Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/31

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23
THE STORY OF THE CAHOW.

At the time of the early settlements (1612 to 1615) it bred in great numbers on some of the smaller islands and was easily captured at night. It laid a single, large, white egg, described as like a hen's egg in size, color and flavor. The nest was, according to all early writers, except one, a burrow in the sand like a coney's, and not in crevices of the rocks, like that of the shearwaters, with which many writers have tried to identify it. Governor Nathaniel Butler, in his 'Historye of the Bermudaes,' writing about 1619, states that its eggs and young were found in crevices of the ledges, but he probably did not have the advantage of personal experience.

The time of laying its eggs is another very remarkable thing, in which it differed from all other birds of northern latitudes. The early contemporary writers all agree that it laid its eggs 'in December and January' or 'in the coldest and darkest months of the year.' The shearwaters, even in the West Indies, lay their eggs in spring (March

PSM V60 D031 Castle island bermuda after hurricane of 1899.png

Castle Island, looking south; a, ancient ruined fort or citadel; b, barracks and battery; c, ancient wall, broken down at c' by the hurricane of Sept. 12, 1899; d, main island of Bermuda.

and April) and their eggs are so musky that they are not edible; certainly no one would compare them to a hen's egg. Their flesh has, also, so strong a flavor of bad fish-oil and musk that no one would eat it, unless on the verge of starvation.

The bird itself was variously described as of the size of a pigeon, green plover or sea mew; its bill was hooked and strong, and it could bite viciously; its back was 'russet brown' and there were russet and white quill feathers in its wings; its belly was white. It was strictly nocturnal in its habits, and could be called within reach of the hand by making loud vocal notes. Its flesh was described as of excellent flavor, and for that reason it was captured at night in large numbers, while its eggs were constantly gathered for food. It arrived in October and remained until the first of June.

There is no known living bird that agrees with it in these several characters. Most certainly it could not have been a shearwater, nor any