stormy petrel defined in 1930 yearstormy petrel - Stormy Petrel;
stormy petrel - Upper parts black, except the tail-coverts, which are white at their bases; edges of the wing-coverts slightly edged with white; under parts sooty black; bill and feet black. Length, six inches.
The names of stormy petrel and Mother Carey's chicken are as familiar to everyone as that of rook, or partridge, or hedge-sparrow; but the little bird they belong to is known by sight to comparatively few persons. It is pre eminently an oceanic species, that comes to land only to breed; its breeding-places are on remote and lonely islands not easy of access; and, when breeding, the bird is nocturnal in habits, and it would be possible for anyone to spend many days in the very midst of a colony of petrels and not see them, or suspect that they were there.
The name of stormy petrel has been altered in several modern ornithological works to that of storm petrel; and on this subject Seebohm makes a delightfully characteristic observation. 'The words stormy petrel,' he writes, ' are doubtless a very ungrammatical combination, as many other familiar English words are; but that is no reason why they should be altered, although they may have offended the ears of Yarrell and his academical friends.' The rebuke is the more deserved when we remember that these same academical friends ' have been quick to ridicule the attempts of certain ornithologists to substitute the name of hedge-accentor for that of hedge-sparrow - the absurdest name of all, but ' consecrated,' as they say, by long use, and Shakespeare. The name of ' petrel ' comes about in a very curious way. It is the diminutive of Peter, given to the bird on account of a habit it has, when gliding along just above the surface, of dropping its feet and paddling, producing the idea that it is walking on the water. I am not quite sure that this is a correct derivation; Peter (the apostle), it will be remembered, was not wholly successful in his attempt to walk on the waves. Sailors call the petrels' Mother Carey's chickens '; but not, as might be imagined from such a name, on account of any tender regard or feeling of affection for the birds. Mother Carey is supposed to be a kind of ocean witch, a supernatural Mother Shipton, who rides the blast, and who has for attendants and harbingers the little dark-winged petrels, just as the more amiable Mother Venus had her doves.
The stormy petrel is known to be the smallest bird with webbed feet, consequently his smallness is to the ornithologist his chief distinction. He is no bigger than a sparrow, and when seen flying in the wake of a ship, gliding to and fro close to the surface, his small size, sharp-pointed, swallow-like wings, dark plumage, and snow-white rump, give him the appearance of the house-martin. Like other pelagic birds, the petrel when on the wing is perpetually seeking its food, and is seen to drop often on to the surface to pick up some floating particle from the water; and yet to this day ornithologists do not accurately know what it feeds on. The bird is generally excessively fat, and when taken in the hand it ejects a small quantity of amber-coloured oil from its mouth. "When dissected, its stomach is found to contain an oily fluid, and the young are fed with the same substance, injected by the parent bird into their mouths. Where this oil springs from, and how it comes to be floating on the water, is one of the secrets of the sea which this bird shares with other members of the petrel family; but they have no tongue to tell it.
The petrels do not arrive at their breeding-grounds until about the middle of June. They have colonies on the Scilly Islands, and at various other points on the west coast to St. Kilda, and the Orkneys and Shetlands. A few small colonies are also found on some of the islands on the Irish coast. The birds breed in holes in stone walls and piles of loose stones, and, in some localities, in old rabbit- burrows and holes in banks. A single egg is laid, on a slight bed of grass; it is very large for the bird's size, rough in texture, pure white, and in most cases thinly sprinkled with minute reddish brown specks.
The young birds are fed at night, and may then be heard faintly clamouring for food after dark.
The fork-tailed, or Leach's petrel (Procellaria leucorrhoa), is a larger bird than the last, being about the same size as the swift. It is a much rarer species than the stormy petrel, and has only two known breeding-places in the United Kingdom, one at St. Kilda, the other on the island of North Rona, off the west coast of Scotland. On all other parts of the British coast it is known only as a storm- driven straggler. The birds breed in June, in holes which they make in the soft peaty soil to a depth of two or three feet, or deeper. A slight nest of dry grass is made, and a single egg deposited, pure white in colour, with a zone of small reddish spots at the large end. During the daytime the birds remain silent in their holes; in the evening they become active and garrulous.
Wilson's petrel (Oceanites oceanicus), a bird about the size of a swift, with a black plumage and white rump, appears occasionally as a straggler in the British Islands. Its only known breeding- grounds are in the southern hemisphere.
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