Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE FORKED-TAILED GULL.
LARUS SABINI, Sabine.
On my return from Labrador, I had the pleasure of seeing this interesting
little Gull flying over the harbour of Halifax in Nova Scotia. It was in
company with our Common American Gull. Although I have not observed it on our
eastern shores or farther south on the coast, it is not improbable that it
rambles there in winter along with other species which, like itself, breed far
north. Its flight in some measure resembles that of the Common Tern, although
it is more decided, and, consequently, more like that of the smaller species of
its own genus. In the course of a voyage from Pictou in Nova Scotia to Hull in
England, lately performed by my friend Mr. THOMAS MACCULLOCH, he saw great
numbers of this species when more than a hundred miles off Newfoundland. They
flew around the ship in company with an almost equal number of Ross' Gull.
Dr. RICHARDSON gives the following account of the Forked-tailed Gull, in
the Fauna Boreali-Americana. "This interesting species of Gull was discovered
by Captain EDWARD SABINE. It was first seen on the 25th of July at its breeding
station on some low rocky islands lying off the west coast of Greenland,
associated in considerable numbers with the Arctic Tern, the nests of both birds
being intermingled. It is analogous to the Tern not only in its forked tail,
and in its choice of a breeding place, but also in the boldness which it
displays in the protection of its young. The parent birds flew with impetuosity
towards persons approaching their nests, and when one was killed, its mate,
though frequently fired at, continued on the wing close to the spot. They were
observed to get their food on the sea-beach, standing near the water's edge, and
picking up the marine insects which were cast on shore. A solitary individual
was seen in Prince Regent's Inlet, on Sir EDWARD PARRY's first voyage, and many
specimens were procured in the course of the second voyage on Melville
Peninsula. Captain SABINE also killed a pair at Spitzbergen, so that it is a
pretty general summer visiter to the Arctic Seas, and is entitled to be
enumerated amongst the European as well as the American birds. It arrives in
the high northern latitudes in June, and retires to the southward in August.
Specimens procured in June and July corresponded exactly with the one described
below. When newly killed, they all had a delicate pink blush on their under
plumage. The eggs, two in number, are deposited on the bare ground, and are
hatched in the last week of July. They are an inch and a half in length, and
have an olive colour with many brown blotches."
At the approach of autumn, it frequently happens that several species of
Gulls associate together, and at times congregate in great numbers on the outer
margins of sand-bars and in the large estuaries. There they keep up a constant
cackling, run about, dress their plumage, and await the rising of the waters.
If disturbed at such times, they shew greater shyness than perhaps at any other.
One of the oldest birds sounds an alarm, and all simultaneously take to wing,
disperse, and gradually rise to a great elevation, flying in wide circles, and
moving seaward. I have thought it remarkable that these birds seldom shun the
fishermen, while towards any one bearing the semblance of a gunner they act with
extreme caution. Although loquacious when congregated, they are, when
separated, quite silent, especially when on wing. In squally and rainy weather
they skim low over the water or the land, always against the wind. They are
very tenacious of life, and often, when wounded, revive after you had considered
them incapable of breathing. The instant they are caught they are wont to mute
and eject the contents of their stomach, as well as when suddenly compelled to
take to wing, or when pursued by predaceous birds. In particular states of the
weather they appear at a distance much larger than they really are, and, on such
occasions, they also seem much nearer, so that the gunner is greatly deceived,
and may shoot at them when too far off.
LARUS SABINI, Fork-tailed Gull, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 428.
FORK-TAILED GULL, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 295.
FORKED-TAILED GULL, Larus Sabini, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 561.
Male, 13, 33.
Accidental as far south in winter as New York. Rather common along the
coast of Nova Scotia. Breeds in Newfoundland, and along the coasts of the
Arctic Seas. Seen on the banks of Newfoundland in great numbers.
Bill rather shorter than the head, nearly straight, rather slender,
Upper mandible with its dorsal line straight to the middle, then curved and
declinate, the ridge convex, the sides slightly convex, the edges sharp and
inflected, the tip rather obtuse. Nasal groove rather long and narrow; nostrils
in its fore part, longitudinal, sub-medial, linear, pervious. Lower mandible
with a slight prominence at the end of the angle, which is long and narrow, the
dorsal line then straight or slightly concave, the ridge convex, the sides
Head of moderate size. Neck short. Body rather slender. Wings very long.
Feet of moderate length, rather strong; tibia bare below for a short space,
covered behind with narrow scutella; tarsus compressed, anteriorly covered with
numerous scutella and three inferior series of transverse scales, laterally with
rounded scales, posteriorly with oblique scutella. Toes slender, scutellate
above; first extremely small, second much shorter than fourth, third longest,
anterior toes connected by reticulated webs, the outer and inner slightly
marginate; claws small, compressed, obtuse, that of middle toe with an expanded
Plumage close, soft, blended. Wings very long and pointed; primaries
tapering and rounded, first longest, second almost equal, the rest rapidly
graduated; secondaries obliquely pointed, the rounded extremity extending beyond
the tip of the shaft, which is exterior to it, the inner feathers more
elongated. Tail of moderate length, forked, of twelve feathers.
Bill black at the base for more than half its length, the rest pure yellow.
Edges of eyelids vermilion, as is the inside of the mouth. Feet black. Head
and upper part of neck all round blackish-grey, that colour terminated below by
a ring of pure black encircling the neck. Lower neck all round, the whole lower
surface, the upper tail-coverts and the tail, pure white. The back and wings
are bluish-grey, excepting a large terminal portion of the secondaries, and the
tips of the primaries, which are white, the primaries themselves being black,
with their shafts brownish-black. The first quill of the specimen figured had
no white on the tip, but some individuals differ in this respect.
Length to end of tail 13 inches, to end of wings 14 3/4; extent of wings
33; wing from flexure 10 3/4; tail 5; bill along the ridge 1, along the edges
1 1/4; tarsus 1 5/12; middle toe 1, its claw 2/12. Weight 7 oz.
The Female is rather less than the male, but in other respects similar.