Art. XXIII.—Ornithological Notes.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 20th September, 1886.]
Creadion carunculatus.—Saddleback (Tieke).
This bird derives its popular name from a peculiarity in the distribution of its two strangely contrasted colours, uniform black, back and shoulders ferruginous, the shoulders of the wings forming a saddle. In structure it resembles the starling (Sturnidæ); it has also the wedge bill. In December, 1877, on my expedition in the South Island, I found this bird on the chain of high ranges along the left bank of the Teremakau River, but it was rather scarce. I have seen it frequently near Lake Brunner and on Greenstone Hill, also on Mount Alexander, and in April, 1879, on Mount Alcidus, Rakaia Fork.
During my researches in the North Island, in 1880, I found this bird on Hauturu Island, but rare, and again in October, 1882, when I went to the centre of the island, but it was still scarcer. On my visit to Taranga Island, in November, 1880, I was greatly pleased to find the saddleback in abundance; and on a later trip, in February, 1883, it was still more numerous. On my first trip, in 1880, to this island, I found a saddleback's nest about 10 feet from the ground in a manuka tree; this nest was made of moss, twigs, and fine grass, with one white brownish-spotted egg in it. In February, 1883, on exploring in a north-easterly direction, I heard a peculiar whistle, which differed from that of any other New Zealand bird. On going closer I perceived five birds, and, concealing myself, in order to watch them, to my surprise I saw male, female, and three young Creadion carunculatus. The female was feeding the young birds, which had just left the nest. I first shot the parents; the young, which had never moved from the branch, I gave to Dr. Buller, F.R.S., with a description, and
he read a paper before the Philosophical Society, Wellington. After this, I procured several specimens of adult and young birds, which had the same plumage as the old birds, black and ferruginous, only a little duller; their wattles are either invisible or very small. I measured the wattles of adult males, and found them half-an-inch long, and of a deep orange colour; those of the female are smaller, and of a citron hue.
Strange to say, in the South Island I only saw this bird on the higher ranges, where it prefers steep thickly-wooded gullies, but on Taranga Island, in the North, I found them everywhere, both on the ranges and near the seashore, especially on the flax blossom, from which they suck the honey. I also observed it on the Great Barrier in June, 1882, and on Rangitoto Ranges in the King country in March, 1882.
The female lays from two to three eggs in November; male and female hatch and rear their young together. The saddleback is a very noisy bird. The whistle consists of three and four notes—the first three, like “vi, zi, o,” he repeats twice, and then the four notes in succession, like “te, te, te, te.” In the breeding season, when the female is hatching, the male generally sits near her on a branch, singing. The notes are not so harsh as the former ones. If this bird observes anything unusual, he hops in a very excited manner, with the wings close to the body, head bent downward, and stopping and listening at intervals, through the trees to examine the object. When satisfied, he flutters to a distance, the flight being very feeble, as the wings are very short. They are very active in climbing, hopping from one branch to another, picking in decayed wood, or crevices in the bark, in a similar manner to the woodpecker, searching for insects and their larvæ, of which they destroy a number, thus being useful. They also feed on berries and honey. During all this time they keep up a continual whistling.
Curious to say, during five years' observation, in which I have procured a series of specimens of Creadion carunculatus, adult and young in all stages, I never noticed any difference in plumage; they were always black, with a ferruginous saddle.
This bird is very rare on the mainland in the North Island. On dissecting their crops, I found insects and minute seeds.
Creadion Cinereus, Buller.—Saddleback (Tieke).
This bird is distinct from Creadion carunculatus; the body is smaller, the bill longer and thicker, the tail also is longer, and the plumage different. Its colour is a uniform olive-brown, the wings and tail darker, with a reddish tint on the upper and lower tail-coverts. The wattles are smaller, about a quarter of an inch long, and of light yellow colour. I first saw this bird in December 1877, at Greenstone Hill, near Lake Brunner, and subsequently in February, 1878, at Mount Alexandra.
I have observed them in pairs, along with the yellow-head (Orthonyx ochrocephala), and with Creadion carunculatus, also the brown creeper (Certhiparus novæ-zealandiæ), hopping about from branch to branch in search of food. I shot a series of specimens of Creadion cinereus, and on skinning them I found the reproductive organs of both sexes well-developed. On my return to Christchurch, when speaking of this variety or species, I was told that this is the young of Creadion carunculatus. When I pointed out the difference in size and plumage, I was informed that the plumage would become the same, in the third year, as that of Creadion carunculatus—i.e., a uniform black, with back and shoulders ferruginous. Being at this time a new arrival in the colony, I did not contradict my informant; I corresponded with Dr. Buller, who agreed with me that Creadion cinereus is a distinct species from C. carunculatus. But determined to find out the truth, I followed up the subject until February 7th, 1883, and on my trip to Taranga Island my efforts were crowned with success, for I observed the first pair feed their young, which I gave to Dr. Buller to enable him to bring forward his lost species, on which he read a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society. After that, I procured a few more specimens of Creadion carunculatus, feeding their young, which were just out of the nest, the plumage being exactly like that of the parents, only a little duller, uniform black and ferruginous on the back and shoulders; the wattles are either invisible or very small. I have observed a series of Creadion carunculatus in all stages, and never saw any difference in their plumage.
Through all the northern forests, I have never met with Creadion cinereus. In 1884, during my researches on the West Coast Sounds, I saw Creadion cinereus up the ranges, in low scrub, male and female together in pairs. I shot one pair in Dusky Sound, in June 1884, a second pair in August of the same year, and a third pair in Milford Sound in October 1884. I never observed in any of the Creadion cinereus which I shot at different seasons the slightest difference in plumage. Their food consists of insects, their larvæ, and small berries, which I have found in their crops when dissecting. I only found this bird in the South Island, and even there they are scarce near settled districts. I have met them frequently on the West Coast in uninhabited places. The whistle of Creadion cinereus consists first of three notes, “te, a, r,” which he repeats several times, then four, like “te, te, te, te.” Their movements are quick in hopping and climbing, but feeble in flying; they prefer thickly-wooded and steep gullies.
Glaucopis wilsoni, Gray.—Crow (Kokako).
This remarkable bird, the natives told me, was once common on all the ranges of the North Island forests, but now it only
frequents the higher ranges, away from habitations, where it appears at the end of April and stays till September. It is confined to the North Island. Early in the morning, and in the evening, the traveller will hear some very sweet notes, like a flute. The call of the male and female is alike, consisting of two notes, like “vio,” but the song of the male bird is different, and composed of five pleasing notes, like “vio, ku, ku, ku,” which sound near, though the bird is generally a considerable distance off. They are very tame, but when they are much disturbed it is very difficult to detect them without a dog. When approached, they hide in the thick crowns of trees, peeping through the branches at intervals to see if the intruder has disappeared, in which case they begin to whistle. Should the bird be disturbed a second time, it hops away with marvellous swiftness through the branches, from one tree to another, so that it requires a very quick shot to procure it. The birds always go in pairs, male and female together; and if the call be imitated, they come hopping along, often so near that I could almost touch them. In October, they retreat to very thickly-wooded gullies, between the highest ranges, where they breed, and are seldom seen. The plumage is slate-colour, with a brownish tinge on the wings, back, and tail, a small black bar on top of the head, near the root of the bill; wattles blue in the adult, pink, and smaller, in the young bird. My belief is that they breed twice a year, and have two or three young at a time. Early in April, 1880, on the Tokatea Ranges, near Castlehill, I found in a tussock on a tree a nest with three young half-fledged birds, one of which I secured; the others escaped. The nest was built very carelessly of dry branches, ferns, and moss, and about 30 feet from the ground. In February, 1882, I shot two full-grown young birds in the Pirongia Ranges. I also observed this bird in September, 1879, in the Tangahuia Ranges; in 1880, in Maungataroto; near Ngunguru in 1882, and on the Great Barrier and Waitakerei Ranges. It is strange I never met with this bird on any of the islands off the east coast except the Great Barrier, where most of the New Zealand birds are more plentiful than on the mainland. This bird feeds on berries and the young leaves of various plants, which I have found in their crops. It uses its wings, which are short and small for its size, very seldom, and only to flutter down, but is very active and quick in climbing. In December, 1885, I observed three young birds sitting outside a nest, which was in the crown of a very thick miro, in the Waitakerei Ranges. They disappeared into the nest when I approached, and in a few days went away with their parents. In the pairing season, when not disturbed, the male makes various evolutions by drooping and spreading the wings, erecting the tail, with bent down head and outstretched neck, in a similar way to the
capercailzie (Tetrao urogallus), and whistles to the female, who sits still and seems to admire her companion's movements.
Their limits are growing narrower, owing to ravages of bushfires and of cats and rats.
Orthonyx albicilla.—White-head (Popokatea).
This bird is found in the North Island, in both the lower and higher ranges. The first pair I saw was on the Tokatea Ranges near Castlehill, in April, 1880; the second on Hauturu Island, where they are plentiful, in October, 1880. I shot a pair on the Pirongia Ranges in February, 1882, and about the end of April I saw another pair at the Mokau. I never saw this bird on the mainland north of Auckland. Mr. T. Cheeseman, F.L.S., told me that eight or ten years ago these birds were quite common about Auckland, but they have now completely disappeared. Strange to say, on my second trip to Hauturu Island, in 1883, I was agreeably surprised to find that since my visits in 1880 and 1882 the white-head had increased in numbers. Its movements are similar to those of the European cole titmouse (Parus major), hopping and climbing about, and sometimes hanging by the feet under the branch of a tree, picking into the bark for insects and small seeds. It is a lively inquisitive little bird, any noise in the bush attracts a flock of them, which come near with a shrill whistle, stopping a little while to see what it is, and then flying away again. It prefers certain localities, and there are always several pairs together. In December, 1882, I noticed that the same pairs came in the morning and evening near one of my whares, and they were so tame that I could observe them feeding their young from the door. The male and female build the nest (which is very neat) together, out of twigs, moss, and grass, and line it with feathers, from 8 to 16 feet above the ground, in very thick trees, manuka. At the end of October the female lays four eggs, of a pinkish colour, with light-brown spots. I have also found this bird's eggs in December, so they must breed twice a year. This they do together.
One evening, at the Little Barrier, hearing a noise, I cautiously approached, and from my concealment saw a morepork following a white-head, near a nest. The male immediately tried to divert and allure it away, which he succeeded in doing by hopping further and further, calling the whole time, and on being pursued darted into the thickest scrub, where it was impossible for his larger enemy to follow. I then lost sight of him, but, on going back, to my surprise I found he had already returned, and was hopping round the nest, on which the female was sitting on eggs, which I forwarded to Dr. Buller.
I found a few specimens of the white-head in the Rimutaka Ranges, near Wellington, in October, 1884. There are also some
on the Great Barrier Island, but none on the Hen and Chickens, or any other nearer islands. The females and young birds are duller in plumage than the adult males: Head, breast, and abdomen white, with a very slight brownish tinge; wings, back, and tail light-brown. Their call consists, first, of three notes, like “viu, viu, viu,” then four, like “zir, zir, zir, zir.” They are useful, as they destroy a number of insects, which I have found in their crops, with minute seeds. This bird resembles in structure, habits, and call, the Parus major. In my opinion a more suitable name for it would be the “New Zealand Titmous.”