Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE ARCTIC JAGER.
LESTRIS PARASITICUS, Linn.
PLATE CCCCLIII.--MALE, AND FEMALE.
During winter this indefatigable teaser of the smaller Gulls often ranges
along our southern coasts as far as the Mexican Gulf, where I have seen it, as
well as opposite the shores of the Floridas; but I never met with a single
individual in summer, even in the most northern parts, although I had expected
to find it breeding on the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. Few birds
surpass it in power or length of flight. It generally passes through the air at
a height of fifty or sixty yards, flying in an easy manner, ranging over the
broad bays, on which Gulls of various kinds are engaged in procuring their food.
No sooner has it observed that one of them has secured a fish, than it
immediately flies toward it and gives chase. It is almost impossible for the
Gull to escape, for the warrior, with repeated jerkings of his firm pinions,
sweeps towards it with the rapidity of a Peregrine Falcon pouncing on a Duck.
Each cut and turn of the Gull only irritates him the more and whets his keen
appetite, until by two or three sudden dashes, he forces it to disgorge the food
it had so lately swallowed. This done, the poor Gull may go in search of more;
the Lestris is now for awhile contented, and alights on the water to feed at
leisure. But soon, perceiving a distant flock of Gulls, he rises on wing and
speeds towards them. Renewing his attacks, he now obtains an abundant supply,
and at length, when quite gorged, searches for a place on which to alight,
unseen by any other of his tribe more powerful than himself. When on wing, its
beautiful long tail-feathers seem at times to afford this bird great assistance
in executing short sudden turns, which have often brought to my mind the motions
of a greyhound while pursuing a hare. By sudden lashings of its tail, it can
instantly turn, or arrest its flight. When it is on the water, it keeps that
part upright, but when on a rock or a floating piece of timber, it allows it to
fall in a graceful manner.
Although usually seen single, or at most in pairs, during the winter, I
observed this species in April, on my voyage to the Florida Keys, in flocks of
from ten to fifteen, congregated as if for the purpose of returning to the
northern regions, where it is said to breed in groups. Mr. SELBY, in treating
of this bird, says "It breeds upon several of the Orkney and Shetland Isles, and
is gregarious during that period; and the situations selected for nidification
are the unfrequented heaths at some distance from the shores. The nest is
composed of dry grass and mosses, and its two eggs are of a dark oil-green, with
irregular blotches of liver-brown. At this season the bird is very courageous,
and, like the Common Skua, attacks every intruder upon the limits of its
territory, by pouncing and striking at the head with its bill and wings. It
also occasionally endeavours to divert attention by feigning accidental
lameness." Having received eggs of this bird from individuals who had collected
them, I may add that they are broadly rounded at the larger end, rather pointed
at the smaller, have a smooth shell, and average two inches four-twelfths in
length, by one inch and four and a half eighths in breadth.
M. TEMMINCK, in his Manuel d'Ornithologie, describes the young when about
to leave the nest as follows: "Top of the head of a deep grey; sides and upper
part of the neck of a light grey, sprinkled with longitudinal brown spots; a
black spot before the eyes; lower part of the neck, back, scapulars, small and
large wing-coverts, umber-brown, each feather bordered with yellowish-brown, and
often with reddish; lower parts irregularly variegated with deep brown and
yellowish-brown on a whitish ground; tail-coverts and abdomen transversely
barred; quills of the wings and tail blackish, white at their base and on the
inner barbs, all terminated with white; the two outer shafts white; tail only
rounded; base of the bill yellowish-green, black towards the point; tarsi
bluish-grey; base of the toes and membranes white, the rest black, hind claw
In middle age, he says, "all the upper parts are greyish-brown without
spots; lower parts of a somewhat lighter tint, and also unspotted; inner base of
the quills and only the upper parts of the tail-feathers pure white, the rest
blackish-brown; the two elongated tail-feathers gradually diminish in breadth
towards the extremity, which ends in a very attenuated point; bill and feet as
in the old individuals."
Captain JAMES CLARK Ross has informed me by letter, that this species was
seen in great numbers during his late voyage towards the Arctic circle; that the
Pomarine Lestris was less abundant, and RICHARDSON'S very rare.
LESTRIS BUFFONII, Bonap. Syn., p. 364.
LESTRIS PARASITICA, Arctic Jager, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 430.
ARCTIC JAGER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 317.
ARCTIC JAGER, Lestris parasiticus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 470.
Male, 23, 45.
Ranges, during winter, along and off the coast, though always in sight of
land, as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Breeds in high latitudes.
Bill about the length of the head, rather slender, straight, the tip
curved. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight, toward the end curved,
the ridge broad and convex, the sides separated from the ridge by a narrow
groove, extremely narrow and convex, the edges sharp and inflected, the tip
compressed, rather obtuse. Nostrils in the fore part of the nasal groove,
nearer the tip than the base, sub-marginal, pervious, linear, oblong, wider
anteriorly. Lower mandible with the angle long and narrow, a slight prominence
at its extremity, beyond which the dorsal line is straight and ascending, the
sides sloping outwards and convex, the edges sharp and inflected, the tip
obliquely truncate and rather obtuse.
Head rather small, oblong, much narrowed before. Neck of moderate length.
Body rather slender. Feet rather short and of moderate strength; tibia bare at
its lower part; tarsus anteriorly covered with broad decurved scutella, on the
sides with oblong scales, behind with smaller oblong prominent scales; hind toe
extremely small and elevated, the fore toes of moderate size, connected by
reticulated webs, which have their margins convex; the third toe longest, the
fourth not much shorter, all covered above with numerous scutella, the lateral
ones margined externally with small prominent scales directed forwards. Claws
of moderate size, curved, acute, compressed, that of third toe with a sharp
The plumage in general is close, elastic, soft, and blended; the feathers
on the back and wings rather compact and distinct. Wings very long, rather
broad, pointed; primary quills tapering and rounded, the first longest, the rest
rapidly graduated; secondary rather short, rounded. Tail feathers of moderate
length, excepting the two middle, which are extremely elongated and gradually
attenuated, the rest broad and rounded, there being twelve in all.
Bill greyish-black, the upper part bluish. Iris brown. Feet black, but
with the greater part of the tarsus yellow. The neck and lower parts are white,
the former tinged with yellow; upper and fore part of head with the space before
the cheeks blackish-brown; the lower part of the hind neck and all the tipper
parts blackish-grey, the primary quills and tail-feathers brownish-black, the
shafts of the former white.
Length to end of tail 23 inches, to end of wings 15; extent of wings 45;
wing from flexure 12; tail 12; bill along the back 1 1/4, along the edge of
lower mandible 1 3/4; tarsus 1 7/12; middle toe 1 4/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12.
The female resembles the male, but the middle tail-feathers are about three