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mort (type of bird found at sea but not far from land)


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16:51 Jul 2, 2007
This question was closed without grading. Reason: No acceptable answer

French to English translations [PRO]
Art/Literary - Zoology / 18th c ms, travelogue, dictated and handwritten
French term or phrase: mort (type of bird found at sea but not far from land)
Description: "C'est un oiseau parfait. Il est tout blanc par le corps, de la grosseur d'un pigeon. Le bec et les pattes d'un rouge très vif. Il a de grands yeux noirs. Les ailles et la queue d'un vert de mer. Cet animal nous fit juger que nous n'estions au plus qu'a 20 lieux de terre car cet oiseau ne s'écarte point de la terre."

Ship was in the Atlantic not too far from Saint-Domingue.
United States
Local time: 01:18

Summary of answers provided
3red-billed tropicbird
Kate Hudson
3blue-faced booby
liz green
2red-footed booby (Sula sula)
Sheila Hardie

Discussion entries: 18



2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
red-billed tropicbird


This is a possibility. Other references to phaetons mention that it is pigeon sized.

Kate Hudson
Local time: 08:18
Native speaker of: English
Notes to answerer
Asker: Thanks for the idea, but I'm pretty sure the tropicbird is what my author refers to as a "paille-en-cul".

Asker: I looked at the photos, but still am not convinced. The tropicbird was described in detail earlier in the manuscript, and the tail feathers were the feature that was remarked upon the most, hence its name "paille-en-cul" at the time.

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3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
blue-faced booby

I think it may be a booby (blue faced - aka masked - or otherwise). Some sources say this bird not found more than 20 leagues from land. It is only a guess but it may point you in the right direction. Good luck!

    Reference: http://www.treknature.com/gallery/Central_America/Belize/pho...
liz green
Local time: 07:18
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: English
Notes to answerer
Asker: Thanks for the suggestion. However the photo of this bird does not appear to have all of the characteristics described in the ms.

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3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 2/5Answerer confidence 2/5
red-footed booby (Sula sula)

The only thing I can think of right now is the red-footed booby, although it doesn't fit the description entirely either. But it does have red feet and legs and dark wings. It might possibly be referred to using the generic name 'Morus'. However, its scientific name is Sula sula - the 3 gannets (such as the northern gannet, Morus bassanus, which is in fact also known as Sula bassana) are included in the genus Morus - but the true boobies are grouped in the genus Sula. The family name is Sulidae.

I'll keep on looking and see if there are any other birds that might fit the description.




Note added at 3 hrs (2007-07-02 20:43:21 GMT)

Here's a description of this species. N.B. the bill is pink and blue. Not red, granted, but not entirely blue! And the rest of the description more or less fits. And it's found in the area your text is dealing with.


C'est le plus petit des fous, (longueur : 71 cm / envergure : 137 cm). ***Il possède des pattes rouges. Le bec et la gorge sont colorés de rose et de bleu. Il existe chez cette espèce deux types de plumage: blanc (sauf les rémiges qui sont noires) ou brun (sauf la queue et le bas du ventre qui sont blancs)***. Les deux types peuvent coexister, comme cela est le cas dans la colonie de l'île St Giles (Trinidad et Tobago).
Les sexes sont semblables, mais les juvéniles sont grisâtres avec des ailes plus brunes et des pattes roses.

Here is a distribution map for Sula sula (i.e. the red-footed booby):


Note added at 4 hrs (2007-07-02 20:54:04 GMT)

Just an addition - re. Kate's note - I don't think it can be the red-billed tropicbird either because the colours of the legs and feet don't match either. So, I agree with her - it could well be referring to a dead bird. Can you give us the sentence in which the word appears, please?


Note added at 4 hrs (2007-07-02 20:54:53 GMT)

Sorry - I just realised you had already given it above!

Note added at 4 hrs (2007-07-02 21:08:46 GMT)

Then again, maybe by saying 'mort' they are referring to the myth of Phaethon and his demise? The tropicbird family (Phaethontidae) is named after this legendary figure. And the red-billed tropicbird is Phaethon aethereus. Just an idea! :-))

PHAETHON was a young son of Helios and Klymene who begged his father to let him drive the chariot of the sun. The Sun-god reluctantly agreed to the boy's demands but the inexperienced Phaethon was unable to control the immortal steeds and the sun's-chariot quickly veered out of control setting the earth aflame. Zeus was horrified at the destruction sand truck the boy with a thunderbolt hurling his flaming body into the waters of the starry River Eridanos.

Phaethon was memorialised amongst the stars as the Constellation Auriga (the Charioteer), or transformed into the planet Jupiter or Saturn (which was named Phaethon by the Greeks).


Sheila Hardie
Local time: 08:18
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 8
Notes to answerer
Asker: Hi ... thanks for the idea. The author does talk about boobies later in the text, mentioning that they land on the ship and can be picked up by hand, much as the description in the Wikipedia article you cite, which makes me think that this is a different bird. I appreciate you looking into this, and welcome all ideas.

Asker: Wow, cool database (the Avibase)!

Asker: Sheila, thanks for your comments. I am almost convinced, and it might be the red-footed booby. If I find out that it is, I will re-open this question and give you credit!

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