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Albatross (from the Portugese Alcatraz, a pelican), the name of a genus of aquatic birds (Diomedea), closely allied to the petrels?, and belonging, like them, to the order Tubinares. See Aves.

Public domain picture from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In the name Diomedea, assigned to them by Linnaeus, there is a reference to the mythical metamorphosis of the companions of the Greek warrior Diomedes? into birds.

The beak is large, strong and sharp-edged, the upper mandible terminating in a large hook; the wings are narrow and very long; the feet have no hind toe, and the three anterior toes are completely webbed.

The best known is the common or wandering albatross (D. exulans), which occurs in all parts of the Southern Ocean. It is the largest and strongest of all sea-birds. The length of the body is stated at 4 ft., and the weight at from 15 to 25 lb. . It sometimes measures as much as 17 ft. between the tips of the extended, wings, averaging probably from 10 to 12 ft. Its strength of wing is very great.

It often accompanies a ship for days--not merely following it, but wheeling in wide circles round it---without ever being observed to alight on the water. and continues its flight, apparently untired, in tempestuous as well as in moderate weather.

It has even been said to sleep on the wing, and Moore alludes to this fanciful ``cloud-rocked slumbering'' in his Fire Worshippers.

It feeds on small fish and on the animal refuse that floats on the sea, eating to such excess at times that it is unable to fly and rests helplessly on the water.

The colour of the bird is white, the back being streaked transversely with black or brown bands, and the wings dark.

Sailors capture the bird for its long wing-bones, which they manufacture into tobacco-pipe stems.

The albatross lays one egg; it is white, with a few spots, and is about 4 in. long. In breeding-time the bird resorts to solitary island groups, like the Crozet Islands and the elevated Tristan da Cunha, where it has its nest--a natural hollow or a circle of earth roughly scraped together--on the open ground. When nesting, it is obvious how far their adaption to flying has gone. Their landings are often better described as semi-controlled crashes.

The early explorers of the great Southern Sea cheered themselves with the companionship of the albatross in its dreary solitudes; and the evil hap of him who shot with his cross-bow the bird of good omen is familiar to readers of Coleridge?'s [Rime of the Ancient Mariner]?.

Initial text from 1911 encyclopedia

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Last edited October 11, 2001 1:22 am by Alan Millar (diff)