Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tickle-aces, Turrs and Noddies

One of the most interesting things about Newfoundland and Labrador is the wonderful variety of expressions and figures of speech that are very much a part of life; archaic words that have fallen into disuse in other parts of North America are alive and well here, and there are local names for most of the seabirds found around the province's shores as well. The bird that's widely known as the black-legged kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla, is called a tickle-ace or tickle-ass here because of its habit of pursuing other birds and pecking at their tail feathers to make them drop the food they're carrying, allowing the kittiwake to swoop in and gather it up. Kittiwake in itself is an interesting enough name, echoing the bird's call, but it pales in comparison to tickle-ace.
The common murre (Uria aalge) nests here by the thousands on the islands along the coast, and is a traditional food source for coastal dwellers; at one time it was such an integral part of the diet that it was sometimes referred to as "salt-water chicken"; there is a hunting season for these birds during the winter months similar to that for ducks or geese. In Newfoundland and Labrador this bird is commonly called a turr, although in Britain it goes by the much more aristocratic "common guillemot", while its close relative the thick-billed murre or Uria lomvia is referred to as BrĂ¼nnich's guillemot. While not as plentiful as either the kittiwake or the murre in
breeding colonies on the province's shores, the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is found here in sufficient numbers to warrant its own nickname, the noddy. Although it is primarily an Arctic breeder, small colonies of fulmars can be found in both Labrador and Newfoundland. The fulmar is a tubenose -- a relative of petrels and albatrosses -- with a highly specialized beak whose function seems to be related to getting directional sensory input to detect food on the open sea. The fulmar has a particularly endearing habit of regurgitating the oily, smelly contents of its crop if alarmed; my advice is to avoid alarming fulmars. If you're planning on birdwatching in Newfoundland and Labrador, bring your field guide but be sure there's room in the back for notes!

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