The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Albatross

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Albatross
Edition of 1920. See also Albatross on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ALBATROSS (corrupted from Portug. alcatroz, the cormorant; from Ar. al, the; qadus, bucket, on account of its pouch), a large, almost exclusively pelagic bird of the family Diomedeidæ, a feature of the lonely southern oceans. They are rarely seen on the north Atlantic, but frequent nearly all other seas, and are never seen ashore except on the barren Antarctic islands where they breed. They have great powers of flight and follow ships for long distances to pick up offal. Their appetites are rapacious, their natural diet consisting of any fishes, mollusks or other animal matter which they find at the surface of the water; they do not dive. Sailors are fond of them and have a strong superstition against killing them. Like their allies, the petrels, the albatrosses have three fully-webbed toes, while the hind toe is either entirely wanting or represented by a claw. The bill of an albatross is four inches or more long, very thick and finished by a powerful hook at the tip. The nostrils open from round horizontal tubes placed one on each side of the bill, but at its base, instead of together on top as with the petrel. The wings are extremely long and pointed, the tail short and somewhat rounded. The feathers of the body form so thick a coat as to withstand both water and severe, long-continued cold; owing to the extreme length of the wing the number of flight feathers on it is greater than on the wing of any other bird. The single large white egg of the albatross is usually hatched on the bare earth. Two rather small species of albatross, the short-tailed (Diomedea albatrus) and the black-footed (Diomedea nigripes), occur on the western coasts of North America; these are about three feet long and seven feet across the wings. The sooty albatross (Phæbetria fuliginosa), of much the same size, belongs broadly to the Pacific Ocean. There are from seven to nine other species, of which the largest is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) of the southern oceans. It is four or five feet long and 10 to 12 feet from tip to tip of wings. Its color is white, with black bars across the wing coverts and across part of the back. This is probably the best known species in the family.