The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 704/Land Birds at Sea, Jones
LAND BIRDS AT SEA.
By Surgeon K. Hurlstone Jones, M.B., R.N., F.L.S.
No one who has at certain seasons of the year made anything that can be called a voyage at sea can have failed to observe the remarkable fact that often, when far away from land, birds other than sea birds come on board the ship. These birds are almost all of them migrants, and it is mainly during the spring and autumn months that they are observed to frequent the hospitable refuge that a ship at sea offers them.
Most of these birds are, I believe, such as have by some accident, often doubtless stress of weather, lost their way and their companions in migration at the same time, and, wandering over the waste of water, gladly take advantage of any passing ship for the purpose of resting. Some few may perhaps have been blown out to sea by gales of wind, or even chased from the land by birds of prey. Often the wanderers have evidently lost their bearings, for they hang about the ship much longer than is actually necessary for the purpose of resting, and indeed generally, I think, until nearing the land.
In my own limited experience the birds have come on board either singly or in twos and threes. In the following notes are jotted down the occurrence on various occasions and in different localities of a few such birds. They are not very many, and, I fear, they are not very important. They were made partly whilst I was surgeon to the steamship 'Anselm,' of Liverpool, in 1897, and partly during my service in H.M.S. 'Repulse,' of the Channel Squadron. In the 'Anselm' I sailed from Liverpool to Hamburg, and thence to Havre, Lisbon, Madeira, and Brazil. In the Channel Squadron most of my time at sea has been spent cruising off the coasts of Spain and Portugal, though I have also been to Sardinia in the Mediterranean, besides much cruising in British waters. The first notes I have, however, of land birds at sea are curiously not of their actual occurrence on board the ship.
Cypselus apus.—On May 9th, whilst steaming up the English Channel in very fine weather, at about forty miles from south coast of England, I noticed several parties of Swifts. These birds were evidently migrating, for they flew straight ahead, and were obviously making a "bee-line" for the English coast. They were not, however, flying at any great height.
Hirundo rustica.—I noticed one Swallow also flying in the same way, and in the same direction.
On May 10th, whilst traversing the North Sea between Dover and the mouth of the Elbe, with coast of Holland just in sight, a Pipit (Anthus sp.) came on board.
Corvus cornix.—At dusk on the same day, when about midway between Heligoland and the German coast, a Hooded Crow alighted in the rigging of the foremast. After dark the third officer climbed up and caught this bird, which I should have otherwise not have been able to identify.
Saxicola œnanthe.—On May 17th, when about half-way between the mouth of the Elbe and Dover on the return journey, a Wheatear came on board of us, evidently very much tired.
Turtur communis and Anthus pratensis.—On May 21st, at the entrance to the Bay of Biscay, but a long way from Ushant, a Turtle-Dove, a Meadow-Pipit, and a Swallow came on board the ship, and remained all day. On May 22nd, being now about two-thirds of the way across the Bay, a second Turtle-Dove and a second Swallow joined those mentioned above, and later a Sand Martin (Cotile riparia) also put in an appearance. They all remained by the ship, and at dusk the hands going aloft drove the Turtle-Doves from their roosting-place on the fore main topsail-yard, and one of them, passing over the funnel, became suffocated, and was engulfed in it. On May 23rd, when we neared the Portuguese coast, all the birds left us.
The above are the few notes I was able to make of land birds coming on board the ship whilst I was in the steamship 'Anselm.'
Whilst serving in H.M.S. 'Repulse,' I have, I fear, not made very many notes, and for this there are several reasons. In the first place, this ship is one of a fleet, and when there are fourteen ships together, as is generally the case, there are obviously thirteen chances to one against a bird alighting on board of us. In the second place, this is a very large ship—one of the biggest battle-ships afloat—and consequently it is very much easier to miss a bird which alights on board so large a vessel than it is to do so in a smaller craft like the 'Anselm.'
Upupa epops.—On March 15th, 1899, when about one hundred miles west of Cape Finisterre, at five o'clock in the evening, a Hoopoe came on board of us, but shortly dropped astern and disappeared. This happened in very fine weather.
Falco tinnunculus.—On March 23rd, 1899, when about sixty miles from the north-west coast of Spain, in dull cloudy weather, a Kestrel flew on board, and remained the rest of the day. At night it managed to get into one of the canvas steaming covers round the fore-topmast, where a boy made an ineffectual attempt to catch it.
Daulias luscinia.—On April 29th, being then about one hundred and sixty miles W.S.W. of the southern end of Sardinia, two Turtle-Doves, a Nightingale, and another small bird which I could not get a good view of, came on board the ship; but all shortly left us for some other member of the squadron.
Sturnus vulgaris.—On Oct. 26th, 1899, whilst proceeding towards Ushant from Scilly, and about one-third nearer the former, at 5 p.m. in foggy weather, a Starling alighted on board of us for a few minutes, and then departed in an eastwardly direction. On Oct. 27th, when about midway across the Bay of Biscay, a Swallow came and perched on our quarter-deck awning ridge rope at 9 a.m.
The above are my notes, lamentably scanty, but still a contribution to what is, I think, an interesting subject. I offer them without comment.