Page:Bird Life Throughout the Year (Salter, 1913).djvu/219

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An indescribable and all-pervading smell, as of ancient and decaying fish, clings to these bird-whitened cliffs, and becomes more pronounced when Cormorants are present to add variety to the scene by their odd gestures and vulturine aspect. On their favourite perch they preen themselves with much writhing of their snaky necks. One sits with its beak pointing almost vertically upward; another spreads its wings to dry, and rests with them expanded like some giant vampire. The cormorant gives a unique instance of a bird which is not in its best plumage in the breeding season, for the slight crest, silvery neck-hackles and white thigh-patch of the nuptial period are lost almost before nesting begins.

In one instance well-known to us, the breeding place of the Cormorants is a jagged rock rising some thirty feet out of the sea, a narrow channel of clear, green water separating it from a larger island. Upon the summit, which appears as if it had received a coat of snow, sit the birds, looking at a distance like so many wine-bottles. If we invade their stronghold, the young birds, which are full-grown but not yet able to fly, tumble over the stones and fall into the pools of liquid filth in their endeavour to escape, while others blow out their cheeks and pouches and cluck threateningly. Others again, more nervous, essay a first flight to the sea, but first lighten ship by throwing up the remains of their last meal. An old cormorant comes in from