Birds - Black Guillemot
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Cepphus grylle) Called also: SEA PIGEON
Male and Female—In summer: Prevailing color sooty black, with greenish tints above and lighter below. Large white patch on upper wings, and white ends of wing feathers, leave a black bar across the wings, sometimes apparently, though not really, absent; wing linings white. Bill and claws black; mouth and feet vermilion or pinkish. In winter : Wings and tail black, with white patch on wings; back, hind neck, and head black or gray variegated with white. Under parts white.
Young--Upper parts like adults in winter, except that the under parts are mottled with black. Nestlings are covered with blackish-brown down. Feet and legs blackish.
Range—Breeds from Maine to Newfoundland and beyond; migrates south in winter, regularly to Cape Cod, more rarely to Long Island, and casually as far as Philadelphia.
Small companies of sea pigeons, made up of two or three pairs that keep well together, may be seen almost grazing along the surface of the sea off our northern States and the Canadian coast, following a straight line at the base of the cliffs while keeping a sharp lookout for the small fish, shrimps, baby crabs, and marine insects they pick up on the way. Suddenly one of the birds dives after a fish, pursues, overtakes, and swallows it, then rejoins its mate with little loss of time; for these sea pigeons use their wings under water as well as above it, and so are able to reappear above the surface at surprising distances from the point where they went down. They are truly marine birds; never met with inland, and rarely on the shore itself, except at the nesting season. Large companies nest in the crevices and fissures of cliffs and rocky promontories, heaping up little piles of pebbles that act as drains for rainwater or melting snow under the eggs. Incubation takes place in June or July, according to the latitude. Two or three sea-green or whitish eggs, irregularly spotted and blotched with blackish brown, and with purplish shell-markings, make up a clutch.
In the diary kept on the Jeannette, De Long recorded meeting with black guillemots in latitude 730, swimming about in the open spaces between the ice-floes early in May; and Greely ate their eggs off the shores of Northern Greenland in July. Both explorers mentioned the presence of fox tracks in the neighborhood of the guillemots, proving that this arch enemy pursues them even into the desolation of the Arctic Circle. One of the first lessons taught the young birds is to hurl themselves from the jutting rocks to escape the fox that is forever threatening their lives in the eyries, and to dive into the sea that protects and feeds them.