Birds - Brunnich's Murre
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also : BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT; ARRIE; EGG BIRD; PENGUIN; FOOLISH GUILLEMOT
Male and Female—Sooty black above, brownest on front of neck. Breast and underneath, white. White tips to secondaries form an obscure band. Greenish base to the upper half of bill, which is rounded outward over the lower half. Bill short, stout, wide, and deep.
Range—Coasts and islands of the North Atlantic and eastern Arc-tic Oceans. South to the lakes of Northern New York and the coast of New Jersey. Nests from the Gulf of St. Lawrence northward.
Season—Winter visitor in United States.
" The bird cliffs on Arveprins Island (Northern Greenland) deserve a passing notice, not for Arctic travellers, but for the general reader," writes General Greely in "Three Years of Arctic Service."
" For over a thousand feet out of the sea these cliffs rise perpendicularly, broken only by narrow ledges, in general inaccessible to man or other enemy, which afford certain kinds of sea fowl secure and convenient breeding places. On the face of these sea-ledges of Arveprins Island, Brünnich's guillemots, or loons, (sic) gather in the breeding season, not by thousands, but by tens of thousands. Each lays but a single gray egg, speckled with brown; yet so numerous are the birds, that every available spot is covered with eggs. The surprising part is that each bird knows its own egg, although there is no nest and it rests on the bare rock. Occasional quarrels over an egg generally result in a score of others being rolled into the sea.
" The clumsy, short-winged birds fall an easy prey to the sportsman, provided the cliffs are not too high, but many fall on lower inaccessible ledges, and so uselessly perish. A single shot brings out thousands on the wing, and the unpleasant cackling, which is continuous when undisturbed, becomes a deafening clamor when they are hunted.
"The eggs are very palatable. The flesh is excellent—to my taste the best flavored of any Arctic sea fowl; but, to avoid the slightly train-oil taste, it is necessary to keep the bird to ripen, and to carefully skin it before cooking." Later on, the starving survivors in the camp near Cape Sabine owed the prolonging of their wretched existence from day to day largely to these very birds.
When these murres come down from the far north to visit us in winter they keep so well out from land that none of our ornithologists seem to have made a very close study of them. Like other birds of the order to which they belong, they dive suddenly out of sight when approached, and by the help of wings and feet swim under water for incredible distances.
The Common Murre or Guillemot (Uria troile), so called, is certainly less common in the United States than the preceding species. Massachusetts appears to be its southern limit. In winter, when we see it here, it can be distinguished from Brunnich's murre only by its bill, which is half an inch longer. Some specimens show a white ring or " eye-glass " around the eye and a white stripe behind it; but doubt exists as to whether such specimens are not a separate species. Much study has still to be given to this group of birds before the differences of opinion held by the leading ornithologists concerning them will be settled satisfactorily to all. The habits of the three murres mentioned here are identical so far as they are known. Penguin and foolish guillemot are titles sometimes given to the common murre; but to add to popular confusion, they are just as frequently applied to Brunnich's murre.
The Californian murre, the Western representative of these species, differs from them neither in plumage nor habits, it is said. It breeds abundantly from Behring's Sea to California, and the natives of Alaska depend upon its eggs for food. They were among the first dainties sold to the Klondike miners.