Notes and Observations
1. Xenicus gilviventris. Rock Wren.
This harmless little bird which inhabits the higher regions on the Southern Alps is very tame, hopping about among débris grown over with alpine vegetation. I have found them plentiful on top of Mount Alexander, near Lake Brunner, in 1877, also on Mount Alcidus, Rakaia Forks, on the station of Mr. Neave, in 1879, not uncommon. To my surprise on the Alps in this sound they are exceedingly rare where I expected they would be very plentiful, as on many of these places there are not any human beings, or ever have been, to disturb them. By my examinations I found that the common European rats inhabit these Alps in thousands and they destroy every bird.
2. Apteryx australis. Roa. South Island Kiwi.
This bird, whose limits of existence are annually getting less, I met with on the 1st of June, 1884, west of Mount Bender, on the Alps over 2,000 feet high, among tussocks and low silver pine scrub. My dog got on a scent and followed it up on a well-worn track ten inches wide. As soon as he set, I examined the place and found a very large roa sitting under the scrub in a burrow, with his head under his side feathers, similar to the habits of all the species of Apteryx. As soon as I touched him he struck at me with his leg, clapped with his bill, and made a grunting noise. Judging from his size I mistook him for a female; but to my surprise on skinning it I found it was a male. At first I thought it was a large species which the natives have often told me about (the roaroa), but by careful observation I have found that this alpine inhabitant only differs in size from his lower ally, and never leaves the Alps in the severest winter. I have found them under snowed-over silver pine scrub, or in burrows between and under stones. Their tracks when come across are easily recognized, even without a dog. When the snow had disappeared I noticed them, especially from one lagoon to another. It is astonishing what a number of tracks one pair of these birds make. They also make their tracks in the bush, alongside of which I have often found places where they scratch with their feet and dig holes with their bills in the ground, also in rotten wood for insects, larvæ, and worms, etc. These holes are about 6 inches in depth, by 1 ½–2 inches wide at the top. The movements of the bird when not disturbed are very slow, the head bent down, and the tip of the bill regularly touching the ground. When they get disturbed they stand nearly upright, listen for a moment,
and then run with outstretched neck, and bill pointed downwards. When they get pushed hard they go into the first burrow they come to. In October the female begins to lay one white oval egg in a nest well lined with leaves and grass, either in a fallen hollow tree, or under the roots of large trees, especially rata, and under stones. The male hatches the egg. The female is much larger, and has a larger bill than the male. The cry of the male is shriller than that of the female. This bird is to be found from Dusky Sound along the coast (and also inland) to Casket Point, but everywhere rare, as the burrows have no shelter, and the bird no means of defence against the attacks of the number of dogs and cats run wild, who prey upon them, and I fear this peculiar and interesting bird will soon disappear, even from these beautiful and lovely wilds. I found in their crops insects and their larvæ, also a number of small stones for digestion.
3. Apteryx oweni. Grey Kiwi.
This bird is the smallest of the four existing species of Apteryx. In the sounds they are not very plentiful, they prefer dry and high spurs, where plenty of dead logs are lying about. I have, however, found them both in the low lands, and at over 2,000 feet above sea-level. They like places with several openings and plenty of room, and it is astonishing what small openings they go in and out of. Some I measured were only 3 and 4 inches in diameter. With, the assistance of my dog it sometimes took me half a day to secure a bird, and very often I had to give up without result.
They go about singly till the pairing begins, and then both sexes call each other, and they continue in pairs till the female lays one large white oval egg. They build their nest together out of dry leaves and grass, which they carry in with their bill. The male hatches the egg. After laying they soon separate, and I have never found the female near the nest. The young birds are soon left to look after themselves.
I am certain that this kiwi breeds twice in a year, or in different seasons, as I have found a half-grown bird on the 21st June, a six-weeks-old bird on the 14th August, and one about two months old on the 3rd September. All these birds have been left by their parents. On the 16th September I found up the mountains (no name), 1,500 feet high, a male sitting on am egg in a nest under a rata, under which he broke in defending by striking with his leg in a similar manner to all species of Apteryx. From that time I examined several nests. In this species also the male is smaller, and has a shorter bill than the female; also the cry is different, that of the male being shriller.
In their crops I have found insects, larvæ, berries and stones for digestion. This kiwi is distributed over the most isolated and uninhabited districts of the South Island, but its circle is getting every year narrower, as where civilization and culture appear, this bird soon disappears.
4. Eudyptes pachyrhynchus. Yellow-crested Penguin.
This noble bird has been found on the coast of the South Island, but is most plentiful in the West Coast Sounds, especially Dusky and Milford. In Dusky Sound there are several colonies, two in Super Cove and one on the west-north-west of Cooper's Island. These birds come on shore in July, when they begin to build their nests, which consist of a few sticks and leaves, which the male brings, while the female constructs a careless nest, either in a cave between cliffs or under large stones, and lays one and sometimes two eggs, similar to those of the Eudyptula minor, only larger and with a bluish tint. These birds breed in colonies. I have seen as many as 24 pairs together. Both sexes assist in hatching their eggs and rearing the young birds. About the beginning of September the young are covered slightly with down, the head and back black with a greyish tinge, the throat and abdomen white. This down increases in thickness as the birds grow larger. The female stays with the young the first few days and the male brings the food, which consists of various fish, especially the rock cod (Percis colias), which they masticate. Afterwards they take it in turns to attend the young. It is interesting to watch these birds: some on the alert, some coming out of the water with their prey, and others searching for their prey. When they are not disturbed they walk or hop upright rather clumsily; but when they are startled by an enemy they stoop down and use their flappers as forelegs. For climbing up on the rocks they also use their bills, when they get along very quickly. When anything approaches them they make a noise similar to a goose (Anser domesticus), and the female goes quickly to her young, while the male, if he is near, stops by the entrance of the burrow and bites furiously at any intruder. As the caves were low and difficult to get at in my first efforts my dog and I got many bites before we succeeded in securing any. Though clumsy on land, they can be very swift in the water. When swimming the body is under water and only the head out, and they swim slow. But when they dive they go with great rapidity. I have noticed them in the severest gales of wind, and it had not the slightest effect upon their movements, so great is their power in their native element. During my six years' researches I have only found two washed ashore. I have observed a colony of about 14 journeying to their breeding places together. On disturbing them they went in a similar manner to the porpoises, jumping out of the water and then diving with great rapidity to get out of the way. When these birds get often disturbed they leave their breeding settlements and seek for more solitary places, generally nearer the ocean, and more inaccessible. Mr. Gidal told me that in Caswell Sound there have been for years colonies breeding, but we could not find any of them, as the dogs drove them
away, and now people are living at the Marble Quarry. The only difference between male and female is the slightly smaller size of the latter. I have found an insect similar to the Membranacea inside the edges of the bill, which adhered so firmly that they parted in two on my trying to get them off. Eventually I had to poison them to succeed.
5. Eudyptula minor. Blue Penguin.
This little bird is not so common in the sounds. I have only found them in pairs, and they differ slightly in their habits from the larger variety. I have found their nests, which are better built, nearer the shore, and as far back as a mile in the bush; and in one instance in a burrow 12 feet long. Coming ashore in September, the male brings the sticks, leaves, etc., for the female to build, generally in a burrow under the roots of trees. Both are together in the day-time in their burrows, when they make a noise like a kitten; in the night they build their nest, and towards the end of September two white roundish eggs are laid, which are reared by both parents, and protected from any intruder, whom they pluckily attack. In the beginning of November, I have seen young birds covered with slight down, dark grey on the top of the head and the back, white on the throat, breast, and abdomen. The female is considerably smaller than the male. In the end of February and March, they leave the shore with their parents for their unfriendly element, where they are as active, but not so powerful of endurance as the larger species, as I have found many of them driven ashore after a severe gale, dead. Their food is fish and Crustacea. These birds are distributed over the North. South, and surrounding Islands of New Zealand, and where they are not disturbed they are very plentiful, especially on the Motutiri and Taranga Islands, Hauraki Gulf. Their enemies are the domestic dog and cat run wild.
6. Nestor, sp. Kaka.
This bird represents Nestor meridionalis in the sounds, but is not very plentiful. I have found them alone and in pairs or with their young, from two to four. They breed in hollow trees. The nest consists of a deepening lined with wood-dust and feathers out of the parent birds. They lay their eggs from beginning of March till April. Male and female hatch and rear the young birds together; in August the young birds are fullgrown. This bird is not so gregarious as his ally meridionalis, also different in plumage and construction of the skeleton and habits; the cry and whistle is shriller; the male is fiery red under the wings, the female golden yellow and a little smaller. These birds are very bold. On the 18th April, 1884, I found in a hollow tree a female with one egg and three young birds, which she pluckily defended by biting and scratching. At the cry of the female the male came swooping several times past my head. This species is the finest of the three existing species of Nestor.
As I have not seen any specimens of Dr. Buller's Nestor occidentalis nor of the Nestor montanus which were previously obtained and described I can only depend on my own observations, of which I am positive, and also can prove by a series of specimens I have collected of the Nestor meridionalis, North Island kaka—adult, half-grown nestlings, and egg—having a similar series of the above Nestor and also of Nestor notabilis.
At first I called this bird Nestor occidentalis according to the description Dr. Buller has in his Manual, which is similar, but I do not like to give it any name until I am sure that it is one of the previously-named species. I only hold by my own observations that in New Zealand there are three species of Nestor—as Nestor meridionalis, Nestor—–? and Nestor notabilis.
7. Stringops habroptilus. Kakapo.
On my last researches in the sounds I had the opportunity to observe minutely the habits and habitat of these birds. They are common in some parts of the bush. The young ones are much duller in plumage than their parents. When hatched they are covered with white down, which in about a month's time gives place to a fledging of feathers, the down remaining upon the feathers until the birds are about three months old. In April last I found under the root of a red birch, in a burrow, two young kakapos. During the same month I found several other young birds of this species. So late in the season as the 12th May Mr. Docherty found a kakapo's nest containing a female sitting upon an egg with a chick just hatched. Mr. Docherty kindly pointed out the nest which I measured. The burrow had an entrance from both sides, and two compartments. Both entrances led to the first compartment, the second and deeper chamber being connected with the first by a small burrow of about a foot. The nest was in the outer compartment, and was guarded by very strong rocks, rendering it difficult to open up. The distance from the entrances to the nest were two feet and three feet respectively. The first chamber was twenty-four inches by eighteen inches, and twelve inches high. The inner compartment was fourteen inches by twelve inches, and only six inches high. The nest was formed by a deepening, lined with wood dust, ground by the bird as fine as sawdust, and feathers, which the female had evidently plucked from her own breast, which was quite bare. From my observations I am of opinion that the male bird takes no part in the hatching or rearing of the chicks, as in all cases the female was the sole attendant from first to last. I did not see a male near a breeding burrow, nor did I in any single instance find two grown-up birds in one burrow, though I have seen them in pairs on their nocturnal rambles. Whenever two males meet they fight, the death of the weaker sometimes resulting. The female is much the smaller (probably about three-fourths the weight), and duller in plumage. These bush kakapos are very common in various parts of the Sounds district.
The alpine kakapo—so called by me as I have never found this beautiful bird except on the high mountains—is considerably larger, and much brighter in plumage. I was under the impression before the winter set in that these birds inhabit the Alps in the summer time when there is an abundance of food; but to my surprise my later investigations proved this to be erroneous, for as I have said, I have never seen them anywhere else, though I have repeatedly seen them taking their nightly walks on the Alps, when the snow covered everything to a depth of three feet or more.
I was particularly anxious to observe the manner in which the kakapos make their tracks. I therefore hid myself on several occasions in proximity to one of the tracks, and in such a position that I could see every bird as it passed along. It was very amusing to watch these creatures—generally one at a time—coming along the track feeding, and giving a passing peck at any root or twig that might be in the way. Thus the tracks are always kept clean; in fact they very much resemble the native tracks, with the exception that they are rather narrower, being from eight to fourteen inches wide. The kakapos generally select the tops of spurs for the formation of their tracks. I was curious to know how the birds would manage when their tracks should be covered with snow. Opportunities were afforded of satisfying my curiosity. I found that they travelled on the surface of the frozen snow, and that their tracks were soon plainly visible, though not more than an inch between the level of the surrounding snow. In many places the scrub, which consists of silver pine, akeake, and other alpine vegetation, is so dense that the snow cannot penetrate it. The kakapos take advantage of this to make their habitations under the snow-covered scrub, where it is both dry and warm.
The kakapo leaves his burrow after sunset, and returns before daylight. If they cannot reach their own home during the darkness, they will shelter in any burrow which may be unoccupied, as they travel long distances. They consume large quantities of food, which consists of grass, grass seed, and other alpine vegetation. In July they are in splendid condition, those found having as much as two inches of fat upon them. The young birds are delicious food when roasted in the camp oven. I prefer them to any other game. I was much surprised and interested to find in the intestines of these old alpine fat birds parasites from six inches to two feet long. These parasites are flat, about a quarter of an inch wide, milky white, and jointed very closely. I have found three of these parasites knotted together, and many single ones tied in three or four knots. I have not found any parasites in the bush kakapos, although I made many examinatious for that purpose. The alpine birds are
fare, but I was fortunate in securing about a dozen of them. Amongst them was a specimen of a beautiful varied plumage. On the top of the head very light green; back, wing-covers, and tail, yellowish-green with crimson spots; round the bill crimson; throat, breast, and abdomen yellow with crimson spots; bill light yellow; legs silver-grey; eyes dark-brown.
In the spring, when the sun begins to shed its warmth, the kakapos emerge from their burrows, and select some favourable spots in the sun-shine, where they crouch down and remain the whole day. In September I selected a suitable day for observing this peculiarity. The snow had disappeared from all the sunny places. I found three birds in different places, sitting upon low silver-pine scrub. They took no notice of my approach until I had them safely in my hand, when they endeavoured to release themselves by biting and scratching. The bush kakapos, like the alpine, get very fat during the winter months. They differ from their alpine allies, inasmuch as they do not retain their own burrows except during the breeding season. All the rest of the year the bush kakapos take the first burrow that is unoccupied when daylight approaches.
8. In the course of my researches I found also two species of leeches, also various parasites. When crossing a creek in Dusky Sound, in September, 1884, I felt something on my feet, and on examining them found some small leeches, so I skinned a bird, tied the body to a string, and threw it in the same creek; on returning in an hour's time I found a good many of these leeches on the body, some being quite red from sucking the blood; these have been preserved in spirits of wine. The second and larger species I found in the bush, September, 1884, on the leaves of a birch; their colour was chestnut-brown, they stuck very hard when I was pulling them off. I only found two and gave you one.
I found a species of tapeworm in the intestines, rectum, of the alpine kakapos (Stringops habroptilus, Gray), which I got on the 25th September—these old male birds were very fat and had as much as two inches at the abdomen. The parasites were alive, from 6 inches to 2 feet long by ¼ inch wide, closely jointed, very thin at the end; three of them I found knotted together, and many single ones tied in three or four knots; as soon as I put them in alcohol they shrunk together and sent forth a milky white substance.
Another parasite was found on the large penguin, and has been described (vide supra, p. 194).