The present family is often divided into a number of more or less well marked subfamilies, the first of which (the Fulmarinae) embraces the Fulmars and their immediate allies, and of which the Giant Fulmar, or Cape Hen (Macronectes gigantea), maybe taken as the type. This species, the sole representative of its genus, is but little inferior to the Albatrosses, being from thirty to thirty-six inches in length, and having a spread of wings from seventy-two to eighty-four inches. It is distinguished at once by its great size, by the very long and stout nasal tubes, and tail of sixteen feathers. There are two well-marked phases of plumage, a so-called light phase, in which the head, neck, and lower parts are white, the upper parts dusky, and the bill light yellowish, and a dark phase, in which the plumage is a uniform dark sooty brown, with the bill olive yellowish or grayish white; the legs and feet are grayish black. This species is widely distributed throughout the southern seas, occasionally wandering north on the Pacific coast of America as far as Oregon, as its power of flight is nearly if not quite equal to that of the Albatrosses. It is known to the whalers as the “Nelly,” ” Breakbones,” or “Stinker,” the latter name from its habit of vomiting the foul contents of its stomach, often to a distance of several feet, when approached or wounded. It nests in the same places as the Albatrosses, laying a single large dirty white egg on the bare ground. Its food consists largely when procurable of the blubber and flesh of the seals, sea-elephants, and whales, that are killed for commercial purposes, and, when occasion presents, of the bodies of its feathered relatives. Kidder found them abundant on Kerguelen Island, feeding on the carcass of the sea-elephant. “With their huge whitish beaks, light-colored heads (then covered with clotted blood), and disordered dun plumage, they reminded me strongly of Vultures. Like Vultures, also, they had so crammed themselves that they were unable to rise from the ground. They waddled and stumbled to the sea, swam away, and did not rise into the air until half an hour or more of digestion, and perhaps of vomiting, had made it possible.” They were also observed eating carrion, and were altogether the filthiest birds on the island.
The Fulmar Petrels (Fulmarus), of which there are some four or five forms, take the place in the Northern Hemisphere that the Giant Fulmar fills in the southern seas. They are similar to their great relative, but are distinguished at once by their smaller size, none of them exceeding twenty inches in length, by having the bill shorter instead of longer than the tarsus, by the relatively shorter and smaller nasal tubes, and a tail of only fourteen feathers. In the Common Fulmar (F. glacialis) of the North Atlantic, the nasal tubes are distinctly dusky and the whole bill sometimes brownish, while in. the remaining forms, which are confined mainly to the North Pacific, these tubes are light-colored, and the bill never dark. In plumage they also exhibit a light and dark phase, in the first having the head, neck, and lower parts white and the upper parts bluish gray, while in the second the plumage is entirely smoky gray. The typical form (F. glacialis) is a very abundant bird throughout the Arctic and the sub-Arctic seas, often following the ships until they enter the pack ice. It possesses great powers of flight, is very graceful on the wing, and is usually seen in the air or rarely sitting on the water. It is not especially gregarious except at the nesting season, but when a supply of food is encountered many thousands may congregate. It is very partial to the fat of the whale, and when one of these huge animals has been killed the Fulmars approach for their share, and not infrequently gorge themselves to such an extent as to be unable to fly. They are ordinarily very tame and approach so closely as to be readily knocked over with a boat-hook or even taken in the hand, and they also take a baited hook freely, returning at once when liberated to be captured a second time. When taken in the hand they vomit a considerable quantity of clear, amber-colored oil, which possesses a peculiar and very disagreeable odor. During the breeding season they nest in vast communities on rocks and cliffs, making but little attempt at a nest, indeed often laying the single large egg on the bare ground. The eggs are much esteemed for food, being regarded as even superior to those of the domestic Duck, and consequently the birds are frequently robbed. The Fulmars are particularly tame at this season, permitting themselves to be taken in the hand or knocked from the nest with a cane.
Of the Pacific forms Rodgers’s Fulmar (F. rodgersii), of which brief mention has already been made, is confined to Bering Sea and adjacent waters, while the Pacific Fulmar (F. g. Glupischa) ranges from the North Pacific south along the American coast to Mexico. Anthony has given us a very entertaining account of the Fulmars of southern California, especially as they congregate on the fishing banks some miles off the coast. The birds settle down within a few yards of the fishermen and when the line is hauled up after a successful sound they become greatly excited as the fish come into sight through the limpid water. It usually happens that one or more fish are detached and float to wind-ward, only to be pounced upon and torn to pieces by the hungry Fulmars. ” Their confidence in mankind is at all times very great. I have several times seen them killed by fishermen, who had but to drop a small piece of fish over-board and hit the bird with a club when it swam up to get it.” They were also taken by the hand and “when thrown upon the deck made no attempt to fly, but with outstretched wings hurried to the rail, over which they could just reach, and emptied the contents of their stomachs into the sea. Their actions were so like those of a seasick landsman that it was extremely laughable.”