National Geographic : 1936 Jan
BIRDS OF THE NORTHERN SEAS ceptible with the birds near at hand (see Color Plate II). It nests in large colonies on cliffs and rocky headlands, often with related species. Long lines of the birds rest on narrow rock ledges, while others, returning from excursions in air or water, crowd in contin ually, squabbling over favored places. Fire a gun, and the birds rush out in a hurtling cloud, often followed by a shower of eggs or young. The large eggs of this murre are relished by natives, who also eat the birds, and on the northeastern coast of North America the species has suffered much destruction. In the Bering Sea area it is more abundant and in places has tremendous colonies. Bogoslof Island, in Bering Sea, has been a regular breeding ground in spite of peri odic volcanic eruptions that have at times submerged the entire island. When I first saw this island in 1911 a plume of smoke from its summit indicated such activity, and I was told that one of its peaks had been blown away during the winter. The great destruction to the birds at such times is readily imagined, but murres, like humans, seem little troubled by such mis fortunes and crowd back to their old haunts as soon as the disturbance has ceased. With the end of the nesting season Briin nich's murres retire to the open sea for the winter. Only the closing of the water by ice drives them south, and then they do not go far beyond the ice floes. Fish and small crustaceans are the food of these birds, and they feed entirely at sea. Of the two races of this species, the true Briinnich's murre (Uria lomvia lomvia) is found from Hudson Strait and adjacent islands, and Spitsbergen and Novaya Zem lya, to Long Island and the North Sea. The western race, called Pallas's murre (Uria lomvia arra), is larger and ranges from Wrangel and Herald Islands through Bering Sea to Kodiak Island and Japan. Puffin (Fraterculaarctica) By their grotesque bills, suggesting the exaggerated noses of masquerade masks, the puffins are set apart from all other North American birds. The odd form of the common puffin is accentuated by its air of solemn gravity and by the brilliant colors of its bill and feet. Male and female are alike in markings (Plate III). In the air the puffin flies swiftly, with rapidly beating wings, veering at times from side to side like other members of its family. In the water it swims on the surface like a little duck, often with tail held up at an angle. When alarmed it dives as often as it takes to the air, and flies beneath the surface with quickly beat ing wings, trailing the feet behind as in aerial flight. On land it ordinarily stands erect, ducklike, not resting back on the leg, as do murres and auks (see pp. 96-7). The puffin nests in burrows, which it digs in loose soil with its strongly clawed feet, or in crevices beneath stones. The single large egg, plain white, or faintly marked with lilac and brown, is placed in a slight nest of dried grass, herbage, and feathers. HEAVY BILL DEALS SAVAGE BITE Searching for eggs is fraught with some excitement. In occupied burrows one of the pair is always at home, and the usual indi cation that eggs or young may be found, as one explores with the hand the dark recess that may conceal them, is a savage bite from the sharp-edged bill of the par ent. Seizure of the bird is accompanied by vigorous scratching with the sharp claws. Gloves are recommended for such investi gations (see page 122). After the breeding season the horny cov ering of the bill is shed in nine separate strips, leaving it smaller and without bril liant color. The puffin, with its heavy feathering and its coat of oily fat between skin and body, is impervious to cold, so that its winter range is largely governed by the presence of open water. Puffins come south in cold weather to Massachusetts and, rarely, to Long Island, but many remain in the Far North throughout the year. Their food is composed of small fish and crustaceans that are caught expertly during diving forays beneath the surface. Several fish of small size may be held side by side in the seemingly clumsy bill, causing specu lation as to how the puffin seizes such agile prey without allowing the escape of those already captured. In the southern part of their range puf fins have been reduced from persecution by eggers and hunters. The northern race, however, according to the Eskimo, has in creased on the northwestern coast of Greenland, though Eskimo women capture many for food in their bird nets.