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The Albatross

This is the largest of all sea-birds, and you are not very likely to

make acquaintance with him except in a picture. For though the albatross

has been seen in our latitudes, yet the southern seas are his native

home. There he spreads his long wings and floats over the ocean like a

white sea-king. The greater part of his feathers are white, but the head

and back are shaded with grey. There are many kinds of albatross, but

> the great Wandering Albatross, as it is called, is the largest, and

though the body is not much bigger than that of a pelican, the wings,

which are long and narrow, have been known to measure as much as

fourteen feet across when fully expanded, or spread out. Must he not

look a noble bird, sailing as he does calmly round and round, far up in

the air, over those southern seas? From the length of his wings, the

albatross has some little trouble in raising himself from the surface of

the water, where he often floats at rest. He has to skim along half

flying and half running for some distance, until his wings are clear of

the water; then he soars away, seldom flapping his wings, but rising,

sinking, and floating through the air, as if kept up by some internal

power. As he seldom is obliged to flap his wings he does not get tired

of flying, and can remain on the wing for a very, very long time,

pursuing his prey, or enjoying the sailing motion through the air.

The albatross feeds on fish or on smaller sea-fowl, and is a very

voracious bird; that is, he will eat a great quantity, and devours in a

greedy way. His chief food consists of flying-fish, as they are called.

The flying-fish is a little like the common herring, but much prettier,

for it is covered with bright blue and silver scales, and its fins are

also a brilliant azure. It does not really fly. That is, it has no

wings, but it has very large strong fins attached near its gills, by

means of which it can spring out of the water and dart some distance

through the air. This fish is very nice eating, _particularly_ good, and

it is sought after very eagerly by larger fish. And not only by fish;

the water-fowl who are large enough to eat it, are always on the watch

for the flying-fish, and as the poor thing springs from the water to

enjoy the bright sunshine and fresh air, or perhaps to escape some of

its under-water foes, especially the dolphin who is one of its deadliest

enemies, it frequently finds itself snapped up by the albatross before

it can return to its native element. The albatross loves also to follow

in the wake of ships. For any offal or garbage thrown overboard is

welcome to its hungry maw, and sailors do not often destroy this bird.

When one is taken, however, they hesitate not to make such use of it as

they can; and the large web feet, when cleaned and opened, are favourite

tobacco pouches. I have one by me that was taken from a large albatross

caught on the voyage from Australia. In Kamtschatka the albatross is

caught by the natives and made useful. For in the summer, flocks of

these birds make their way up into the northern latitudes, as is

supposed in order to prey on the shoals of fish which migrate thither.

The albatross is caught by means of a hook baited with a fish. The

"intestines are blown and used as buoys for nets, and the long hollow

wing bones as tobacco pipes," but the flesh is not good to eat. The

albatross has been seen fully 1000 miles from any shore. Its power of

wing must therefore be very great, but when tired it can walk on the

water with its strong webbed feet, and the sound of its tread is said to

be heard at a great distance. In the breeding season the albatross

retires in company with other sea-birds, particularly the penguin, to

some rocky shore to build its nest. The penguins' and albatrosses' nests

are always found in company, but the penguin robs his neighbour in order

to get the scanty materials which are necessary for his own nest. The

male albatross takes turns with his mate in hatching the young.

A poor sailor once fell over board from a man-of-war in the Southern

Indian Ocean. In an instant he was attacked by two or three

albatrosses, and though the ship's boat was immediately lowered to his

assistance, nothing of him could be found but his hat, which was pierced

through and through by the strong beak of the albatross, the first blow

having no doubt penetrated to his brain and killed him.