Mr Gould took pains to verify the facts. The largest specimen seen by him measured 10 feet 1 inch from tip to tip of the outspread wings, and weighed 17 pounds. But Dr M'Cormick, surgeon of the 'Erebus,' in the Antarctic exploring voyage met with one weighing 20 pounds, and 12 feet stretch of wing. The Auckland Islands, about to become the head-quarters of our southern whale-fishery, are a much-frequented breeding-place for the birds; the others as yet known to naturalists are the Campbell Island—some lonely rocks off the southernmost extremity of Van Diemen's Land—and the islands of Tristan d'Acunha. While at the Aucklands, Dr M'Cormick made himself acquainted with what may be called the bird's domestic habits:—'The albatross,' he writes, 'during the period of incubation, is frequently found asleep with its head under its wings: its beautiful white head and neck appearing above the grass, betray its situation at a considerable distance off. On the approach of an intruder, it resolutely defends its egg, refusing to quit the nest until forced off, when it slowly waddles away in an awkward manner to a short distance, without attempting to take wing. Its greatest enemy is a fierce species of Lestris, always on the watch for the albatross quitting its nest, when the rapacious pirate instantly pounces down and devours the egg. So well is the poor bird aware of the propensity of its foe, that it snaps the mandibles of its beak violently together whenever it observes the lestris flying overhead.'
Mr Earle, whose observations were made on the almost inaccessible heights of Tristan d'Acunha, remarks:—'The huge albatross here appeared to dread no interloper or enemy, for their young were on the ground completely uncovered, and the old ones were stalking around them. They lay but one egg, on the ground, where they make a kind of nest by scraping the earth around it: the young is entirely white, and covered with a woolly down, which is very beautiful. As we approached, they snapped their beaks with a very quick motion, making a great noise: this, and the throwing up of the contents of the stomach, are the only means of offence and defence which they seem to possess.' It was at one time believed that the head of the female became of a scarlet colour while she was sitting, and afterwards resumed its original hue. Be this as it may, the male is very attentive to her during the time she keeps the nest, and is constantly on the wing in search of food, which, as before observed, consists of small marine animals, mucilaginous zoophytes, and the spawn of fish. When opportunity offers, however, they attack more solid fare. Commander Kempthorne relates, that while on a voyage in 1836, in search of the lost crew of the 'Charles Eaton,' he fell in with the half-putrid carcase of a whale, surrounded by a host of fishes and birds, albatrosses among the latter; 'and so occupied were they, that even the approach of our boat did not disturb them, or put them to flight: many albatrosses allowed us to attack them with our oars and the boat-hooks, and several were consequently knocked down and killed.' The egg of the albatross is about 4 inches long, white, and spotted at the larger end: although good to eat, the albumen or white does not solidify in the boiling. The penguin is said to take possession of the nests when vacated. The albatross is a constant attendant on fishing parties, and if in low condition from scarcity of food or other causes, soon regains its flesh and fat, so voraciously does it devour. It is no uncommon occurrence for one of these birds to take a fish of several pounds' weight into its mouth, and having swallowed one extremity, to wait, like the boa-constrictor, digesting and gulping until the whole is consumed. Towards the end of June, in anticipation of the fishing season, albatrosses arrive in thousands on the coasts of Kamtchatka, and are captured in great numbers, for food and other purposes, by the natives. With the hollow bones of the wing they make pipe-stems, sheaths, needle-cases, and combs, the latter being used in the preparation of flax: they also make use of the inflated intestines as floats for their nets.
Notwithstanding its large size, the albatross does not appear to be a quarrelsome bird; and when attacked by its enemy the skua gull, it endeavours to save itself by flight. Captain Cook once saw a contest between two of these gulls and an albatross; the sole object of the latter appeared to be to defend its breast and the softer portions of its body from the fierce assaults of its antagonists: loss of liberty, however, is said to irritate the bird greatly. Its voice, according to Sonini, resembles that of the pelican, with a cry approaching the bray of an ass. This author further observes with regard to the flight of the albatross:—'The manner of these birds' flying is very astonishing; the beating of their wings is perceived only at the moment of taking wing, and often they make use at the same time of their feet, which, being webbed, enable them to rise by striking the water. This impulse once given, they have no longer need to beat their wings; they keep them widely extended, and seek their prey, balancing themselves alternately from right to left, skimming with rapid flight the surface of the sea. This balancing serves doubtless to accelerate their course, but it would seem scarcely sufficient to support them in the air. Perhaps an imperceptible fluttering; of their feathers is the principal cause of this extraordinary movement. In this respect they would require to have muscles especially adapted, and for this reason I consider that the anatomy of these birds merits the greatest attention.'
By the Germans the albatross is named 'der wandernde schiffsvogel' (the wandering ship-bird); the Dutch term it 'Jean de Jenten;' English sailors, looking to its bulky appearance, call it 'the Cape sheep;' and with them also the sooty albatross is 'the Quaker-bird.' There are seven species particularised by naturalists: the technical description, however, of the Diomedea exulans, given by Mr Gould, will apply in general terms to the whole. 'The wandering albatross,' he observes, 'varies much in colour at different ages: very old birds are entirely white, with the exception of the pinions, which are black; and they are to be met with in every stage, from pure white, white freckled, and barred with dark-brown, to dark chocolate-brown approaching to black, the latter colouring being always accompanied by a white face, which in some specimens is washed with buff; beneath the true feathers they are abundantly supplied with a fine white down; the bill is delicate pinky-white, inclining to yellow at the tip; irides very dark-brown; eyelash bare, fleshy, and of a pale-green; legs, feet, and webs, pinky-white. The young are at first clothed in a pure white down, which gives place to the dark-brown colouring.' The 'cautious albatross,' as its name indicates, is very shy, seldom approaches the land, and is not easily captured: the yellow-billed species, when in pursuit of its prey, will dive and swim for several yards under water.
Mr Bennet, in his 'Wanderings,' has some interesting passages on the subject of the albatross. 'It is pleasing,' he writes, 'to observe this superb bird sailing in the air in graceful and elegant movements, seemingly excited by some invisible power, for there is scarcely any movement of the wings seen after the first and frequent impulses are given, when the creature elevates itself in the air; rising and falling as if some concealed power guided its various motions, without any muscular exertion of its own, and then descending, sweeps the air close to the stern of the ship, with an independence of manner, as if it were "monarch of all it surveyed." It is from the very little muscular exertion used by these birds that they are capable of sustaining such long flights without repose.... When seizing on an object floating on the water, they gradually descend with expanded or upraised wings, or sometimes alight,