Birds – The Diving Petrels

While the Albatrosses and Petrels thus far considered are probably all able to rest upon the water, very few of them are able or at least accustomed to dive beneath the surface. There are, however, a small number of Petrels inhabiting the southern seas that are especially known for their expert power of diving, whence they are appropriately called the Diving Petrels. In these birds the bill is shorter than the head, the nostrils distinct and opening upward on either side of the middle of the base of the culmen, while the wings are quite short and the first or hind toe wanting. The best-known species (Pelecanoides urinatrix), found in the Australian and New Zealand seas., as well as those about Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands, is about eight inches long, shining black above and white below, with the sides of the neck grayish. This species, according to Buller, is very common in the seas surrounding New Zealand, congregating in flocks often of large size and feeding on medusae and other marine life. Its flight consists of a rapid fluttering movement along the surface of the water, and it dives through the waves with amazing agility. Another species called the Diver (P. exsul) is found in the Southern Ocean from the Crozette Islands to Kerguelen, where of its habits Dr. Kidder says : “On the first landing of our party at Kerguelen Island, this bird was one of the two most commonly heard at night and seen fluttering about the hillside. Its note is somewhat similar to the mew of a cat, with a marked rising inflection of sound. It cannot rise from level ground in flight, but, once in the air, flies strongly and rapidly, with a rapid fluttering motion of the wings, very like the flight of the common English Sparrow.” Its single egg is placed in a burrow. The remaining species (P. Garnoti) is found on the west coast of South America, and is distinguished principally by its greater size, being some nine and one half inches long.