of three thousand Brents! A form or variety of the Brent Goose,
with the under parts below the breast nearly white, is commonly found
consorting with birds of the typical colour. It is the _Bernicla
glaucogaster_ of Brehm, and, as far as is known, breeds only in the
Nearctic region. It is not known to differ in its habits from the more
typical form.

                            BERNACLE GOOSE.

This somewhat larger species, the _Anas leucopsis_ of Bechstein, and the
_Anser leucopsis_ of most modern naturalists, is a fairly common winter
visitor to the British coasts, where it is most abundant on the western
littoral, from Cornwall up to the Hebrides. Unlike the Brent, the
Bernacle Goose frequently wanders inland to winter on large sheets of
fresh-water. This Goose is readily distinguished by its white cheeks,
and much lighter underparts below the breast. Owing to peculiarities of
distribution, rather perhaps than to choice, the Bernacle Goose
frequents more rocky coasts than its ally. It is also just as
gregarious, but owing to the nature of its food is more of a land
species, and certainly more nocturnal in its habits. Although
frequenting sand-banks and mud-flats to sleep and to rest, it does not
obtain much food upon them. Its food is principally composed of marsh
grass, and to obtain this it comes up from the sea to the saltings, and
the banks of lakes and tidal rivers. Its flight and actions generally
very closely resemble those of the Brent Goose. The note is similar.
Nothing is known of the breeding grounds or the nesting habits of the
Bernacle Goose. It has, however, been known to breed in confinement. The
eggs are creamy white.


These large and handsome birds form the small but well-defined
sub-family Cygninæ. They may be distinguished from all other species in
the Anatidæ, by having the lores, or space between the eye and the base
of the bill, bare of feathers, and by their reticulated tarsus. In this
sub-family, as in the Anserinæ, the sexes are nearly alike in colour.
Swans moult only once in the year, in autumn. The young birds—known as
Cygnets—are hatched covered with down, and able to swim. In first
plumage they are uniform grayish-brown; and, unlike the Geese, they
appear not to undergo any moult during their first autumn, but after the
moult, which takes place in their second autumn, they acquire the pure
white plumage of the adult. Although this sub-family contains but seven
species, probably all referable to one genus, its distribution is wide,
embracing the Palæarctic, Nearctic, Neo-tropical, and Australian
regions. Besides the Mute Swan, two other species are British, in the
sense of visiting our area to winter.

                              HOOPER SWAN.

This fine bird, the _Cygnus musicus_ of Bechstein, as well as of most
modern ornithologists, is a tolerably common winter visitor to the
British Islands, frequenting inland waters as well as the coasts. It is
of more frequent occurrence in Scotland, than in England or Ireland. The
Hooper—sometimes rendered Whooper—or Whistling Swan, both names being
derived from the bird’s notes, may be distinguished from its two British
allies by having the basal portion of the bill extending below the
nostrils, yellow. Like many other species that visit us during winter
from the high north, its numbers vary a good deal in different years,
according to the mildness or severity of the winter in regions lying
directly north or north-east of our area. In periods of long continued
frost, great numbers of this Swan collect off certain parts of our
coasts, driven seawards from inland waters. This Swan is rarely seen in
British waters before October or November, whilst in some years it does
not make its appearance in certain localities before mid-winter. Its
spring migration northwards lasts through April and May. Whilst on
passage the flocks of this species form into some rectilinear figure and
fly at vast heights. Gätke remarks, that at Heligoland this Swan is seen
most frequently during long-continued frost, flights of ten, twenty, or
more, passing in long rows, one behind the other, uttering their loud
clanging cries as they go. The flight of this species is rapid and
regular, the swish swish of the long wings being heard for a long
distance, and the bird’s long neck outstretched. There are few more
graceful birds on the water than the Mute Swan, with its arched neck and
raised plumes, yet the Hooper is even ungainly looking, the neck being
held straight. Hoopers are shy and wary birds, and generally keep well
out from shore, except when feeding. The food of this Swan is mostly of
a vegetable nature, aquatic plants and grasses, but insects and molluscs
are also eaten. Its note sounds almost like the short blast of a
trumpet, uttered in succession.

The Hooper Swan breeds in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia, its
favourite resorts being the islands in the deltas of the great rivers
that flow into the northern ocean, or on the banks of the great lakes on
the tundras, or beside one of the many creeks or inlets spreading out
from the main rivers. This Swan pairs for life. The huge nest is
composed of coarse grass and other herbage, piled up on the ground, and
often increased in bulk as incubation proceeds. The eggs, from three to
seven in number, are creamy-white in colour and rough in texture.

                             BEWICK’S SWAN.

Long confused with the preceding Swan, the distinctness of the present
species was recognised by Yarrell, who named it _Cygnus bewicki_, in
honour of Thomas Bewick, naturalist and engraver on wood, known to most
readers as the author of the _British Birds_ and _British Quadrupeds_.
Bewick’s Swan is only a winter visitor to the coasts and inland waters
of the British Islands, spending the summer far away in the Arctic
regions of Europe and Asia. The habits of this Swan are very similar to
those of the preceding species. The bird may be distinguished from the
Hooper by its much smaller size, and by the yellow patch at the base of
the bill being much less in extent, never extending below the nostrils.
Bewick’s Swan is perhaps not quite so maritime as the Hooper, preferring
the large inland sheets of water, and more or less sheltered lochs and
fjords, to the open sea. It is seen in greatest numbers in Ireland and
Scotland, and during severe winters visits us in greatest numbers. At
these times some of the flocks are remarkably large, numbering hundreds
or even thousands of individuals. Its food is not known to differ from
that of the preceding species; its flight is equally rapid; and its
note, short and musical, has been syllabled as _tong_. Imposing as these
birds are, and by no means rare, they can scarcely be classed as very
prominent features of the bird-life of the sea, so far as ordinary
observation goes.

Bewick’s Swan reaches its Arctic summer haunts towards the end of May.
Although its eggs have been obtained on the islands in the deltas of the
Petchora and the Yenesay, these were taken by unscientific observers.
Mr. Trevor-Battye, so far as I know, was the first naturalist to see the
nest and take the eggs of Bewick’s Swan, on the island of Kolguev. This
nest—of which he gives a beautiful figure[7]—he describes as a mound,
about two and a-half feet high, and four and a-half feet in diameter at
the base, perfectly smooth, and tapering to the circular top, which was
not more than two feet across. It was made of little bunches of green
moss, with a few scraps of lichen, and a little dry grass pulled up with
the moss. The cavity at the top was lined with dead grass, mixed with a
little down. This nest contained three eggs. These are smaller and
whiter than those of the Hooper.


[Illustration: THE STORMY PETREL. Chapter vi.]

                              CHAPTER VI.

  _Petrels—Characteristics—Changes of Plumage—Fulmar Petrel—Fork-tailed
  Petrel—Stormy Petrel—Manx Shearwater._

Of all sea-birds, the Petrels are the most pelagic. They are the birds
of the wide ocean, even showing small partiality for narrow seas, and
chiefly frequenting for breeding purposes only such spots as face the
widest expanses of water. They are the most marine of birds, yet they
form one of the least apparent features in the bird-life of the sea, and
more especially when that bird-life is studied from the coast. Their
crepuscular, or nocturnal, habits during their short visits to the land
to breed, their sombre hues, their low flight, just above the waves, all
combine in rendering these birds exceptionally difficult of observation.
The Petrels present such exclusively distinctive characters that many
systematists relegate them to an order by themselves. This order is
termed Tubinares, because the birds contained in it have the nostrils
tubular—a character which serves, at a glance, to distinguish a Petrel
from all other species. Other external characters are their hooked beak,
webbed feet, and long wings. More than a hundred species of Petrels are
known to science, which are dispersed throughout the seas and oceans of
the world. The young, as far as is known, are hatched covered with down,
but they remain in the nest until capable of flight. These birds moult
once in the year. None of the species are very remarkable for bright
colouration, although, in some, the colours—brown, black, gray, and
white—are strongly contrasted. Several species of Petrel wander
occasionally to the British seas, but only four species breed within our
area, and of these we now propose to treat.

                             FULMAR PETREL.

This Petrel, the _Fulmarus glacialis_ of ornithologists, is very like a
small gull in appearance, and is one of the largest representatives of
its family in the northern hemisphere. Although it abounds in various
parts of the British seas, and was said by Darwin to be the most
numerous bird in the world, so oceanic is it in its habits, that the
wanderer by the shore might not catch a glimpse of a single example
during the course of an entire year. Perhaps this Petrel is more
frequently observed off our eastern coasts than anywhere else, except in
the vicinity of its breeding place; it is often caught in the
flight-nets on the Wash, and is said to be a common frequenter of the
deep-sea fishing grounds in the North Sea. Occasionally storm-driven
birds may be met with close inshore. The Fulmar Petrel is one of the
most familiar birds of high latitudes, following in the wake of whaling
vessels and sealers, and known to the sailors by the name of “Molly
Mawk.” In its actions above the sea, the Fulmar very closely resembles a
Gull, beating about in the same dilatory manner, and searching for any
food chancing to float upon the surface, following in the wake of
vessels for miles to pick up the scraps thrown overboard. Its usual
food, however, appears to be cuttlefish and sorrel. It is also very
partial to whale blubber. It often alights upon the sea, either to rest
or sleep, or to eat its food; whilst its flight is not only powerful,
but capable of being sustained for long periods. When searching for
food, this bird flies close to the waves, every now and then gliding
along with wings nearly motionless, maintaining its speed with a few
vigorous beats from time to time.

The Fulmar Petrel becomes by far the most interesting at its breeding
stations. These, however, are isolated and few. In the British area
there is only one important nesting place of this species, and that is
at St. Kilda—a group of rocky turf-covered islets, that form an ideal
haunt for every species of Petrel that frequents the British seas, or
even a considerable portion of the North Atlantic. A fortnight’s sojourn
on St. Kilda has made me familiar with many of the Fulmar’s habits
during the breeding season. It is the bird of all others characteristic
of the place; one is reminded of its presence in many ways, but most
persistently by the strong smell emitted by this and all birds of the
Petrel family, and which scents everything and every person on the
islands. The Fulmar is extremely gregarious during the breeding season,
and many thousands of birds congregate here during the summer. It is
also exceedingly attached to its breeding places, visiting them season
by season, for time out of mind, and very probably pairs for life. At
St. Kilda, its favourite nesting places are on the downlike cliffs,
places where the soil is deep and loamy, and allows the bird to excavate
a hollow of varying depth. But there is not sufficient accommodation of
this kind for all, and great numbers have to resort to the ledges,
crevices, and hollows on the face of the beetling cliffs, or find a site
in some cranny amongst the rough piled-up masses of rock. Wherever
possible, the Fulmar evidently likes to burrow into the ground, but the
hole in most cases is not big enough to conceal the bird. These hollows
are lined with a little dry grass, but in many instances a nest of no
kind is made. Some of the nests I examined on the bare ledges of the
cliffs, were made of small bits of rock. Vast numbers of nests are made
close together, and from a distance the sitting birds—all blended
together—look like patches of snow. The Fulmar lays but a single egg
each season, white in colour, rough and chalky in texture, and with a
strong pungent smell, which is retained by the shell for years after the
egg has been taken. This egg is laid in May.

There are few more stirring sights in the bird world, than a colony of
Fulmars. Time can never efface the vivid scene that was presented to me,
as for the first time I peered over the mighty cliff Connacher, and
viewed the countless hosts of Fulmars at their nesting-places. Just
before the summit was reached, a few Fulmars could be seen flying above
the cliff, then dropping behind the ridge out of sight. When I got to
the top and looked over, the scene became grand, imposing,
indescribable. The suddenness of it all was well-nigh overpowering. One
moment, not a bird to be seen; the next, countless thousands of drifting
birds flying about in all directions along the face of the cliffs,
passing to and fro, backwards and forwards, like snow-flakes in a gentle
breeze, far as the eye could follow them! All the Fulmars drifted to and
fro in silence; not a single bird uttered a cry. No bird flies more
gracefully than this Petrel; it seems to float in the air without
effort, often passing to and fro for minutes together without
perceptibly moving its wings. They are remarkably tame and confiding
birds, flying past one at arm’s-length, the bright-black eye contrasting
strongly with the snowy plumage. When disturbed by the firing of a gun,
the Fulmars and other sea-birds leave the rocks in masses so dense, that
one is apt to think the entire face of the cliffs is crumbling away.
Large numbers of Fulmars are snared by the natives, and upwards of
20,000 young birds are killed every season at St. Kilda, which, after
the fat and oil are extracted from them, are salted and kept for food.
When caught, the Fulmar vomits a quantity of clear amber-coloured oil,
and a little flows from the nostrils. During the Fulmar harvest in
autumn, the birds, as they are taken, are made to vomit this oil into
dried gullets of the Gannet, which the fowler carries for the purpose
hung round his waist. This oil is valued as a sheep dressing, and is
said to be a sovereign remedy for rheumatism. The typical race of the
Fulmar is an inhabitant of the North Atlantic basin, ranging southwards
in winter as low as the latitude of New York in the west, and Gibraltar
in the east.

                          FORK-TAILED PETREL.

A year after this species was first described by Vieillot, under the
name of _Procellaria leucorhoa_, it was discovered at St. Kilda by
Bullock. This was early in the present century, but the islands, known
collectively by that name, still continue to be its most famous breeding
place in our area, or even in Europe. Three years after its discovery,
it was rechristened _P. leachi_ by the French naturalist Temminck, a
name which has found favour with many writers. The Fork-tailed Petrel is
known to breed on North Rona, and at some other spots in the Outer
Hebrides, as well as on the Blaskets off the coast of Kerry. There can
be little doubt that many other breeding stations of this Petrel remain
to be discovered. This species, readily distinguished from the Stormy
Petrel by its larger size and deeply-forked tail, is rarely seen near
the land unless during the breeding season, or when driven thence by
boisterous weather. I have known it to be caught in the flight-nets on
the mud-banks of the Wash; whilst it is of tolerably frequent occurrence
elsewhere off our eastern and southern coasts. In its habits generally
it very closely resembles its better known ally, the Stormy Petrel.
During the non-breeding season it wanders vast distances from land,
sleeping and resting on the sea when tired, following ships for miles,
fluttering along close to the ocean, now down into the trough of the
wave, anon skimming over the crest to half-fly, half-run, with patting
feet, down the smooth surface of the next. Except during the breeding
season this Petrel is not very gregarious; it may often be seen in
parties of perhaps half-a-dozen, scattered over a considerable surface
of water. The exact nature of the food of this species is apparently
unknown. It is said, in a vague and general way, to feed on crustaceans
and small molluscs, and the scraps of refuse cast from passing vessels,
but birds which I have dissected contained similar substances to those
found in the Fulmar—a nearly clear oil, mingled with the jaws of
cuttlefish, and scraps of sorrel.

The Fork-tailed Petrel resorts to its breeding stations to nest in June.
Although gregarious during this period, its colonies are never so large
as those of the Fulmar. Most probably the bird pairs for life, and
returns season by season to certain spots to rear its young. The largest
colony of this Petrel known to me is at St. Kilda. Here its principal
colony is located on the island of Soay, but there is another and
smaller one on Doon, and doubtless others on Borreay. At the colony on
Doon, the ground was full of long, winding burrows, probably disused
nesting holes of Puffins and Shearwaters, and in these the Fork-tailed
Petrels had made their nests—in some cases one earth accommodating
several pairs of birds. Usually the selected burrows are in the loamy
soil near the summit of the cliffs; but, in some cases, the birds will
select a hole, or crevice, in ruined masonry, or in rocks. At the end of
the burrow, or crevice, a scanty nest of dry grass is formed, but in
some cases no provision whatever is made. Here the female deposits a
single egg, white, with a zone of dust-like brown specks round the
larger end. These eggs are remarkably fragile, and very chalky in
texture. The Fork-tailed Petrel is a close sitter, remaining brooding
over its egg until dragged out. Many nests may be found within an area
of a few yards. This Petrel is not seen abroad much at its breeding
places during daylight; all day long the little birds skulk in their
burrows, but with the approach of night, they begin to sally forth from
their retreats and nests, and their fluttering forms may be seen
flitting to and fro in the deepening gloom, backwards and forwards, to
and from the sea. The Fork-tailed Petrel is not a very noisy bird. Those
that I dragged from their nests uttered a few squeaking notes; but at
night the species becomes more garrulous. But three breeding stations of
this Petrel are known—one in the North Pacific, another in the Bay of
Fundy, and the third within the British area. Its migrations are

                             STORMY PETREL.

This diminutive species, the _Procellaria pelagica_ of Linnæus and most
modern writers, and the “Mother Carey’s Chicken” of mariners, is,
perhaps, the best known of the Petrels that frequent the British seas.
It is remarkable for being the smallest web-footed bird—a nearly black
little creature, with a white patch on the upper tail coverts. Small as
this Petrel is, it is just as oceanic in its haunts as its larger and
more robust congeners. During boisterous weather, especially about the
period of the equinoctial gales in autumn, Stormy Petrels are not
unfrequently driven some distance inland; and examples of this species
have been picked up more or less exhausted, even in the centre of busy
towns. At this season it is also noticed a good deal about certain
lighthouses at night. After rough nights I have seen odd Stormy Petrels
flying over the fishermen’s cottages like swallows, and many of them
are, or used to be, caught in the flight-nets in the Wash. The actions
of this Petrel at sea are characteristic of its congeners. It flies
about in the same fluttering manner, following the curves of the waves,
and pattering along their sloping surfaces with its tiny-webbed feet. It
may be met with hundreds of miles from land, following ships, or paying
a vessel a short visit, then disappearing again, lost in the lonely
wastes of water. It is able to weather many a storm at sea, doubtless
obtaining much shelter in the deep hollows of the mighty waves. It may
be seen flitting about the storm-stirred sea quite at its ease; and from
this fact, it is very popularly believed to be a harbinger of bad
weather, and disliked accordingly by sailors. Except during the breeding
season, the Stormy Petrel rarely visits the land; it rests and sleeps
upon the sea, swimming just as buoyantly as a Duck. It is seldom seen to
alight, however, unless to pick up some morsel of food, and rarely
remains long upon the water. At its breeding stations it is certainly
very nocturnal in its habits, but otherwise it may be seen at all hours
of the day fluttering above the sea. Its food probably consists almost
entirely of cuttlefish; I have dissected many specimens of this Petrel,
and never found anything but oil mixed with sorrel in the stomach. When
taken in the hand the bird usually throws up a drop of this oil, or
squirts a little from the nostrils, just as the larger Fork-tailed
Petrel will do. I have never heard the Stormy Petrel utter a sound,
except at the breeding stations, where its note is a noisy twitter. It
is more or less gregarious at all times of the year, and generally roams
the sea in small scattered parties, but its gatherings are most
extensive at certain of its breeding stations.

It is a difficult matter to specify, with any degree of exactness, the
breeding stations of such a secretive species as the Stormy Petrel. It
may breed for years in a place, and the fact never become known. A
specially interesting instance of this has lately occurred within my own
experience. Lundy Island has long been thought to be the most easterly
breeding station of the Stormy Petrel in England, but all the time, for
aught we know to the contrary, it has regularly nested on the Big Rock
in Tor Bay, where, during last season (1895), a young bird was taken,
and is now preserved in the Torquay Natural History Society’s Museum.
The egg had been taken here several years ago, with the parent bird; the
latest nest owed its discovery to the acuteness of a dog, attracted by
the strong smell emitted by this Petrel. Here then was the Stormy Petrel
breeding actually within sight of my front windows, and I giving Lundy
Island and the Scilly Islands as its only nesting places in the
vicinity! I have seen this Petrel on the whiting grounds outside Tor
Bay, and Manx Shearwaters, too, during summer; but where they _breed_ is
another matter, so skulking and secretive are their movements near and
on the land. So far as is known, there is no breeding-place of the
Stormy Petrel on the entire eastern coast-line of England and Scotland.
The German Ocean is a land-locked sea, and it is more than probable the
Stormy Petrel breeds nowhere on its coasts; but that its nesting-places
extend far up the English Channel—much further east than Tor Bay—there
can be little doubt. There are many known breeding-places of this Petrel
from the Scilly Islands northwards, along the west coast of England,
Wales, and Scotland to the Shetlands, and many others round the coasts
of Ireland. The favourite breeding haunts of the Stormy Petrel are rocky
islands, rising in uneven turf-clad downs, strewn with masses of rock
and stones. The bird probably pairs for life, and is more or less
gregarious at its breeding-places. The slight nest of dry grass is
placed in an old rabbit earth or Puffin burrow, under a rock or heap of
loose stones, or in ruins, and amongst masonry. In some cases no nest
whatever is made. The single egg is laid normally in June. This is pure
white in ground colour, with a faint zone of minute dust-like red specks
round the larger end. Like all its kindred, the Stormy Petrel is a close
sitter, remaining in its hole until dragged out. It is also crepuscular
in its habits at its nesting-places, becoming lively at dusk, when it
may be seen flitting to and from the sea in a silent bat-like manner. So
far as is known, the breeding area of the Stormy Petrel is exclusively
confined to the islands and coasts of the East Atlantic.

                            MANX SHEARWATER.

The Shearwaters are a well-defined group of Petrels, numbering twenty or
more species, distinguished by their long, slender bill, long wings, and
short tails. As the Fulmars bear a superficial resemblance to the Gulls,
so may the Shearwaters be compared with the Auks. Four of these birds
are known to visit the British seas and coasts, but only one of them,
the Manx Shearwater, _Puffinus anglorum_, is known to breed within our
limits, and to occur in any abundance. The upper parts of this
Shearwater are black, the lower parts white. The Manx Shearwater is, so
far as is known, a resident in the British seas, and widely distributed
along our coasts during the season of reproduction. Like its allies, the
Petrels, this Shearwater is closely attached to the open sea, living for
the most part away from shore, and only frequenting land during its
nesting period. Its flight is much more erratic and rapid than that of
the small Petrels, or the Gull-like Fulmar, and reminds one more of the
Swift. It may be seen dashing impetuously along close above the waves,
this way and that, one moment high above the horizon, the next deep down
in the trough of the billows, pausing here and there for a moment with
rapid beating wings, legs let down, and feet striking the water, to pick
up some scrap of food. During the breeding season it is for the most
part nocturnal in its habits, but at other times it seems to be abroad
both by day and night. That it can swim well and buoyantly, I know from
abundant experience, but whether it _dives_, as some writers assert, I
am not prepared to say. Some Petrels, however, are habitually known to
do so, as, for instance, the species composing the genus _Halodroma_.
Shearwaters delight in a rough sea and a brewing storm, every bit as
much as the smaller Petrels; no weather seems too boisterous for them.
When on our rough night voyage to St. Kilda, we must have passed
hundreds of Shearwaters, holding high carnival above the gray waters,
flitting round our vessel in weird, erratic flight, like bird ghosts,
their gambols in the gloom being most interesting. So far as my
experience extends, the food of the Manx Shearwater consists entirely of
cuttle-fish and sorrel, but the bird will pick up various scraps thrown
from vessels. At St. Kilda this Shearwater is regarded as a delicacy.
The natives also obtain quantities of oil from it.

Throughout the summer the Manx Shearwater is nocturnal, and at the
approach of darkness becomes very garrulous. Its note may be expressed
as _kitty-coo-roo_, uttered two or three times in succession, and then a
pause. So far as I could determine, this note is never uttered by the
bird at sea, only when flying about its breeding station, or in or near
its burrow, and is only heard at night. At St. Kilda the island of Soay
is the grand breeding place of this Shearwater. The St. Kildans visit
this island at times during the breeding season, going at night,
knocking down the birds as they flutter about, and dragging others from
their nests. Four hundred Shearwaters are sometimes slain thus in a
single night.

The Manx Shearwater is a somewhat late breeder, its eggs being laid
towards the end of May, or during the first half of June. There are no
known breeding places of this bird along the eastern coast line of
Scotland and England; nor have any yet been discovered on the south
coast of England, although I am positive the species nests in the South
Hams of Devon. Its breeding area, so far as it is known, is almost
precisely the same as that of the Stormy Petrel. Its favourite
nesting-places are islands with a good ocean aspect, covered with turf
and soft, loamy soil. Although gregarious during this period, many
scattered pairs breed here and there along the coast. The bird probably
pairs for life, returning year by year to a favourite nesting-place. It
usually excavates a long and often winding burrow, making a slight nest
of dry grass at the end, on which is laid a single white egg. Both birds
assist in making this burrow, which often runs under some mass of rocks,
and many holes are begun and deserted for no apparent reason, just as we
find to be the case with the Sand Martin and other hole-boring species.
At the entrance of all of the holes that are occupied there is a
considerable heap of droppings. Few, if any, Shearwaters are astir even
at a populous breeding-station during the day; all keep closely to their
burrows, remaining stolidly upon their nest until dragged forth,
struggling, into the light. Many burrows are made close together, and in
some cases one main entrance will lead to several chambers, each
containing a nest.

                         _Littoral Land Birds_

[Illustration: THE CHOUGH. Chapter vii.]

                              CHAPTER VII.
                          LITTORAL LAND BIRDS.

  _Littoral Land Birds—White-tailed Eagle—Peregrine
  Falcon—Raven—Jackdaw—Hooded Crow—Chough—Rock Pipit—Martins—Rock
  Dove—Stock Dove—Heron—Various other species._

Our survey of marine ornithology can scarcely be considered complete
without a brief allusion to the various land birds that reside upon the
coast. Many of these birds are, perhaps, most closely associated with
inland districts, but others are just as essentially marine. Some of
these species constantly reside by the sea, others are but found there
during the bright summer days, whilst others yet again appear during
autumn and winter only. Be the shore low sand or marshy slob-land,
buttressed by precipitous cliffs, or fringed with rocky beaches and open
downs, certain land birds form decided features in the scene, some of
them very widely and very generally dispersed. In some cases these
species show us how very readily birds can adapt themselves to their
surroundings, or reconcile themselves to circumstances, finding as
congenial a home on the seaboard as in the woods or fields, or even
cities of the interior.

                          WHITE-TAILED EAGLE.

Half a century ago this fine bird, the _Haliaetus albicilla_ of
ornithologists, was very generally distributed round our northern
coasts; in earlier years than that it bred in certain parts of England,
possibly on most of our highest headlands. Trap, gun, and poison have
done their sad work only too well, and now the White-tailed Eagle is
banished almost entirely from the land. The birds that still survive are
mostly confined to the Hebrides, to the wild waste of islands and sea
along the western seaboard of Scotland. Occasionally stray birds are
noticed, during autumn and winter, on the coast of England, but these
are almost invariably immature individuals on their migration south. The
White-tailed Eagle almost exclusively frequents maritime districts,
where it may be seen at a vast height soaring on never-tiring wing, or
standing on some rock pinnacle. It preys upon every bird or animal that
it is able to capture—newly-dropped lambs and fawns, hares, rabbits,
grouse, and waterfowl. But its favourite fare, perhaps, is
carrion—stranded fish and other garbage on the shore, dead sheep, and so
on. This Eagle makes its eyrie on some stupendous ocean cliff, and, as
the birds pair for life, the spot is occupied years in succession. The
nest is a huge pile of sticks and branches, lined with dry grass, wool,
and other soft material. The two eggs, laid in March or April, are
white. This Eagle may be distinguished from the Golden Eagle by its bare
tarsi. The note is a yelping or barking cry. Outside our limits, this
bird is found in the northern portions of Europe and Asia, from the
Atlantic to the Pacific.

                           PEREGRINE FALCON.

This bold and handsome bird, the _Falco peregrinus_ of naturalists, in
spite of much persecution, still survives on many of our rocky coasts,
becoming most abundant in Scotland and Ireland. The favourite resorts of
the Peregrine are precipitous cliffs, especially such as are constantly
washed by the sea. From these, it not only sallies in quest of
sea-birds, but flies inland to hunt for prey. The dash and courage of
the Peregrine are proverbial, few birds, on land or sea, escaping from
its fatal swoop. Near the coast, the food of this Falcon is largely
composed of Ducks, Plovers, Sandpipers, Pigeons, Partridges, sea fowl,
and rabbits. The flight of the Peregrine, when the bird is in the act of
chasing its prey, is rapid, and full of sudden turns and twists, but at
other times it is slow and deliberate. Witness the aerial gyrations of
this species above its nesting-place, when it may be seen soaring and
wheeling in lofty flight. Its note, heard principally in the vicinity of
the nest, is a loud, chattering cry. This Falcon probably pairs for
life, resorting year after year to one particular cliff to breed, even
though the nest be robbed repeatedly. No actual nest is made, the three
or four eggs, laid in April or early May, resting in some slight hollow
in the soil, on an overhanging ledge in the cliffs. They are
creamy-white in ground colour, thickly mottled, freckled, and clouded
with reddish-brown, brick-red, or orange-brown, of various shades. When
flushed from the nest, the female becomes very noisy, and is soon joined
by the male, both then flying about in angry alarm, dashing past the
face of the cliff from time to time. The Peregrine may be readily
distinguished from the other indigenous British Falcons by its superior
size. The upper parts are dark slate-gray, the head and moustachial
lines are black, the underparts are buffish-white, spotted on the throat
and breast, and barred on the remainder with blackish-brown. The
Peregrine is distributed over most parts of the world, but has been
divided into several well-marked forms or races. Two other Raptorial
birds may be met with on the coast—one, the Kestrel, commonly; and the
other, the Buzzard, locally.


This species, the _Corvus corax_ of naturalists, still manages to
survive, and is of tolerably common occurrence in many localities.
Formerly it was commonly distributed over the inland districts, but now,
especially in England, it is most frequently seen along the coast. Here,
its favourite retreats and nesting-places are lofty cliffs. From these,
its headquarters, it roams far and wide, not only along the shore, but
far inland in quest of food. It is a fine sight to see this big sable
bird dash out from the cliffs, and fly upwards on powerful wing,
croaking and barking as it goes; or, better still, when male and female
toy with and buffet each other high in air, uttering a series of shrill
and, sometimes, by no means unmusical notes. The Raven feeds on almost
everything in the shape of flesh, carrion, as well as living creatures,

This bird is an early breeder. It pairs for life, and continues to
frequent one spot for nesting purposes year after year. Formerly many
Ravens made their nests in trees, but now the usual situation is some
ledge or crevice in a lofty precipice. The nest, added to or repaired
each season, is made of sticks, and lined with turf, moss, wool, fur,
and hair, and is generally a large, bulky structure. Five eggs are
usually laid, bluish-green, blotched and spotted with olive-brown and
gray. The Raven very closely resembles the Carrion Crow in colour, but
may readily be distinguished by its much larger size. This bird has a
very wide distribution over Europe, Northern Asia, and North America.


Of all the land birds that frequent the coast this species, the _Corvus
monedula_ of Linnæus and most other writers, is one of the most abundant
and best known. Colonies of Jackdaws are established on most of our
ocean cliffs, in some places, as at Bempton or Flamborough, mixed with
sea-fowl, in others apart by themselves. The birds frequent these
colonies all the year round, coming inland to feed at intervals each
day, returning at nightfall to rest, in noisy cackling crowds. Sometimes
the birds, where circumstances permit, may be seen feeding on the beach
or rocks below their haunts. This bird is more or less gregarious all
through the year, and some of its assemblages consist of several
hundreds of pairs. Its food is chiefly composed of worms, insects, and
grubs; but on the coast the bird picks up a variety of creatures from
the sands. There can be little doubt that the Jackdaw pairs for life.
The same breeding places, the same nests, are occupied year by year. It
is a later breeder than the Rook, the eggs being laid during April and
May. On the coast the nest is made in crevices and hollows in the
cliffs; in Tor Bay a small cave is frequented, the nests being built in
crannies near the roof. The nest is composed of sticks, turf, the stalks
of marine plants, and litter from the fields, lined with dry grass,
straws, fur, wool, and feathers. Some nests are much larger than others,
the peculiarities of the site determining the size of the structure to a
great extent. The four or five eggs—sometimes half-a-dozen—are pale
blue, spotted and blotched with olive-brown of different shades, and
gray. The Jackdaw has the general colour of the plumage black, shading
into gray on the nape and sides of the neck.

                              HOODED CROW.

This species, the _Corvus cornix_ of Linnæus and ornithologists
generally, is only known as a winter visitor to certain parts of
England, but is a common resident in Scotland and Ireland. From October
to March the Hooded, Gray, or Royston Crow, is a very familiar object on
the low-lying coasts of East Anglia. Its migrations to this district
from the Continent are extremely interesting. All day long the birds may
be seen coming in from over the sea in flocks and parties, crossing from
continental Europe along a due west course. Sometimes great flights of
this Crow pour across the North Sea—columns of migrating birds estimated
to be forty or more miles in breadth, and travelling at the enormous
speed of more than a hundred miles per hour! All the winter through
Hooded Crows frequent the salt-marshes or the grain fields close to the
sea. The food of the Hooded Crow is not known to differ from that of
allied species, the bird being practically omnivorous. There are few
instances known of this Crow breeding in England, but elsewhere in the
British Islands it nests freely. In many Scottish and Irish districts it
makes its nest on a sea-cliff. This resembles that of the Raven or the
Jackdaw, being made of sticks, twigs, turf, and stalks, lined with moss,
wool, and other soft materials. Five eggs are usually laid, green of
various shades in ground colour, spotted and blotched with olive-brown
and gray. The note of the Hooded Crow is a hoarse _kra_, modulated in
various ways.


For reasons which have been variously assigned, the present species, the
_Pyrrhocorax graculus_ of ornithologists, has now become one of the
rarest and most local of British birds. Once fairly common, not only in
certain inland localities, but on the sea-girt cliffs, many of its
colonies have now become deserted. It is a bird of the rock-bound coast,
easily recognized by its blue-black plumage and long, curved, red bill.
It is not necessary here to indicate the places where colonies still
exist. The Chough is a gregarious bird, and many of its habits resemble
those of the Jackdaw or the Starling. Its flight is often curiously
erratic, the bird, after rising a little way, dropping again with wings
closed. Upon the ground it runs quickly, its bright red legs and feet
being conspicuous. The note is very like that of the Jackdaw, a
chuckling or cackling _chow-chow_; hence the bird’s name of Chough,
which, by the way, is often used with the prefix “Cornish,” although the
bird is just as scarce in Cornwall as elsewhere now. The food of this
bird is chiefly composed of beetles, worms, grubs, and grain. The Chough
breeds in colonies, which resort to lofty ocean cliffs, especially such
where caves and fissures are plentiful. The nest is very similar to that
of the Jackdaw, and varies a good deal in size. Sticks, heather stems,
and dry stalks of plants form the outside; the cavity is lined with dry
grass, roots, wool, and similar soft material. From four to six eggs are
laid in May, creamy-white in ground colour, blotched and spotted with
various shades of brown and gray. When disturbed, the Choughs fly out of
their nest-holes, and behave generally in a very Jackdaw-like manner.
The Chough appears to be a sedentary species in all parts of its

                              ROCK PIPIT.

In the present bird, the _Anthus obscurus_ of ornithologists, we have
one of the very few species of Passeres that are confined exclusively to
maritime haunts. During the breeding season the Rock Pipit frequents the
rock-bound coasts, often resorting to cliffs washed incessantly by the
waves, rock stacks some distance from shore, and precipitous islands;
but in winter it may be observed on the salt-marshes and stretches of
sand. It is an olive-brown little bird on the upper parts, streaked with
darker brown; the eye stripe and throat are nearly white; the remainder
of the under parts are sandy-buff, streaked with brown. During flight
the smoke-brown patch on the outer tail feathers is very conspicuous.
During autumn and winter Rock Pipits may generally be met with in
parties, sometimes even in small flocks, congregating on the rocky
beaches, the cliffs, and downs, or, at low water, searching amongst the
seaweed and shingle for food. They are by no means shy birds, but, if
alarmed, rise in scattered order, and, after flitting aimlessly about,
again pitch a little farther on, and resume their search. In spring the
Rock Pipit separates into pairs, the low-lying shores are deserted, and
the birds resort to their several breeding-places. In early spring the
simple song of the cock bird may be heard at intervals all the livelong
day, sometimes uttered as he perches on a big stone or clings to the
cliffs hundreds of feet above our heads, but more frequently as he
flutters in the air. The food of this Pipit is composed of insects, and
worms, and small seeds. Although small and unobtrusive, the Rock Pipit
is not easily overlooked. It flits before the observer in a wavering,
uncertain manner, uttering its plaintive _weet_ as it goes; then alights
a little further on, and waits our approach, when once more it rises,
_cheeping_, into the air, to alight far up the cliffs, or turn back to
seek its original haunt. Although this species pairs early, the nest is
seldom made before May. Few nests are more difficult to find than the
Rock Pipit’s, hidden as it is under stones or clods of earth, or wedged
into crevices of the rocks and cliffs. It is made of dry grass, moss,
scraps of dry seaweed, and lined either with horsehair or fine grass.
The four or five eggs are dull bluish-white in ground colour, freckled
with grayish or reddish-brown, and sometimes streaked with
blackish-brown. Two broods are often reared in the season, the eggs for
the latter being laid in July. Many pairs of birds may be found nesting
on a short stretch of coast, but no gregarious instincts are manifested
at this season. The Rock Pipit has a very restricted geographical
distribution, being confined to the European coasts of the Atlantic,
including our islands and the Faröes.


Both the species of British Martins resort to many localities on the
coast to breed. To the wall-like cliffs the House Martin, _Chelidon
urbica_, often attaches its mud-built cradle. I know of large colonies
of this Martin on the sea cliffs of Devonshire, where the nests are
placed in rows, or stuck here and there in every sheltered niche. In the
same manner the Sand Martin, _Cotyle riparia_, bores its tunnels into
the soft earth at the summit of the sea cliffs, or into the solid banks
of earth that in some districts take the place of cliffs. It is not
necessary to enter here into details of the economy of these Martins.
Both engaging little species add to the life and animation of the coast,
as they fly to and fro and in and out of their nests. Then during the
period of migration many Martins pass along the seaboard, and sometimes
the observer may be fortunate enough to witness their actual arrival
from over the sea, or their final departure across its lonely expanse.

                               ROCK DOVE.

We here have another exclusively marine species, the _Columba livia_ of
Linnæus and most modern writers, confined to such portions of the coast
as are precipitous and full of caves and hollows. The Rock Dove may be
readily distinguished from all the other British species of Pigeons by
its white lower back and rump, and strongly-barred wings. As may
naturally be inferred from the cliff-haunting propensities of this Dove,
it is practically absent from the low-lying eastern coasts of England,
local on the south coast, but becomes much commoner further north and
west, where the cliffs are rugged and lofty, and full of those wave-worn
hollows and fissures that are the Rock Dove’s delight. As most readers
may be aware, this species is the original stock from which the numerous
races of dovecot Pigeon have descended. Curiously enough, this bird is
inseparably attached to the coast; it is a rock-haunting species, and
one which rarely or never perches in trees. Usually our first
acquaintance with the Rock Dove is made as the startled bird dashes out
of the cliffs, with rattling wings and impetuous haste. It is more or
less gregarious all the year round, and may frequently be seen in flocks
on the fields near its native cliffs. Its food is composed of grain and
seeds of all kinds, and the buds and shoots of plants. Its flight is
rapid and well sustained. I was told by the natives of St. Kilda that
the Rock Doves frequenting the islands cross the sea every day—a
distance of seventy miles—to feed on the Hebrides, and there can be
little or no doubt about this, for St. Kilda contains little suitable
food for this grain-loving bird. Its note is the familiar _coo_.

The Rock Dove is an early breeder, congregating in colonies on such
cliffs as afford it the necessary shelter. Wherever possible the nests
are made in caves; where these are wanting the birds scatter themselves
about the cliffs, and place their nests in any convenient fissure or
cleft. The bird pairs for life, and yearly resorts to the same breeding
stations, some of the caves gaining a local reputation in this respect.
The nest is placed on some ledge or in a cranny, and consists of a
little dry grass, twigs, roots, or stems of plants, arranged in a flat
plate-like form. The two eggs are pure white. This species may be found
breeding all the summer through, and rears two, if not more, broods each
season. The Rock Dove is found on almost all parts of the rocky coasts
of Europe and the outlying islands.

                              STOCK DOVE.

This Dove, the _Columba ænas_ of naturalists, is very often confused
with the preceding species, from which, however, it may readily be
distinguished by having the rump uniform in colour with the back, and
the wing bars broken up into patches. Mistaken identity is also rendered
even more easy by the bird frequenting the coast, in just the same
localities we associate with the Rock Dove. As most readers are aware,
the Stock Dove is a dweller in wooded inland districts, as well as on
the coast. I have, however, often remarked that the two species rarely
inhabit the same parts of the coast, and that the Stock Dove shows
preference for cliffs that are more or less densely clothed with ivy,
stunted trees, and thickets. In its flight, shyness, method of searching
for food, and habits generally, when frequenting littoral districts, the
Stock Dove very closely resembles the Rock Dove. The note of the Stock
Dove, heard most incessantly during spring and summer is, however,
different, and may be described as a grunting _coo-oo-up_. At all times
this Dove is socially inclined, and becomes, to a great extent,
gregarious during winter; its numbers being increased during that season
by migrants from Scandinavia. Its food is chiefly obtained from grain
lands, clover fields, and stubbles, and consists chiefly of grain and
seeds, berries, and various shoots.

The breeding season of the Stock Dove begins in April, and extends over
the entire summer into the succeeding autumn. When resorting to maritime
cliffs, the nest is often placed amongst ivy, in a rabbit burrow, or in
a crevice of the cliffs, and is a mere platform of twigs, roots, or
straws. In many cases a nest is dispensed with altogether. The two eggs
are creamy-white, smooth, and polished. In inland localities a hole in a
tree, or the deserted drey of a squirrel, or old nest of a Crow or
Magpie, is usually selected. Several broods are reared in the season.
This Dove is one of those species that is rapidly extending its area of
distribution in our islands; the trend of its advance, however, being
always northerly. Outside our limits the Stock Dove is found over most
parts of Europe and North-West Africa, eastwards to the Caucasus and
Asia Minor.


Although this bird, the _Ardea cinerea_ of most writers, is usually
associated with fresh and inland waters, it is frequently enough met
with along the coast, especially about estuaries, salt-marshes, and such
portions of the shore where pools are left by the tide amongst the rocks
at low water. Moreover, it sometimes establishes its colonies on marine
cliffs, or in woods adjoining the sea. Although of recent years
considerably reduced in numbers, the Heron still justifies the prefix of
“Common,” which custom generally attaches to it. There are few places
round the English coast known to me where the Heron forms such a
distinctive feature in the scene as on the wide estuary of the Exe, or,
but not so abundant, on that of the Teign, a little lower down the
Devonshire coast. Sometimes a score or more Herons may be counted here
together, standing like big blue sentinels on the marshes, wading in the
tidal pools, or flying in their slow deliberate way, above the flats.
Many of these Herons breed in the valley of the Dart. Odd Herons may
also be flushed here and there along more rock-bound coasts. The flight
of this species is very imposing, witnessed to perfection as the bird
passes to or from its feeding or fishing grounds, and its nightly
retreat in some distant wood; or perhaps, better still, when mobbed by
some Gull, or mobbing one in return. The Heron feeds largely on fishes,
either those from salt- or fresh-water, together with frogs, water
insects, and even small mammals. The Heron fishing is a perfect picture
of still life, an ornament to the shore. As a rule, the Heron is a
remarkably silent bird; he fishes, like all good anglers, in absolute
quietness; but when passing through the air, on his frequent journeys,
he often utters a short, deep trumpet-like note, startling and
strange-sounding enough when heard from the evening sky.

The Heron breeds locally throughout the British Islands, its favourite
nesting places being in woods and plantations, although a ledge on a
cliff, or a ruin, is sometimes selected. In many places, where the Heron
is sufficiently abundant, it breeds in colonies, like Rooks, and
resorts, year by year, to the same localities. The nest is usually a
huge pile or platform of sticks, the cavity containing the eggs
sometimes being lined with turf and moss. Some nests are much larger
than others, the accumulation of years, and most are whitewashed with
the birds’ droppings. The eggs—three to five in number—are
greenish-blue, and chalky in texture. When disturbed at their nests the
big birds rise, crashing through the branches into the air, and sail
about above the place in anxiety until left in peace. They utter few or
no notes of any kind. When the young are nearly full grown, they may be
seen climbing about the trees, using their beak to assist them in
passing from one part of the tree to another. The Heron is a bird of
very wide distribution, and is found throughout Europe, Africa, Asia,
and even Australia.

In conclusion, we may remark that there are many other land birds found
upon certain parts of the coast from time to time, especially during the
two great periods of migration in spring and in autumn. The above short
list must not be regarded in any way as being exhaustive. It contains,
however, the most constantly characteristic species. Many small
Passerine birds frequent the shore—especially on our eastern and
southern seaboard, but they are arrivals from other lands, and often
passing south or north, as the case may be, to yet more distant haunts.
Among the more prominent of these, we may mention the Goldcrest, which
often abounds on the coasts of the German Ocean; the Skylark and the
Starling, that come each year in countless hosts; the various Finches
and Thrushes, that visit us each season to pass the winter in our land.
Then, more locally, there is the Snow Bunting and the Shore Lark—Arctic
birds that visit us more or less commonly. The Common Bunting, too, is a
common resident on many parts of the littoral area. Of other species we
may mention the Short-eared Owl, the Sparrow-Hawk, the Woodcock—migrants
from over the sea, tarrying but a short time to rest near the shore,
before speeding inland, or yet further south. The Rook obtains much of
its food from the sands in littoral districts; the Starling often
congregates in vast flocks on the saltings. I have even seen the Rook
take its food from the surface of the sea, precisely in the same manner
as a Gull.

                        _Migration on the Coast_

[Illustration: MIGRATION TIME. (On the Friskney foreshore.) Chapter

                             CHAPTER VIII.
                        MIGRATION ON THE COAST.

  _The Best Coasts for Observing Migration—Migration of Species in
  Present Volume—Order of Appearance of Migratory Birds—In Spring—In
  Autumn—Spring Migration of Birds on the Coast—The Earliest Species to
  Migrate—Departure of Winter Visitors—Coasting Migrants—Arrival of
  Summer Visitors—Duration of Spring Migration—Autumn Migration of Birds
  on the Coast—The Earliest Arrivals—Departure of our Summer
  Birds—Arrival of Shore Birds—Direction of Flight—Change in this
  Direction to East—The Vast Rushes of Birds across the German Ocean—The
  Perils of Migration—Birds at Lighthouses and Light Vessels—Netting
  Birds—Rare Birds._

In order to make the subject of Bird-life on the Coast complete, it is
necessary for us briefly to sketch the phenomenon of Migration as it may
be studied on the shore. A person could select no better situation for
the observation of this grand avine movement than the coast.
Unfortunately, however, all coasts are not equally favoured in this
respect, and unless a proper selection of locality be made, the observer
in quest of information will meet with nothing but disappointment.
Unquestionably the best portion of the British coast-line for the study
of bird migration is that washed by the German Ocean and the English
Channel. The western districts are everywhere less favourable than the
eastern, due partly to their much more isolated position, and the wider
extent of the frontier seas. Two reaches of the British coast deserve
special mention for the numbers of migrant birds that frequent them.
These are the coasts between the Humber and the Thames, and the seaboard
of Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent. The observer of migration on the coast
will do well to bear in mind the following facts. Many birds do not
absolutely confine their flight to the indentations of the coast, but
fly from one headland to another, so that on the coasts of the
intervening bays but little migration may be witnessed. Headlands appear
everywhere to be exceptionally favourable points for observation.
Rock-bound coasts, again, are not so much frequented by migrants as
those that are low-lying, or present a considerable area of beach;
whilst there is some evidence to suggest that where the shore is
composed of cliffs falling sheer to the water, fjords and river valleys
are exceptionally favoured. During the migration period, both in spring
and autumn, the early hours of morning, or the dusk of evening, will be
found to reward observation best. Due regard should also be paid to the
direction of the wind, and the prevailing state of the weather—a change
in either being often followed by migratory movement.

A very large percentage of the birds described in the present volume are
migratory, although the seasonal movements of many of the species cannot
be remarked, to any great extent, by the wanderer along the coast. Such
thoroughly aquatic species as the Auks, the Petrels, the Divers, and the
Grebes, move south or north, according to season, some distance from the
land; and it is often only by the chance of rough weather driving these
birds near to the land, that we are enabled to learn that their
migrations are in progress, or that certain species have once more
returned to our area for their winter or summer sojourn therein. The
Ducks, Geese, and Swans, are birds of migratory habits, and in certain
localities much of their seasonal movements may be observed from the
shore. Then, again, the Gulls and Terns, although often migrating some
distance from the land, may not unfrequently be seen passing up or down
the coast on passage. This is especially the case with the Black-headed
Gull, and the various species of Terns. These latter birds are often
seen, in spring and autumn, in flocks of varying size, flying north or
south, close inshore, fishing as they go, sometimes remaining a day here
or there, where food chances to be plentiful. The migrations of certain
species of land birds that reside in littoral districts are also
pronounced and regular, and easily remarked along the coast; the arrival
and departure of Martins and Swallows being a specially interesting
feature. But the most remarkable birds of all, so far as concerns
migration, are those to which our second chapter is devoted, viz., the
Plovers and the Sandpipers. Perhaps in this group more than in any
other, the habit of migration is most strongly displayed. The journeys
some of these birds undertake in spring and autumn can only be described
as marvellous. The Sanderling breeds in the North Polar Basin, and in
winter is found in the Malay Archipelago, in the Cape Colony, and in
Patagonia; the Knot has a similar distribution in summer, but in winter
visits such enormously remote localities as Australia, New Zealand, the
Cape Colony, and Brazil! Well may these little birds excite exceptional
feelings of interest in the observer who watches them, each recurring
season, running blithely over the sands and the mud-flats, when he
remembers the distances they travel.

But migration on the coast is by no means confined to the birds that
habitually reside upon it. All the migratory species that dwell in
inland districts must pass the coast on their annual journeys in spring
and autumn. At these seasons, in suitable districts (of which we have
already indicated the most favourable for observation), birds may be
watched day after day, and week after week, entering our area to render
summer glad with their cheerful presence, passing along our shores to
yet more distant destinations, or departing in autumn for warmer lands
and sunnier skies. Many of these birds, of course, enter our islands
during the night, and thus escape observation; many others, it may be,
pass to inland haunts by day, but without alighting upon the coast at
all, flying at altitudes which render their identification, or even
detection, impossible; but then there are many more, and especially in
autumn, when the flight is generally far more leisurely than in spring,
which crowd upon the coasts, or pass along them, within easy view of the
most casual scrutiny. It may here, perhaps, be advisable to allude to
the general order in which migrants usually appear upon the coast. Of
course, it is utterly impossible, within the narrow limits of the
present chapter, to enter very minutely into the many and intricate
phenomena connected with the migration of birds. The reader anxious for
further and more detailed information on this very interesting subject,
may be referred to the present writer’s works upon Migration, and to
that on the birds of Heligoland, by Herr Gätke.[8] Now, as regards the
actual order of appearance. In spring, the observer will almost
invariably find that the adult males are in the van; the females are the
next to arrive, whilst the young of the preceding summer, and the more
or less weakly individuals, bring up the rear. Many of these young and
sickly birds pass the summer far south of the usual breeding-grounds; so
that it is by no means an uncommon thing to find individuals of certain
Arctic-nesting species, frequenting the British coasts throughout that
season. The presence in our area of these northern birds during summer,
has not unnaturally led to the supposition that they actually breed
there. In autumn the order of migration is, to some extent, reversed. At
that season a few old birds of either sex are the first to arrive,
sometimes preceding, and always invariably accompanying, the flights of
young birds, which are then moving south. Many of these young birds
start off from their birth-place almost as soon as their wings are
strong enough to bear them, and individuals of certain Arctic species
have been met with on our coasts with particles of the down of their
nestling plumage still adhering to their feathers. The adult males come
south next; the females following; and last of all come the cripples and
the weakly—the individuals that have been retarded in their flight by
accidents of various kinds, such as the loss of wing feathers, by
deformities, or by disease. The observer on the coast will also remark
considerable diversity in the social or gregarious tendencies of these
migrants. Some migrate gregariously in numbers that are as uncountable
as the pebbles on the shore; others journey in family parties, in small
flocks, or even singly. The migration of each species is usually first
remarked by the appearance of an odd bird or two; then the numbers
increase, perhaps with two or more great rushes when the flight of that
particular species becomes exceptionally marked, the migration then
gradually falling off almost, if not quite, as imperceptibly as it

We now propose briefly to sketch a few of the more salient features of
migration on the coast, during spring and autumn. If the weather be
favourable, the spring migration of some birds commences in February.
The species moving at that early date are birds that we have in the
British Isles all the year round, such as Thrushes, Hedge Sparrows,
Titmice, Wrens, Finches, Buntings, Jays, Rooks, and Carrion Crows. The
difficulty in distinguishing migrating individuals of these species from
others that are sedentary, is sufficiently great to render the movement
unseen, except, perhaps, to experts, or to the keepers of light vessels
off the coast. The observations of these men, however, prove that these
birds actually pass from our islands to the Continent from that date
onwards. These birds all migrate nearly due east. The next birds to
leave their winter quarters in Britain are those whose line of migration
extends north-east, and amongst these we must include such familiar
species as Blackbirds, Robins, Goldcrests, Greenfinches, Chaffinches,
Starlings, Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, Ring Doves, and Lapwings. For quite a
couple of months these species continue to leave us for Continental
breeding-grounds, and their presence on the coast, during early spring,
is an unfailing sign of their departure. Then comes the departure of
such birds that are found only in winter in the British
Islands—Redwings, Fieldfares, Bramblings, Siskins, Snow Buntings, and so
on. The departure of these birds begins in February, or early March, and
lasts until the beginning of May. About the same time, also, many coast
birds pass from our islands, such as Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Curlews,
Redshanks, Woodcocks, and Snipes—that is to say, the migratory
individuals of these species that only visit us during winter. Ducks and
Geese also begin to move north, and many indications of their passage
may be seen by the careful observer of birds along the shore. March,
April, and May, the two former months especially, is the period of their
departure. At this season, also, many individuals of these species pass
along our coast districts from more southern countries, on their way to
northern haunts. These birds are known as coasting migrants. The most
typical of these coasting migrants, and those that may be readily
distinguished, are such species as Whimbrels, Ringed Plovers,
Sanderlings, Stints, Skuas, and Curlew Sandpipers. Whimbrels are very
regular in their appearance, arriving at the end of April, and the
migration continuing through May.

Early in March, on our southern coasts, the purely summer visitors begin
to be seen, Woodcocks and Pied Wagtails, amongst others, making their
appearance. Towards the end of March, or very early in April, the first
of the purely southern species reach us. Two of the most familiar are
the Wheatear and the Chiffchaff; Ring Ouzels, Willow Wrens, and Yellow
Wagtails follow them closely. As April passes on, the numbers of our
summer migrants increase; Whinchats, Redstarts, Wrynecks, Cuckoos,
Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Swallows, Martins, and so on, appearing in
force. Towards the end of the month, and in May, Terns, various
Sandpipers, Turtle Doves, and Quails, may all be found upon the coasts
on their spring migration. Among the last to appear are such species as
Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Fly Catchers, Garden Warblers, and
Red-backed Shrikes. This spring migration of birds along the British
coasts lasts for a period of quite four months—from February to the end
of May, or the first week in June. Some birds may be observed on passage
almost throughout this period; others not more than half this
time—especially the Warblers, Wagtails, and Pipits—others, yet again,
complete their migration in a month or less, amongst these being the
Red-backed Shrike and the Greenshank. For the spring migration of such
species that visit the British Islands to breed, the southern coasts, of
course, are the best points of observation—none of these birds breed
south of their point of entrance to our area, as they all reach us from
winter quarters in more southerly latitudes than ours.

The spring migration of birds over the British Islands has scarcely
ceased, before the first signs of the autumn flight begin to be apparent
along the coast. Of course, this early autumn migration is first
noticeable upon our northern and eastern coast-lines. Certainly, by the
middle of July, a few of the Arctic wading birds may be noticed on the
shore, or flying south along the coast. Towards the end of the month,
and early in August, the number of these returning migrants increases.
Young Knots and Gray Plovers, with odd adult birds, appear upon the
sands and mudflats. Almost at the same time we may notice the Common
Sandpiper back again upon the shore, followed by Lapwings, Ringed
Plovers, Greenshanks, and Curlews. Then various small birds begin to
drift along the coast, on their passage south—Swifts, Wheatears, Willow
Wrens, and Whinchats. Throughout August the migration of birds gets
stronger and stronger, and towards the end of the month, and early in
September, our own summer migrants begin to leave the country. Warblers
and Swallows, Wheatears, Flycatchers, Thrushes, Wagtails, and Pipits,
may be met with from time to time, along the coast, all bent upon early
departure. The wide reaches of mud and sand, often so dull and
uninteresting, and devoid of bird-life, in summer, are rapidly filling
with a new population, Plovers and Sandpipers appearing upon them from
day to day in ever-increasing numbers, whilst the seas near by are
becoming sprinkled with the earliest hosts of Ducks and Geese. The
Terns, once more, are on the move, this time flying south to warmer
seas. With the advent of October, most of our summer birds have gone, a
few belated Swallows and Wheatears, a few venturesome Chiffchaffs and
Wagtails, being all that remain. All the autumn through, however,
coasting migrants of many species—the same that passed north in
spring—continue flying south. Most of this migration is from the north
and north-east.

Early in October, however, the direction of this great migrant tide
falls nearly to due east, and from this time onwards, the English shores
of the German Ocean, say from Yorkshire to the estuary of the Thames,
become by far the most interesting of all our coast-line to the student
of Migration. Normally the number of species is not very extensive, but
the number of individual birds can only be described as stupendous. The
vast feathery tides of migrants that break in countless waves upon our
eastern coasts in autumn, are composed of birds that breed in
continental Europe and Western Asia, and return to the British
Islands—the centre of their dispersal—to winter. The mighty inrush of
birds must be seen to be properly appreciated. For days, for weeks, the
wild North Sea is swept by these migrating myriads. By day, by night,
the feathered hosts pour in; the bulk of the migrants being composed of
such birds as Starlings, Larks, Goldcrests, Thrushes, Finches, Rooks,
and Crows. Some idea of their numbers may be gained from the fact that
these waves of birds often strike our coast-line simultaneously, north
to south, for hundreds of miles. Waves of Goldcrests have extended from
the Faröes to the English Channel; Larks for weeks have poured in, in
successive waves, by day and night. The Hooded Crow is another species
that crosses the North Sea in myriads every autumn. This bird prefers to
migrate by day, and appears to do the journey across in an astonishing
short time. Starlings, again, often migrate across in a succession of
clouds, which defy all attempts to estimate their numbers. This
migration of birds, say, on the coasts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, is
one of the most fascinating sights the shore can yield. To be out by
dawn on the crisp October mornings, and to watch the vast inrush of
birds to the English coast for hour after hour, is a treat no lover of
birds can fail to appreciate. Here and there the sea-banks and the rough
saltings are strewn with birds skulking and resting amongst the grass,
or in the hedges, that have made the passage of the North Sea during the
previous night, and are soon about to pass inland. Tired Woodcocks rise
reluctantly from the dry grass in the hedge bottoms; Hooded Crows, in
companies, are hungrily feeding on the mud-flats; Goldcrests, perhaps,
are swarming on the thorn-bushes. Overhead, Sky Larks are arriving in
countless numbers from over the sea, often breaking out into gladsome
song as soon as the welcome land is reached; whilst Rooks, Ring Doves,
Jackdaws, and Finches of various species, arrive from time to time. This
state of things continues through October, and well into November, the
steady influx of birds from time to time culminating in an overwhelming
rush. It should also be remarked that in some years birds are more
numerous than others, and the duration of the migration of any
particular species varies a good deal, sometimes lasting but a few
weeks, sometimes as many months. The autumn migration of birds lasts for
about five months, beginning in July, and continuing to November. Of the
two seasons of passage, perhaps the autumn movement will prove the most
interesting to the ordinary observer of bird-life on the coast. Birds
are much more numerous in autumn, and travel slower. The movements of
birds during winter along the coast, are also intensely interesting, but
this scarcely comes within the scope of the present chapter.

We cannot well conclude this brief account of Bird Migration on the
coast without some allusion to those perils which beset the birds on
their journeys, and which arise principally from light-houses and
light-vessels. Vast numbers of birds kill themselves every spring and
autumn by striking against these gleaming beacons of the coast. From
this great mortality, however, naturalists have learnt much concerning
the annual movements of birds; for the records kept by our light men,
extending, as they do, over a number of years, of these fatalities and
periodical visits of migrants, are most instructive and suggestive. Some
of the scenes witnessed at these light-houses and vessels, during the
seasons of migration—especially in autumn—are intensely interesting.
These beacons are most fatal during cloudy weather; few birds strike on
clear and cloudless nights. Odd birds are continually striking against
the lanterns. Now and then, however, there come nights when birds swarm
like bees round the lamps, and kill themselves in thousands by striking
against the glass, sometimes with such force as to shatter it to
fragments. The illustration at the head of the present chapter also
shows another peril of migration. Many nets are placed on the shores of
the Wash, and great numbers of birds are, or used to be, caught during
the autumn months. Information, however, has recently reached me that
the birds are learning, by many years’ experience, to avoid these
snares, flying over instead of through them, and that nothing like the
numbers are caught nowadays. Fifteen years ago thousands of birds must
have been taken in these nets.

Another peril of migration is the danger of losing the way. Many young
and inexperienced birds go astray each autumn, and the British list
contains the names of numbers of rare species that have visited us on
abnormal flights. Many of these birds have been captured on the coast.
From Eastern Europe, from Siberia, from Africa, and even from America,
these wanderers have come. Each period of migration, the observer, on
the coast, may be agreeably surprised to meet with one of these lost and
wandering individuals; and it is this glorious uncertainty that adds
considerably to the pleasure of a ramble along the shore in spring and


[1]_Heligoland as an Ornithological Observatory_, p. 151, _et seq._

[2]_Dictionary of Birds_, p. 712.

[3]_Dictionary of Birds_, p. 774.

[4]_Dictionary of Birds_, p. 399.

[5]Ray, _English Words_, p. 74.

[6]_Ibis_, 1870, p. 301.

[7]_Icebound on Kolguev_, p. 43.

[8]_The Migration of Birds_; _The Migration of British Birds_;
    _Heligoland an Ornithological Observatory_.

                        WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON,

                          Transcriber’s Notes

--Corrected palpable typos.

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