ALBATROSS, a genus of aquatic birds (Diomedea), closely allied to the Petrels and Culls, belonging to the family of _Long ipennatce, or long-winged birds, in the order Natatores.. In the name Diomedea, assigned to them by Linnams, there is a reference to the mythical metamorphosis of the companions of the Greek warrior Diomedes into birds. They have the beak 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.
Of the three species that the genus includes the best known is the Common or Wandering Albatross (D. exulans), which occurs in all parts of the Southern Ocean, and in the seas that wash the coast of Asia to the south of Behring Strait. It is the largest and strongest of all sea-birds. The length of the body is stated at 4 feet, and the weight at from 15 to 25 lb. It sometimes measures as much as 17 feet between the tips of the extended wings, averaging probably from 10 to 12 feet. 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 a dusky white, the back being streaked transversely with black or brown bands, and the wings darker than the rest of the body. The flesh, though hard, dry, and unsavoury, is eaten by the inhabitants of Kamtchatka, who also capture the bird for its entrails, which they inflate for net-floats, and its long wing-bones, which they manufacture into various articles, particularly tobacco-pipes. The albatross lays one egg; it is white, with a few spots, and is about 4 inches 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. 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 :Indent Mariner.
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