The settlers of New Zealand, so large a proportion of whom are engaged in rural occupations, which placing them in immediate contact with the works of nature, through observation and study ripening into confidential intercourse, will, doubtless, feel deeply indebted to Mr. Buller for his valuable essay on our Birds, which most interesting division of our Fauna exhibits a notable exception to the comparative dearth of animal life in these islands. When we consider, that from the absence of almost every variety of game, we are debarred the enjoyment of those sporting instincts and habits, which are characteristic of our countrymen wherever they may sojourn, the Natural History of our birds may be found an interesting and useful study, wherewith to beguile many a listless hour; wherever our pioneers of civilization are engaged in subduing the wilderness, near the grateful shade of the forest, in tending flocks on the hill pastures, or cultivating the level acres of the plains.
Nor is it for the merits of that interesting treatise only that we feel thus indebted to its author; its publication has called forth a critical review of it from the pen of Dr. Otto Finsch, of Bremen. The combined result has been of great advantage to the Student of Ornithology, by the removal of certain doubts and difficulties in the nomenclature, and the presentation of a nearly complete list of New Zealand birds, corrected to a recent date. Mr. Buller not only deserves well of his fellow-colonists for what he has done, and merits our thanks for benefits conferred, but we must feel prospectively grateful
in as much as he is labouring at a complete work on New Zealand Birds. As some time must, however, elapse before his work can be placed in the hands of the public, I beg to offer my small budget of information concerning the mode of nidification and breeding habits of several species, which have come under my own observation, many of which are rapidly becoming scarce. I do so, not only in the hope of its proving of some utility, however slight, but also that others may be induced to communicate their observations, even in a like imperfect shape, and thus lend their assistance in studying our page in the great Book of Nature.
Some of the information here given has been already forwarded to Mr. Buller, at his request, having been gathered from notes and memoranda, made by my sons, and myself, during a long residence in various districts of the Province of Canterbury, where we enjoyed favourable opportunities for pursuing a favourite study.
“Some to the holly hedge
Nestling repair, and to the thicket some;
Some to the rude protection of the thorn
Commit their feeble offspring: the cleft tree
Offers its kind concealment to a few,
Their food its insects, and its moss their nests.
Others apart far in the grassy dale,
Or roughening waste, their humble texture weave.
But most in woodlands solitudes delight,
In unfrequented glooms, or shaggy banks,
Steep, and divided by a babbling brook,
Whose murmurs soothe them all the live-long day,
When by kind duty fix'd.”—Thomson.
The Birds of New Zealand present to the observing naturalist, most interesting studies in their breeding habits, and various modes of nidification, varying from the compactly-felted nest of the Rhipiduræ, or Mohouæ, through easy gradations, every step of which is instructive, till we reach the bare spray-washed rock, on which the Whalebird rears its hardy offspring. They offer to our notice examples of burrowers, troglodytes or semi-burrowers, ground-builders, parasites, and the more or less elaborately-finished structures, which are to be found amongst the incessorial families, in which division the faculty or instinct of bird architecture appears to reach the highest development. Any one who has enjoyed the opportunity, must have been filled with admiration, whilst watching and considering the varying conditions under which the young of different species are reared.* We see that some are fed in the nest till they are well-grown as the kingfisher and penguin; others may be said to assist the work of their parents, by following them as soon as they are hatched, and thus materially diminishing the labour of bringing up, by being themselves able to reach the locality of their food supply. Examples of these latter may be found amongst the Rallidæ, Charadriæ, and Anatidæ; whilst, as observed before, the young of the genera Halcyon and Spheniscus (true burrowing species) remain in their tunnelled holes till well-fledged and well-grown. Yet in the case of Hymenolaimus melacorhynchus (which has some claim to be classed as a burrower), a young brood may be noticed with the old birds, on a lake or river, riding on the rippling waves, and floating with buoyancy and ease for hours. The Charadriæ at the best are but indifferent
[Footnote] * In a recent work Professor Owen makes this suggestion, “A binary division of the class (Aves) may be founded on the condition of the newly-hatched young, which in some orders are able to run about, and provide food for themselves, the moment they quit the shell (aves precoces); whilst in others the young are excluded feeble, naked, blind, and dependent on their parents for support (aves altrices).” See Anatomy of Vertebrata.—Owen.
nest builders, whilst some members of that restless, wary family make no attempt to provide artificial protection for their offspring, the young, warmly clothed with down, appear quite equal to the occasion, and accompany their parents with liveliness and activity. Amongst the Sternidæ and Laridæ, instances may be cited, showing equal indifference in providing shelter for their young; yet, it should be remarked, in these cases the young appear quite incapable of shifting for themselves, and must depend on the industry of the old birds for bringing their food supply of the them for several weeks. Here the parental instinct is shown in the selection of the breeding place, the eggs being deposited on the shore of the fishing ground, from whence the food supply of the future family is to be procured; but they have fewer mouths to feed, as they seldom lay more than one or two eggs (L. Scopulinus, S. Longipennis). Now, if we turn, for the sake of comparison, to the incessorial genera, denizens of the bush, we shall find the callow nestling equally as helpless as the young in the case of the natatorial birds: but as they number many individuals to each nest, the tax on the energy of the old birds to supply the requisite amount of food, must cause, pro tanto, so much the greater labour, unless, indeed, the warmth of numbers closely packed in a well-built nest, should render a somewhat less abundant supply of food sufficient, than would be required to support and rear the exposed broods of the aquatic birds before mentioned.
Some of the Grallatoræ and Anatidæ are remarkable for the extraordinary efforts they make when endeavouring to allure the unwelcome intruder from the immediate neighbourhood of their eggs or young. They will assume lameness, flutter with drooping wing, or drop with a dismal cry into the simulated agony of a death struggle to mislead the wayfarer, but when their artifice has succeeded in enticing him to follow till a safe distance from their precious charge is reached, ‘they clap their well-fledged wings and bear away,’ leaving the astonished beholder to meditate on the folly of trusting to appearances.
Amongst the troglodytal birds (such as Nestor, Platycercus, etc.) white is the usual colour of the eggs, doubtless as a provision to render their position more readily seen in the dim twilight of the breeding place, consequently to be approached and incubated with less danger of accident. It is, however, amongst the ground-breeders that the colouring of the eggs elicits the admiration of the careful observer; in some instances (such as Anarynchus frontalis) so wonderfully does the colouring of the eggs harmonize with the prevailing tone of the ground on which they are deposited, that accident only would disclose their presence to the casual wanderer, besides the instance just given, H. Longirostris, L. Scopulinus, afford noteworthy examples of this peculiar property which offers such a reliable safeguard against the plundering propensities of bipeds, whether feathered or not.
The rapid diminution in the numbers of our birds (with the exception of a very few varieties, of which Zosterops lateralis is the most noticeable instance) must be apparent to every one who has given the slightest consideration to the subject, it is a matter of deep regret that, in all probability, many species will have become extinct are their habits can be sufficiently studied by the naturalist for their use, economy, and position in our Fauna to be correctly ascertained. To the future student of the natural history of our country, vague, unreliable traditions, a conflicting nomenclature, and the contorted productions of the taxidermist mounted in acrobatic and weird-like attitudes, will perhaps alone remain to fill up the hiatus. How far should we now have to travel to discover a bevy of Quail, in the seclusion of some very remote valley of the ‘back country,’ a straggler or two might be met with. Yet by referring to the ‘New Zealand Handbook,’ it may be noted that the large island in Port Cooper was named after this bird, from the number of Quail flushed there. The beautiful little Rails are now almost as scarce; in how few
streams or lakes could one now expect a sight of the noble White Crane, watching ‘with motionless regard,’ its finny prey, yet but twelve years since, the writer of this paper gave Lake Heron, in the Ashburton country, its name, from the numbers of this majestic bird, which frequented its shores, or soared above its surface with lazy, heavy flight. These are but a few names of rare birds from a list that is annually increasing; and it is a matter of no great difficulty to point to the causes, which have led to what must certainly be deemed a misfortune to the Colony.
As the country became occupied, the more remote districts rendered accessible by means of roads, as wide-spreading swamps were drained and brought into cultivation, extensive tracts of country stocked with cattle and sheep, above all, as the whole face of the country became changed by the repeated bush fires, it can be readily understood how these various incidents of civilization should so soon have effected such considerable changes in the condition of our feathered tribes. To these other minor causes may be added, and, perhaps, contemplated with less satisfaction, the reckless gunner frequently killing for the mere love of slaughter, the self-complacent ‘new chum,’ with the inevitable firearms, even the learned savant will sometimes be tempted to destroy both old and young, especially of our rare birds, a favourable opportunity of procuring choice and desirable specimens being too great for resistance; scientific zeal thus overcomes good policy, and consideration for the future. Would not the re-establishment of some of our rarer species (many of which are excellent as articles of food) form a worthy, if not a noble, object of ambition for our Acclimatization Societies to achieve? * The difficulties attending such an undertaking would necessarily be great, there is no doubt, but difficulties energetically encountered are seldom insuperable. To ensure anything like a successful issue being arrived at, certain conditions must be fulfilled, early action must be taken, an intelligent acquaintance with the habits of birds, would be indispensable, patience to endure considerable trouble, as well as occasional disappointment, and lastly, a small expenditure of money. However, a moderate outlay should not be an impediment to an undertaking of such interest with those institutions, which have been handsomely supported by private subscriptions, supplemented by liberal grants of public money. † The Parliament of New Zealand has taken steps to protect some of our birds, but however well legislative enactments may be framed, the people themselves can alone determine what shall be allowed to exist; looking at the rapid destruction threatening our noble forests, and in some cases our fisheries also, it must be admitted that the prospect of the preservation of our birds is the reverse of hopeful.
As a rule, we appear to live, work, and legislate for to-day, with not too much anxious thought for the to-morrow of those who are destined to succeed us. Whatever may have been the result in other countries which have been colonized by our race, whoever fairly writes the history of this country, will have to record how deeply the Anglo-Saxon settler has implanted his mark, by the alteration of the natural features it presented on his first arrival. Perhaps it would not be considered out of place to offer a few general, but very brief,
[Footnote] * ‘One of the exciting causes of the destruction of every living native animal that can be met with is the pretence of enriching our Museums, while at the same time the overstocked market in Europe render them, for the most part, unsaleable there; and it is a wellknown fact, that the skins of Australian birds, etc., have been re-exported from England to Australia for sale.’ —See Dr. Bennett's ‘Gatherings of Naturalist in Australia.”
[Footnote] † Should our Acclimatizing Institutions require a precedent, they may refer to the ‘Bulletin de la Société Impériale Zoologique d' Acclimatation, 1864.’ Among the extraordinary prizes offered by the Imperial Society, February, 1864, may be found, —Reproduction in France of the Pinnated Grouse (Tetrao Cupido) la Gelinotte, medal of 1,000 francs.
remarks on the study of our ornithology, which presents a wide field for the instructive entertainment, even of those who do not enjoy the advantage of much out-of-door occupation, as diligent investigation will repay those who are disposed to devote time and attention to its careful consideration. The tegumentary system of birds is so remarkable and beautiful a feature, amongst the glories of Nature's handiwork, as at once to call for observation, the most heedless must be attracted by the exquisite arrangement of form and colour. Although man's chief interest in the feathered tribes centres, in the fact of their furnishing him with delicate and luxurious varieties of food, or amusement, and a mild excitement in the way of sport; yet several species are so lovely in their gorgeous trappings, that birds of many kinds are kept in a semi-domestic state, merely for the gratification their beauty imparts to the beholder. Vast numbers, more fortunate perhaps, are eagerly pursued and slain, not for economical purposes of supplying food or clothing, but that their rifled plumes may be worn as articles of personal adornment. Human vanity has long since established this custom so universally that neither age, sex or race appears exempt, and the chief of a Maori tribe doubtless feels as much pride in his feathered head-dress plucked from the beautiful train of the snow-white Kotuku, as the bedizened wearer of ostrich plumes, whether a prince or a peeress of one of the most civilized nations of Europe.
The Parroquet may be frequently observed in confinement, and the Tui, liveliest of our Meliphagidæ, quite as often perhaps barred within the limits of a dirty cage, has to exchange, for the dewy nectar of fresh bush flowers, a monotonous diet of soaked bread or biscuit, and for this unpalateable dole the unfortunate prisoner for life is expected to be lively and gay. The Maories of the South Island have long prepared the Mutton-bird, as a dainty article of food.
What can be more wonderful than the development from the inert contents of an egg, of so sprightly a creature as a bird; if we were not familiarized with this admirable and curious process of nature, it would be deemed miraculous; it really appears typical of the Creation, and this must have been felt, where the egg was looked upon as the symbol of the renovation of the living world, and the custom was introduced, of suspending an egg in Eastern Churches. A writer on the monasteries of the East says, ‘as the egg contains the elements of life, it was thought to be an emblem of the ark, in which were preserved the rudiments of the future world.”
Passing over the embryological age, the period of incubation which represents the term of gestation amongst mammals, and the growth of the young in all its stages of dependence, our attention is arrested by the anatomical structure of this class of vertebrates. The peculiar arrangement of the osseous and muscular systems, from whence the power of locomotion in all their admirable variety are derived, should be carefully considered, flying, walking, hopping, climbing, swimming, or diving, from the constant exercise of which, birds depend for safety, or obtain their food supply.
A transient glance at the structure of their skulls and beaks will satisfy the enquirer how happily their forms are adapted for the habits and varying conditions of the life of different species. The strong hooked beak of Nestor, by the help of which it rapidly ascends the stems or branches of trees, is sufficiently powerful to rend down long strips of tough bark, such as that of Fagus solandri; the soft bill of Hymenolaimus enables it to secure small aquatic insects, caddis worms, etc., in the mountain creek; the slender curved mandibles of Recurvirostra are fitted for thrusting into the oozy slime of the swampy marsh; with its strong beak, the cosmopolitan Hæmatopus readily breaks the shell-armour of the various bivalves that pave the tide-washed mud flats of our harbours; the reason for the lateral curvature of the beak of the
Anarynchus, or Crook-billed Plover, as yet requires explanation, which can only by satisfactorily given from a closer observation of its habits. Compare the bones of Himantopus, the graceful wader, with those of Podiceps, or Sphœniscus, chief amongst divers, the wabbling, yet undulating gait of the latter, when hastening to the sea, gives it rather the appearance of a large water-rat than that of a bird, but how its awkwardness on shore is compensated for, anyone may judge who witnesses the ease and rapidity with which it dives beneath the swelling wave, by the aid of its fin-like wings. Notably, Fregata, Diomedia, Thalassidroma, with their enormous development of the bones and muscles of the wings, their consequent almost untiring flight, * offer the most remarkable contrast to many species, such as Apteryx, Ocydromus, and the wingless giant peculiar to our land, which perhaps has not been long extinct. It is interesting to note that it was from a bone of this genus that the instance of the perfection of skill to which the accomplished anatomist can attain, was exhibited, as all the world knows, by Professor Owen building up, from the study of a single bone, his theory of the gigantic bird, the correctness of which was afterwards corroborated by the discovery of ample remains of various species of Dinornis. Is it possible that the Moa was known to the ancient world? The following passage from Strabo would answer for a description of its pursuit by natives, quite as well as for the hunting of the Dodo of the Mauritius, or the æpyornis of Madagascar. Writing of the countries washed by the Red Sea (Book xvi.), Strabo observes, ‘Above this nation is situated a small tribe, the Struthophagi (or bird-eaters), in whose country are birds the size of deer, which are unable to fly, but run with the swiftness of the ostrich. Some hunt them with bows and arrows, other covered with the skins of birds, they hide the right hand in the neck of the skin, and move it as the birds move their necks. With the left hand they scatter grain from a bag suspended to the side; they thus entice the birds till they drive them into pits, where the hunters dispatch them with cudgels. The skins are used both as clothes and a covering for beds.’ Such an ancient notice of a wingless bird is interesting.
The flight, migration, sight, and voice, of many of our species of birds, are all subjects of interest to those who are glad to learn something more of the world we live in.
When the Lark is flushed from her nest on the wide expanse of the tussock-covered plains, with what rare instinct or wonderful gift of sight must she be endowed, which enables her to find her nest amidst the myriads of tussocks presenting the same aspect, without a track, a tree, or even a rock, as a guide to aid her organ of locality. How true is the Bronze-winged Cuckoo to his appointment, almost to a day, the first week in October he announces, by his presence, that high spring has been reached, and the active labours of our portion of animated nature has commenced in earnest.
We cannot boast of possessing, amidst our bushes, rivals to those ‘melodious songsters of the grove’ which wake up the woods and hedgerows of the Old Country, yet many of the notes and cries of our feathered race are peculiarly interesting, such as the song of the Petroica albifrons, the humanlike whistle of the Chrysococcyx lucidus, the well-known chime of the Bellbird, the extraordinary sounds to which the white banded Tui gives utterance, the flute-like tones of the Crow or Wattle bird, the wailing call of the Weka; and the startling shriek of that night bird, frequently heard in the back country, which has not been identified as the call of any bird that has yet been described.
[Footnote] * After the memorable storms of July and August, 1867, in Lyall's Bay, amongst numbers of Hapuka and other fish that had been stranded, we observed several bodies of Diomedea exulans, that had perhaps been dashed against the rocky cliffs, by the violence of the storm.
For years attempts have been made to procure a specimen of this mysterious unknown, which will probably be found to belong to the families either of Strix or Podargus; it is to be hoped it may not turn out to be the man-liking bird thus mentioned by Fuller, ‘I have read of a bird which hath a face like, and yet will prey upon, a man, who coming to the water to drink, and finding there, by reflection, that he had killed one like himself, pineth away by degrees, and never afterward enjoyeth itself.”
Already some of our rural settlers attach significance to the peculiar flight and cries of birds, as prognosticating changes in the weather, thus following out in their new home the like fancies or observations which have been handed down by their fathers from time immemorial; on this subject Cuvier wrote, ‘For the rest of their intellectual qualities, their rapid passage through the different regions of the air, and the lively and continued action of this element upon them, enables them to anticipate the variations of the atmosphere, in a manner of which we have no idea, and from which, has been attributed to them from all antiquity, by superstition, the power of announcing future events.”
Embryological research as far as our birds are concerned is still a sealed book. This is a branch of science upon the importance of which Agassiz lays much stress; after speaking of the information he had acquired from the examination of bird embryos, he writes, ‘How very interesting it will be to continue this investigation among the tropical birds! —to see whether, for instance, the Toucan, with its gigantic bill, has, at a certain age, a bill like that of all other birds; whether the Spoon bill Ibis has, at the same age, nothing characteristic in the shape of its bill. No living naturalist could now tell you one word about all this.’ Investigations of this nature amongst the several genera peculiar to New Zealand, would be of value to science, and would offer an interesting field for new discoveries concerning ornithological facts, in our bright corner of the world, which the scientific naturalist has not yet found time or opportunity to lay bare.
Accuracy of description is so necessary to establish facts, that it is far preferable to give a few brief notes, the result of actual observation, rather than to supply pages of information gathered from hearsay; even in our humble researches, the untrustworthy character of report generally, has been experienced sufficiently often, to impart a certain amount of incredulity not easily shaken off; mythic treasures have so frequently eluded pursuit, when the scene has been reached that should have disclosed specimens of more than ordinary interest, that no difficulty is felt in understanding how often fable creeps in, and becomes, in a measure, blended with truth in matters relating to Natural History.
On the other hand it is far from safe to discard even the improbable, as imperfect description has before now converted the improbable into the apparently impossible, as a very early notice of the Hornbill will testify. *
[Footnote] * In 1330, Odoric tells of a bird as big as a goose, with two heads. In 1672, P. Vincenzo Maria describes a bird, also as big as a goose, but with two beaks, the two being perfectly distinct, one going up and the other down; with the upper one he crows or croaks, with the lower he feeds etc. —Viaggio, p. 401.
In 1796, Padre Paolino, who is usually more accurate, retrogrades; for he calls the bird ‘as big as an Ostrich.’ According to him, this bird, living on high mountains where water is scarce, has the second beak as a reservoir for a supply of that element. He says the Protuguese call it Passaro di duos bicos. —Viag., p. 153.
Lastly, Leiut. Charles White describes the same bird in the Asiatic Researches. ‘It has a large double beak, or a large beak surmounted by a horn-like shaped mandible.’ —Asiatic Res., iv. 401. The bird is a Horn bill, of which there are various species having casques or protuberances on the top of the bill, the office of which does not appear to be ascertained. How easy here to call Odoric a liar! but how unjust, when the matter has been explianed. —Cathay and the way thither, Vol. i., p. 100.
Many writers of Natural History appear to have made a practice of copying from their predecessors: the inconvenience of this arrangement is manifest, in that errors were thus allowed a very protracted existence, such as the fables which were for centuries supposed to describe the natural habits of the Kingfisher, etc. The writer of this paper was long haunted by the vignette title of a popular work on British Birds, the engraving was supposed to give a correct representation of Cinclus aquaticus, and nest; the latter as there figured, presented the conventional basin-shaped arrangement with eggs, all complete, the popular notion of a bird's nest in fact; now, in reality, the nest is a thick mossy dome-shaped structure, in which the pure-white eggs are concealed from view. Years after quite as great a shock was felt, when on inspecting a public collection, he found that if he placed reliance on what he saw before him, Falcons must have laid Pigeon's eggs, Seagulls had produced those of the Turkey, whilst the Crested Grebe had achieved a Duck's egg. Careless mystifications such as these, should be avoided by those who are expected to impart information, as too improbable.
An attempt to show, more clearly, the extent which the ravages of a few years have inflicted on the numbers of our birds, may perhaps be excused for the object in view, we will therefore endeavour even at the risk of being tedious, to represent such a scene of the past as one might reasonably expect to meet with, almost daily, during a considerable portion of the year, at the place indicated. One of the most favourable localities for observing the habits, acquiring a knowledge of the notes and cries, and watching the flight of various birds, was not far from the gorge of one of our great southern rivers, where the monotonous flatness of ‘the plains’ gives way to a more broken and undulating surface, as an extensive range of hills is approached. This range is on one side flanked by low downs enclosing a few shallow lagoons, here and there sparsely-wooded gullies intersect the hills, from whence flow two or three brawling creeks, that join and deepen into a swift and silent stream crossing the grassy flat; the higher portion of this corner of ‘the plains’ is stoney, whilst near the foot of the downs lies a swamp of no great extent.
Here upwards of thirty varieties of birds might be observed almost daily, and here too, or within a very moderate circuit, most of them breed.
Then our handsome Quail abounded, flying straight and low when flushed; the finding its slight humble nest filled with eggs, was no rare occurrence; or to see from amidst the snow-grass tussock, the Weka confidently emerge, or to hear the little Grass-bird utter its unchanging note u-tick, u-tick, as rising on feeble wings that just sustained it to the sheltering grass, beneath the spreading leaves of a neighbouring flax bush, whence perhaps the Tit (Petroica) darted to the ground from the tall flower-stalk, to snatch the larvæ of the grasshopper. Then the blue Pukeko, prince of Rails, often stalked through the raupo of the swamp, or the brown-streaked Bittern, with long ruffled neck, rose with deliberate flight; perchance hard by in the narrow outlet bounded by tufted stumps of carex, the light-eyed Teal slunk silently from view; or further on, where the creek widened to a noiseless pool the little Grebe with rosy breast, dived and sported with restless asctivity; close by a group of sober Grey Ducks; whilst the watchful Paradise Drake basked on the sunny bank above, his beady eyes doubtless commanding a view of a certain snow-grass tussock, under the waving plumes of which, a cup-like nest of down might lie securely hid. Then perhaps amongst the tall feather-tufted tohe-tohe reeds, and sawedged grass, a pair of Harriers had built their rough, flat-topped home, or floating high above on noiseless wing, alarmed the pyebald Red bill, that circles round on rapid wing, screeching its clamorous note; or we might watch the pied Stilt with long pink legs, outstretched rudder-like behind, making for the rush-fringed lagoon, to join its mates in wading near the margin of the pool,
whose placid surface, now broken into a thousand ripples, as it shivers beneath the touch of the passing breeze, laden with sweet perfume, collected from the thorny Discaria, the formal solitary Cordyline, or the creamy bells of the brown-leaved Epacris. Now perhaps behind a favouring flax bush, we watch the visitors that dot the surface of the water (amongst them, the Black Widgeon and variegated Shoveller were rarely to be seen) and observe some early flappers skimming along in hot pursuit of their insect prey. Crossing towards the higher stony ground over patches of gizzard-stones, and many a bleached bone, crumbling in decay, of the giant Moa, that tells a tale of days philosophers may dream of; perhaps the sprightly lark, with lively chirrup, mounts from its freckled eggs, or the banded Dotteril flies round with warning note, whilst its grey-clad young hide cunningly behind some stick or stone; or red-billed Terns gather round in screaming flocks, returning from a blackened patch of new-burnt ground, that stretches far out on the plains, whilst from many a beak dangles the writhing lizard; or maybe the slowly repeated twit, twit, of the red-breasted Plover chimes in, as it sidles slyly off with alternate run and halt, nor could you find its slight grassy nest till half a dozen times the ground had been stepped over. The rock-bound gully reached (the heights above, as New Year's day came round, ablaze with crimson Rata flowers), from the swift stream below, amidst its noisy brawling with the rocks, arose the plaintive whistle of the Blue Duck, as with soft-fringed bill it explored each little foaming eddy; or scrambling through the scrub, we might observe, on the rifted top of a huge lifeless tree, the great Black Shag, perched motionless; beneath, Bell-birds, with noisy blustering flutter, seek the konini, clinging to its brittle sprays, extract the honey of the pendant flowers; or high up, clear into the golden glow of sunshine, ascends the glistening Tui, discharging a whole volley of strange sounds; or perhaps from the rocky bush, the green-clad Parroquet descends, its harsh note repeated rapidly; where sand-flies gather thickest and irritate the rambler with their dusky swarms, the Fly-catchers, pied and black, flit around, then perching, spread their fan-like tails with twittering chatter, whilst from a bare branch above, the strong-billed Kingfisher keeps watch above the gurgling creek. Then we might note where the small striped, Wren crept round the lichen-covered trunk, or moss-clothed branches of some spreading shrub, or the grey warbler (Piripiri) with quivering notes fluttered near its cosy, dome-shaped nest; perhaps on a huge blackbirch the Kaka might be seen rending down the bark in long ribbon strips, to reach the insect dainties that lay housed beneath; or, with rapid flapping wing, the Pigeon seeking the straight-stemmed Kohi, whilst concealed by the rising tiers of leafy canopy, the bronze-winged Cuckoo whistled from the topmost bough. Emerging from the bush's dusky light, into the full glare of noon, we might perhaps have seen the Quail-hawk, rapidly ascending with spiral flight, till it appeared like a dark speck against the cloudless sky, its shrill jarring scream distinctly heard the while. Descending through groves of formal Ti palms, the steep, stone-paved terraces of the great river that rushes in milky streams below, the large Grey Gull might perhaps be found feasting on the carcase of a sheep, stretched on a patch of dark-green tutu; or hard by the margin of the sandy spit, the little Gull was perched neat and trim as any quakeress, whilst the Black Stilt, with its uneasy cry of pink, pink, settled a few yards onwards, to lead us from its crouching young, or the Crook-billed Plover scuttled slowly off with outstretched wing. Those less common birds, the great White Crane, Avocet, and Spoonbill Duck were seen at rarer intervals.
Now the scene is changed, and so thoroughly; it seems almost like a dream that such things were. The wooded gulleys denuded of timber, show amidst blackened stups, some isolated shrubs, still green, of olearea, panax, or
much-enduring coprosma; the constantly recurring bush fires have cleared off the stately Ti palms (so fragrant in early spring); dwarfed flax bushes, altered the condition of various grasses, improving some for grazing, effected a speedier drainage, and dried up the shallow lagoons. Thousands of sheep now depasture on that well-remembered corner of ‘the plains,’ on those gently-swelling downs; instead of the varied cries of birds we have the bleating of flocks, the bark of the colley as it rounds up its charge, the loud crack of the stockwhip, the hearty curse of the bullock driver delivered ‘ore rotundo;’ these changes form part of the evidence that testifies to the progress of our civilization.
If from some of the causes thus pointed out, or the rapid rate at which the timber forests have been wasted or destroyed, * the introduction of bees (and the numbers of swarms met with in the bush may easily account for some diminution in the food of the Meliphagidæ), the spread of cats, and even rats, or from the feeble hold on life which appears to be shared by every living thing that is indigenous, whether animal or vegetable, when brought into contact with foreign influences, it should be deemed impossible to avert the impending fate which threatens the existence of many species of our native birds, we must endeavour to find some compensation for so great a misfortune, in the success which has attended the introduction of foreign birds in many parts of the country. The Pheasant, Partridge, and Californian Quail, are amongst the best of the game birds that may be considered as established amongst us. The Black Swan, introduced in Canterbury to check the growth of another foreigner (watercress), Shell Parroquet, Thrushes, Black birds, Larks, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Sparrows, Starlings, etc., from increasing numbers, promise very soon to give additional interest to our rural scenery.
|Measurement of Eggs.|
|1.||Falco Novæ Zelandiæ, Gml.||2||0||1||6|
|2.||Circus assimilis, Jard.||1||11||1||6|
|7.||Halcyon vagans, Gray||1||0 ½||0||10 ½|
|10.||Prosthemadera Novæ Zelandiæ, Gml||1||2||0||10|
|11.||Anthornis melanura, Sparrm.||0||11||0||8 ½|
|15.||Pogonornis cincta, Dubus.||0||9 ½||0||7|
|18.||Acanthisitta chloris, Sparmm.||0||7 ¼||0||6|
|19.||Mohoua ocrocephala, Gml.||0||10 ½||0||8|
|20.||Sphenœacus punctatus, Quoy.||0||10||0||7 ¾|
|25.||Gerygone assimilis, Buller||0||8||0||6|
|26.||Certhiparus Novæ Zelandiæ, Gml.|
|27.||" albicilla, Less.||0||10 ½||0||7 ½|
|29.||Petroica macrocephala, Gml.||0||9||0||7|
|31.||" toi toi, Less. and Garn.||0||9||0||7|
|32.||" longipes, Less. and Garn.|
|33.||" albifrons, Gml.||1||0||0||9|
|34.||Anthus Novæ Zelandiæ Gml.||0||10 ½||0||8|
|35.||Zosterops lateralis, Lath.||0||8||0||6 ½|
[Footnote] * According to a return recently laid before the Provincial Council, over upwards of 170,000 acres of bush land, have depasturing licenses been granted by the Waste Lands Board of the Province of Canterbury. Is it the interest of the licensees to preserve timber.?
|37.||Rhipidura flabellifera, Gml.||0||8||0||6|
|38.||" fuliginosa, Sparrm.||0||8||0||6|
|47.||Platycercus Novæ Zelandiæ Sparm.||1||1 ½||0||10|
|50.||" auriceps, Kuhl.||0||11 ½||0||9 ½|
|51.||Nestor meridionalis, Gml.||1||9||1||3 ½|
|58.||Chrysococcyx lucidus, Gml.||0||9||0||6|
|60.||Coturnix Novæ Zelandiæ, Quoy.||1||3||0||11|
|61.||Apteryx australis, Shaw||5||1||3||4|
|62.||" Qweni, Gould||4||6||2||7|
|63.||" Mantelli Bartl.||5||4||3||3|
|A.||65.||" obscurus, Gml.||1||9||1||3|
|B.||65.||Anarhynchus frontalis, Quoy.||1||4 ½||1||0 ½|
|71.||Hæmatopus longirostris, Vieil.||2||3||1||7 ½|
|75.||Botaurus poicilopterus, Wagl.||2||1 ½||1||6|
|78.||Himantopus Novæ Zelandiæ, Gould||1||10||1||3|
|B.||78.||" melas, Hom b.||1||10||1||3|
|87.||Ocydromus australis, Sparmm.||2||2 ½||1||5 ½|
|91.||Porphyrio melanotus, Temm.||2||0||1||5 ½|
|92.||Casarca variegata, Gml.||2||7||1||10|
|93.||Anas superciliosa, Gml.||2||3||1||9|
|94.||" chlorotis, Gray||2||5||1||10|
|96.||Fuligula Novæ Zelandiæ, Gml.||2||8||1||9|
|98.||Hymenolaimus melacorhynchus, Gml.||2||8 ½||1||9|
|99.||Podiceps rufipectus, Gray||1||9||1||0|
|100.||" Hectori, Buller||2||4||1||7|
|104.||Spheniscus minor, Forst.||2||3||1||9|
|126.||Larus Dominicanus, Licht.||2||10||1||10|
|127.||" scopulinus, Forst.||2||1||1||6|
|129.||Sterna caspia, Pall.||2||7||1||9|
|130.||" longipennis, Nordm.||1||10||1||4|
|131.||" antarctica, Forst.||1||6||1||1 ½|
|A.||131.||" sp. (Sternula nereis), Qy.||1||4||0||11|
|139.||Graculus brevirostris, Gould||2||6||1||6 ½|
|142.||Dysporus serrator, Banks||3||1 ½||1||10|
It may be interesting to persons acquainted with the Oology of Europe, to institute a brief comparison between the eggs of some of our birds, and those of kindred European species; in some few, considerable contrast in size and shape, may be observed; whilst amongst others so little difference is to be discerned, that it would be difficult to decide, from transient inspection, of which hemisphere they are native.
The eggs of Falco Novœ Zelandiœ closely resemble those of F. peregrinus, in size, form, and colour; so also do those of Circus assimilis bear as striking a likeness to those of C. rufus. The eggs of Halcyon vagans are larger than those of (Alcedo ispida,) the same may be said of those of Coturnix Novœ Zelandiœ, when compared with those of C. vulgaris. To select the eggs of Hœmatopus longirostris, from a number of those of H. Ostralegus, would be difficult; nor would it be much less so to decide whether the Bittern's eggs were European or New Zealand; the eggs of Himantopus melanopterus strongly resemble those of our Stilts, the same remark will apply to those of Podiceps minor and rufipectus, respectively. With regard to the eggs of P. cristatus, they are smaller than those of P. Hectori. The eggs of Sterna caspia bear a very close resemblance in both hemispheres. The similarity between the eggs of Sterna
minuta, and the new species from the Rakaia, has already been pointed out. The egg of Dysporous serrator only differs by 1 ½ lines in length, from that of Sula alba of Europe; whilst similar chalky encrustations may be found on either specimen.