As the Marion was nearing the curious islets of the
Tortugas, one of the birds that more particularly
attracted my notice was ofd this species. the nearer
we approached the land, the more numerous did they
become, and I felt delighted with the hope that ere
many days should elapse, I should have an opportunity
of studying their habits."
night drew her sombre curtain over the face of nature,
some of these birds [boobies] alighted on the
top-yard of our bark, and I observed ever afterwards
that they manifested a propensity to roost at as great
a height as possible above the surrounding objects . .
. The first that was shot at, was approached with
considerable difficulty: it had alighted on the prong
of a tree which had floated and been fastened to the
bottom of a rocky shallow at some distance from shore;
the water was about four feet deep and quite rough;
sharks we well knew were abundant around us; but the
desire to procure the bird was too strong to be
overcome by such obstacles. In an instant the pilot
and myself were over the sides of the boat, and onward
we proceeded with our guns cocked and ready. . . .
after we had struggled about a hundred yards through
the turbulent waters, my companion raised his gun and
fired; but the bird flew away with a broken leg and we
saw no more of it that day."
eight miles to the north-east of the Tortugas
Light-house, lies a small sand-bar a few acres in
extent, called Booby Island, on account of the number
of birds of this species that resort to it during
breeding-season and to it we accordingly went. . . .
The island was covered with their dung, the odour of
which extended to a considerable distance leeward. . .
. Their note is harsh and guttural. somewhat like that
of a strangled pig, resembling the syllables hork,
am unable to find a good reason for those who have
chosen to call these birds boobies. Authors, it is
true, generally represent them as extremely stupid;
but to me the word is utterly inapplicable to any bird
with which I am acquainted. The Woodcock, too, is said
to be stupid, as are many other birds; but my opinion,
founded on pretty extensive observation, is, that it
is only when birds of any species are unacquainted
with man, that they manifest that kind of ignorance or
innocence which he calls stupidity, . . . A little
acquaintance with him soon enables them to perceive
enough of his character to induce them to keep aloof.
. . . After my first visit to Booby Island in the
Tortugas, the Gannets had already become very shy and
wary, and before the Marion sailed away from those
peaceful retreats of the wandering sea-birds, the
Boobies had become so knowing, that the most expert of
our party could not get within shot of them."