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image for Audubon paints the Sooty Tern in Florida Keys and Key West

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John Audubon visits the Dry Tortugas
and observes the Sooty Tern

 

map of Florida Keys and Key West

May 9 - Audubon sees the Dry Tortugas and the Sooty Tern on Bird Key

 


 

 

Sooty Tern
 Audubon painting of Sooty Tern from Birds of America
Above image from Historical Museum of Southern Florida - Audubon images at the Historical Museum website were produced from prints of an original Elephant Folio belonging to the museum.. http://www.historical-museum.org/collect/audubon/audubon.htm) See Audubon House  

 

 

Audubon drew this Sooty Tern on May 10, 1832.

Portions of what Audubon wrote from his Ornithological Biography, Vol. III. page 263-268 appear below:

Early on the afternoon of the 9th of May 1832, I was standing on the deck of the United States' revenue-cutter the Marion. The weather was beautiful, although hot, and a favorable breeze wafted us onwards in our course. . . . Captain Robert Day . . . ordered some person be sent to the top to watch the appearance of land. . . . we heard from him the cry of 'land.' It was the low keys of the Tortugas, . . . No change was made in the course of the 'Lady of the Green Mantle,' who glided along as if aware of the knowledge possessed by her commander. Now the light-house lantern appeared, like a bright gem glittering in the rays of the sun, presently the masts and flags of several wreckers showed us that they were anchored in the small but safe harbour. We sailed on, and our active pilot, . . ., pointed out to me a small island which he said was at this season the resort of thousands of birds, which he described by calling them 'Black and White Sea Swallows,' and another island equally well stocked with another kind of Sea Swallow, which he added were called Noddies, because they frequently alighted on the yards of vessels at night, and slept there. He assured me that both species were on their respective breeding grounds by millions, . . . Before we cast anchor you will see them rise in swarms like those of bees disturbed in their hive, and the cries will deafen you."

The Marion makes its way back to the harbour and anchors. Audubon writes,

. . . " As the chain grated the ear, I saw a cloud-like mass arise over the 'Bird Key,' from which we were only a few hundred yards distant . . . On landing, I felt as if the birds would raise me from the ground, so thick were they all round, and so quick the motion of their wings. Their cries were indeed deafening . . . We ran across the beach, and as we entered the thick cover before us, and spread in different direction, we might at every step have caught a sitting bird, or one scrambling through the bushes to escape from us. Some of the sailors, who had more than once been there before, had provided themselves with sticks, with which they knocked down the birds as they flew around and over them. In less than half an hour, more than a hundred terns lay dead in a heap, and a number of baskets were filled to the brim with eggs. We then returned on board, . . . I can safely recommend the eggs, for I considered them delicious, in whatever way cooked, and during our stay at the Tortugas we never passed a day without procuring ourselves a quantity of them."

"But reader let us return to Bird Key."

"Early the next morning I was put ashore, and remained there until I completed my observations on the Terns. . . . Having seated myself on the shelly shore, . . . , I remained almost motionless for several hours, in consequence of which the birds alighted about me, at the distance of only a few yards, so that I could plainly see with what efforts and pains the younger females deposited their eggs. . . . Here and there, in numerous places within twenty yards of me, females, having their complement of eggs, alighted, and quietly commenced the laboured of incubation."

"At Bird Key we found a party of Spanish Eggers from Havana. They had already laid in a cargo of about eight tons of the eggs of this Tern and the Noddy. On asking them how many they supposed they had, they answered that they never counted them, but disposed of them at seventy-five cents per gallon; and that one turn to market sometimes produced upwards of two hundred dollars, while it took only a-week to sail backwards and forwards and collect their cargo."

 

 

 


Additional information about the sooty tern may be found by following the link below to the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. The Atlas, a collaborative effort of Audubon of Florida, the Florida Ornithological Society, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission provides information of general status, habitat, and status of  breeding species in Florida

 
http://wildflorida.org/bba/SOTE.htm

 

 Additional information about the sooty tern may be found by following this link to eNature.com

 


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