Art. I.—On the Ornithology of New Zealand.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 22nd November, 1898.]
Undoubtedly the most important ornithological event of the year in New Zealand has been the capture of another specimen—only the fourth during more than half a century—of the Takahe (Notornis hochstetteri). On hearing that this valuable bird had been sent in the flesh to the Otago Museum, I telegraphed to that institution for further information, and immediately received the following reply from Professor Benham: “Every particle of Notornis preserved; young female in perfect condition, but coracoids injured.” A few days later I received a letter from Mr. George Fenwiek, the editor of the Otago Daily Times, containing further particulars. He says:—
“I have been very much interested in the recent capture of a Takahe by young Ross—brother of the Te Anau-Milford guide—and had an opportunity this morning of inspecting it. It is a fine specimen, and realises the impression of the bird gathered from the striking illustration in your book. The two specimens in the South Kensington Museum are disappointing—one of them particularly so. The better one of the two cannot compare with the specimen just captured, the plumage
of the latter being bright and glossy, whereas that in the South Kensington Museum is dull. Jennings has done his work well, the new Takahe presenting the firm, well-set-up, striking look with which we have been made familiar by your illustration. I hope it may be secured for the colony. I have written to Ross on this point, and if I make any progress will let you know. I am posting you a copy of to-day's Times, with some notes on the bird and the species by Professor Benham.”
The article referred to—in the issue of the 23rd August—gives an interesting, popular account of Notornis and its discovery, from which I quote the following:—
“In size the bird is like a goose, but in colouration it resembles the Pukeko; its breast is a beautiful rich dark-blue, becoming duller on the neck, head, abdomen, and legs. These last are clothed with feathers for a greater distance than in the native turkey, but they are relatively shorter and much thicker than in the latter bird. The legs in both birds have the scaly part, technically termed ‘tarso-metatarsus,’ as well as the toes, coloured salmon-red. The feathers of the back, wings, and tail are olive-green, with an almost metallic lustre in certain lights; below the short tail the feathers are pure white. When the bird is seen from in front these colours are at their brightest and best; seen from behind—as when the bird is running away from the hunter—the brightness is lost: the blue becomes dull and nearly black, the green becomes greenish-grey, so that if it were not for the white tail the bird, when retreating, would be very inconspicuous in the feeble light of the bush. This white tail-piece occurs in the Pukeko, as well as in some mammals, such as the rabbit and deer, but its meaning is not always obvious; although the general inconspicuousness to foes is diminished, yet its recognition by friends appears to be attained thereby. The eyes are red-brown. But perhaps one of the most noticeable features of the bird is its beak—a great equilateral triangle of hard pink horn, with one angle directed forwards. At the upper side of the base of the beak is a bright-red band of soft tissue like an attempt at a ‘comb,’ such as we get in cocks, only transversely placed. The whole is a handsome bird of heavy gait, absolutely unable to use its wings for their natural purpose of flying. Indeed, one of the interests, zoologically, is that, like several of our native birds, it is flightless, while its congeners in other countries are endued with powers of flight. The Takahe is closely allied to the Pukeko (Porphyrio), and not far removed from the Brown Woodhen (Ocydromus), all these belonging to the family of Rails, which usually frequent more or. less marshy ground, and in other countries are able to fly as well as other birds. On the other
hand, the Takahe can run very actively, and gave a good chase to those who captured the earlier specimens, while its powerful beak must be a formidable weapon, one would think, which it could use with effect on enemies when at close quarters. The nature of its food is practically unknown. The previous specimens did not reach scientific hands till after the removal of the viscera; the present specimen, however, reached me in such excellent condition that I have been able to examine all the internal organs, and I find the stomach and intestines filled with a kind of grass with cylindrical leaves, all cut up into lengths of ¼ in. to ⅓ in. But whether this is its normal food or not is uncertain. Like its predecessors, it was caught in winter on low-lying grounds near the water; but there is no doubt but that it lives usually in the higher and rougher bush, and it was probably driven down to the water's edge by stress of weather and the consequent difficulty of getting enough to eat. Certain it is that, though thoroughly healthy in every way, there was no fat in the body such as one finds in a normally well-fed bird; moreover, its beak seems needlessly powerful for cutting up grass.
“The present specimen is a young female, possibly not quite fully grown. The measurements of the various external parts of the body agree almost exactly with those given by Sir W. Buller for the bird examined by him nearly twenty years ago. Yes; it is nineteen years since the previous specimen was captured, and—pace Mr. Park—it is uncertain whether any have even been seen since 1879; at any rate, I believe there is no record of such a fact. Even a greater length of time separates the capture of the third from the first specimen—to wit, thirty years—for it was in 1849 that the first specimen ever seen by scientific folk was chased and captured by a party of sealers in Duck Cove, Dusky Sound. Of this the skin alone remains, stuffed and set up in the British Museum; the rest of the bird was eaten by the captors. The second specimen, which was caught in 1851 by Maoris on Secretary Island, Thompson's Sound, also found its way to the British Museum. The third specimen was caught by a rabbiter's dog (1879) on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau, and its remains were purchased for the Dresden Museum for one hundred guineas. The three spots at which the captures were made are at the corners of a triangle, each side of which measures about a hundred miles. It is scarcely surprising, then, that this, the fourth specimen of the bird, now temporarily deposited in the Otago University Museum, should be the cause of some excitement amongst all those—and these are happily many—who take an interest in the birds of New Zealand, especially in those which, like the Takahe and the Kakapo, are on the way to extermination—a result of the interference
with the ‘equilibrium of nature’ brought about by the ferrets so thoughtlessly introduced by a too impulsive Government some years ago.
“The specimen now in the Museum belongs to Mr. Ross, brother of the guide of that name. It appears that Ross was walking along the shore of Lake Te Anau, accompanied by his dog, which suddenly disappeared into the bush, and reappeared carrying the Takahe. Mr. Ross, fortunately for science, despatched the bird to Dr. Young, of Invercargill, who wired to me to inquire whether I could recommend a taxidermist who could be trusted to preserve the bird with all the tender care merited by its rarity and interest. The Museum luckily possesses, in the person of Mr. E. Jennings, not only a skilful taxidermist, but an ornithologist who can value a bird for its own sake. So I replied to Dr. Young to send it along; and I announced the receipt of his telegram to the meeting of the Otago Institute on the 9th August, where the news was received with very great interest. Mr. Hamilton took the trouble to travel to Invercargill next day in order to bring back the bird, and to learn the facts of the capture; but in the meantime it had been despatched to Dunedin, and reached me in capital condition. It was at once handed over to Mr. Jennings. The skin was properly and skilfully cured, so much of the skeleton as was possible was removed and dried, and the viscera are preserved in spirit. Mr. Jennings, it may be mentioned, preserved the Dresden skin, so far as it was possible to do so after its unskilful treatment by the captor.
“But, although the skin of the Takahe is very rare, its bones are less rare and less expensive. The Otago Museum is fortunate enough to possess a nearly complete skeleton, including the only skull on public exhibition in the colony, or anywhere else indeed, except London and Dresden. Other bones exist in private collections, but they are by no means numerous. Another feature of interest lies in the fact that the Takahe (Notonis) exists nowhere else in the world except in the South Island of New Zealand. The name Notornis mantelli was bestowed by the late naturalist, Sir Richard Owen, on a few bones discovered in a fossilised condition in the North Island—viz., a part of a skull, a jaw, and a leg-bone. The examination of the skeleton of the second bird, subsequently captured in the South Island, led ornithologists to conclude that both the living and the extinct bird belong to the same species. But later on careful measurements of the bones in the Dresden Museum by Dr. A. B. Meyer, and of the bones in the Otago Museum by the late Professor Parker, as well as of bones obtained by Mr. Hamilton, render this identity very doubtful. Dr. Meyer has, as a result of his
measurements, given the name Notornis hochstetteri to the living bird, and we shall probably be right in accepting this revision of the name. It may be that the fossil bones, imperfect as they were, belonged to a male bird, whilst the remaining specimens are females, but this is extremely improbable. At present we do not know for certain whether there is any difference in the colouration or in the size of the two sexes; one in the British Museum, according to Sir W. Buller, is more brightly coloured than the Dresden specimen, which he believes to be a female. But no anatomical examination of any of the previously obtained birds was possible for the purpose of deciding the sex, and the only definite fact is that this fourth specimen is a female, and that it agrees in size and colouration with the Dresden specimen. From analogy with our other native birds it is quite probable that a different species of Notornis inhabited each of the two Islands—that of the North Island is extinct, that of the South Island will become so shortly.”
As an indication of the interest which this fresh capture of Notornis has excited, I may mention that numerous offers have been made to the owner for its purchase, for various sums up to £300. I understand that the Government is now negotiating for it, at a lower figure; but whether successful or not we must all join in the hope expressed by Mr. Fenwick that it will be kept in the colony, either in one of our public museums or in some private collection where it will always be accessible to those of our rising colonists who take an interest in the natural history of New Zealand. Mr. Hamilton, the Registrar of the Otago University, has kindly forwarded me an excellent photograph of the bird, as mounted, which I have much pleasure in exhibiting this evening. (See Plate I.)
This reference to the rare Notornis naturally leads me to say a few words about our other vanishing forms of bird-life. And here, parenthetically, I may observe that perhaps I owe some sort of apology to the Society for so often dilating on this subject. But to me it is one of absorbing interest, and I have always in my mind Professor Newton's prophetic words. In the “Encyclopedia Britannica” (p. 742) he says: “As a whole, the avifauna of New Zealand must be regarded as one of the most interesting and instructive in the world, and the inevitable doom which is awaiting its surviving members cannot but excite a lively interest in the minds of all ornithologists.” In another place he urges “the importance of the closest study, because the avifauna is now being fast obliterated by colonisation and other agencies, and with it will pass into oblivion, unless faithfully recorded by the present generation, a page of the world's history full of scientific interest.” In his last publication, the “Dictionary of Birds”—a book
which should be on the shell of every ornithologist—he returns to the subject (p. 316) with the following pregnant remarks: “Mention has already been made of the unhappy fate which awaits the surviving members of the New Zealand fauna, and its inevitable end cannot but excite a lively regret in the minds of all ornithologists who care to know how things have grown. This regret is quite apart from all questions of sentiment; but, just as we lament our ignorance of the species which, in various lands, have been extirpated by our predecessors, so our posterity will want to know much more of the present avifauna of New Zealand than we can possibly record, for no one can pretend to predict the scope of investigation which will be required, and required in vain, by naturalists in that future when New Zealand may be one of the great nations of the earth.”
For my own part, I am most anxious that we should escape the reproach of posterity by doing everything in our power to preserve, if not a few living representatives, at any rate a full life-history of these expiring forms; so I try to make my voice heard, in season and out of season, hoping thereby to stimulate others to do the same. I am induced to believe that, in the interests of science, I am pursuing the right course. For example, a returned colonist writes me: “At Cambridge I met the genial old Professor Newton, who told me that your sketches of vanishing native birds were the most charming he had ever read.” I naturally argue thus: that, if the subject possesses so much attraction for readers at a distance, I shall not weary you by reverting, on every opportunity, to this favourite theme. The great thing is to awaken public interest. And, if I may venture to say so, the subject is yours as much as mine, for it must be borne in mind that an implied duty rests on all the members of such a Society as this to contribute their quota to the general stock of human knowledge, and to aid—each one according to his opportunity and ability—in the promotion of such objects as the one I am discussing. It is refreshing to find, in these more enlightened days, that even from the pulpit this moral obligation is enforced, and with no uncertain voice. As an illustration of this, I may remind you of the eloquent sermon preached by the Bishop of Salisbury in St. Paul's Cathedral on the occasion of his visit to Wellington some time ago. Passing out of the beaten track, his Lordship referred to the interesting problems in science that awaited their solution in New Zealand, mentioning; specially the abnormal features in the fauna and flora. He said he hoped that in the City of Wellington—the centre of activity for the colony—there would be found men of leisure who would “consecrate their lives” to the elucidation of these problems in natural science. He put in, too, a pathetic appeal
for the beautiful virgin forest, and expressed an earnest hope that the hand of the destroyer would spare some portions of this magnificent bush, with its unique forms, and pass them down for the delight and study of future generations.
The beautiful Huia, famous alike in Maori tradition and song, is becoming every year more scarce, notwithstanding its close protection by a statute which, I am glad to say, is very rigidly enforced by the police in the bush districts. This is, no doubt, owing mainly to the inevitable destruction of its favourite forest haunts in the steady march of European settlement, large areas of bush land being annually cleared and burnt off in the Forty-mile Bush as elsewhere. Apart from this, the periodical recurrence of devastating bush-fires, originating nobody knows how, is altering the whole aspect of the country. However much this may be deplored, it is one of the necessary accompaniments of colonisation in a country like this. Owing to such causes, the range of the Huia, always very limited in extent, is becoming more and more restricted every year, and its ultimate fate is not a matter of mere speculation. I was never more impressed with this than when I made an ascent of the Ruahine Range in July last. A widespread confiagration had swept through and killed many thousands of acres of virgin forest on the side of the range towards Woodville; but, on getting beyond and above this scene of desolation, we found the mountain-side clad with thick vegetation. This consists on the lower ranges of the usual mixture of native trees, but at a higher elevation it changes almost entirely to tawhero, or mountain-cedar, which becomes more and more stunted the further you ascend, till at length it is as gnarled and twisted in its growth as the olives of Gethsemane, to which, indeed, the trees in this condition present a remarkable likeness. At an altitude of 1,800 ft. the lovely Todea superba made its first appearance, but this fern soon became the dominant plant, and we at length found ourselves in patches of it many acres in extent, looking very beautiful in its symmetrical fronds of vivid green. We reached the summit of Whariti (3,500ft.) in good time, and then stood on the dividing-line between the Provincial Districts of Wellington and Hawke's Bay. The sky being clear, we had a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding country, both east and west coasts being visible, and the cone of Mount Egmont in the far north, whilst a distant veil of cloud alone prevented our seeing Ruapehu and the burning mountain. We descended by the same route, crossing several densely wooded spurs, and arriving at the foot of the range before nightfall.
Although the season was favourable, and the weather perfect, there was an almost total absence of bird-life. During
the whole excursion we never saw or even heard the note of the Tui; we shot a Kaka, heard a Parrakeet, and saw a single Huia (a fine female bird), which, on our near approach, went bounding through the mountain vegetation with the swiftness of a greyhound. Formerly this was a favourite haunt of this elegant mountain starling, which could always be attracted by an imitation of its peculiar whistling cry; now it has all but vanished. Seeing that excellent insular preserves have been acquired by the Government, it seems to me a great pity that an effort is not made, before it is too late, to capture a few live Huias and turn them out on the Little Barrier, on Kapiti, and on Resolution Island. Unless this be done, the final extinction of this species can only be a matter of a few years. Its powers of flight are so limited—its progression being generally effected by a bounding movement through the branches—that, once safely introduced, there would be no danger of its quitting its island home for the mainland; and the difference of climate at the three points I have indicated, would give the experiment every chance of success. The cost would be very small, as this bird is easily snared; and, if the Government would not defray the trifling expenditure necessary, the task might be properly undertaken by our Acclima-tisation Society. From a zoological point of view, it is even of more importance to preserve the Huia for the student of the future than the little Stitch-bird, about which so much has of late been said and written. The Huia is more tamable than perhaps any other New Zealand bird, and will accept suitable food almost immediately after being caught; so there would be no practical difficulty in effecting its transportation to any part of the colony. It should be remembered, also, that this was part of the original scheme proposed by Lord Onslow, whose celebrated memorandum to his Ministers gave the first impulse to this island-conservation which has so taken hold of the popular fancy.
During a recent discussion in the House of Representatives as to the propriety of protecting the Woodhen in the South Island it was stated by a Minister of the Grown that he possessed authentic information that this bird was increasing on the Canterbury Plains, and might therefore be left to take care of itself. As to certain favourable localities, this statement is no doubt quite true; but to those who remember how abundant the Woodhen was on the plains in the early “sixties” it will seem now that the bird is practically a thing of the past. I recollect when travelling on horseback towards Waimate South in 1859, accompanied by a single Maori, we were overtaken by darkness, and had to camp in the open, using our saddles as pillows. It was a fine night, although somewhat dark, and my companion's little dog spent the
night in catching Woodhens. The ground was pretty thickly covered with stunted Coriaria, and the birds were, no doubt, feeding on the berries of that plant; at any rate, the dog had no difficulty in running them down. The speedy and very general destruction of the Woodhens on the Canterbury Plains was occasioned chiefly, I think, by the tussock-fires which about that period, and later on, were so universal for the purpose of improving the grazing capabilities of the newly occupied sheep-runs. That this bird will increase rapidly enough when under careful protection is beyond doubt. I remember seeing at Government House, in Wellington, about the year 1863, a cage of them which Sir George Grey had brought from the South Island, and was taking up to his island in the Hauraki Gulf. When, many years later, I visited the “great proconsul” at Kawau he told me that the Woodhens had so increased and multiplied that he was practically unable to keep any other ground-birds on the island. The Maori member, Mr. Parata, urged as a reason for preserving the Woodhen that the oil produced from its fat was useful medicinally. To the zoologist other more cogent reasons will suggest themselves. As every student knows, as a flightless bird it is one of the most interesting of our endemic forms; however, I will not enlarge upon that subject now. To show how completely the Woodhen has disappeared from some districts, I may mention that Mr. Morgan Carkeek, during several months' surveying last year in the mountainous district of Marlborough, met with only a single example. This, in a district where a few years ago it was extremely abundant, is very significant.
The same remarks apply, in a modified degree, to Ocydromus greyi in the North Island. In certain restricted localities it appears to be increasing. A few years ago it had quite disappeared from the Ohau district, and its pleasing cry—so like the plaintive call of the European Curlew—was a thing of the past. But during the last two seasons it has reappeared at Papaitonga, breeding in a wooded gully near the homestead, and on the approach of evening announcing its presence by its shrill cry. On any quiet evening now at the lake you may hear the Weka's cry, in which both sexes join, and mingling with it the call of the Pukeko in the sedges, the loud boom of the Bittern in the swamp below, and the pleasant chattering of numberless Wild-duck and Teal, of which there are sometimes five hundred or more on the bosom of the lake.*
[Footnote] * On this subject I have received the following very interesting letter from the Hon. L. Walker, M.L.O. (of “Four Peaks,” Geraldine): “I read with much pleasure the signed article contributed by you to the Press as to the disappearance of certain of the New Zealand birds. Among these you mention the Woodhen. All about my place I have a lot of scrub and (sub-alpine) bush, and the number of Woodheris that I used to have was something wonderful. I think it was somewhere about five years ago that they suddenly disappeared, and for three or four years their note was never heard in the evenings, nor at any other times. The bush was still there for them, for I never allow a stick to be cut out of it. However, last year I began occasionally, but rarely, to hear them tuning up in the evenings, and this year there are hundreds of them. But they seem to stick about the gardens and under the Lawsonias, cedars, &c., rather than go into the bush. This, I fancy, they do so as to be handy to the hens' nests, for my women say they take most of the eggs. I used to have thousands of Tuis, Bell-birds, and Pigeons: the last, of course, are clean gone. But I have still a good lot of the other two, although they come and go at different seasons. Just opposite my house I have got a lot of kowhai-trees, which in the beginning of October are a mass of yellow blossom. Then comes the holiday time for the Tuis, Bell-birds, and Kakas. They are there in hundreds; but most of them go away as soon as the blossom is over, which, as you know, is but a short time. However, there is never a sunshiny day in winter that I have not a few native birds singing in my garden.”
The only species of Woodhen that remains with us in undiminished numbers is Ocydromus earli, an inhabitant of the wooded country on the west coast of the South Island.
As I have remarked before, the advantage to our native birds of compulsory protection has been amply demonstrated by results. Take, for example, the Tui. In the early days of settlement this was the commonest of our birds, whilst certainly not the least interesting. But some twenty years ago it was becoming so scarce in all the settled districts that lovers of birds became alarmed, and in the end the strong arm of the law had to be invoked for its protection. As a consequence, this species is now as plentiful as ever; indeed, in some places, it is visibly increasing. It would, of course, be absurd to expect birds whose subsistence depends on bush products to survive in districts where there is a wholesale destruction of the forest. In the miserable little fringes of native bush that are allowed to remain in such districts the indigenous birds, as might have been expected, are silenced for ever, and, instead of the sweet notes of the Tui, one hears the twitter of the Sparrow or the call of the Californian Quail. But the case is wholly different where ample bush reserves have been made. I consider it one of the principal charms of my country home at Papaitonga that the Tui is most plentiful there, enjoying the freedom of its native woods unmolested, and nesting freely wherever the local conditions are favourable. To add to the inducements to stay, I have planted the edges of the native bush with Australian Acacia, Eucalyptus, and bottle-brush, the flowers of which trees are a “perpetual joy” to the Tui.
Those who have observed this bird at all closely will be aware that it is in the nesting season—from September to
December—that the Tui poses as a songster, and shows off to the greatest perfection. Whilst the hen-bird is sitting the male is accustomed to perch himself on the high limb of a tree not far distant from his mate, using this as a post of outlook; and then, throughout the whole day, he pours out his soul in song. Puffing out his body-feathers and gesticulating freely, so as to give greater emphasis to his song, he produces quite a medley of musical notes, interspersed at intervals with that peculiar cough, and a sound not unlike the breaking of a pane of glass, followed by a series of gentle sobs. Then, quick as thought, he dashes upwards and makes a wide circuit in the air, or silently dives into the bush to exchange courtesies with his mate, snaps at a fly on the way, and then returns to his post of observation and song. After sunset, and as the shadows of evening begin to darken the forest, he alters his song, and utters a succession of notes like the tolling of a distant bell. Many of the passages in the Tui's ordinary song are of surpassing sweetness, and so rapid is the change from one set of notes to another that one never tires of listening to the wild melody. Both sexes sing, but in the breeding season the female confines her efforts to a produced note like the low chirping of a turkey-hen. As already mentioned, the male has an evening song quite distinct from that of the bright morning. To many ears it has a resemblance to the tolling of a highly pitched silver bell, but to me it is more suggestive of the distant tapping on a metal anvil. Of course, these resemblances are merely fanciful, but the musical cadence of the note is exquisite, as all who are familiar with it will readily admit.*
In one of my former papers I referred to the beautiful collection of New Zealand rarities, as well as birds from all other parts of the world, brought together by the Rev. Canon Tristram, F.R.S., at Durham, and I expressed the hope that so valuable a collection might ultimately find a resting-place in some public museum. I am glad to say that this hope has been realised, and that it is now safely lodged in the Liverpool Museum, under the charge of Dr. H. O. Forbes, formerly Curator of the Canterbury Museum, who, at any rate, can fully estimate the value of New Zealand rarities. And I may here mention an interesting piece of information conveyed in Canon Tristram's last letter. He says, “I do not know if you have heard of the ‘find’ at Liverpool. Forbes came across two cases in some corner of the Museum. They had been received from the then Lord Derby, probably soon after 1845.
[Footnote] *On a quiet summer evening the Tui may sometimes be beard long after dusk. On the wooded shores of the Papaitonga Lake I have heard them tolling up to 9 o'clock at night, the notes having a very sweet effect on the water.
At any rate, they were a collection of New Zealand birds made about 1845 by a Captain Stanley, R.N. Though bedded in the dust of fifty years, neither damp nor moth had reached them, and they are all good sound skins in perfect order. There are some half-dozen Sceloglaux albifacies, plenty of Morepork, the three Falconidæ, no Nestor notabilis, no Quail, no Turnagra hectori, plenty of the other Turnagra, several Stitch-birds (male and female), both Miros, several Saddlebacks, but only one species of Glaucopis, Orthonyx albicilla, O. ochrocephala, Certhiparus, plenty of Wekas, Black Stilt, no Thinornis or Anarhynchus. He had evidently not visited the Chathams. But the collection shows how plentiful many of the perishing or perished species were fifty years ago. Did I tell you I saw living, in good health, in a conservatory in Norfolk, a specimen of Sceloglaux, brought Home by a son of Sir Thomas Fellows, at whose place I saw it?”
Glaucopis wilsoni, Bonap. (Blue-wattled Crow.)
A perfect albino of this species, obtained in the Wairarapa Valley, has the whole of the plumage pure white, with a tinge of cream-colour on the under-parts of the body; bill and feet horn-coloured; wattles flesh-colour.
Creadion carunculatus, Gmelin. (The Saddle-back.)
It is indeed singular how this species, so abundant in our woods thirty or forty years ago, has, without any apparent Cause, so completely disappeared from the North Island. It still exists, but in sadly diminished numbers, in the South Island; so also does Creadion cinereus. During two visits to the West Coast Sounds I was only able to obtain one specimen of each species. I sought in vain for skins at the various dealers' shops I visited. I believe the current price now is a guinea, and in a few years' time it will be impossible to obtain specimens at any price.
Speaking on the subject to old Ihaka, of Ngatiwehiwehi, he said, “Oh, yes; when I was a young man the woods about here [Manukau] were swarming with these birds; also with Kotihe, the Whiowhio, the Pitoitoi, and the Popokatea. Now they are all gone—as completely as the moa! Soon also will my race vanish from the land, and the white man, with his sheep and his cattle and his birds, will occupy the country!” This was Ihaka's simple way of formulating the doctrine of the survival of the fittest.
Myiomoira macrocephala, Gmelin. (South Island Tomtit.)
In a thick clump of Olearia rotundifolia, at Stewart Island, I saw a lovely albino of this species. I brought it down with a small charge of dust-shot, but unfortunately lost it in the
close vegetation, although I spent a considerable time hunting for it.
Sphenœacus punctatus, Quoy and Gaim. (Fern-bird.)
I have lately noticed, at Papaitonga, that this species has a habit of hopping over the ground to feed under the thick marsh vegetation. This may probably account for the usually abraded condition of the tail-feathers at the close of the season.
As mentioned on a previous occasion, I have received from Stewart Island two skins (male and female) that seem to represent a larger race—possibly a distinct species—but I am anxious to procure more specimens before forming any definite conclusion. This bird is darker than the common Fern-bird of the mainland, the whole of the foreneck and throat being thickly studded with black spots. These black markings become more conspicuous on the breast and sides, occupying the whole centre of the feather.
Sphenœacus rufescens, Buller. (Chatham Island Fern-bird.)
I have in my possession a partial albino of this now very rare species from the Chatham Islands.
Anthus novæ-zealandiæ, Gmelin. (New Zealand Pipit.)
Mr. Langley, of Foxton, has forwarded to me for examination the skin of a pure albino of this species, very skilfully prepared by himself. There is also another perfect albino in the Colonial Museum collection, obtained, I believe, in the Hawke's Bay District.
I notice that Captain Hutton, when exhibiting to the Philosophical Society of Canterbury an albino Skylark, referred to it as the first example of the kind obtained in New Zealand. This is not exactly the case, however, for in 1886 I received two specimens from Mr. W. W. Smith, of Ashburton. One of these I presented to the British Museum and the other to the Cambridge Zoological Museum. The fact is interesting in itself, as showing the strong tendency to albinism in this country even among introduced birds.
Rhipidura fuliginosa, Sparrm. (Black Fantail.)
At Half-moon Bay (Stewart Island) I saw a Black Fantail paired with a Pied Fantail, the former looking, as it moved about among the twigs on the roadside, half as large again as its mate. Rhipidura flabellifera is the common species on the island, there being only stray individuals of the black form.
Rhipidura flabellifera, Gmelin. (Pied Fantail.)
One has to speak of so many of our species as decreasing, or as having reached the border-land of extinction, that it is quite refreshing to be able to record that the Fantailed Flycatcher—that pretty little denizen of our woods—is perhaps more plentiful than ever; at any rate, it shows no sign of diminution. Mr. Robert Mair, writing to me from Whangarei on the 11th September, says, “I saw a pleasing sight a few weeks since. There are generally five or six Fantails flitting about our shrubbery in the evening, catching gnats in the air and diverting one by their fantastic aerial evolutions. But on this particular evening I counted no less than twenty-five of them at one time.”
I never see this little bird, or hear its “laugh,” without being reminded of the romantic Maori myth of Maui's disaster, which brought death into the world, when Hinenuitepo, awakened by the merriment of the Tiwaiwaka, closed her mouth and put an end to Maui's ambitious dream of conquering man's last enemy. The story has been well told By Sir George Grey in his “Polynesian Mythology.”
Graucalus melanops, Latham. (Australian Shrike.)
To the already recorded instances of the occurrence of this Australian species in New Zealand I have now to add another. Mr. William Townson writes to me that one of these birds was shot near Bradshaw's Creek, at Westport, some years ago, and came into Dr. Gaze's possession. Unfortunately, it was ultimately destroyed by moths.
Prosthemadera novæ-zealandiæ, Gmelin. (The Tui.)
A remarkable specimen which has come into my possession has the head, neck all round, the whole of the breast, and sides of the body umber-brown, the feathers of the breast having pale shafts; neck-frill very indistinct, being often reduced to mere shaft-lines of white; upper surface of body, wings, and tail creamy white, with a broad alar bar of pure white; thighs, abdomen, and upper and lower tail-cóverts pale yellowish-brown; quills and tail-feathers umber-brown on their inner webs; heck-bands pure white; bill and feet horn-coloured.
A nest of this species (now in the Otago Museum) was found by our party fixed in the branches of a makomako (Aristotelia racemosa), about 12 ft. from the ground, at the head of Milford Sound. It is of symmetrical shape, and firmly put together, the outworks consisting of twigs and soft tree-moss, then a layer of fern-hair, and inside of this a lining of white feathers. Curiously enough, these are sea-birds'
feathers, the builder of the nest having evidently repaired to the shores of the Sound to collect them.
Anthornis melanura, Sparrm. (The Bell-bird.)
Mr. Robert Mair, writing to me from Whangarei, under date the 11th September, says, “I was out last week in a 6-ton yacht hapuku-fishing at the Poor Knights [in the Hauraki Gulf]. On the largest of the Poor Knight Islands there are numbers of Korimako. It was delightful to see them flying from bush to bush overhead, and to hear them singing their sweet notes.”
From Mrs. Halcombe, a daughter of the celebrated ornithologist, the late William Swainson, F.R.S.,* I have received the following interesting note: “Bell-birds are very plentiful on the Island of Kapiti. I stayed there for nearly three weeks in 1894, and every morning, about 4 o'clock, I was charmed to hear a perfect concert from the Bell-bird. The house was quite close to a beautiful piece of bush, which was full of native birds, and, to judge from the noise they made, the Bell-birds must have been very numerous…. I have all the tastes of my dear father, but I have not had the chance to develope them. I cannot help loving all the beautiful world of nature, and I wish I had the time and opportunity to study all her wonderful secrets. The longest lifetime, it seems to me, is all too short for the full enjoyment of her treasures.”
Anthornis melanocephala, Gray. (The Chatham Island Bell-bird.)
I have been fortunate enough to receive lately two beautiful pairs of this species from the Chatham Islands; but, according to all accounts, the bird is very nearly extinct there.
Zosterops cœrulescens, Latham. (The Blight-bird.)
The history of the arrival from the South Island and subsequent stay of this little migrant is familiar to all who know anything of our local natural history. Its services to the agriculturist and to the gardener are also pretty generally recognised. But one is always glad to record fresh evidence in favour of any deserving bird—especially, too, when there is a widespread prejudice abroad against little birds in general,
[Footnote] * It was from Mr. Swainson that I received my earliest lessons in zoological drawing. He had long before published a beautiful series of “Zoological Illustrations” (1820–21). “All the figures were drawn by the author, who, as an ornithological artist, had no rival in his time. Every plate is not beyond criticism, but his worst drawings show more knowledge of bird-life than do the best of his English or French contemporaries.” (“Dictionary of Birds,” p. 28.)
and an organized crusade for their destruction. As an instance of this, I may refer to a newspaper paragraph to the effect that during a period of three months the Knapdale Road Board (Otago) purchased the large number of 56,612 birds'- eggs, for the purpose of destroying them. I am glad, therefore, to give the following from my excellent local correspondent, Mr. Robert Wilson: “The Blight-bird is undoubtedly on the increase in the Rangitikei district. They seem to have found a winter food in the introduced insects, and may now always be seen flying about the run in flocks. The food they are now chiefly subsisting on is a little caterpillar—a striped-green species, which does great harm to the crops in summer. These are now—September—to be found all over grass-lands—under logs, sticks, &c.—and the Blight-bird pursues them indefatigably. When I am working at a fence they will sometimes be within a couple of yards of me, searching every cranny for insects. They are particularly fond of diving out of sight into a common tussock (Carex), the plant which grows so freely on the hills, and they crawl about under any fallen scrub, looking for insects, and keeping up a pleasant cheeping all the time. I have sometimes seen them with a caterpillar nearly as big as themselves battering it against a wire on a fence till it was reduced enough to swallow. They must do immense service to farmers at this time of the year, as one caterpillar now means thousands in summer. As every one knows, it is very fond of the American blight, which is so destructive to the apple-trees. There is an orchard close to a patch of native bush on the farm, and the Blight-birds keep it entirely free from this pest. Though the blight sometimes, in hot weather, makes a start on the trees, in winter these birds always keep it under.”
At Fiji I saw small flocks exactly resembling our Blight-bird in their flight and habits, but on shooting one I found that it was quite a distinct species. It has a more conspicuous eye-ring, with a beautiful lemon-yellow throat, and only the slightest indication of brown on the sides of the body.
Clitonyx albicapilla, Lesson. (The White-head.)
I am glad to be able to announce the recent appearance of a pair of this now rare species in the bush on the northern shore of the Papaitonga Lake.*
[Footnote] *Professor Newton accepts my suggestion that the disappearance of the White-head and some other New Zealand perchers is, in a large measure, a displacement due to the introduction of exotic birds, which, being morphologically higher and constitutionally stronger, speedily establish themselves at the expense of the lower, weaker, and earlier forms. (“Dictionary of Birds,” p. 1037.)
Xenicus longipes, Gmelin. (Bush-Wren.)
At Milford Sound I met with Xenicus longipes—a single one, which I managed to secure with a charge of dust-shot. The bird has a rapid, furtive way of moving about, keeping, as a rule, near the ground, and hunting for its food among the mosses and fungi covering the roots of the trees. When I first saw it, and excited its attention by an imitation of its feeble cry, it hopped about on a branch quite close to me, and several times opened its mouth, after the manner of a young bird, but without making any sound. It was very active, not remaining for one moment in the same position. It soon became indifferent to my simulated call, retired to some distance, then descended to the ground and hopped about, apparently looking for food, and moving so swiftly that I found it very difficult to get a shot. The specimen proved to be a young bird, but it has exactly the same colours as the adult, although somewhat duller. In this respect it differs from the allied genus, Acanthidositta.
Mr. Brough, to whom I was indebted for some beautiful specimens of the Bush-wren some years ago, writes giving me an account of a subsequent visit to the locality whence he obtained these birds—the low woods under the Tasman Range. He says: “When I went back this year I pushed on to a spot a few miles further on than where I camped before. I am sorry to say that the Bush-wren and the Wood-robin had almost entirely disappeared. I am certain I did not see more than a dozen during the several months I was out. The heavy falls of show last winter may have been the means of killing off a number of these birds, or the wet summer may have induced them to migrate to some drier woods at a lower altitude; bat, whatever the cause may be, they are gone. Whilst I was there we had an immense and continuous fall of rain, and the bush was never dry. We had twenty-six wet days in January, and during the whole time of my stay it was mostly wet, with very little sunshine. The Wood-robin, which was formerly so plentiful there, has almost entirely gone. This is a great pity, because there is no bird more respected by the backwoodsman than this one. There is nothing else to relieve the monotony of these gloomy red-birch forests. Their raillery, if I may so term their string of noisy notes, brings the explorer suddenly up when he is rambling alone in these mountain solitudes, and produces a feeling of companionship. The absence of this sprightly bird was, I may say, the saddest feature of my four months in the wet and lifeless forest.”
Eudynamis taitensis, Sparrm. (Long-tailed Cuckoo.)
On the 8th June I received from Mr. H. H. Travers a note saying that he had just obtained from New Plymouth, in the
flesh, a Koheperoa in very fat condition. Very late in the season for such a bird! Mr. Travers suggests that some may remain with us all the year round. It may be so, but the occurrence is a very unusual one. It is clear, however, that there is no lack of winter food for this species. And if it is able to endure our seasonable cold, why should it have inherited its wonderful migratory instinct? This is one of the problems of natural history which will probably never find a solution. Why should the Godwit make its annual weary pilgrimage from New Zealand to Siberia, when, as we know, the few individuals that remain with us through the winter are always fat and in good condition?
Nestor meridionalis, Gmelin. (Var. Kakakura.)
A specimen in Mr. Whaley's collection obtained at Rotorua differs from all examples I have seen in having the hindneck greenish-orange with black centres to the feathers; the crown of the head, cheeks, and throat dusky-brown, the ear-coverts being dull orpiment-orange; breast dusky-brown, mixed with yellow; shoulders bright-scarlet, mixed with orpiment-orange, the centres of the feathers brown; croup and upper tail-coverts brilliant scarlet, with clouded markings of brown; abdomen, flanks, and under tail-coverts duller scarlet, largely mixed with brown; upper surface of wings beautifully varied, with olive-brown, scarlet, and orpiment-orange; lining of wings golden-yellow towards the bend, pale-scarlet below; quills golden-yellow and scarlet for half their extent, then dusky to the tips; tail-feathers pale-scarlet for two-thirds of their length, then dark-brown, with naked shaft-lines produced ½ in. beyond the webs.
On the table this evening there is another very similar specimen exhibited by Mr. Donne, who is making a collection of New Zealand rarities.
On the occasion of a visit to Stewart Island I obtained from a settler named Jensen a beautiful albino (or, rather, buff-grey) example of this species. On inquiring how he got it, he explained that, being out in the woods Kaka-shooting, he wounded a bird, and, without looking closely at it, he held it down with his foot as a decoy. Its screams attracted a flock of them, and, in quick succession, he shot fifteen. Then he took up his wounded bird and found that it was something out of the common. The specimen was successfully skinned by Marklund, and I rewarded Jensen liberally for saving it.
Stringops habroptilus, Gray. (The Kakapo.)
It is gratifying to learn that the Kakapo is still plentiful in the wooded country on the west coast of the South Island, in spite of the steady spread of stoats and ferrets; but in former times they were, of course, far more abundant.
Canon Stack, in his very interesting account of the original occupation of certain districts by the Ngaitahu, refers thus incidentally to the home of the Kakapo:* “These young chiefs (known as the Whanaunga-purahonui), having ascertained from persons familiar with the physical features of the country the names of the various localities, proceeded to divide the unallotted parts of the country amongst themselves; and their procedure on this occasion is of particular interest, as it serves to illustrate one method by which the Maoris acquired title to land. Kakapo-skins were at that time highly prized, and every one of the party was desirous to secure a parrot preserve to himself. As they approached the mountain known as Whata-arama they each claimed a peak of the range. ‘That is mine,’ cried Moki, ‘that my daughter Te Aotukia may possess a kilt of Kakapo-skins to make her fragrant and beautiful.’ ‘Mine,’ cried Tanetiki, ‘that the Kakapo-skins may form a kilt for my daughter Hinemihi.’ ‘Mine,’ cried Hikatutae, ‘that the Kakapo-skins may form a girdle for my daughtor Kaiata.’ Moki, one of the party, had his servant with him, who whispered in his ear, ‘Wait; do not claim anything yet’; and then the man climbed up into a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ said the rest of the party. ‘Only breaking off the dry branches to light our fire with.’ But he was in reality looking out for the mountain which Tura-kautahi had told his master was the place where the Kakapo were most abundant. Presently he espied the far-off peak. ‘My mountain, Kura-tawhiti!’ he cried. ‘Ours!’ said Moki. The claim was at once recognised by the other members of the exploring expedition, and Moki's descendants have ever since enjoyed the exclusive right to catch Kakapo on Kura-tawhiti.”
Professor Newton, in his “Dictionary of Birds,” writing of this species, corrects a current statement that in this form of Parrot the furcula has been “lost,” whilst the sternum lacks a keel, and he explains that whereas the clavicles, which in most birds unite to form the first-mentioned bone, are present, though they do not meet, on the other hand the keel on the sternum is undoubtedly present, and, though much reduced in size, is nearly as much developed as in the Dodo and the Weka. He adds (p. 474): “Yet, though much has been written about the Kakapo, there is no detailed description of its internal structure, a fact the more to be regretted since the bird is obviously doomed to early extinction, and the opportunity of solving several problems of interest, which a minute examination of its anatomy might afford, will be lost if the matter be not speedily taken in
[Footnote] * “South Island Maoris,” by Canon Stack.
hand. Few existing birds offer a better subject for a monographer, and it is to be hoped that, if perish the genus and species must, posterity will not have to lament the want of an exhaustive treatise on the many and wonderful characteristics of what Professor Fürbringer considers* to be one of the primitive forms of Psittaci.” I would venture to remark that the absence of so desirable a monograph can hardly be due to the want of material. Years ago I presented to the British Museum a perfect skeleton of the Kakapo, and another to the Cambridge University Museum. I also forwarded to London a specimen, in spirits, for the express purpose of having its anatomy investigated.
Spiloglaux novæ-zealandiæ, Gmelin. (The Morepork.)
I have recorded in my “Birds of New Zealand” a partial albino of this little Owl. An intelligent young half-caste informs me that he saw a snow-white one at the Bay of Islands. It was in the day-time, and he followed it a considerable distance through the woods, hoping to secure it, but without success.
Circus gouldi, Bonap. (Gould's Harrier.)
I have to record a beautiful albino of this species that was taken alive—shot in the wing—in the Canterbury District last summer. In this bird the entire plumage is snow-white, except that on the upper surface there are a few scattered brown feathers on the shoulders, two among the small coverts of the right wing, and one or two partially brown feathers among the scapulars; also, on the under-surface, one of the axillary plumes, one of the under-coverts of the left wing, and a single feather on the left thigh are brown, and there is a wash of fulvous on the abdomen. The tail, however, is of the normal colour, but one of the feathers is white on its inner vane. With these trifling exceptions, the entire plumage is snow-white, presenting a very striking appearance. On dissection it proved to be a female, and its golden irides showed that it was an adult bird.
It must have been such a bird as this which the old tohunga had in his mind when he narrated to Sir George Grey, “on the rocky edge of a hot springs shaded by pohutukawa-trees,” on the Island of Mokoia, the story of Hinemoa, the maiden of Rotorua:—
She rose up in the water
As beautiful as the wild white hawk,
And stepped on the edge of the bath
As graceful as the shy white crane.
[Footnote] * Journ. für Orn., 1889, pp. 239–241.
As I have remarked before, this species appears to be steadily increasing, notwithstanding the numbers that are annually, and, as I think, very unwisely, destroyed by sheep-farmers. One reason for this, no doubt, is that they are not preyed upon by the introduced pests. On the contrary, they do not hesitate to attack stoats and ferrets when they have the chance. Judge Gill told me of a combat which he witnessed between a Harrier and a stoat, in which the latter was eventually killed, although the Hawk found it too heavy to carry away with him.
In its progress towards maturity the Harrier passes through several phases of plumage, and is sometimes very beautifully marked. At Papaitonga I shot an adult male which was molesting my Teneriffe Quail. It was in excellent plumage, with a very distinct white frill on the lower part of the throat, and having the under-parts of the body tawny-white, stained with fulvous, and marked with broad longitudinal streaks of dark-brown, presenting the appearance of a buzzard on the under-surface; lining of the wings white, with narrow longitudinal streaks of brown; the axillary plumes pure white, with broad transverse bars of rich umber-brown; and the superior under wing-coverts crossed by numerous arrow-head patches of the same; the inner webs of the quills pale cream-colour; and the upper wing-coverts marked with a spot of rufous, more or less distinct, near the tip. Irides pale-yellow, and of sparkling brilliancy; legs rich lemon-yellow, brightest on the toes; claws black.
I have noticed that this species hovers and hunts in the rain, without any inconvenience, occasionally shaking its wet plumage.
Carpophaga novæ-zealandiæ, Gmelin. (New Zealand Pigeon.)
To the numerous varieties of this species already described I have now to add another, recently procured through Mr. Jacobs, of this city. General plumage delicate cream-colour; under-surface pure white, the line of demarcation on the breast being quite distinct; nape, shoulders, interscapulars, and small wing-coverts rich chocolate-brown, forming a very conspicuous mantle; bill and feet carmine.
A Maori at Otaki had a tame bird of this species in his possession for many months. It had the freedom of a large hut, where I saw it, and would perch on the hand or shoulder in the most confiding manner. In the end it was killed by one of those mongrel curs that infest every native village. I also had one confined in an aviary for some months, intending to forward it to the Zoological Society of London; but, unfortunately, some children, taking compassion on the bird's solitary
appearance, deliberately opened the door and turned it loose. This Pigeon had been brought in by a party of bush-fellers, who reported that it was stunned by becoming entangled in the branches of a falling tree. It seemed quite unhurt, and adapted itself readily to captivity, feeding freely on wheat, cooked potato, and almost anything offered to it. It consorted with a tame Silver-runt, confined with it. The latter laid two eggs, but they proved to be infertile.
The protection extended to this bird by the Legislature, in having every sixth year made a close season, is a great boon, and will save this fine Wood-pigeon from the extermination which lately threatened it. The fact of a species being very plentiful is no guarantee against its speedy extinction when once the tide of destruction has set in. Of this it would be easy to adduce numberless proofs from all parts of the world. But protection at the right moment may achieve a good deal in the way of arresting the evil. An intelligent old man of the Ngati-wehiwehi Tribe said to me in February, “The Pigeons are coming back to us. Soon they will be as plentiful as ever. [As we spoke five of them passed in sight, each winging its solitary flight.] Now they are good eating. In January they have the early miro. This lasts through February. Then they get very fat and sweet. In March the food is scarce. In April the second crop comes on, and then the birds get fat again.” Tamihana Whareakaka, who was present, chimed in, “Oh, yes; how fat the Pigeons were in the old days, when we used to go out and trap hundreds of them! Kakas, too, were plentiful. These are disappearing, because the introduced bees have taken possession of the hollow trees. That can't be helped,” added he; “but what is the use of the Government protecting the other birds and imposing fines and punishments if they allow all the woods to be destroyed, for how is the Pigeon to find subsistence when the berries are gone?” There is some philosophy in Tamihana's words, but I fear it is a poor argument against the requirements of advancing settlement. The only thing to be done is to insist on ample bush reserves being set apart.
Himantopus leucocephalus, Gould. (White-headed Stilt-plover.)
Mr. Robert A. Wilson, of Bull's, writes me, “Both the Pied Stilt and the Red-breasted Dottrel nest freely on the river-bank here [Rangitikei]. They build very low, and their nests are often, on that account, destroyed by floods. One pair of Stilts had their nest destroyed three times in succession in one year, but they formed a fourth, and reared a brood.”
Glareola grallaria, Temminck. (Australian Pratincole.)
Regarding the occurrence of this widely spread species, I have received the following particulars from Mr. William Townson, to whom the specimen belongs: “The bird was first seen by Mr. J. B. McKenzie, an agent for the National Mutual Life, and he came back from the beach for a gun, and on his return shot the bird and brought it to me. I remembered seeing either the bird or a plate of it, and on turning up the ‘Royal Natural History’ I found an illustration of it, and a pretty full description. The hind-toe, forked tail, and the black line bordering the buff-coloured throat are sufficiently distinctive, the only point omitted in the description being the scarlet margin to the gape. The bird was seen hawking after flies on the beach. It proved to be a male, and the stomach contained the remains of insects and beetles. It seemed quite at home with its surroundings, and I found it in perfect plumage, without any stains of travel or any marks of having been in confinement—so different from an Australian Curlew in my possession, which was shot on the same beach, and which was ragged and frayed out as though it had been beating up against head weather for a week. Two years ago I was at Mokihinui, and saw a couple of Australian Tree-swallows hunting flies about the head of an old rata in a bush-clearing. I watched them for some time, but did not manage to get a specimen.”
Writing of this species, in his “Birds of Australia,” Mr. Gould says it “possesses several remarkable specific distinctions, the great length of the tarsi and primaries, which, combined with the graceful contour of its body and the small size of its head, render it the most elegant species of the genus that has yet been discovered.”
Stercorarius crepidatus, Vieill. (Richardson's Skua.)
Mr. A. T. Pycroft sends me the following interesting note from the Bay of Islands: “Skua-gulls are sometimes seen here in the summer. Only a fortnight ago, when I was out fishing at the Rawhiti, I saw three of these birds. As a rule, I have found them following flocks of the Antarctic Tern, when the latter are fishing. The Skua singles out a Tern which has a fish, and frightens it so that the Tern cries out, and, as a rule, drops the fish; then the Skua, with great quickness, secures the prize before it reaches the water. While this is going on some of the other Terns fly round the assailant screeching, but they do not venture to attack it. Shortly after I came here, when pulling up the Waikare River, I saw a Tern trying to evade the attack of a larger bird of dark plumage; however, the poor Tern had no chance against its powerful enemy, who struck it, causing it to fall
into the water. I was surprised to see the assailant settle down in the water and lift up the Tern, flying off with it about 200 yards, when it was dropped. I pulled up, and on my approach the large bird flew away. The Tern was quite helpless when I picked it up, but came to later on; however, it died next morning. I think the bird that struck it was a Skua-gull, but of this I am not certain.” Probably the larger form, Stercorarius antarcticus.
I have recorded several instances of the occurrence of this species in Wellington Harbour. The last specimen that came under my notice (an adult bird) was taken on the Wairarapa Lake.
Sterna nereis, Gould. (Little White Tern.)
A pair of this somewhat rare species frequents the Papaitonga Lake, but only in rough weather. In January I saw a pair at the Wairoa Heads. They were fishing in roughish water, and very near the surface. This bird does not appear to be gregarious like the other members of the genus. I have never seen more than a pair together.
Notornis hochstetteri, Meyer. (The Moho, or Takahe.)
I have already dwelt upon the recent capture of Notornis as an event of exceptional interest. It is curious to find the following reference to its haunts in Canon Stack's history of the now extinct Ngatimamoe Tribe of Maoris: “A party [of Ngaitahu] had been sent from Pukekura to Rauone to collect fern-root. One of them, Tane-toro-tika, the son of Taoka and grandson of Manawa, a young chief of very high rank, was surprised and taken prisoner. On being carried to the presence of Te Maui, that chief, seeing him, said, ‘This comb-fastening is equal to that comb-fastening,’ meaning that the captive's rank corresponded to that of the chief whose remains had been desecrated, and thereupon killed him. Taikawa, a Ngaitahu warrior, immediately after the deed, came upon the band of Ngatimamoe, and asked them what had become of their prisoner. When told that they had killed him, he said, ‘You have done foolishly, for not a soul of you will now be spared. You will be banished to the haunts of the Moho (Notornis), and in the depths of the forest will be your only place of safety.’” Taikawa's words were prophetic, for, notwithstanding the persistent rumours of wild men in the woods of the West Coast, the capture of a Ngatimamoe would be a greater event even than the killing of a Notornis.
Rallus philippensis, Linn. (Banded Bail.)
During my last visit to Fiji, when out shooting on the Island of Wakaya, I heard the unmistakable note of this
species. I also received two skins from one of the other islands of the group. They differ from the typical form in the more spotted character of the wings and in the total absence of the chestnut-coloured pectoral band.
Ocydromus earli, Gray. (Brown Woodhen.)
Having sent Professor Newton a specimen of the Woodhen from the west coast of the south Island, which I had identified as the true Ocydromus earli,* he wrote me as follows: “I-have been much struck with the Weka, named on the ticket O. earli. Last summer I made a pretty elaborate examination of the fairly good series of specimens of the genus we have now here (thanks to yourself, Hector, and. Von Hügel), and I feel that we (or, at least, I) have not got to the bottom of the business yet, though I believe that what I have said in the ‘Dictionary of Birds’ (p. 1032) is pretty correct so far as it goes. I find it hard to bring myself to think that there were three distinct species in the South Island; but sooner or later this dark point will be made clear, and it would be well that it should be so. What a fine opportunity there is for some one to write a monograph of Rallidæ. In regard to Ocydromus only, my investigation last summer had produced on me the impression that I had been able to see daylight, but this last specimen of yours has almost shattered, that hope.”
Ocydromus greyi, Buller. (The North Island Woodhen.)
Mr. Robert A. Wilson, to whom I am indebted for some beautiful specimens of this bird, writes to me: “Unlike the stupid Stilt-plover, the Woodhen, which also lives in the bottoms of creeks, nearly always nests in a single raised flax-bush some distance above the flood-mark. When looking for eggs, if you walk along a creek and examine the bushes standing by themselves, higher than the rest, you will sometimes find nearly every suitable one occupied. On our run about one pair of Woodhens occupy about 300 to 400 yards of creek-bed, and you never find more than one pair in a section. Our creeks are all covered at the bottom with thick flax, and the Maoris have specially trained dogs to catch them in these localities. The man rides along the creek, while the dog trots along unconcernedly in the midst of the flax. When he arrives opposite a Woodhen's home he stops and dashes in, then he as suddenly rushes out and runs ahead of the Woodhen, which has, of course, started up the creek; then he turns and meets the bird, of which he makes a short business. A dog that did not understand his work would lose much time—first in searching
[Footnote] * “Birds of New Zealand,” 2nd ed., vol. ii., p. 115.
the ground, and then in chasing the bird along the creek-bottom, where it could travel faster than its pursuer.’
This note is interesting in itself, and, moreover, shows that this species is still plentiful, in the Rangitikei district at any rate. I have always known the male birds fight vigorously for their rights; but in Mr. Wilson's district they appear to have a recognised territorial partition. Birds that are developing so much intelligence surely deserve a better fate than to be collected by a naturalist or consigned to the Maori pot.
But the Woodhen fights on very unequal terms with its new enemies—stoats and weasels. That the introduced carnivora continue to do untold mischief is beyond question. In the New Zealand Herald I find the following paragraph oh this subject: “Scarcely a day passes but what we hear some news of the depredations by weasels in one part or other of the district. Several deaths among sheep have been reported in the Hautapu district lately, and on Thursday last Mr. Ward lost three fine ewes. The deaths in all eases were attributed to weasels.”*
[Footnote] *My own views as to the absolute wickedness of introducing these predatory animals into this fair land of ours are too well known to need repetition. But I should like to quote here what Professor Newton has to say on the subject: “In respect of extermination leading immediately to extinction, the present condition of the New Zealand fauna is one that must grieve to the utmost every ornithologist who cares for more than the stuffed skin of a bird on a shelf. In the fauna of that region the class Aves holds the highest rank, and, though its mightiest members had passed away before the settlement of white men, what was left of its avifauna had features of interest unsurpassed by any others. It was, indeed, long before these features were appreciated, and then by but few ornithologists, yet no sooner was their value recognised than it was found that nearly all of their possessors were rapidly expiring, and the destruction of the original avifauna of this important colony, so thriving and so intellectual, is being attended by circumstances of extraordinary atrocity…. Allowing for a considerable amount of exaggeration on the part of the sheep-owners, no one can doubt that the rabbit plague has inflicted a serious loss on the colony. Yet a remedy may be worse than a disease, and the so-called remedy applied in this case has been of a kind that every true naturalist knew to be most foolish—namely, the importation from England and elsewhere and liberation of divers carnivorous mammals—polecats or ferrets, stoats, and weasels. Two wrongs do not make a right, even at the Antipodes, and from the most authentic reports it seems, as any zoologist of common-sense would have expected, that the bloodthirsty beasts make no greater impression upon the stock of rabbits in New Zealand than they do in the Mother-country, while they find an easy prey in the heedless and harmless members of the aboriginal fauna, many of whom are incapable of flight, so that their days are assuredly numbered. Were these indigenous forms of an ordinary kind their extirpation might be regarded with some degree of indifference; but, unfortunately, many of them are extraordinary forms—the relics of perhaps the oldest fauna now living. Opportunities for learning the lesson they teach have been but scant, and they are vanishing before our eyes ere that lesson can be learnt. Assuredly the scientific naturalist of another generation, especially if he be of New Zealand birth, will brand with infamy the short-sighted folly, begotten of greed, which will have deprived him of interpreting some of the great secrets of nature, while utterly failing to put an end to the nuisance—admittedly a great one. The provoking part of the thing is that, as shown by Mr. Sclater (“Nature,” xxxix., p. 493), there exists a way, the discovery of Mr. Rodier, at once simple, natural, and efficacious, of reducing the rabbit-pest.” (“Dictionary of Birds,” pp. 224–225.)
Ardea egretta. (White Heron.)
On my visit to Paterson's Inlet (Stewart Island) I saw a beautiful White Crane, which, it was said, had been frequenting that locality for ten or twelve years. We found him perched among, or very near to, a colony of Pied Shags, which were nesting in a tree “rookery,” but the vigilant bird took alarm and sailed away long before our boat had reached the spot, or the Shags, ever on the alert, had shown any sign of uneasiness. We saw him later on in the day, on the other side of the cove, perched high up on a rimu-tree, and looking very conspicuous among the surrounding vegetation; but, although it was fully a quarter of a mile off that our boat landed, the bird took alarm and was off again. I was amused and pleased at the objection of the lad who rowed me to any attempt being made to shoot the Crane, because, as he put it, “We've seen him here ever so long.”
About six months later an ardent collector, after much careful stalking, shot this beautiful Crane, and sent me the skin. I purchased the specimen, but wrote to my correspondent expressing my regret that he had interfered with this particular bird. In his reply he said, “If I had known so much of the history of this Crane as I know now I never would have shot it.” It proved to be a female, and at the time it was killed—the month of August—it had no dorsal plumes.
It is an interesting sight to watch this stately bird fishing. It wades into shallow water, as far as its long legs will enable it, and then it remains perfectly motionless till its prey comes within reach, when it will strike forward with the rapidity of an arrow, seize it with its powerful yellow mandibles, and instantly swallow it. It is quite possible, as suggested by the Duke of Argyll in the case of an allied European species, that the small fish are attracted by the gleaming reflection in the water of the bird's snowy plumage.
The mention of this solitary Kotuku in Stewart Island reminds one of a passage in Canon Stack's interesting brochure, already referred to: “In his island home at Rakiura (Stewart Island) Kana te Pu dreamt that he caught a White Crane, which kicked him in the chest while vainly struggling to get free. Interpreting this dream to mean that he was
destined to overcome some famous Ngaitahu warrior, he went to a neighbouring stream to bind the omen, and then, eager to distinguish himself, summoned, his followers, and took his departure for the seat of war. In the crisis of the battle, when Rakautauwheke was slaying those to the right and left of him with his taiaha, Kana te Pu, watching his opportunity, sprang upon his shoulders, and held him so firmly that he could not draw his arms back again. He tried in vain to shake him off, but by a sudden movement of his hands he jerked the point of his weapon against the head of his opponent, and then, by a violent contortion of the body, succeeded in inflicting a mortal wound, and the ‘White Crane’ fell dead at his feet.”
Ardea cinerea, Linn. (The Common Heron.)
This cosmopolitan species has been met with in all suitable localities throughout the whole of Europe, Africa, and Asia, reaching Japan, many of the islands of the Indian Archipelago, and even Australia. In the latter country it is evidently very rare, for Mr. Gould only saw it once in the course of his explorations. He says, “During my journey into the interior of South Australia, in 1839, I saw a fine example of this bird, but, although I resorted to every possible stratagem in my power to get within shot of it, I regret to say I was unsuccessful. I have since, however, received a skin direct from New South Wales. Mr. Blyth considers that this Heron is not specifically distinct from the Ardea cinerea of India and Europe; and, if this be really the case, the species enjoys a very extensive range over the whole world.”
We have now to include New Zealand in the range of this noble bird, Mr. A. Waley having obtained in Auckland the skin of one which was caught on board a schooner off the east coast, about the authenticity of which there can be no doubt.
Phalacrocorax onslowi, Forbes. (Chatham Island Shag.)
I have now before me two specimens of the Chatham Island Shag, which Dr. Forbes distinguished from P. imperialis under the above name. I find that, although the plumage is similar to that of the Stewart Island bird, it differs in having a cushion (if I may so term it) of red caruncles on each side of the forehead. In P. carunculatus, from Queen Charlotte Sound, these caruncles are orange-coloured. The male bird has a much broader and more conspicuous white alar bar than the female, and it exhibits a broad white dorsal spot, which is entirely absent in the other specimen. I may add that the latter has some beautiful white filaments at the back of each eye.
Phalacrocorax punctatus, Sparrm. (Spotted Shag.)
Mr. H. H. Travers states, in one of his published notes, that the female of Phalacrocorax punctatus is never crested; but this is a mistake. Both sexes are crested during the breeding season, although I think it is probable that the female does not assume the crest till the second year. Mr. W. Smyth has several female birds in full crest, and he assures me that he “sexed” them very carefully. In the female the colours are duller than in the male, the crests appear to be smaller, and the white-necked stripes are not so broad or conspicuous as in the male; otherwise the sexes are alike.
Phalacrocorax melanoleucus, Vieill. (The Frilled Shag.)
In October last I received from my son—who had shot it in the Papaitonga Lake—a small Shag which is undoubtedly referable to the above species. It possesses a conspicuous frontal crest, composed of very narrow feathers of a maximum length of 1 in. There is also an elongation of the feathers of the occiput, standing erect like a short mane, and the white feathers of the face and throat are produced so as to forma sort of irregular frill. The whole of the under-parts with the exception of the under tail-coverts, which, like the upper surface, are black, are of the purest white with a glossy surface; but on one side of the body there is an indistinct patch of black, showing that this was the earlier plumage. The bill is brownish-black on the ridge, the cutting-edges of both mandibles and the unguis being bright-yellow; sides of lower mandible and angles of the mouth yellowish-green, changing to dull-yellow on the eyelids; palate and throat pale bluish-green; inside of both mandibles bright-yellow. The feet have a rough surface, having the appearance of dull-black velvet. It proved on dissection to be a female, and it gave the following measurements: Approximate length, 24in.; wing from flexure, 9.25in.; tail, 6.5in.; bill, along the ridge, 2in., along the edge of lower mandible, 2.5in.; tarsus, 1.5in.; longest toe and claw, 2.5 in. The bird had been frequenting the lake for two or three years, disappearing at intervals, but it was so extremely shy that it was almost impossible to get a shot at it, except by stratagem.
This form is extremely rare in the North Island. I remember, when crossing the Otaki River on horseback, some thirty years ago, seeing one perched on a rock in the shallow water. At a distance of some 40 yards I could plainly distinguish the frontal crest, which the bird erected the moment it became alarmed by my presence.
Phalacrocorax novæ-hollandiæ, Stephens. (Sea-shag.)
When I was at Papaitonga last Christmas the mill-hands were felling some lofty rimu-trees on the northern side of the lake—15 or 20 chains from, the water—on which the Sea-shags have for many years past had their “rookery.” I regretted very much to see these trees come down, but they were beyond my boundary, and I could not interfere. The young birds had not yet quitted their nests, although they were well advanced—covered with thick black down, and with quills and tail-feathers several inches long.
Phalaerocorax varius, Gmelin. (Pied Shag.)
On my last visit to the Bay of Islands—in. September—-I was struck with the scantiness of bird-life. Here and there a solitary Sea-gull was to be seen floating on the surface of the water, and as we steamed up to Russell in the tender we saw a few Pied Shags: that was all. Of the latter there was a young one near the landing-wharf which continued to fish within a few yards of the boat during the whole of our visit, lasting a couple of hours. Timing it with a stop-watch, I found that each dive occupied, as a rule, thirty seconds.
Dysporus serrator, Gray. (Gannet.)
Captain Waller, of the “Anglian,” tells me that in muggy weather he always finds the Gannet on the wing an infallible sign that he is nearing the Three Kings. On one occasion, however, he saw three of them when upwards of two hundred miles from land, and the occurrence was so unusual that he made an entry of it in his log.
Tachypetes minor, Gmelin. (Small Frigate-bird.)
Among the collection of New Zealand birds in the Colonial Museum is a locally mounted specimen of this bird, but I have been unable to ascertain its history. The only other New-Zealand-killed one, so far as we know, is in the Nelson Museum, where it has been for nearly forty years.
Tachypetes aquila, Linn. (Great Frigate-bird.)
Of this closely allied species the Colonial Museum contains the specimen captured at Castle Point and mentioned in my “Birds of New Zealand” (vol. ii., p. 185). I have recorded another which killed itself against one of the southern lighthouses, and was brought to me by Captain Fairchild.
This “vulture of the sea” has a tropical range, and is comparatively abundant in the Fiji Islands. Whilst staying with my friend Captain Langdale, at Wakaya, I had frequent opportunities of observing it soaring overhead, singly or in pairs, its beautiful white throat gleaming in the sunlight, and
its long forked tail being alternately opened and closed like a pair of shears. It has marvellous powers of flight, and when soaring there is scarcely any visible movement of the wings, but there is a rapid movement of the head, first to one side, then to the other. When in pursuit of its victims, to compel them to disgorge, the whole character of the bird is changed; but I had no opportunity of witnessing this, the sea being too calm for fishing. Captain Langdale informed me that a few days before my visit he shot one with his rifle at a considerable altitude, and it came down with a crash on the roof of his house.
Diomedea regia, Buller. (The Royal Albatros.)
As we left the New Zealand coast (on the 11th September) for Fiji several birds followed our steamer all day, although it was perfectly calm. One fine Diomedea regia—readily distinguishable on the wing from Diomedea exulans by the splash of white on the humeral flexure—several of the latter, and also of Diomedea melanophrys, were in our wake till nightfall. There were two or three of the Giant Petrel and a few Cape Pigeons. It was a. pleasant diversion to watch their aerial movements from the deck of the steamer, and it seemed to me that Diomedea melanophrys was decidedly the smartest and handsomest of the whole group, its movements on the wing being peculiarly light and graceful. On the following morning, with a gentle trade-wind blowing, a single Albatros appeared for a short time, and another swept over our stern at noon, and then winged its way off into the watery expanse. And we had not another glimpse of bird-life till we approached the coral reefs of Fiji. Of course, this in no way surprised us, because it is notorious that as we approach the tropics seabirds disappear. Captain Beaumont (of the s.s. “Flora”) tells me that in winter he has sometimes carried the Albatros with him as far as the Tonga reefs, but never in the summer months.
Prion turtur, Kuhl. (The Dove Petrel.)
Mr. Lyall writes me from Stephens Island: “The Dove Petrels are here in thousands; the ground is covered with them as thick as they can find sitting-room. They begin to assemble as soon as darkness sets in, and the noise they make is something astonishing.”
Œstrelata axillaries, Salvin.
A specimen of this rare Petrel, hitherto recorded only as from the Chatham Islands, was picked up, not long since, on the Wairarapa Plains, where also stray individuals of Prion turtur are often found, driven inland by stress of weather.
The plumage of this Petrel is so singularly like that of Prion that we may, I think, regard it as a case of mimicry for protective purposes. The two genera are perfectly distinct, but, as we get better acquainted with the species, we shall probably find that this Petrel hunts with the communities of Prion that are so common in our seas. What protection is gained in the struggle for existence by this curious resemblance of plumage can only be a matter of speculation till we know more about the habits and general economy of these birds.
Ossifraga gigantean, Gmelin. (Giant Petrel.)
Mr. Napier Bell, the well-known Civil Engineer, in a letter from Perth, Western Australia, says: “Two islands here are the home of the Giant Petrel. This bird is as large as a Goose, and of a dark slate-colour. I saw one which flew on board one of the dredges at Fremantle and dropped into the hopper, which is a great compartment where the dredge deposits its dredging; but, as this dredge is worked by suction from pipes laid to the shore, the hopper is unused, and full of water. The bird has lived there quite contentedly for a month, and refuses to leave the hopper. It is fed every day, swims about in the water, and roosts in the iron girders.”
Puffinus tenuirostris, Temm. (Bonaparte's Shearwater.)
Mr. David Lyall, writing from Stephens Island, in September, says: “There is one Petrel here that I cannot find anything about in your ‘Manual.’ It is not so large as the Mutton-bird, and lays a pure-white egg, of the size of a common fowl's. The colour of the bird is dark-black, and white on the under-side. It has a call almost the same as that of the Laughing Jackass, of Australia. I will send you a pair of them.” He kindly did so, and it proved to be the above species.
Puffinus griseus, Gmelin. (Sombre Shearwater.)
The late Dr. Shortland, nearly fifty years ago, published a graphic account of the “mutton-birding” operations of the Maoris in the South Island. These operations have been continued annually ever since, and it is a perfect marvel that the species continues to exist, in undiminished numbers, notwithstanding this wholesale slaughter. The last information I have on the subject is contained in the following newspaper paragraph: “The Western Star reports the arrival of a craft from the mutton-bird islands with the Riverton and Colac Bay contingent, which comprised seventeen families, numbering fifty individuals. The natives report that the birds were exceedingly numerous this season, and in splendid condition.
The catch of each individual, young and old, may be taken at the fair average of fifteen hundred birds, or a total of seventy-five thousand for the whole of the families. The average price is about 3d. a bird, so that the season's operations, when the birds are all sold, represents a total of £937 10s. Two Riverton girls are said to have made a record catch, taking four thousand two hundred birds between them.”
Anas superciliosa, Gmelin. (Grey Duck.)
Mr. William Marriner informs me that on the Wairoa River, at the commencement of the shooting season, the Grey Duck is very fat and of excellent flavour, from feeding on the spawn of eels—tiny little crawling things that infest the mud-banks of the river in countless millions. On opening the birds at this season he has found their crops distended with this food alone, and there is every evidence that it is very nutritious.
The Grey Duck commences breeding on the Papaitonga Lake about the end of September, and the breeding season lasts till after Christmas. My son believes that this species brings out two broods in the season: he counted one clutch on the lake of eleven young ones.
Anas chlorotis, Gray. (Brown Duck.)
On the occasion of a recent visit to the Manawatu Gorge, I saw, in broad sunshine, a pair of these Ducks disporting themselves in a cool pool overhung with tree-ferns and other vegetation. But as a rule they remain in retirement during the day and come out at dusk: A Rangitikei correspondent informs me that this Teal has almost disappeared from that district. He adds, “As soon as they come out from their haunts, under the raupo in the swamps, they get shot. They are too simple for the changed times, and are fast succumbing to the inevitable.” The last pair I obtained were shot by my son at Ohau. These were forwarded in spirits to Professor Newton, and enabled him to make an interesting discovery as to the affinities of this form with Nesonetta aucklandica, an account of which has already been communicated to the Society.
Casarca variegata, Gmelin. (The Paradise Duck.)
Professor MacGillivray said that Casarca may be termed with equal propriety a Duck or a Goose, and he demonstrated this by the anatomy of the bird. I may mention another point of similarity: the male of the above species hisses, when provoked, after the manner of the domestic gander.
Mr. Morgan Carkeek, who sent me some fine young Paradise Ducks from the Marlborough District in January,
states that, in his opinion, this species breeds twice in the year. He found it quite numerous in the mountain streams or river-beds, and met with many broods of young ones. He counted generally seven or eight, and on one occasion thirteen, in a clutch.
Formerly, however, it was far more abundant. Mr. McDonald, of Blenheim, informs me that in the old days he has known as many as five thousand taken in a single season. The numbers have been greatly diminished of late years by the laying of poisoned wheat for wild rabbits.
Rhynchaspis variegata, Gould. (Spoonbill Duck.)
A pair of these beautifully marked Ducks have nested for three successive seasons in the sedge near my boat-house on the Papaitonga Lake. This year the brood came out in the last week of November.
Podiceps rufipectus, Gray. (New Zealand Dabchick.)
This is one of the most interesting birds on the Papaitonga Lake, where it is extremely plentiful, as the result of close protection. A pair brought out their brood of five about the 15th December. It was very pretty to observe one of the old birds swimming over the smooth water followed by her little crowd of young ones, and then detaching herself for a time to gambol with her mate, and to skim the surface of the water, apparently in the height of playful enjoyment.
This bird is called “Taihoropi” by the Ngapuhi Tribe, “Weweia” by the Rotorua natives, and “Taratitomoho” in the Waikato.
Eudyptes chrysolophus, Brandt. (The Royal Penguin.)
I have lately had an opportunity of examining four curious specimens of this bird from the Macquarie Islands. Three of them are partial albinoes. No. 1 has the entire surface of the flippers and the whole of the body below their insertion white, tinged with cream-colour on the upper parts. There is no distinct line of demarcation against the dark plumage above the wings, but each feather has a brown centre, and this increases in extent till the darker plumage is reached; above the tail there are also a few touches of brown; and the tail-feathers, which are white, have brown margins; rest of the plumage normal, the golden-yellow on the forehead being extensive and very vivid. Nos. 2 and 3 have less white on the upper surface, the plumage of the back being pale yellowish-brown. The fourth specimen has a strong tendency towards melanism. On the right-hand side of the body there are large irregular patches of slaty-black feathers covering
about one-third of its extent. There is also a cloudy patch on the throat.
In two other examples submitted to me there are scattered feathers of the same colour on the under-surface of the body.
Apteryx mantelli, Bartlett. (The North Island Kiwi.)
I find in my diary a note which is worth recording, as showing the wonderful vitality of this species. I purchased a half-grown Kiwi, in vigorous health, which I decided to kill as a specimen. I adopted the usual means—compression of the breast-bone against the back. The Kiwi fought hard for life, but at length succumbed, and I laid it in a specimen-box, limp and lifeless, being to all appearance absolutely dead. In the evening I went to fetch my bird, intending to skin it, when, to my surprise, I found it alive and active, showing no sign of the tragic experience of the morning. I had not the heart to repeat the experiment, so I had a comfortable cage made for it, kept it for a month to accustom it to confinement, and then shipped it to England as a present to the Zoological Society, rewarding in this manner its heroic struggle for existence.
Apteryx occidentalis, Rothschild. (The West Coast Kiwi.)
I lately had an opportunity of examining some good examples of this species procured by an English tourist from a bird-dealer at Nelson. I remarked that the bill is very similar to that of Apteryx oweni, although the plumage, as already recorded, bears a general resemblance to that of Apteryx haasti, but is paler. Legs dark-coloured, in which respect it agrees with the latter; claws horn-coloured.
Apteryx haasti, Potts. (The Great Spotted Kiwi.)
I had six live specimens of Apteryx haasti in my possession for some time, and was much impressed with their gentle character as compared with Apteryx mantelli and Apteryx lawryi. Whilst they were in my enclosure—a period of a month or more—they never, so far as I am aware, uttered a single cry, in which respect they differed entirely from the other noisy species. They were very tame from the first, allowing themselves to be handled without much resistance. They had been caught in the wooded country near the Buller River, and were put straight away on meat-food in lieu of earthworms. Three of them pined away and died, having wasted to mere skeletons, being unable apparently to adapt themselves to the new and artificial conditions of life. The other three took readily to their new diet—raw minced beef and ox-heart—and became at the end of the month quite fat and heavy. I then shipped them to a friend in London, who received them in excellent health and condition.
Apteryx lawryi, Rothschild. (The Stewart Island Kiwi.)
Of this fine species the Colonial Museum contains a skeleton, but as yet no skin. I fortunately possess several, skins, which were collected for me by a resident on Stewart Island prior to the issue of the Order in Council protecting, this bird. Several skins and skeletons have been forwarded to Europe, but, so far as I am aware, no living example. Knowing that the Zoological Society of London was most anxious to procure this species, I instructed my agent to bring a pair in alive, which he succeeded in doing. The Kiwi having in the meantime become a “protected bird,” I applied to the Government for the necessary permission under the Act, explaining at the same time that I had procured the birds at my own expense as a gift to a society of high scientific status, and one which has always been ready to do anything in its power to benefit New Zealand. I assumed, as a matter of course, that a permit would be granted; but, to my surprise and regret, our present Minister of Education considered it his duty to refuse my request, and I accordingly ordered the birds to be turned loose again. The inconsistency of the matter is that a brisk trade is going on in these birds under the very nose of the authorities—live ones from Nelson having lately been hawked about in Wellington—without any attempt to stop it.
My Stewart Island collector, Mr. O. Marklund, who is a very observant man, sends me the following notes: “At the end of July I came down from the hills; and on this trip I found that the Kiwis were moving down to the lower country—probably for nesting purposes. I should also mention—although it may be already known to you—that I have determined which of the cries are used by either sex. After some practice with a leaf of wild flax held in a certain position between my two thumbs I can fairly well imitate their cry. I have discovered that the best time for these birds is a moonlight night, with the sky somewhat overcast. If it is too light the birds will not leave the scrub. They also object to rainy weather. Though apparently insensible to pain when attacked by a dog, they are naturally very timid. If the moon is bright their own shadow will sometimes cause them uneasiness; indeed, I have seen one make a kick at its own shadow on the ground, accompanied by that peculiar hissing sound they make when confined in a pen. I have noticed also that a smaller bird will always run as hard as his legs will carry him at the least show of anger from a larger and stronger one. By imitating their cry—the deep rasping one being: the more successful—I have always had the clear shrill one in response. If in the close neighbourhood, I would then send
the dog in, and it would always turn out to be a male. The male is generally ready to answer, especially if it does not happen to know where its mate is, but the female is more independent, and often takes no notice whatever of the call. With this bird the ordinary relationship between the sexes appears to be reversed; for instance, it is the female that undertakes the defence of the house and home, for the male gives in after a very slight struggle; but the male is the faster runner of the two. After the young is big enough to follow its parents the male (not the female) seems to take special charge of it. The male has a high shrill cry; the female utters a low hoarse note—between a cry and a hiss. In one case I heard the male uttering the cackling noise—like a hen with chicks—but that may be common to both sexes. Although a nocturnal bird, its sight is weak even at night, for I have seen them’ running against objects that could easily be avoided; but their hearing and sense of smell are very acute. By going against the wind I have got to within 10 ft. of them and seen them feeding. They do not confine themselves to worms, but will also take any kind of vegetable matter available—for example, the young shoots of a very common alpine orchid. I have found three different kinds of seed and a small white berry (of which I have not yet seen the plant) in the stomachs of those I have opened. Enclosed you will find some of the seeds on which the Kiwis subsist. I do not understand how they can find any nourishment without cracking the seeds, but the fact remains that they do, for I have found these seeds in the stomachs of several that I have opened. The grass producing this seed grows in great abundance up to a level of 2,000 ft. above the sea.” The seeds sent are those of Gahnia procera; they are red-coloured, and of the size of small wheat.*
Apteryx oweni, Gould. (The Grey Kiwi.)
The cry of this species is very much weaker than that of Apteryx lawryi, described above. As with that species, however, the sexes cry together—the cry of the male resembling the shrill cry of the Woodhen, although not so loud, and that of the female being a husky screech.
[Footnote] * Since the above was written I have received another egg of this species from Stewart Island. It is of large size, measuring 5.25in. in length by 3.2in. in breadth. It is of a regular ovoido-elliptical shape, and the shell is of a clear greenish-white. It is similar to those described by me on a former occasion, and is readily distinguishable from the egg of Apteryx mantelli.