Art. XXXI.—Notes on New Zealand Ornithology, with an Exhibition of Specimens.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 21st August, 1895.]
On the last occasion that I had the pleasure of bringing before you a budget of ornithological notes I took the opportunity in the course of my introductory remarks to refer to the wise action of the Government in setting apart two islands—the Little Barrier at the North and Resolution Island in the South—as permanent reserves for the conservation of the indigenous fauna and flora, and I mentioned that this practical step on the part of our rulers in furtherance of natural science had been the subject of comment and praise all over the world. It will, I am sure, be as gratifying to you as it was to myself to learn that the Minister of Lands has decided on acquiring, for a similar purpose, the freehold of the Island of Kapiti, in Cook Strait. This island, containing an area of about 5,000 acres, is in every respect most suitable; so much so that, many years ago, Sir George Grey, before he purchased the Island of Kawau, made inquiries as to the possibility of acquiring Kapiti as an island sanctum for himself, where he could carry on without interruption the work of acclimatisation upon which he had set his heart. Much of the bush on the island is of exquisite beauty, and the surface is sufficiently diversified to insure the successful cultivation of all our native trees and shrubs. Three species of birds—the Wood-robin, the Korimako, and the Whitehead—which are now practically extinct on the mainland, still have their refuge on Kapiti; and Captain Ross, who has hitherto been occupying the greater portion of the open land as a sheep-run, has been
most careful to prevent dogs and cats—those great destroyers of native birds—from becoming feral on the island. It is at a convenient distance from the mainland, and seems specially designed by nature for what it will now, we may hope, soon become—the central colonial dépφt, so to speak, for our birds and plants. I only wish I could report that steps were being taken to give effect to Lord Onslow's original proposal, to collect rare birds in various parts of the country and turn them loose on the island preserves—such birds, for example, as Kakapo, Kiwi, Huia, and the native Crow. But that, I trust, will be the next forward step.
I regard with extreme satisfaction this gradual awakening to the fact that we have animal and vegetable forms of life indigenous to the country which ought to be protected and cherished; that we have bush scenery of matchless beauty that ought to be preserved; and that, new as our record is, we have sites of pas and other places of historic interest that ought, at any cost, to be handed down unimpaired to those who will come after us. That this growing feeling is becoming part of our national life must surely delight every true lover of New Zealand. The various Commissioners of Crown Lands all over the colony have received instructions to withhold from sale spots of exceptional beauty and all places of historic interest—such, for example, as the site of the Orakau Pa, with its tradition of “Ake, ake, ake!” (which, by the way, was within a few hours of being sold when the Government stepped in to save it); and the site of Rangiriri, where the Waikato tribes made their first heroic resistance before surrendering to an overwhelming force, and where so many of our own brave men lie buried. Forest reserves, like the beautiful belt of bush along the boundary of the State farm at Horowhenua, are being defined and proclaimed; and the law is being invoked for the protection, one after another, of our rarer species of birds. The only danger to be apprehended now is that by continuing the insane policy of introducing predatory animals, such as stoats, ferrets, and weasels, in the vain hope of suppressing the rabbit nuisance, the good that is being accomplished may be to a great extent counterbalanced. To my mind it is impossible to exaggerate this evil: it is so easy to introduce these bloodthirsty little animals, and so difficult to extirpate them when once fairly established and the mischief of their presence has become manifest. I have so often referred to this matter in my addresses to this society that it is not necessary for me to give reasons for the strong opinion I hold. It seems to me that we ought to benefit by the experience of other countries where these predaceous pests abound, and where large sums have been expended in the attempts to exterminate them.
No one has opposed this fatal step on the part of the New Zealand Government more strongly or consistently than Professor Newton, of Cambridge. In a letter to myself, as far back as the 23rd of July, 1876, the learned professor says,—
“In Land and Water for 8th July, Frank Buckland wrote that he had been applied to by Messrs. Macowie and Cuthbertson, of Invercargill, to send out weasels to New Zealand (five pairs at £5 each) to be let loose to check the superabundance of rabbits. Buckland said he could not get weasels, but proposed sending ‘polecat-ferrets’—thirty or forty pairs! I at once wrote to remonstrate with him, urging him to do nothing till he had communicated with New Zealand; and this he has promised to do, but does not give up the notion. Harting, Rowley, and some one else have also protested in terms like my own, as you will see by Land and Water for 15th and 22nd July. I suspect Buckland will eventually drop the matter, but meanwhile it seems quite possible that some sheep-farmer or other (for with them began the complaint) may on his own responsibility act on this mischievous hint without waiting for Buckland, and then good-bye at once and for ever to your brevipennate birds, as well as to many other of your native species—which of course have no instincts whereby they may escape from such bloodthirsty enemies—to say nothing of pheasants and the like, which you have been introducing at so great a cost, and your poultry. Here, as I dare say you know, the polecat (and the ferret is only a tame polecat) is the most detested beast we have, and in consequence has nearly been extirpated. In New Zealand it will undoubtedly become master of the situation.
“So strongly do I feel on this subject that I am writing to Hector (both at Wellington and Philadelphia, to make sure of catching him) urging him to use all his influence to prevent such a disastrous importation; even, if need be, to getting an Act of your Parliament prohibiting the introduction of any predaceous animals. Should Hector not have returned, I pray you to do what seems best under the circumstances; but be sure there is no time to be lost. I am writing to Hutton to the same effect, and I trust that among you all you will be able to keep off the threatened scourge. Colonists in general have not been slow to hinder unacceptable importations from the mother-country—as witness the historic tea-chests at Boston, U.S.A., and Australian convicts. I have always understood the latter were selected for the mild nature of their crimes: but even this was not allowed. There can't be a doubt of how you should behave when you have a shipload of known marauders to be let loose on your peaceful shores, and I conceive my duty as an honorary member of
your Institute compels me to give you this timely notice. It is too annoying to think that the fate of your fauna should depend on the rash act of the greatest fool that was ever called a naturalist.”
Mr. J. Brough informs me that, owing principally to the introduction of stoats, the Grey Kiwi has now entirely vanished from wooded districts near Nelson, where formerly it was so abundant that he has collected a score in a single locality.
From all parts of the country I continue to receive reports of the ravages of stoats and weasels. From Nelson Mr. R. I. Kingsley writes to me, “I hear there is a likelihood of stoats and weasels being turned out by the Government at West Wanganui. It will be a great shame if they are, as it will mean destruction to the Big Kiwi; and the rabbits at West Wanganui are only found on a small strip of sandy beach. They have been there for many years and never spread; therefore they could easily be destroyed by other means. Could you not speak a word to avert the danger?”
It seems to me that the only chance of arresting this deplorable evil is by directing public opinion against it. Unfortunately, most people are indifferent about it, and the Government yields to the clamour of a few faddists whose one idea is to exterminate the rabbits at any cost to the country. We have no guarantee, however, that these animals will suppress the rabbit nuisance, whilst we have the most positive evidence that, as in every other country they inhabit, they are themselves proving a curse in New Zealand. Mr. William Townson, of Westport, wrote me some time ago, saying, “I am told by bushmen and diggers living back in the ranges that it is becoming quite common now to see Grey Kiwis lying dead about the bush. The weasels are blamed for this, as they are now fully established on the coast as far south as Ross and Okarita. Indeed, several have been seen in this district. I fear that all the ground-game and native birds will fall victims to these little bloodsuckers. In this part of the country we have no rabbits to engage their attention.”
It may be said, in reply to this, that there is no direct evidence that the dead Kiwis were the victims of these marauders; but, as a matter of fact, birds do not die about the woods of their own accord, and their partial mutilation generally tells its own tale. It is very remarkable, indeed, how seldom one finds the bodies of birds or mammals that have apparently died a natural death. In New Zealand, casting my mind back over a period of five-and-thirty years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the cases in which I have found the bodies of birds dead from natural causes. Of course, I do not refer to
the cases, of not infrequent occurrence, when the sea-beach is found strewn with the dead bodies of Prion turtur and other oceanic species, because it is well known that this is the result of a sudden gale towards the land, or some other widespread cause, the deaths in this case being violent rather than natural ones. So at the Auckland Islands, and in similar localities, the ground is sometimes found covered with hundreds of dead Penguins; but this is apparently due to some fatal epidemic, causing widespread mortality. On the mainland you may wander for months in the woods without ever seeing the body of a bird “dead from natural causes.” Nowadays, unfortunately, nothing is more common than to find a Kiwi or a Woodhen lying on the bush-path torn and mutilated by stoats and weasels; but this, again, is the result of violence. I remember years ago picking up a dead Riroriro (Gerygone flaviventris) under a huge kauri-tree. This was after very severe weather, to which the little warbler had apparently succumbed. On another occasion, when seeking refuge from a violent storm on the Island of Motu-taiko, in the Taupo Lake, on making an exploration in the vicinity of our camp I found on a rocky ledge the perfect skeleton of a large Rivershag, which had evidently died a natural death there and escaped the vigilant eyes of the ubiquitous Harrier (Circus gouldi). Once I found a Kaka by the roadside in a dying condition, and occasionally I have met with dead bodies of the Tui and Korimako. But the occurrence is confessedly a rare one. The same observation has been made by naturalists all over the world. That careful observer, Nordenskiold, says, “During my nine expeditions in the arctic regions, where animal life during summer is so exceedingly abundant, the case just mentioned”—that of finding a number of self-dead fish on the sea-bottom near one of the islands in the Arctic Sea—“has been one of the few in which I have found remains of recent vertebrate animals which could be proved to have died a natural death. Near hunting-grounds there are to be seen often enough the remains of reindeer, seals, foxes, or birds that have died from gunshot wounds, but no self-dead polar bear, seal, walrus, white whale, fox, goose, auk, lemming, or other vertebrate. The polar bear and the reindeer are found there in hundreds, the seal, walrus, and white whale in thousands, and birds in millions. These animals must die a ‘natural’ death in untold numbers. What becomes of their bodies? Of this we have for the present no idea, and yet we have here a problem of immense importance for the answering of a large number of questions concerning the formation of fossiliferous strata.” Referring to this, Mr. H. H. Howarth says, “This is true not only of Siberia; it is universally true, and notably of the great pachyderms. Travellers who
have visited their ordinary haunts have remarked on the extraordinary scarcity of their bones and other remains. When old and worn out they apparently seek out the recesses of the forest and retire there to die.” He quotes an interesting passage from Sir Emerson Tennent's work on Ceylon, as follows: “Frequenters of the forest with whom I have conversed, whether Europeans or Singhalese, are consistent in their assurances that they have never found the remains of an elephant which had died a natural death…. A European gentleman, who for thirty-six years without intermission has been living in the jungle, ascending to the summit of mountains in the prosecution of the trigonometrical survey, and penetrating valleys in tracing roads and opening means of communication—one, too, who has made the habits of the wild elephant a subject of constant observation and study—has often expressed to me his astonishment that, after seeing many thousands of living elephants in all possible situations, he had never yet found a single skeleton of a dead one, except those which had fallen by the rifle.”
The following touching account is given by Thomas Edward, the Scotch naturalist, of the finding of a dead wild duck, on crossing the Clashmauch: “As I imagined she was skulking with a view to avoid observation, I touched her with my stick in order that she might rise; but she rose not. I was surprised, and, on a nearer inspection, I found that she was dead. She lay raised a little on one side, her neck stretched out, her mouth open and full of snow, her wings somewhat extended, and with one of her legs appearing a little behind her. Near to it there were two eggs. On my discovering this I lifted up the bird, and underneath her was a nest containing eleven eggs; these, with the other two, made thirteen in all: a few of them were broken. I examined the whole of them and found them, without exception, to contain young birds. This was an undoubted proof that the poor mother had sat upon them from two to three weeks. With her dead body in my hand I sat down to investigate the matter, and to ascertain, if I could, the cause of her death. I examined her minutely all over, and could find neither wound nor any mark whatever of violence. She had every appearance of having died of suffocation. Although I had only circumstantial evidence, I had no hesitation in arriving at the conclusion that she had come by her death in a desperate but faithful struggle to protect her eggs from the fatal effects of the recent snow-storm. I could not help thinking, as I looked at her, how deep and striking an example she afforded of maternal affection. The ruthless blast had swept, with all its fury, along the lonesome and unsheltered hill. The snow had risen higher, and the smothering drift came fiercer as the night drew on; yet still
that poor bird, in defiance of the warring elements, continued to protect her home and the treasure which it contained, until she could do so no longer, and yielded up her life. That life she could easily have saved had she been willing to abandon the offspring which Nature had taught her so fervently to cherish, and in endeavouring to preserve which she voluntarily remained and died. Occupied with such feelings and reflections as these, I know not how long I might have sat had I not been roused from my reverie by the barking of a shepherd's dog. The sun had already set, the grey twilight had begun to hide the distant mountains from my sight, and, not caring to be benighted on such a spot, I wrapped a piece of paper, as a winding-sheet, round the faithful and devoted bird, and, forming a hole sufficiently large for the purpose, I laid into it the mother and the eggs. I covered them with earth and moss, and over all placed a solid piece of turf; and, having done so, and being more affected than I should perhaps be willing to acknowledge, I left them to moulder into their original dust, and went on my way.”
But to resume my subject: The effect of these foreign introductions is to accelerate the threatened wiping-out of an avifauna admitted to be one of the most interesting in the world. Many of the species have already disappeared; a still larger number are, so to speak, on the border-land and will ere long be extinct, whilst even the commonest species exhibit year by year a steady diminution in numbers. What the result will be in, say, twenty years from the present time it is not difficult to predict. And the consideration of these facts brings me at once to the urgent necessity that exists for completing our collections of these forms before it is too late. Foreign museums are being enriched whilst our local museums are practically at a standstill. By last mail I received a letter from Canon Tristram, of Durham, informing me that at a recent meeting of the Zoological Society, in London, the Hon. Walter Rothschild had exhibited a series of no less than forty skins of our hitherto-rare Apteryx haasti, of which, so far as I am aware, only eight specimens exist in all our New Zealand museums. He adds that Mr. Rothschild has obtained “enormous series” of other New Zealand birds. For example, there are fifty-four specimens of the Chatham Island Snipe, of which our local museums contain very few examples; and very large series of the beautiful Chatham Island Shag (Phalacrocorax featherstoni), of which, so far as I know, the Colonial Museum possesses the only example in the colony; and the still more striking P. onslowi, of which there is no representative in any of our museums. Dr. Hartert, the excellent curator of Mr. Rothschild's museum, in a letter to myself states that the collection contains eighty specimens of
the Flightless Duck of the Auckland Islands (Nesonetta aucklandica); and this bird is now so rare that, on the last visit of the “Hiaemoa” to those islands with His Excellency the Governor, Sir James Hector, who accompanied the expedition and was most anxious to procure some for the Cambridge University Museum, found the utmost difficulty in collecting three specimens, although the whole ship's crew were on the look-out for them; and so with several other comparatively rare species. Of course, it is a good thing that these extensive collections have found their way into Mr. Rothschild's possession, because he makes excellent use of them, being himself one of the most active of our working ornithologists; besides which he is a liberal donor to other public museums. His own zoological museum at Tring Park is one of the most perfect of its kind in the world. It contains priceless treasures, and its great merit in the eyes of a practical ornithologist is that it possesses huge series of specimens, whenever that is possible, thus minimising the ever-present danger of generalising on insufficient data. But, whilst fully recognising all this, one cannot but acknowledge and deplore the fact that in our own museums nearly all the native species are imperfectly, or, at any rate, insufficiently, represented.
Canon Tristram himself has a beautiful collection of New Zealand birds, comprising all the rarer forms, but he is content with a small series of each species, such as male, female, young, and seasonal states. It is to be hoped that his splendid collection of birds from all parts of the world—the accumulation of a lifetime—may ere long find a resting-place in one of the provincial museums, instead of being dispersed, as too often happens, at the owner's death. That was the fate of the celebrated Jardine collection, when some very choice and rare New Zealand specimens found their way into other hands. This collection contained many skins procured in New Zealand by Mr. Percy Earl, and purchased by Sir William Jardine as far back as 1842—such forms, for example, as Coturnix novœ-zealandiœ and Pogonornis cincta.
Whilst the Rothschild Museum boasts the possession of seventy or more Stitch-birds (Pogonornis cincta) of both sexes, the Colonial Museum and the Auckland Museum are the only ones that can exhibit sexual pairs of this species, which now exists on the Little Barrier Island and nowhere else. To say nothing of so rare a form as Notornis mantelli—of which there are only three known specimens, two in the British Museum and one at Dresden—there are many of our indigenous birds wholly absent from our local museums, whilst others have only a single representative. For example, the Colonial Museum possesses one Auckland Island Merganser and one
North Island Thrush, and the other museums in the colony are entirely without them. This being so, it is surely high time that an effort was made to collect for each of our museums, before it is too late, a complete series of our existing native birds—at any rate, for the Colonial Museum, which is maintained by the Government and is supposed to take the lead. This might be easily accomplished now, but ere long it will be impossible. It is to such a museum as this that the student of the future will naturally look for his working material when the forms of which I have been speaking have passed away for ever from the sphere of living things. It will be a sad reproach to us, living as we do in this boasted nineteenth century, if in this respect we fail in our manifest duty. An excellent collection of the interesting insular forms could be made by sending such a taxidermist as Mr. Yuill (of whose neat work there are some illustrations now on the table) on two or three round cruises of the “Hinemoa.” An enthusiast such as he is, with the necessary facilities at his command, would soon accumulate a collection for the colony of very great value.
And this brings me to the question of the proper display of such collections in our museums, so as to make them subservient to the requirements of modern science.
At the present time we have in the Colonial Museum upwards of three hundred mounted specimens of indigenous birds, a large proportion of them being highly creditable exhibits of the taxidermists' skill; but how are they arranged? Not systematically, according to their natural affinities, because of the want of the necessary room for their proper classification and display. The only grouping that is natural is such as is now to be seen in the admirably-arranged galleries of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, where, in separate plate-glass show-cases, birds of one species, representing the sexes, the adult, young, and adolescent states, and the various phases of seasonal plumage, are exhibited, together with the natural accessories of wood and rock and vegetation, to illustrate the life-history of the bird. Such a mode of exhibition is not only attractive in the highest degree, but most instructive. Of course, we cannot attempt anything so ambitious here, on account of the great expense; but there is no reason why the birds should not be arranged systematically for the benefit of the natural-history student. This has been done in the Canterbury and Otago Museums, and I think also in Auckland. It seems little short of a scandal that, owing to the lack of proper departmental aid, scientific classification should be neglected in the leading museum of the colony, which is admittedly under the control of a director of exceptional ability and culture. Then, again,
if I may be allowed to speak plainly, the nomenclature adopted is not up to date, some of the names attached to specimens having been obsolete these twenty years, whilst fully half of those exhibited are not named at all. If the Museum is to be regarded as an educational institution, as it clearly should be, an antiquated nomenclature is not only confusing but misleading.
And here I may say, parenthetically, that there is one innovation in the matter of scientific nomenclature, now becoming very popular, which will, I hope, be resisted in this country, and that is the use of trinomials. In Ridgway's “List of North American Birds” trinomial designations are adopted in no less than 160 cases. The author candidly acknowledges that the use of them has caused perhaps the greatest difficulty encountered in the compilation of the catalogue, “it being in many cases very difficult to decide whether a given form should be treated as having passed the varietal stage and therefore to be designated by a binomial, or whether it is as yet incompletely differentiated and to be subordinated in rank by a trinomial appellation.” His contention, however, is that every form whose characteristics bear unmistakably the impress of climatic or local influences, generally less marked towards the habitat of another form with which it thus intergrades, and all forms which certainly intergrade, no matter how widely distinct the opposite forms may appear, together with intergrading forms whose peculiarities are not explained by any known law of variation, should be reduced to subspecific rank. Commenting on this, the editor of the Ibis writes, “We cannot deny the advantages of the use of trinomials when strictly limited to such cases as these, and have little doubt that they will ultimately come into general use. But they can only be advantageously employed in countries such as North America and Europe, where large series can be obtained from different localities. In other parts of the world their use would at present be attended by much inconvenience, it being impossible to ascertain in very many cases, from lack of specimens, whether these intergradations exist or not. We may also remark that other authors use trinomials on quite different principles—e.g., Dr. Sharpe, who in his Catalogue of Birds (British Museum) has applied them in some instances even to insular forms (which certainly cannot intergrade) where the slight differences are, in his opinion, not strictly sufficient for specific distinction.”
I submit that what I have now called attention to as defects in the Colonial Museum might be easily remedied; and that the value of the Museum as an instrument of public instruction would be vastly increased if the Director could
get authority to prepare a descriptive catalogue for the use of visitors and students. This would involve a little expense, but it must be borne in mind that the Museum, as a whole, contains collections of considerable value, and that in the absence of a catalogue the general public has no conception of what the colony possesses in this respect. I do not know what the estimated value is in money, but I should say certainly not less than £30,000; and all this accumulated through the exertions of Sir James Hector, who had nothing but the small miscellaneous collection of the New Zealand Society to start with. The truth is that the Colonial Museum is not large enough for the exhibition of the treasures it contains. When it was built, some thirty years ago, the various collections were in their infancy, and very few additions have since been made to the building. Now that an effort is being made to recover, for educational purposes, the beautiful site on which the Central Criminal Gaol stands, it might be well to consider whether the site of the present Museum should not be sold at a good price, and the proceeds applied to the erection of a really suitable building on a portion of the fourteen acres comprised in this Mount Cook reserve.
Before passing on to my notes on the species selected for particular mention this evening, I should like to say that the Legislature is to be congratulated on having by special enactment extended a very necessary protection to our splendid Wood-pigeon, by making the whole of the year 1896 a close season. It is to be hoped that the Government will not make too free a use of its discretion under the Act as to relaxing the restriction in native districts. I may mention, too, that Sir James Hector has performed an important service to science by obtaining legal protection for that unique representative of an ancient fauna, the Tuatara Lizard. To take or kill one of these animals is now punishable with a heavy fine. This course was rendered necessary by the wholesale way in which Tuataras were being collected for trade with Europe and America. This may seem a digression from the subject-matter of my paper; but the Tuatara is the foster-brother, so to speak, of several species of Petrel, inhabiting the same burrows and breeding in adjoining chambers; and, although it belongs to a lower order in the animal kingdom, it is known to possess the most bird-like skeleton of all existing reptiles.
These introductory remarks will prepare you for the ever-recurrent record of increasing rarity of many of the species treated of in the following notes. Their ultimate extinction within measurable time is a matter of certainty, except in so far as a remnant may be preserved through the protective action of the Government to which I have referred.
Creadion cinereus, Buller. (Jack-bird.)
In forwarding the specimen now exhibited my correspondent writes, “During the whole four months I was camped in the woods on the Karamea Saddle I only heard one Saddleback. I managed to secure it, and may remark that it is the largest-boned bird of the kind I ever shot. The colours are plain, but the bird is in perfect plumage. I cannot say whether it is a male or female, for before I had time to make a dissection, after skinning it, the Woodhens ran away with the carcase.”
Miro ochrotarsus, Forster, Desr. Anim., p. 82 (1844).
After a careful investigation of the subject and a comparison of a large number of specimens, I have come to the conclusion that there are in reality three forms of Wood-robin in New Zealand, all of course descendants from a common stock, but now sufficiently differentiated to bear distinctive specific names. The North Island bird was the first to be recorded. This is Miro australis, formerly the commonest species in our woods, and now almost if not entirely extinct on the mainland, but to be met with on the Little Barrier Island at the north, on the Island of Kapiti in Cook Strait, and probably on other outlying islands near our coasts. The two other forms belong to the South Island, and have hitherto been confounded under the general name of Miro albifrons.
Mr. G. R. Gray, in the “Voyage of the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’” (part “Birds”), thus describes Miro albifrons: “Upper surface and forepart of neck sooty-black; under surface pale-rufescent; front with a small spot of white. Length 7in.” This is the Turdus albifrons of Gmelin's Syst. Nat., p. 822.
Now, that description exactly fits the two examples (male and female) from Pelorus Sound which I have the pleasure of exhibiting this evening. But Mr. Gray's description does not accord with the coloured figure which he gives of the bird. Referring to this figure, in my account of the species (“Birds of New Zealand,” p. 36) I said, “The figure of this species in the” ‘Voyage of the “Erebus” and “Terror”’ is incorrect, on account of the exaggerated extent of white on the under-parts; but the attitude is a very characteristic one.” It seems pretty clear, therefore, that the description and the figure represent different birds.
After diagnosing Miro albifrons, as quoted above, Mr. Gray says, “The original of this description is contained among the drawings of Forster, and it is very like Petroica longipes, Garn. (= Miro australis). The figure of Forster differs, however, from the bird referred to by the white extending from the forepart of the breast to the base of the tail, leaving the throat of the same colour as the back. I have subjoined a
figure, for the purpose of making known the original drawing from which Latham took his description, that it may assist in elucidating the species should it hereafter be discovered.”
Now as to the other form, of which I exhibit this evening six specimens, obtained in the high wooded country known as the Karamea Saddle. This bird can be distinguished at a glance from Miro australis, and Gray's figure suits it fairly well. It is appreciably larger than the last-named species, and, instead of having the abdomen white as in that bird, or the under-parts rufescent as in Miro albifrons, it has almost the entire under-surface of a pale lemon-yellow. The frontal spot, too, instead of being very small, as described by Mr. Gray, is even more conspicuous than in the North Island bird.
Writing of Miro albifrons Mr. Gray says, “It may eventually prove to be the same species as M. longipes (= M. australis); and in my own account of this form (op. cit., p. 36) I remarked, “My collection contains a specimen from Christchurch in which the whole plumage is suffused with brown, and the under-parts are smoky-grey instead of being white.” I have since received an example from Otago which is scarcely distinguishable from ordinary specimens of Miro australis.
On a review of all the facts I am disposed to define the group thus:—
Miro australis, Sparrm. North Island form; with under-parts, within very narrow abdominal limits, pure white.
Miro albifrons, Gmelin. South Island form; with under-parts rufescent, and over a wider surface.
Miro ochrotarsus, Forster. Another South Island form; with almost the entire under-surface pale lemon-yellow. Conspicuous spot of white on forehead.
Female.—Similar to the male, but a trifle smaller, and paler in plumage.
Whilst thus recognising a third form I have no wish to invent a new name. As there is some doubt as to which bird was intended to be distinguished as Miro albifrons, and as that name is retained for the other South Island form, I think we cannot do better than fall back upon Forster's proposed name, Turdus ochrotarsus, simply shifting the species into the genus to which it now belongs.
Forster's original account is as follows: “Habitat in australi insula Novæ Zeelandiæ, victitat insectis et minutis cancellis ad littora maris, suaviter cantillat; homines non formidat, sed ubique ob insecta in ambulando inter fructices excussa et circumvolitantia sequitur, sæpius manu captus vel pileo.”
Miro albifrons, Gmelin. (South Island Robin.)
A correspondent, writing over the initials “S.D.B.,” sends the following to the Lyttelton Times of the 24th of April: “A very interesting case, showing the usefulness of a purely insectivorous bird, came under my notice the other day, and is, I think, worthy of record. A friend was showing me his vinery, and I was astonished to see in it a tame Robin (Petroica albifrons) following him about in its characteristic fearless manner. The bird was in as perfect plumage as if in its native bush, although now quite domiciled in the greenhouse, which it keeps free from insect-life without injuring the vines or grapes. I was informed that the Robin occasionally gets out into the garden, but is then easily induced to return to the vinery, which is, of course, kept locked when the owner is away. I asked if it did not want a mate, but was told that these birds are very pugnacious, and would fight like gamecocks if shut up together. Certainly this fellow seemed quite happy by himself.”
Myiomoira toitoi, Garnot. (North Island Tomtit.)
It seems probable that the male of this species aids in the task of incubation, for an adult bird of this sex, shot in November, had the under-parts much denuded of feathers.
Sphenœacus rufescens, Buller. (Chatham Island Fern-bird.)
Mr. W. Hawkins, the well-known Chatham Island collector, writes to me, “The Fern-bird is extinct. I spent a fortnight on the island where they used to be, but never saw any sign whatever of them.”
Anthus novæ-zealandiæ, Gray. (New Zealand Pipit.)
It is very clear that these birds congregate in autumn. During a ride to and from Owhaoko (22nd to 29th April) I met with numerous flocks, numbering from twenty to fifty at a time. I hardly saw a single bird detached from the flocks. I have already noticed the inquisitive disposition of this Pipit, and mentioned the circumstance of a flock keeping pace with a train for some miles. There is another evidence of it: as you ride along the road they keep before you, almost allowing your horse to tread on them, then rising with a shrill “cheep,” flying a few yards further, and so on again till their curiosity is satisfied, when they wheel upwards and fall to the rear.
Anthornis melanocephala, Gray. (Chatham Island Bellbird.)
Of this species Mr. Hawkins writes, “This bird, too, is very nearly extinct. I have no difficulty in selling the skins
for £1 apiece; so I have sought diligently for them, but it is very difficult to get any of them now.”
Xenicus insularis, Buller. (Island Wren.)
There is probably nothing so refreshing to the soul of a naturalist as the discovery of a new species. Quite apart from the satisfaction of being able to impose a specific name which, according to the accepted rules of zoological nomenclature, must be respected for all time, there is an indescribable charm in the mere fact of discovery. It is common to all naturalists in every branch of research, and operates as a spur to the most tedious and difficult investigations. With some specialists the ruling passion is to append the coveted mihi to the new species; but in the case of most naturalists this consideration is, I really think, subservient to a loftier feeling—that love of discovery which is so characteristic of the true man of science. In a country where the fauna and flora have been pretty thoroughly worked, such as New Zealand, the delight experienced at finding an undoubted new species is, of course, proportioned to the rarity of such occurrences. You will readily understand, therefore, how pleased I was at receiving, through the kind offices of Mr. Bethune, the skin of a bird from Stephen Island which was entirely distinct from anything hitherto known. I saw at a glance that it belonged to the small group of New Zealand birds which I have placed in a family by themselves under the name of Xenicidœ. Possessing characters in common with Xenicus longipes and X. gilviventris, which inhabit the mainland, it is a very distinct species, apparently restricted in its habitat to Stephen Island, where several specimens have been procured. Being anxious that a coloured figure of so rare and interesting a form should be published in the Ibis, I lost no time in forwarding the specimen to the editor of that magazine, together with the following description and diagnosis of the species:—
“On a New Species of Xenicus from a Small Wooded Island off the New Zealand Coast.
“Projecting into Cook Strait as a bold and salient point from the eastern shore of Blind Bay, and rising to a height of 2,180ft., is D'Urville Island, presenting a broken and partially-wooded surface. With a width of from five to six miles, it stretches away seventeen miles to the northward, whilst to the south it is separated from the mainland by a very narrow channel known as the French Pass. Lying two miles to the north-eastward of the northern extremity of D'Urville Island, and rising abruptly from the sea to the height of a thousand feet, is Stephen Island, only about a square mile
in extent, and more or less wooded on its sides. From this island I have lately received a single specimen of a species of Xenicus entirely distinct from the two forms (X. longipes and X. gilviventris) inhabiting the mainland.
“I have described and named this new bird, which may fittingly be called the Island-wren, as distinguished from our Bush-wren and Rock-wren; and as these island-forms present features of special interest to the student of geographic zoology, I am forwarding the specimen in the hope that it may be figured.
“My correspondent on the island informs me that the bird is semi-nocturnal in its habits, and that he has seen three examples, all of which were brought in at different times by the cat.
“I hope shortly to receive further specimens of this interesting form. In the meantime I regret that I am unable to give the sex of the bird here described. In plumage it differs conspicuously from the other two species, and it has a decidedly more robust bill, whilst the claw on the hind-toe is not larger than in Xenicus longipes.
“Xenicus insularis, sp. nov.
“Upper surface generally dark-olive with brown margins to the feathers, presenting an obscurely-spotted or mottled appearance; a minute whitish spot in front of and another underneath the eye; a narrow superciliary streak, and the whole of the throat, fore-neck, and breast, as well as the wings at their flexure, olivaceous-yellow with darker margins; wings and tail, sides of the body, abdomen, croup, and under tail-coverts olivaceous-brown. Plumage underneath plumbeous. Upper mandible dark-brown with horn-coloured tip; under mandible, legs and feet, pale-brown. Length, 4in.; wing from flexure, 2in.; tail, 0.75in.; bill, along the ridge 0.75in., along the edge of lower mandible 0.75in.; tarsus, 0.75in.; middle toe and claw 1in., hind toe and claw 0.7in.
“Hab. Stephen Island, Cook Strait, N.Z.”*
I have since had an opportunity of examining a female specimen. It is somewhat smaller than the male, and has duller plumage, the mottled appearance on the upper surface being less conspicuous, and there being more vinous-brown on the sides and abdomen.
Referring to this interesting discovery, an article, presum
[Footnote] * Some weeks after my specimen had reached the editor of the Ibis, and whilst Mr. Keulemans was preparing a drawing of it, Mr. Henry Travers sent specimens from the same locality to the Hon. Walter Rothschild, who, without knowing what I had done, characterized the species in the “Bulletin,” of the British Ornithologists' Union under the name of Traversia lyalli.
ably from the pen of a well-known New Zealand scientist, appeared lately in the Canterbury Press, under the head of “Found and Exterminated,” from which I take the following extract: “At a recent meeting of the Ornithologists' Club in London, the Hon. W. Rothschild, the well-known collector, described this veritable rara avis, specimens of which he had obtained from Mr. Henry Travers, of Wellington, who, we understand, got them from the lighthouse-keeper at Stephen Island, who in his turn is reported to have been indebted to his cat for this remarkable ornithological ‘find.’ As to how many specimens Mr. Travers, the lighthouse-keeper, and the cat managed to secure between them we have no information, but there is very good reason to believe that the bird is no longer to be found on the island, and, as it is not known to exist anywhere else, it has apparently become quite extinct. This is probably a record performance in the way of extermination. The English scientific world will hear almost simultaneously of the bird's discovery and of its disappearance before anything is known of its life-history or its habits. It was only a little creature, about four inches in length, allied to the little Rock-wren, which lives in the mountains, and is occasionally found dead on our glaciers. It was not a flightless bird, but from its structure was evidently very weak-winged, and thus fell an easy prey to the lighthouse-keeper's cat…. Not only scientists, but all New-Zealanders who take an interest in the preservation of whatever is specially characteristic of the colony, will deplore the extermination of such an interesting creature. It is, indeed, saddening to reflect how, one by one, the rare and wonderful birds which have made New Zealand an object of supreme interest among scientists all over the world are gradually becoming extinct…. And we certainly think it would be as well if the Marine Department, in sending lighthouse-keepers to isolated islands where interesting specimens of native fauna are known or believed to exist, were to see that they are not allowed to take any cats with them, even if mouse-traps have to be furnished at the cost of the State.”
Mr. W. W. Smith, of Ashburton, in a letter to the same journal, writes, “The setting-apart of the Little Barrier and Resolution Islands as sanctuaries for vanishing native birds is a lasting honour to the originator of the scheme—the Earl of Onslow—and the present Government who adopted and put it in force. But, as Mr. Purnell observes, ‘It is one thing to maintain preserves of native birds in two secluded spots, inaccessible to the vast majority of the inhabitants of New Zealand, and quite another to have those birds fluttering daily about us.’ It is for the rare species still lingering in the forests and other favoured spots on the mainland we appeal;
and if the Government would act as promptly in stopping marauders, commonly called natural-history collectors, from visiting the outlying islands of New Zealand and carrying off the Tuataras and rarer birds by hundreds as it did the seal-poachers in the southern islands last year, it would gain the gratitude of science and coming generations.”
With the views thus forcibly expressed it is impossible not to agree; and I believe measures for the better conservation of these island faunas are now under the consideration of the Government. But the collection of skins for trade purposes is, of course, a very different thing to the formation of a complete type-collection for the Colonial Museum, as advocated in the introduction to this paper.
Xenicus longipes, Gmelin. (Bush-wren.)
A correspondent has sent me for examination some beautiful specimens of the Bush-wren, accompanied by the following notes:—
“Far up in a gloomy, wet mountain gully, nearly 4,000ft. above the level of the sea, I came across a few families of this little silent bird. In the gully which they were inhabiting grew a dense mass of a flax-like plant—a species of Astelia. These birds seem to display more of the golden colour at the bend of the wing than any I have seen before, and they do not appear to be so large as those I sent you from the Big Bush some years ago. All my specimens of this bird were obtained by using a small net.
“I have not met with any Rock-wrens up in this district. From where I was camped, half an hour's climb took me into the open country—a bare mountain-side, in fact. I had a long ramble over the rugged ridges and across the mountain-slopes, or ‘mountain meadows’ as they are called. I went to the summit of Mount Nugget, 4,995ft., and then I went in another direction to the summit of Mount Luna, 5,261ft., but I never saw or heard a Rock-wren. It is clear that the species does not exist in this part of the country.
“I have been much impressed by the stillness and the almost entire absence of animal life in these red-birch forests, so entirely different from my experience in the Pelorus woods. There, as I lay in my tent at sunrise, the woods fairly rang with the chorus of songsters, the introduced Finches, Thrushes, and Starlings joining in with the native birds. They seem to me to be sun-worshippers. I have timed them with my watch, and find that the concert lasts just an hour. Here, on the contrary, there is no sun-worship. I have often listened in my tent at break of day, waiting for the song to commence, but there has been nothing but a chirp or two, or the note of a Kaka passing overhead. And here I may remark
that the note of the Kaka in these woods is very different to anything I have heard elsewhere—a fact also noticed by Mr. Saxon, the surveyor. It is something like this: ‘Motuaka—hurry up,’ followed by a shrill whistle—like a shepherd calling his dog. I shot one or two, but I could observe nothing different from other Kakas; only at this season (April) they were nothing but bones and feathers.”
Eurystomus pacificus, Latham. (Australian Roller.)
Stray examples of this well-known Australian species still continue to be heard of in New Zealand. Mr. Walling Handley, writing to me from Blenheim on the 22nd December, says, “During the month of November a specimen of the Australian Roller, in perfect plumage, was shot at the Weld's Hill Station, Awatere, by a station-hand. The bird was first noticed flying with a peculiar uncertain flapping flight over the tussock grasses in quest of moths in one of the paddocks adjacent to the station. Its handsome appearance, as seen by the waning light of eventide, and the striking contrast it presented to the sombre brown of the surrounding vegetation, excited attention, and this led to its pursuit and capture. The plumage, &c., corresponds in every particular with the technical description of the species as given in your ‘Manual of New Zealand Birds.’”
Halcyon vagans, Lesson. (Kingfisher.)
The following paragraph appeared in the Rangitikei Advocate: “A Paraekaretu farmer, who had unaccountably lost several hives of bees, at length discovered that the losses were due to a Kingfisher, which, on being killed, was found to have its crop full of bees.”
Platycercus novæ-zealandiæ, Sparrm. (Red-fronted Parrakeet.)
Mr. Alexander MacDonald, of the Awahuri, mentioned to me a curious incident which had come under his own observation. His young people had obtained a nest of young Parrakeets, and succeeded in rearing them. When adult, two of the birds mated and became quite inseparable, always occupying the same perch, and cuddling up to each other in the most affectionate manner. One day the male bird made his escape from the cage, and in being recaptured had his tail pulled out. Thus dismantled, the fugitive went back to his cage in a very sorry plight. The female bird immediately discarded her disfigured mate, rejected all his advances, and before long paired with one of the other birds, whose caudal appendage was the very pink of perfection. But the curious part of the story has yet to come. In course of time the divorced lover
had renewed his tail, and then the inconstant lady forsook her second mate and restored to favour her “first love” in all the glory of his long, new tail. Not a bad proof, I think, that even birds are not insensible to the charms of personal appearance. It may be added that the last-deserted mate forthwith moped, refused to eat food, and died of a broken heart.
It would appear that this species breeds twice in the year. A young bushman at Hawera found, in the month of May, a nest containing eight young ones, which he took and sold for 10s. each, the village settlers being very partial to these docile and imitative pets.
I have examined a caged Parrakeet brought by Mr. Ernest Bell from Curtis Island, situated a few miles from Sunday Island, in the Kermadec Group, where also this Parrakeet was abundant till the introduction of the domestic cat, which soon killed them off. I can detect no difference from the New Zealand bird. It is of decidedly small size (probably a female), and there is a blue tinge on the tail-feathers; but I take these to be merely individual peculiarities. Macaulay Island, where a distinct species closely allied to P. novœ-zealandiœ is said to exist, lies about a degree distant from Sunday Island.
Platycercus erythrotis, Wagl. (Island Parrakeet.)
This species has a peculiar cry—a short, shrill note—which further distinguishes it from Platycercus novœ-zealandiœ.
A caged bird, from Antipodes Island, having died in my possession, I am enabled to furnish measurements from a specimen in the flesh: Extreme length, 17in.; extent of wings, 12in.; wing from flexure, 5.75in.; tail, 6in.; bill, along the ridge 0.90in., along the edge of lower mandible 0.50in.; tarsus, 0.90in.; longer fore-toe and claw, 1.25in.; longer hindtoe and claw, 1.20in.
Nestor meridionalis, Gmelin. (Kaka.)
As I have fully explained in the “Birds of New Zealand,” there are many well-defined varieties of this characteristic species. I have enumerated and described (at pages 151–157) no less than twelve of such varieties. One of these is the large Kaka of the South Island (Nestor montanus, Haast). The late Sir Julius von Haast, in sending me specimens, wrote, “Even judging from its habits alone, it is quite distinct from the common Kaka. It is never found in the Fagus forest, whilst the other species never goes above it into the subalpine vegetation.” And Sir James Hector, writing to me of the same bird, said, “I never met with it in the forests of the lowlands. It is more active in its habits and more hawk
like in its flight than the common Nestor. It often sweeps suddenly to the ground; and its cry differs from that of the common Kaka in being more shrill and wild.” Reviewing these opinions, I said (op. cit., p. 153), “No doubt some naturalists will be disposed to regard this larger race as a distinct bird, and for a considerable time my own inclinations were in that direction; but, looking to the extreme tendency to variation in this species, and to the difficulty of drawing a clear line between the larger and smaller races in consequence of the occasional intermediate or connecting forms, I feel that I am taking a safe course, concurrently with Dr. Finsch, in refusing, for the present at least, to separate these birds.” That is how the matter rests now; but I am always open to conviction, and would welcome any further information on the subject. I have already a piece of evidence which, so far as it goes, seems rather to strengthen the view of the species being distinct. It is this: The nestling of the North Island Kaka as described by myself (op. cit., p. 151) is “covered with soft white down, thinly distributed, and very short on the under-parts; abdomen entirely bare; bill whitish-grey, the upper mandible armed near the tip with a white horny point; cere pale-yellow; legs dull-cinereous.” A nestling brought from the West Coast Sounds, and submitted to me as a skin, was covered all over with short slaty-grey down; bill greyish-horn colour; feet brown. These nestlings, therefore, were very different, and they belonged to the two varieties.
Professor Newton writes,* “Considering the abundance of Parrots, both as species and individuals, and their wide extent over the globe, it is surprising how little is known of their habits in a wild state. Even the species with which Englishmen and their descendants have been more in contact than any other has an almost un written history compared with that of many other birds; and, seeing how many are oppressed by and yielding to man's occupation of their ancient haunts, the extirpation of some is certain, and will probably be accomplished before several interesting and some disputed points in their economy have been decided. The experience of small islands only foreshadows what will happen in tracts of greater extent, though there more time is required to produce the same result; but, the result being inevitable, those who are favourably placed for observations should neglect no opportunities of making them ere it be too late.” And, referring to our bird, he says, “The position of the genus Nestor in the order Psittaci must be regarded as uncertain. Garrod removed it altogether from the neighbourhood of the Lories, to which, indeed, the structure of its tongue, as pre
[Footnote] * “Dictionary of Birds,” p. 691.
viously shown by him, indicates only a superficial resemblance. Like so many other New Zealand forms, Nestor seems to be isolated, and may fairly be deemed to represent a separate family—Nestoridœ—a view adopted by Count T. Salvadori (Cat. B., Brit. Mus., xx., Introd., p. viii.), and fully justified by a cursory examination of its osteology, though this has hitherto been only imperfectly described and figured.”
It will be remembered that at a former meeting I exhibited a specimen of the Yellow-belted Kaka named by Mr. Gould Nestor esslingii, in honour of the Prince D'Essling. I have now to exhibit another example of this peculiarly-coloured form, from the same locality. Seeing that no less than five have been obtained at different times, it may seem unreasonable not to accord the bird full recognition as a distinct species. But the tendency to albinism in some of the claws in the beautiful specimen now exhibited makes me still suspicious, and, for the present at any rate, it will, I think, be safer to rank it as a well-marked variety. I may mention, however, that in this bird the bill seems finer than in ordinary examples of Nestor meridionalis, coming nearer in this respect, as well as in the yellow colour of the under-mandible, to the very distinct Nestor notabilis.
Stringops habroptilus, Gray. (Ground-parrot.)
Major Mair informs me that the Kakapo, according to the Maoris, is still to be found in the Upper Wanganui. Formerly it was very abundant there, as also in the Kaimanawa Ranges, in the direction of Taupo. Major Mair adds, “The natives caught the Kakapo by the aid of trained dogs. The birds, when going out to feed, always placed one on sentry. The object with the kakapo-hunter was to bag this one first, then the whole family would be secured; but if the sentinel gave the alarm the others all slipped over the side of the ridge. The dogs used to wear a rattle, called by the Whanganui tatara, and by the Ngatimaniapoto rore. The purpose of this rattle was that the masters of the dogs should know where they were.”
Carpophaga novæ-zealandiæ, Gmelin. (Wood-pigeon.)
To the many instances of albinism reported from time to time I have now to add two more. One of these is a pure albino, from the Wanganui district. The entire plumage in this bird is pure white, with just the faintest tinge of buff on the shoulders and upper wing-coverts. The other specimen is from Collingwood, and being only partially an albino presents a very peculiar appearance. The entire plumage is pure white with the following exceptions: From the lower mandible, on each side, a broad patch of purplish-black, with metallic re
flections, passes under the eye, spreads over the ear-coverts, and extends downwards almost to the shoulder. On the inner flexure of each wing there is a patch of coppery-brown; some of the wing-coverts are brownish-grey, and the secondaries are almost wholly of that colour, the innermost ones more or less washed with coppery-brown. One of the tail-feathers is of the normal colour, freckled towards the base with white, as are several of the upper tail-coverts; bill, eyelids, and feet bright arterial red.
Carpophaga chathamiensis, Rothschild. (Chatham Island Wood-pigeon.)
Mr. Hawkins writes, “The Pigeon on the Chatham Islands is nearly extinct. I have been out every day for two weeks and only got four, and one of those was spoilt in the shooting.”
Larus dominicanus, Licht. (Black-backed Gull.)
As a contribution to the history of this well-known species, the following note, furnished by Mr. Drew quite recently to the Wanganui Chronicle, is worth preserving: “It is not at all uncommon to see both kinds of our Seagulls as pets on lawns and gardens, but I think it very uncommon to find them nesting and producing eggs in captivity. This singularly rare ornithological occurrence has come under my notice lately. Mrs. Martin, of Wilson Street, has one of these pets; it is the large Black-backed Gull (Larus dominicanus), or the Karoro of the Maoris. The bird is quite tame—comes when called, &c. —but during the whole nineteen years of its captivity has never started egg-laying; in fact, was always thought to be a male bird. But this year, to the surprise of her mistress, she has constructed a nicely-built nest, and in it has laid three beautiful spotted eggs. ‘Maori’—for so she is called—is fruitlessly sitting on her unfertile eggs—or, I should say, on two of her own and one hen's egg, for the third egg has been taken from her and is now in the Museum. I wonder if she has noticed the difference!”
Sterna vittata, Gm. (S. Nat., i., p. 609.)
Mr. Bethune, of the “Hinemoa,” has shown me a skin of the Tern obtained by him at the Bounty Islands, for which Mr. Henry Travers had proposed the name of Sterna bethunei. It is a lovely bird, presenting a general resemblance to Sterna antarctica, but with a snow-white tail, and legs of arterial red. But the bird is not new, having been first described and named as far back as 1788 (op. cit.). Mr. Bethune states that it occurs at the Snares and on Campbell Island as well as on the Bounties. There were four specimens of this bird in
the collection made by the “Challenger” Expedition, from Betsy Cove and Christmas Harbour, in Kerguelen Island.
Another species of Tern obtained by Mr. Bethune at the Auckland Islands may, however, prove to be new. It is similar in plumage to Sterna frontalis, but is appreciably larger, with a longer and more robust bill. Like the lastnamed species it is gregarious, hunting in flocks, whereas Sterna vittata flies in pairs. The specimen shown to me gave the following measurements:—*
Extreme length, 17.75in.; extent of wings, 28.5in.; wing from flexure, 11in.; tail, 7in.; bill, along the ridge 2in., along the edge of lower mandible 2.5in.; tarsus, 1in.; middle toe and claw, 1.25in. If new, it may be thus diagnosed:—
Ad. ptil. œstiv. similis S. frontali sed paullo major: rostro et pedibus conspicue majoribus.
I cannot, however, venture to bestow a specific name, because, before the bird was submitted to me, a specimen was given by Mr. Bethune to Dr. Collins, who, I am informed, took it with him to England. If still without an appellation it might appropriately be named Sterna bethunei.
Platalea regia, Gould. (Royal Spoonbill.)
In vol. ix. of our Transactions, pages 337–338, I gave an account of the occurrence of this fine Australian bird at Manawatu. The specimen, for which I was indebted to the kind assistance of Mr. C. Hulke, is now in the mounted collection of the Colonial Museum. I am informed by Mr. W. Townson, of Westport, that another specimen was shot on the Buller River about January, 1892, and is still preserved in Dr. Gaze's collection.
Phalacrocorax colensoi, Buller. (Auckland Island Shag.)
Since writing the notes on the Auckland Island Shag which appeared in the last volume of our Transactions, I have had an opportunity of examining two more specimens (male and female). The male bird of these is without a crest, but has a broad irregular white dorsal patch, and the white alar bar long, narrow, and distinct. The female is also crestless, and exhibits only an indication of a dorsal spot in a few white feathers. The alar bar is very irregular, being represented in the left wing by only a few scattered white feathers. In both birds the white streak on the fore-neck commences within the angle formed by the crura of the lower mandible, and in
[Footnote] * One of the measurements—the extent of wings—was furnished to me by the collector, having been taken when the bird was fresh; the other measurements are from the dried skin.
creases rapidly in width downwards towards the breast. These specimens, therefore, go to confirm the conclusions to which I had arrived from an examination of the collection made by Mr. Henry Travers.
Diomedea regia, Buller. (Royal Albatros.)
At the time of the last visit of the “Hinemoa” to Campbell Island the eggs of Diomedea regia were just on the point of being hatched, the embryo being well developed. This was at the end of February. The breeding season of Diomedea exulans on Auckland Islands is somewhat later, for on the same cruise the crew and passengers brought on board some four or five hundred eggs, all of which were fresh enough to be blown.
Diomedea exulans, Linn. (Wandering Albatros.)
The following cutting is from the Sydney Morning Herald: “With reference to a paragraph which appeared in a recent issue respecting the rescue of a seaman who fell overboard from the ship ‘Gladstone’ while on her voyage from London to this port, we have been supplied with the following interesting additional particulars by Captain Jackson himself: On the 24th October, at noon, whilst the ship was in latitude 42° and longitude 90° E., and going at the rate of about ten knots an hour, the cry of ‘A man overboard’ was raised. Captain Jackson and his chief officer, Mr. John Rugg, who were seated at dinner at the time, immediately rushed cut of the cabin and rounded the ship to. A boat, manned by four hands, was then lowered, and left the ship in charge of Mr. Rugg five minutes after the alarm was raised. The man was then out of sight, but the rescuing party pulled towards the spot where it was supposed he had fallen, and after some little time found him clinging to an Albatros, which he was using as a lifebuoy. As soon as the boat got within a few yards of him he let the bird go and swam to the boat, being apparently none the worse for his unexpected immersion. He returned on board smiling, and stated that just after he fell an Albatros swooped down upon him and made a peck at him, but he seized it by the neck and kept its head under water until he had drowned it, and then used it to preserve his own life in the manner already described. The boat was away about one hour. The sea was very rough at the time, and the wind was from the north-west. The most remarkable thing about this remarkable story is that the man, who could only swim a little, had heavy sea-boots on at the time of the accident, besides being encumbered with oilskins. The names of the crew of the boat were Messrs. W. Gilchrist, L. Mann, Richard Simpson, and John Murphy, the first two of whom are Sydney
men. The Albatros was the first that had been seen for a month.”
Diomedea salvini, Rothschild. (Salvin's Albatros.)
On a recent visit to Wanganui I was invited by Mr. Drew, the curator of the museum, to examine and identify a live Albatros which had just come in. The bird proved to be an adult specimen (apparently a female) of Diomedea salvini. Mr. Drew gave me the particulars of its capture, which would seem to indicate that this bird is nocturnal in its habits. A party of fishermen in their boat, at 2 o'clock the previous morning—the night being starlight but without any moon—were waiting for the dawn, in order to fish for schnapper. They saw the Albatros hovering about them, and threw out a piece of bait on a line. The bird at once descended to the water, took the hook in its bill, and was towed on board. In this specimen the bill is grey with a yellowish unguis; the black pencilled lines and the yellow cartilage are very conspicuous.
Œstrelata neglecta, Schl. (Schlegel's Petrel.)
I find that in quoting Mr. Bethune in relation to this species (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxvii., p. 133), I rather overstated what he had said. He informs me that, although he saw many of these birds mated in the breeding season, as a matter of fact he “collected” only one pair—the specimens which I had the pleasure of exhibiting at the meeting of our society on the 5th September last. But, as far as he could observe, the two phases of plumage were always associated; so that my general argument is not affected in any way. But, as Mr. Bethune is a very careful observer, I am anxious that he should be reported with strict accuracy. On another point also I appear to have misunderstood him. This species, he assures me, does not deposit its eggs in a burrow, like so many of the other Petrels, but places them in an open depression on the surface of the ground.
Œstrelata affinis, Buller. (Mottled Petrel.)
The bird of the first year differs from the adult in being generally darker in plumage. The whole of the upper surface, the sides of the breast, the sides of the body, flanks and abdomen, dark slaty-grey, the feathers very minutely margined with paler. Chin pure white; lores, lower sides of face, fore-neck, breast, and under tail-coverts white varied with slaty-grey; on the breast in freckled wavy lines. All the median wing-coverts are stained with brown; the inner webs of all the wing-feathers pure white, as also are the larger under wing-coverts. Bill black; legs and feet yellowish-brown (in dried specimen).
Puffinus bulleri, Salvin. (Buller's Shearwater.)
A specimen brought from the Mokohinou Islands by Captain Fairchild in September last (in spirits), and presented by him to the Colonial Museum, has enabled me to describe the soft parts: Sides of the bill greenish, the ridge and hook brownish-black; feet yellow, the outer side of the tarsi and outer toes and a line along the base of the middle toe on its outer side blackish-brown. The bird proved to be a male, and the greenish colour of the bill is probably a sexual character, because there was no such appearance with my specimen (a female), although it was picked up fresh on the Waikanae sands. Mr. Sandager, in his description of Puffinus zealandicus (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxii., p. 291), which I have identified with this species, says that “the lower part of both mandibles is bluish, remainder black.”
I may here correct a common error among local ornithologists—that of confounding Puffinus with Puffin, the two birds having no relation whatever to each other. The principal offender in this respect is Mr. Reischek, who has contributed some interesting notes on the various species of Puffinus to the pages of our Transactions, and persistently calls them “Puffins.” Professor Newton, in his admirable “Dictionary of Birds”*—a book which should be on every ornithologist's shelves—gives the following explanation of this popular mistake:” The name ‘Puffin’ has been given in books to one of the Shearwaters, and its latinised form Puffinus is still used in that sense in scientific nomenclature. This fact seems to have arisen from a mistake of Ray's, who, seeing in Tradescant's museum and that of the Royal Society some young Shearwaters from the Isle of Man, prepared in like manner to young Puffins, thought they were the birds mentioned by Gesner (Hist. Avium), as the remarks inserted in Willoughby's “Ornithologia” (p. 251) prove; for the specimens described by Ray were as clearly Shearwaters as Gesner's were Puffins.”
Puffinus chlororhynchus, Lesson (= Puffinus sphenurus, Gould). (Wedge-tailed Shearwater.)
I do not think I have yet put on record the following letter, received some time ago from Mr. W. M. Crowfoot, of Beccles, Suffolk:—
“My friend Mr. Dalgleish, of Edinburgh, draws my attention to the fact that, in the last edition of your most valuable book on the birds of New Zealand, in the article on Puffinus griseus, you state that my remarks on Puffinus sphenurus in Norfolk Island probably refer to Puffinus griseus. I think this is a mistake, as a skin of the Norfolk Island species
[Footnote] * Adam and Charles Black, London, 1894.
(which I at first thought was P. griseus) was sent to me by my correspondent, Mr. Metcalfe, and I forwarded it to Mr. O. Salvin for his inspection. He returned it to me as Puffinus sphenurus of Gould. I have since received the eggs of Puffinus griseus from New Zealand, and find that they are much larger than those of P. sphenurus, and of a different colour. My specimens of the egg of P. griseus measure 3in. by 2in. and 3 ⅛in. by 2in. respectively, and are of a yellowish-white colour, whereas the eggs of P. sphenurus measure 2 ¾in. by 1 ¾in. and 2 ½in. by 1 ⅞in. respectively, and are of a purewhite colour, just like those of Puffinus anglorum and P. kuhli.”
Puffinus gavia, Forst. (Forster's Shearwater.)
We have at length discovered the breeding-place of this species. I find that these birds resort in large numbers to Stephen Island, in Cook Strait, for the purpose of reproduction; and through the kind offices of Mr. Lyall, the light-house-keeper there, I have recently obtained six eggs. They are of a rather narrow ovoido-conical shape, perfectly white, and differing appeciably in size, the largest of the series measuring 2.45in. in length by 1.45in. in breadth, and the smallest measuring 2.20in. by 1.45in.
A specimen in the flesh (adult female) sent to me from Manawatu measured 18in. in length, and 47.25in. in extent of wings.
Casarca variegata, Gmelin. (Paradise-duck.)
Those of you present who have visited the Masterton fishponds cannot fail to have noticed a tame Paradise-duck, which has been an inhabitant of the place for several years. I have been assured by the curator that this bird is as useful as any watch-dog could be, for it sets up an unceasing clamour on the appearance of a stranger. Its affection for the keeper is most remarkable, for it will follow him everywhere and nestle about his feet in the most demonstrative manner, squatting on the ground with its neck outstretched and uttering all the time a sort of purring note of satisfaction. It has now a mate, and they have brought up a large brood of young; but previously to this it every season laid a number of unfertilised eggs, and then took to hatching-out a nest of domestic duck's eggs. The handsomely-striking plumage of this bird, coupled with its docility and readiness to breed in confinement, marks it out as being specially suitable for private ponds and ornamental waters.
A tame Duck of this species which I have at the Papai
tonga Lake has attached itself in the same marked way to one of the domestics, but is shy and distant with every one else. I have remarked elsewhere* on the devotion of this species to its young, and the devices to which it resorts to draw intruders away from the vicinity of its nest. I have lately met with the following in the columns of a newspaper, and the record is worth preserving:—
“The following is a touching instance of the affection of birds for their young: Mr. Shalders informs the North Otago Times that, having been requested to obtain some young Paradise-ducks for the purpose of exchanging with the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, he, while travelling with another up-country with a waggon and team, saw on a stream two parent birds and eight or nine young ones. On his essaying to capture some of these, the parent birds, like the Home lapwings, endeavoured, by feigning lameness, to decoy him from their young; but he captured three of them, and placed them in a small box on the waggon. They proceeded a distance of six miles and camped for the night, and on rising early in the morning Mr. Shalders's first care was to look after the young birds. On leaving the tent, however, he saw not far from the waggon a Paradise duck and drake, and remarked to his mate that he believed the birds had followed them. To ascertain if this were so, he took the little ducklings out and placed them on the ground some short distance from the waggon, and watched. They were almost immediately taken charge of by the drake, who made off with them through the mate-kauri in the direction of the river, rising every few yards in order, apparently, to let his companion see the course he was taking. The informant says he had not the heart to endeavour to recapture his prize, and he let them go as a tribute to the faithful care of the parent birds.”
Hymenolæmus malacorhynchus, Gmelin. (Blue Duck.)
I received from Waikanae on Saturday, the 12th December, an adult pair of the Mountain-duck, with a bird of the first year, and a fledgeling from another brood. The lastmentioned accidentally hung itself in the wire-netting of its enclosure. The others were very shy at first, but soon adapted themselves to their new life, and took readily to their new diet of cooked potato and rice. When alarmed they uttered a loud whistling cry—especially the young bird; at other times their note was a low rasping one, like the sound produced by drawing an object quickly against the teeth of a large comb.
[Footnote] * “Birds of New Zealand,” vol. ii., p. 266.
Eudyptes chrysocome, Forster. (Tufted Penguin.)
I am able now to add to my account of this species a description of the nestling from a specimen obtained at Dusky Sound.
Head, throat, hind-neck, and upper parts—that is to say, the surface that is coloured in the adult—covered with short sooty-black down, and the under-parts with short white down; bill whitish-horn colour; feet pale-brown.
In a more advanced chick—which is double the size of that already described—the down is even shorter, as if rubbed off, and the root-points of future feathers are disclosed, covering the surface in regular lines or series.
The young of this species differs from the adult in being appreciably smaller in size, and in having a whitish-grey throat; the long crests are absent, being represented by a tuft of feathers little more than ½in. in length, commencing immediately above the eyes and extending back 1 ½in. towards the occiput; pale lemon-yellow, with blue tips. Bill black, with reddish-brown tips.
Eudyptes sclateri, Buller. (Sclater's Penguin.)
On the 25th February the “Hinemoa” brought from Antipodes Island four living examples of this species and ten of Eudyptes chrysocome. I am assured by the second engineer (who is a collector of birds) that the former always lays one egg and the latter two. Eudyptes chrysocome (= E. filholi, Hutton) is readily distinguishable from the other Penguins by its full crest of lengthened yellow feathers and its red eyes. Its home is Antipodes Island. But all those brought on this trip were birds of the first year, in which the crest was not yet developed. The examples of Eudyptes sclateri interested me very much, because they too were young birds, but somewhat more advanced, and just undergoing the first seasonal moult—throwing off the adolescent plumage and assuming that of the adult state. The young of this species has the plumage of the upper parts much duller, being mixed with brown, and the throat, instead of being black, is greyish-white, darker in some specimens than others. In one of the two which I secured the chin is white, and, this portion of the plumage not having moulted off, the bird presents a singular appearance, the white chin being very conspicuous. In the young bird the superciliary streak, which is broad and well defined, is white, instead of being golden-yellow, as in the adult. This species is found both on Antipodes Island and on Campbell Island. It has never, I believe, been found on the Auckland Islands. The species inhabiting that group is Eudyptes antipodum. The “Hinemoa” brought up one live
example of the last-named species for His Excellency the Governor. It has peculiar flat, button-like eyes.
A bird undergoing the first moult (February) presents the following features: Yellow facial streak broad and distinct, in a line with the nostrils, but at present extending only lin. beyond the head; throat black, with well-defined lower margin, the old white plumage still adhering to the chin for the space of lin. from the angle of the crura of the lower mandible, and giving a very peculiar appearance to the head. The old dark plumage is still clinging to the forehead, and the feathers are peeling off the flippers; but all the body-plumage has been completely renewed.
Young of first year differs from the adult in having the plumage duller, and the throat dark-grey, shading into the dark plumage on the sides of the head; broad superciliary streak of white springing not far from the angles of the mouth. At the first moult the white streak is replaced by a golden crest, the feathers of which project beyond the head. Bill dark-brown, and less robust than in the adult.
Aptenodytes longirostris, Scop. (King Penguin.)
On looking over a book of cuttings, I find that I omitted to-notice in my “Birds of New Zealand” an interesting notice of this species which appeared in a southern paper in August, 1878: “A very handsome King Penguin was exhibited [at the Otago Institute] last evening. Professor Hutton said it was caught at Moeraki a short time ago, and that its existence proved that the King Penguin was really an inhabitant of New Zealand.”
Eudyptes atratus, Hutton. (Black Penguin.)
A local ornithological event of some interest is the discovery of another example of the Black Penguin, described and named by Professor Hutton in 1875, from a specimen obtained at the Macquarie Islands, a group of sea-girt rocks lying about six hundred miles to the south-west of Stewart Island. For many years this was the only known example. It belonged to the fine collection of birds in the Otago Museum, and was lent to me by Professor Parker for the purpose of being figured in the second edition of my “Birds of New Zealand.” A beautiful drawing of it was made by Mr. Keulemans, in association with Eudyptes antipodum, for the plate which faces page 294 in vol. ii. Unfortunately, the specimen itself was lost, with many other treasures, in the wreck of the “Assaye” on her return voyage to New Zealand. The present example, which also comes from the Macquarie. Islands, is a somewhat larger bird, and is apparently quite mature; but apparently it had only recently moulted, as the
sulphur-coloured crests, which formed so striking a feature in the other, are only partially developed.
Apart from its black plumage, this species may be distinguished by its powerful bill, its very small hind-toe, and its long and rigid tail-feathers.
The true home of the Black Penguin has yet to be discovered. It no doubt lies to the south of the Macquaries, which seems curious, seeing that as we approach nearer to the South Pole the universal tendency in the birds is to assume whiter plumage. It can only be a straggler at the Macquarie Islands, because ever since the discovery of the type, in 1875, Captain Fairchild has made diligent search for it there during the periodical visits of the “Hinemoa” without ever seeing one.
The Black Penguin is the only uniform-coloured form in the whole group of these very interesting birds, and its present rarity adds very much to the value of the specimen.
The distribution of the various species of Crested Penguin is very curious. On the Snares Eudyptes pachyrhynchus is the only species to be found; on the Auckland Islands Eudyptes antipodum, which occurs also on Campbell Island; on the Bounty Islands Eudyptes sclateri; and on Antipodes Island both the last-named species and Eudyptes chrysocome. The habitat originally assigned to Eudyptes sclateri (the Auckland Islands), on the authority of a live one sent to the Zoological Society, was evidently a mistake. Going still further south, we find on the Macquarie Islands the magnificent King Penguin (Aptenodytes longirostris), the Royal Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus), the Rockhopper (Pygoscelis tæniatus), and the Black Penguin (Eudyptes atratus), of which, as already remarked, only two examples have been recorded.
On the New Zealand coasts both Eudyptes pachyrhynchus and E. sclateri are occasionally met with.
Apteryx oweni, Gould. (Grey Kiwi.)
One of my correspondents, writing from the Karamea Saddle on the 6th April, says, “I expected to find Kiwis very plentiful here, but I have not yet obtained one, although I have been camped in these woods three months. The forest is nearly all of red-birch, and, owing to the dampness of the woods, the ground is spongey and mossy, with an abundance of worms, which constitute the favourite food of this bird. The District Surveyor, who has an excellent retriever, has caught only two during the last four months. Woodhens, too, are very scarce. I have collected a few of the brown-legged species. I have preserved them, and will send them to you on my return to Nelson. On 1st April I came across a family of the red-legged species—male, female, and two young. I captured
the two old birds and one young one, all of which I have preserved. The legs of the old birds were quite as red as those of our Wood-pigeon. The most plentiful bird in these woods is the little Rifleman. I have seen only one Saddleback, which I managed to secure. I am camped at an altitude of 3,300ft., and have not as yet seen any Tuis or Pigeons. I cannot say that I have actually seen any stoats or weasels here, but they are known to be on the Dart River and on the Rolling River, about fourteen miles from here.” Once in the district there is no withstanding their spread, and with it the absolute extinction of these vanishing species. Nothing can save them.
Apteryx haasti, Potts. (Haast's Kiwi.)
Since my last paper on this subject I have had the opportunity of examining another egg of this rare species, taken from a Kiwi's underground nest in the Heaphy Ranges. It is broadly elliptical in shape, measuring 4.75in. in length by 2.75in. in breadth, and is of a pale greenish-white hue. It was obtained in the early part of December, 1894, and was perfectly fresh.
I am also in a position now to give the description of the young: The whole plumage blackish-brown, paler and inclining to grey on the under-surface, and having a distinctly spotted character. This is produced by each feather having a single transverse band of pale chestnut-brown on its apical portion, with the minutest tip of the same colour. These spotted markings are entirely absent on the head and upper part of the neck, which parts are uniform greyish-brown, paler on the sides of the head. Tarsi and toes blackish-brown; claws black.
Apteryx occidentalis, Rothschild. (Larger Grey Kiwi.)
I have also had an opportunity of examining two eggs of the large Grey Kiwi, from the same locality, the male bird having been taken from the nest sitting on the eggs. These also are broadly ellipitical and pale greenish-white. The larger of the two measures 4.6in. in length by 2.5in. in breadth. The other egg is about one-sixteenth of an inch shorter, and is much soiled by contact with the bird's feet.