About the birds that are seen on the journey from Spain to these Indies and back, and of those that are caught from the ships and caravels throughout their journeys.

Translated by Yuming Ren ’21

When sailing to the Indies from Spain, we see throughout the trip some very large black birds flying very close to the waves. It is a great thing to see their speed and skill when flying, how they ascend and descend with the waves, even in choppy seas, when hunting the flying fish (mentioned in book XIII, chapter IV) or some other types of fish. When they want, these birds sit on the water and take off from the water to do their work. The sailors call these small birds patines or petrels.

Some white birds of the same size or bigger than the wood pigeon are also seen during these crossings. They are great fliers, and they have a long and very slim tail, for which they are called rabo de junco or reed tail; most often they are seen midway or after the midway point on the voyage to these parts. But according to everyone it is a land bird (I believe that all birds are land birds because they need to grow there and be born out of the water). Some of these birds—the reed-tail birds—are not completely white, and their white plumage is mixed with brownish-gray. They have a tail like a dove, somewhat shorter and rounder, and a long and thin feather extends from the middle of it, more than a span longer than all the other tail feathers; when it flies the entire tail seems to be only one long feather, hence their name, but when the bird wants to stop suddenly in midair it opens the tail and shows the other smaller tail feathers. The third time I came to these Indies many of us saw one of these birds that was entirely white at the midway point of the journey, in the gulf between Spain and the Canary Islands called Golfo de las Yeguas or Gulf of Mares. All the sailors marveled at the sight of it and said they had not seen or heard of such a bird ever being seen that close to Spain, for it is more commonly seen 350 leagues or a little further before arriving at the islands of Dominica, La Désiderade, Guadeloupe, and those islands that are 150 leagues from this city of Santo Domingo of the island of Hispaniola. Of these birds, the ones that have white plumage have a red beak and red eyes, and the edges of their wings are black.

When the vessels are 200 leagues or less away, coming to these Indies from Spain, they see other birds called frigate birds. These black birds are big, and they look almost like birds of prey. They usually fly at very high altitude; they are black and look like birds of prey.

They have very long and thin flight feathers and their wings and tail come to very sharp angles, giving them a distinctive shape that is more recognizable in the air than all the other high-flying birds that I have seen. They have a bigger and much more pronounced forked tail than the kites, hence the name rabihorcado, which means forked tail. Some of these birds are a black that tends toward brownish-gray or blond, with a white chest and head and a tawny gular pouch. Its gliding flight is like that of the kite, because these frigate birds beat their wings very few times; their legs are thin, short and yellow, and the toes are like those of doves. There are others of these birds that, as I mentioned, are all black and have a long beak, bigger than that of a gull yet the same shape, somewhat thick at the end and curved downward. I have seen these birds more than 200 leagues seaward, but in the Mainland there are many more than in these islands.

The Indians of the province of Cueva say that the salve made from the fat of these birds is very good for erasing scars and clearing away wrinkles on the face, and for anointing dry legs or arms and for treating other afflictions and illnesses. They are hard to capture except the young ones found in some uninhabited islets where they nest. In the city of Panama, the year 1529, one of these frigate birds descended on a corral where many sardines, a fish these birds love, were curing in the sun and a black man happened upon it and hit it with a stick, breaking one of its wings with the blow and knocking it to the ground; I had it in my hands and it was one of the big ones, and the meat of it, after being plucked, was little more than that of a dove, but the feathers give it a bigger bulk than that of a kite. And this bird’s wingspan is such that I would not believe it had I not seen it myself; many able-bodied men tried to reach the tips of its outstretched wings with each hand and none could get within more than four fingers of them—whoever sees them flying high in the air would find this unbelievable. Pliny[1] knew that all the birds that have big wings have small bodies.

There are other seabirds to be found on the ocean sea called boobies. These are smaller than gulls; they have feet like ducks and they rest on the water when they want. They are found coming from Spain, when the vessels are 100 leagues or less from the first islands of these Indies that I mentioned; these birds come to the ships and sit on the topsails and lateens, and they are so dumb and wait so long that the sailors often catch them by hand, or with a lasso at the tip of a dart or other short handle. They are black and around the head and back they have a dark brownish-gray plumage; they are not good to eat, and they have a lot of bulk from the feathers in respect to their lean bodies. The sailors skin them and eat them cooked or roasted. With feathers they are almost as big as a dove, and after being plucked they are much smaller than a plucked dove. They have long wings, and there are two types or species of these birds, because the first kind have the plumage that I mentioned and the others have a brownish-gray plumage that tends toward black, with a brown head and a black beak and eyes; their legs and feet are also black, but like a duck’s, and the beak is somewhat long and thin. I have eaten the second type and they are tasty, and though they have been skinned first they still smell a bit like a fish. They are so simple that many times it happens that a man sticks out an outstretched arm from the ship and they rest in his hand, even at night, hence they call them bobos or idiots. The have beautiful black eyes; the biggest of them are the size of the rooks of Spain, and their color is a brownish-gray tending towards tawny. Many are taken between these islands and the Mainland.

When approaching the Indies, the ships come across other birds called gannets. There are many types of these: some are the size of marine crows and others somewhat smaller; some are a black that tends to the brownish-gray; others are brownish-gray and white with spots, and some of other plumages. There are others that are black and brownish-gray with some red feathers on their white heads. All these gannets often journey out to sea, and all of them have feet like geese or ducks because they are marine birds and skilled in fishery, which is their main sustenance.

So, these five types or differences of birds are found from Spain to the Indies, as are many terns and some gulls, but only close to or near the Canary Islands and the islands of these Indies and throughout the coasts of the Mainland, because gulls and terns do not stray far from the land.

Some other land birds are found on the sea and are taken when tired, on the way back when the ships that go from these parts are close to Spain. Those I have seen taken in the ships where I have been are those we call wagtails that always wag their tails and which are white and black; passerines, larks, and pinchicos of those that are kept in cages; kestrels, merlins, and falcons (I do not recall the species because I know little about falconry), and other birds of other species and forms. These birds rise up in high flight to cross from the cape of Saint Vincent or the last or most western parts of Spain and the end of Europe to Africa, or from Africa to Spain, and when they get tired they rest on the masts of the passing vessels; and as they do so at night, the sailors take them by hand. And this is enough about the many birds seen on this journey, according to where I have said.

[1] Pliny, Book X, Chapter 19. [GFO]