Bewick's British Birds, Vol. 2: The Stormy Petrel

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Illustration from Bewick



(Procellaria pelagica, Linn.—L' Oiseau de Tempčte, Buff.)

IS the least of all the Web-footed birds, measuring only about six inches in length, and thirteen in breadth. The biil is half an inch long, hooked at the tip; the nostrils tubular. The upper parts of the plumage are black, sleek, and glossed with bluish reflections: the brow, cheeks, and under parts, sooty brown: the rump, and some feathers on the sides of the tail, white: legs slender, black, and scarcely an inch and three quarters in length, from the knee joint to the end of the toes.

This bird resembles the Chimney Swallow in general appearance, in the length of its wings, and the swiftness of its flight. It is met with by navigators on every part of the ocean, diving, running on foot, or skimming over the surface of the heavy rolling waves of the most tempestuous sea, quite at ease, and in security; and yet it seems to foresee, and fear the coming storm, long before the seamen can discover any appearance of its approach; and this these little sure prognosticators make known by flocking together under the wake of the ship, as if to shelter themselves from it, or to warn the mariners, and prepare them to guard against the danger. They are silent during the day, and their ciamorous piercing cry is heard only in the night. In the breeding season they betake themselves to the promontories, where, in the fissures of the rocks, they breed and conduct their young to the watery element as soon as they are able to crawl, and immediately lead them forward to roam, with themselves, over the trackless ocean.

Although it has been generally said that these birds are never seen but at sea, except during the period of incubation, yet many instances have occurred of their having been shot inland. Lath am speaks of one which was shot at Sandwich, in Kent, in a storm of wind, among n flock of Hoopoes, in the month of January,—of another shot at Walthamstow, in Essex—and of a third which was killed near Oxford. The late M. Tunstall, Esq. of Wycliffe, had one sent to him, which was shot near Bakewell, in Derbyshire; and the specimen from which the above figure and description were taken, was found dead in a field near Ripon, in Yorkshire, and obligingly sent to the author by Lieut.-Col. Dalton, late of the 4th Dragoons. It is probable that sickness, or the extreme violence of some hurricane had driven these birds so far from their natural element.


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