Art. XLIII.—The Disappearance of the New Zealand Birds.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 11th May, 1907.]
The birds of our islands, largely through the efforts of Sir Walter Buller, Captain Hutton, Mr. Potts, and Mr. Colenso, are well known to the scientific world as interesting, if not in many ways unique; but, owing to change in environment, alterations in food-supply, disturbance of the balance of nature by ridiculous importations of birds and animals, our beautiful feathered friends are fast going to the wall; and it is to review the position fairly and squarely that I am here to-night.
It is not my intention to speak here of our sea-birds. The advance of civilisation, the spread of cultivation, the increase of population, does not touch them; their destruction by millions on the outlying islands, cruel and wasteful as it may be, hardly affects them at all. Their migratory habits, their extremely prolific powers, their almost inaccessible nesting-places, seem to protect them, and there is little fear of their disappearance.
My purpose is to show what has become, and what is becoming, of our perching-birds, our climbers, our waders, our rails, our fresh-water swimmers.
Now, with regard to the scarcity of our birds at the present day, we must remember that, although where we are the birds are undoubtedly scarce, there are millions of acres of virgin bush where still our birds exist in great numbers. It is now hardly possible for us city men to make original observations on the birds. We must therefore avail ourselves of information at second-hand, endeavouring to find out what is correct and reliable. Such careful observers as Dr. Cockayne, Mr. Elsdon Best, Mr. W. W. Smith, and Mr. Guthrie Smith, have given me much assistance, and I have had the advantage, through the courtesy of the Government Biologist, Mr. Kirk, of examining all the circulars from the Department of Agriculture on the subject of our feathered immigrants and their effect on the native birds. I have also been fortunate in obtaining from Mr. J. Drummond, F.L.S., copies of his Bulletin, which have been most valuable. To all of these gentlemen my thanks are due, and are hereby gratefully rendered. Dr. Cockayne says that, generally speaking, “all the country along the railway-lines (the west coast of the South Island excepted) is quite denuded of forest, except small patches here and there. Proceeding from the north coast of the North Island to the latitude of Auckland is still much forest, the greater part partly cut out, but still fairly dense, while along the flanks of the higher mountains and near Hokianga Estuary, and both north and south, and Whangape is virgin kauri forest. Along the shores of the northern Wairoa and its affluents is much whitepine forest. Forest extends from the Little Barrier Island, by way of the Big Barrier, to the Thames mountains, and thence to Rotorua, almost meeting the great forest which covers with a dense mantle the whole East Cape region, and follows the main chain of the North Island to Cook Strait; though, so far as the Tararua and Ruahine Mountains are concerned, the forest is only to be found now upon their flanks. North of Lake Taupo is a fine forest, and this extends in a more or less broken manner westwards, where to the west of the volcanic plateau comes the great Waimarino Forest. North and east Taranaki and Egmont is still forest-clad, and so is much of northern Wellington along the head-waters of the Rangitikei, &c. As for the South Island, the western spurs of the dividing-range and the coastal plain, where such exists, is virtually primeval forest. Patches of forest occur on the mountains of north-east Nelson; and there are patches here and there still in the Marlborough Sounds, as well as more extensive areas in D'Urville
Island. The eastern Southern Alps contain many smaller and larger forest areas, the Seaward Kaikouras are bush-clad, and the coast ranges to the south have usually the gullies full of forest. Then comes the great break of the treeless Canterbury Plains, the upper river-valleys, and eastern and central Otago. Finally, southern Otago still contains some large forest areas, as, e.g., west and south of Catlin's and the Longwood Forest. Stewart Island is all forest, and perhaps one-fifth of Chatham Island, while most of the lower country of the Auckland Islands is forest-covered.”
Our birds of prey, consisting of three hawks and two owls, are now rarely seen. The sparrow-hawk, relentlessly gunned: the bush hawk, deprived of much of his shelter, his main birdfood (quails) gone; lizards all but absent through cultivation, ploughing, and draining; ground-larks well out in the open fields, where he dare not follow—a price upon his head; in all directions, save in the densest West Coast bush or hidden mountain-bound swamps, he is not; he is reported at Brightwater, near Nelson, Hororata, Ihuraua, and Little Barrier.
The harrier, a leisurely, wary bird, still hangs on, though slowly and surely he is going. He can be occasionally seen on the Taieri, and he is reported as increasing at Temuka, Ashburton, Waihemo, Waitaki, Waverley, Rongomai, and the Bay of Islands; he is extinct at Tauranga and other places; but he is mentioned from many localities as just holding his own.
The owl, timid at all times, practically blind in the daytime, is turned out of its forest haunts by the onward march of sawmills—the hollow tree brought down or fired; his flight, heavy and noiseless, is not quick enough to save him from the worrying sparrow and blackbird; at all times stupid in the daylight, he is driven back to the depths of the West Coast. His sometime rocky homes are trodden round and destroyed by sheep and cattle, and his animal food is getting less and less as agriculture advances. He is shot on sight by every gun-bearing fool, and the New Zealand morepork's cry will soon be heard no more. His principal food, the native rat, is removed, ousted by the introduced, more wary, rodent from Europe; everything is gone; nothing remains but oblivion. Moreporks and owls are reported as “existing” to-day at Brightwater; as “present” at Mataura, North Wairoa, Rodney County, Omata, Ngatimaru, Ormond, Paradise, Patutahi, and Manganui; as “not decreasing” at Pohonui, Raglan, and Ramarama; as “disappearing” from Waimea, Rongomai, Waverley (Patea), Hokianga, Waiheke Island, Wangaehu, and Helensville. Owls are mentioned at Waikaka, Wainuiomata, Temuka Road, Ihuraua, Kaukapakapa, near Dunedin, and Wyndham.
Of our perching-birds, none was better known to our early settlers than the kingfisher. The spread of the brown-trout; the reign of the angler; the nest in hollow rotten trees or clay-bank, easily traced and robbed by stoats and weasels; food reduced by every imported songster; shot at by all and sundry: he has not a chance. Sir Walter Buller, as late as 1882, thought the bird was holding his own; but it is evident that in the last twenty years he has practically disappeared from our midst. He is “holding his own” at Kaipara, Kaitaia, Bay of Islands, Carnarvon, and Havelock; “present” at a number of places in both islands; “extinct” at Castlepoint since stoats were introduced there. I saw one at Otakou kainga on Good Friday of this year.
The stitch-bird, according to the Maoris once common throughout the islands, was rare on the arrival of the pakeha, no doubt owing to its striking appearance and pretty feathers; it was taken both for food and ornament. Rare in the North Island, it has never been seen by a white man in the South Island. This bird is now confined absolutely to the islands of Kapiti and Little Barrier, where, although he is protected by the Government, one fears he will soon die out. There is no doubt in my mind that collectors, in the last thirty years, have done much towards exterminating the stitch-bird.
I now come to the tui, our king of birds, who is fast disappearing from our midst—his nesting-place appropriated by the alien; his nest built higher and higher in the creeping vines; harried by weasel and ferret (he has been seen fighting and struggling with the red-eyed monster, falling from the dizzy height and giving his life for his young). Snared in thousands by the Maoris, he held his own, for his forest fortresses were intact; but at last the advance of the vulgar alien has scared him, and back he goes into forest primeval. Honey is taken from the flax and fuchsia by many imported birds—notably the starling—and thus his chief food is lessened, if not absent. It may be interesting to record here a point I have not seen mentioned about our tui. He has a habit of flying at a great height from one place to another: rising, say, from a deep wooded glen at a gradual angle, flying leisurely, he arrives at a point directly over his destination, and then he absolutely drops, with a terrific rush, to the bush below. When two or three of them do this, as frequently happens—and I believe they do it as a sort of play—the noise as they rush through the air can be heard a quarter of a mile away. I believe this is the explanation of the curious fact mentioned by Dr. Hocken in “The Early History of New Zealand.” Mr. Tuckett's diary says, “All the people frequenting this coast believe in the existence of an extra-
ordinary bird or phantom which they can never see but only hear rushing past them through the air with the rapidity of a falling rock, and making a terrible rushing sound. The Maoris declare that it is a bird possessing many joints in its wings. The whalers call them break-sea devils, after the name of an island where this phenomenon is of most frequent occurrence.” I should be glad of further information of this curious habit, which is generally seen and heard at about dusk or sunset, the tuis returning home for the day ending their journey with this wild rush. The tui is reported as “more plentiful” at Rissington than formerly; “holding his own” at Raglan, Rongotea, Waiheke, Wainui; “said to be increasing” at Waitotara, Waitohi; “rare and uncommon” at most other places.
With the tui is the mocker, or bell-bird, another honey-eater whose food in flax-bush and Pittosporum is lessened by the honey-bee, thrush, and starling. Lovely in its song, as it is modest in its plumage; nesting in the creepers, where it is hunted by weasels and ferrets and by that curse of bird life, the rat; fruit which it soon became fond of actually removed from its very beak by the blackbird and sparrow; the undergrowth of native bush cleared away; every tree-crown or festooned totara dotted with a dozen alien nests, and the korimako, in its turn, displaced. A weasel has been seen to attack a bell-bird on its nest, and, the two falling to the ground together, the weasel was despatched by the observer; but the bird was fatally injured. In some seasons the bell-bird makes a fresh spurt. In 1905 I heard the notes every day through the winter months, and I took particular notice of it; then the birds seemed to disappear, and I have not heard the notes of one for the last eighteen months. It was snared in millions by the Natives—their title to land was often proved as an act of ownership by the “snaring of the korimako”—and yet this did not suffice to greatly diminish their numbers. It was left to the pakeha and his pestilential friends to exterminate them. It is pleasant to note that the bell-bird is still “plentiful” at Pipiriki, Raetihi, Pavanui Pa, Stewart Island, all up the West Coast bush, at Banks Peninsula, on Kapiti Island, and on the Barriers; but where the imported birds are he is almost gone. He is reported as “still existing, though scarce,” in many localities throughout both islands.
Coming to our little white-eye, or tahou, “the stranger,” who came from Australia in 1856, and has been with us ever since, once so common in our manuka and on our plum and apple trees, where he took his full share of good things, he is now as rare as he was common. The bird is still fairly common in some parts of the North Island. He is said to “swarm” at the
Wairarapa, to be “increasing in numbers” at Ellston, Waerenga, the Bay of Islands, and the south-east coast of the North Island; but, save very rarely, he is not now seen with us. Easily supplied with necessary food, prolific, laying four or five eggs twice in the season, its nest well protected from rats and weasels, it is astonishing that it is not more numerous; but it is probable that it will survive the storm, and, though not strictly an indigenous bird, be one of the last of our feathered inhabitants.
Among our creepers, the three wrens—bush, rock, and rifleman—timid, but active and quiet; attending strictly to their own business; running up tree-boles; catching small insects in the bark of the pine or birch; placing their eggs in the deepest recesses of the broadleaf or pine tree; careful to choose the tiniest hole that they can safely emerge from; always certain that they are protected from animal or bird—there is little or no fear that our wrens will become extinct. The advance of civilisation has little effect on them, save by destroying their forest homes. Where sound bush remains, there the wrens will perpetuate their species. They seldom or never build in rotten trees, like the kingfisher or parakeet; their nests are generally very high up, and the trees sound and growing. Feeling instinctively their tiny size and helplessness, they choose the most impenetrable fortresses they can find. All up the West Coast the rock wren flourishes, deep in tiny recesses of the rocks; and the rifleman and bush wrens abound wherever are our native trees. It is pleasant to learn from Mr. Drummond's Bulletin that the wren is reported as existing in all parts of the country; it is said even to swarm in the Maruia Forest and on Kapiti Island; and in December of this year I saw over a dozen riflemen in the ribbonwood-trees near Waimate.
The native canary, once common at the Taieri and round Dunedin, has now absolutely disappeared from these parts. It is quite scarce at Catlin's, where the bush is almost untouched; and at Milford Sound it can occasionally be seen, but not in great flocks, as of yore. It is still common at Stewart Island; and in the Urewera Country its near relative, the white-head, can be often seen. Its nesting habits and its bright-yellow colour and attractive appearance have had, I am afraid, much to do with its extinction. It lays its beautiful red eggs in hollow broadleaf branches or stumps, in places easy of access to weasel, rat, or mouse. Its home is becoming scarcer and scarcer, as the broadleaf-tree is one of the first to disappear. In addition to this, it has the misfortune to be one, if not the chief, host of the long-tailed cuckoo in this island, as is the white-head in the North. This means that every cuckoo that lays, say, five eggs in one season may be the means of destroying from three
to five broods of four each of the unfortunate canary. Where thick native bush remains untouched our canaries—the yellow-head and the white-head—will be with us. They are still found in considerable numbers in the great pine and birch forests of Hawke's Bay, Waikato, Kapiti, and the Barriers; and in the Maruia Forest, at Hokitika, and throughout the Nelson District. They are not so common at Catlin's or Milford as they were ten years ago, but they are found sparingly at Wyndham.
Our utick, or fern-bird, heard everywhere in swampy ground, and fairly common twenty years ago, now that draining and ploughing has so much enhanced the value of our low-lying swampy grounds has become very rare. Near Fortification Creek he can still be heard, and wherever fairly large swamps remain there he is; but the firing of swamps has almost done for the fern-bird. The utick can last only so long as the great swamps of Canterbury, Lower Taieri, Manawatu, and Piako remain undrained and uncultivated. He is still very common at Stewart Island and Kapiti, where, so far, no weasels have been introduced; and he is reported from many other places, including Hangaroa, Kaitaia, and Mangonui.
Our grey warbler will hold his own through all time. His merry cry can be heard in garden or bush to-day. His curious nest is always well concealed. Though the victim of the shining cuckoo, and losing numbers of chicks every year, the two, or possibly three, clutches of eggs, each five or six in number, give it an enormous “lift” over the other birds. The nest—pensile, and absolutely weasel- and rat-proof—still further protects it. It is restless, active, and vigorous on the wing, and was known from time immemorial to Maori and pakeha. Let us hope that centuries hence the “cry of the riroriro” will be heard in the land.
The little brown creeper, quiet and shy, never a very common bird, and one difficult to see, always keeping in dense bush and thicket, is hardly ever heard, save when calling to or feeding its young ones. Nesting in high trees, its little cup-shaped domicile is always hard to get at; but where the bird once flourished it cannot now be easily found. No doubt they still exist far back on Maungatua, but in the bush near Dunedin I had not observed one for quite ten years until I saw six all together in some manuka in the Newington Bush on the 4th June, 1907. They are seen at Wyndham in little flocks, and are often called the “grey creeper” and “the other canary”; but that the bird is hardly known to many is evidenced by the name not being even mentioned by one of Mr. Drummond's correspondents.
The tomtit and the robin, two well-known birds, the latter almost the tamest in our islands, have no doubt almost “gone under” for this very reason. An additional factor is the method of nesting, which is generally in a broadleaf stump, under an overhanging rock, or beneath a fern-bush—all situations easily got at by weasel, mouse, or rat. It is eminently satisfactory to find from Mr. Drummond's Bulletin that the North Island robin is reported as present in nearly a dozen places on the main land to-day, to say nothing of being common on Kapiti and the Barriers; in the South he is very common in the Maruia Forest, where, however, weasels have obtained a fair footing; he is reported at Hokitika, Wyndham, Tautuku, Tuapeka, Waihemo, Ricarton, Ashburton, and as being fairly common on Banks Peninsula. Tomtits are reported as uncommon, but present, in numerous places in both islands. Robins are also reported at Wainuiomata, Waipa, Greytown, Raglan, Ramarama, Wairoa, Wanganui, Waitotara, Tararuas, Te Peke, and other places in the North Island to-day, although Sir Walter Buller's last volumes assert that the bird is extinct.
The ground-lark, once swarming on all downs and tussockclad hills, is still fairly common, especially on the Canterbury Plains. He is blamed by the farmer for the destruction of his tender shoots of grain, and consequently shares the penalty of the feathered members of the community known as the “bird nuisance.” In spite of cultivation, he holds his own. His nest is carefully concealed, and is very hard to find. His insectfood abundant, supplemented by grain and grass; his natural enemy, the hawk, largely diminished; his two or three broods of four or five chicks reared well out in the field or tussock land, far from danger, and allowing of a wide sweep of vision and time for concealment before the enemy can come near—our ground-lark holds his own with the best of them, and can be seen on the Town Belt or golf-links almost any day of the week. Reports say that he is holding his own in many localities; he is increasing notably in the Wairarapa, at Dannevirke, Wimbledon, Waikaka Valley, and elsewhere.
The thrush, one of our finest whistlers and singers—a handsome bird—is now very rare throughout the Islands. Formerly common at the Taieri, by the seventies he had gone from that locality entirely, and no one I can find remembers him near Dunedin. He still exists at Milford Sound and among the fastnesses of the West Coast. In 1895 I saw over a dozen at Milford Sound, and in the bush around we heard the whistling of many more. Later on Mr. George Fenwick reported that thrushes were common, though he did not see them himself.
The black and pied fantails (tiwakawaka and piwakawaka)
famed in Maori lore, once very common near every house, have almost entirely gone from our midst. I saw a solitary pied fantail in Jubilee Park last spring, and a black fantail in Leith Valley Road in November of last year. At the Taieri an occasional specimen still lingers, but their extreme gentleness, their fearlessness, and curiosity, allow of their easy destruction. I am pleased to report that they are considered common at Raglan, Piako County, Rangi-iwi, Port Albert, Tauranga, Stratford, Manganui, Castlepoint, and numbers of other places throughout the islands. One came into my garden at Pitt Street on the 21st April, 1907.
Our crows, once common in many localities, but always restricted in their range, far from common near Dunedin in the fifties, and never seen by white man between Mount Cargill and Catlin's River, have long disappeared from our locality, though they are still sparingly distributed through the pine forests of Owaka, at Milford Sound, and in the Urewera country. The North Island crow is reported as being extinct in a large number of places, but is still mentioned as existing in four or five; and, as the birds in the Tararua Range are said to be as common as ever, it is probably found there in numbers; he is also found at Komako, Maungatawhiri, Ngatimaru, Raglan, and Mount Egmont. The South Island crow is reported as being pretty common at Stewart Island: this bird, which is quiet and shy in its habits, largely a ground feeder, its nest an easy object for weasels and rats to rob (being built not many feet from the ground), is now found only on rare occasions. The collecting fiend has had a great deal to do with the destruction of these birds; and the small clutch of eggs—not more than two or three—has also been a factor of no mean importance.
The saddleback was never to my knowledge known at the Taieri or near Dunedin. At all times curiously local in its habits, rarely found on the east coast of our Island, fairly common in the Waikato district, the Barriers, and the depths of the West Coast, it was to be met with sparingly at Milford ten years ago, but latterly I hear it is almost gone. It is still found at Wairoa Gorge, near Nelson. For some reason which is not quite clear, the saddleback had the habit of accompanying the flocks of yellow-heads on their expeditions; possibly some food found by the chattering crew was made more easily attainable by the saddleback than when he hunted alone. Much of the scarcity of the saddleback is due to the insatiable greed of collectors, who invariably bagged every one that appeared. Sir Walter Buller himself makes that clear in his supplementary volumes. The saddleback is practically extinct in inhabited parts of New Zealand.
The huia, a bird we have all read about, but few have ever seen alive, is now very nearly extinct. Almost confined to the mountain fastnesses of the Ruahine and dark glens of the Tararua and Rimutaka Mountains, the huia was never common, but it is reported as still existing in several places in the North Island—Mangahao, Ngatimaru survey, Raglan, Komako, Kimbolton, Ihuraua, Castlepoint, and Rongomai. Several observers are emphatic in the statement that the birds were decimated by the high price offered for them by collectors.
Of our climbing-birds, the most notable is the kakapo—that weird night-bird, half-owl half-parrot. Before the coming of the pakeha he had been trapped by the Maori, and so decimated were his ranks that he was to be found only in limited localities, and those almost untrodden by the foot of man. He could be found fairly frequently near the West Coast sounds about ten years ago; but the tourist traffic, with its accompanying dogs, cats, rats, and, later, ferrets and weasels, has brought this unique flightless bird to the verge of extinction. His great white eggs placed in hollow logs, and his stupidity and sleepiness in the daytime, make him and his progeny an easy prey to the four-legged enemy. In the great wooded forests of Tuhoe Land the bird is absolutely extinct. The experiment of breeding them at Resolution Island will not, I fear, prove a permanent success, as I hear on good authority that a weasel has been seen there.
The “passing” of the parrakeet has always seemed to me a strange business. The different species are all active, vigorous, powerful of flight, pugnacious, and are able to subsist on grain, fruit, seeds, insects, and native berries such as fuchsia, &c.; they nest in hollow trees, and lay a large number of eggs—eight to ten in one nest; and it seems curious that the bird should have practically gone. He came in flocks in the seventies; he was a scourge in the eighties; he was shot in thousands for his destruction of grain and fruit; then gradually he seemed to disappear; and now he is rarely heard near civilised parts. Possibly the destruction of timber, the felling of the broadleaf-tree, his favourite home; the attacks of weasels and rats, which can get into his nesting-holes; the increase of bees in hollow trees; shooting by farmers; trapping by fruit-growers, are all reasons why this pretty little parrot has gone. The non-success of the large clutches of eggs in preserving the species, in strange contradistinction to those of the kaka with three or four eggs, points perhaps to the presence of some unknown natural enemy against which this bird has had to struggle. It can be seen and heard rarely in the dense bush at Catlin's, Milford Sound, Hawke's Bay, and Waikato; but reports from all parts of the
Islands say that the bird is becoming very scarce everywhere. He is very common on the outlying islands, where there are no cats, weasels, or bees; but on the mainland he is rare.
The kaka is a splendid bird, with a harsh cry but a melodious whistle. His sociable habits, his fine plump berry-fed body, and his comparative fearlessness, have made him an easy prey to sportsman and settler alike. The kaka hatches out two or three chicks, but, according to Mr. Richard Henry, is credited with deliberately sacrificing whichever of her offsprings she judges to be the weaker. This practice has not been confirmed by independent observation, and I cannot yet accept such an instance of parental wickedness. The kaka was snared by the thousands before the white man came, and the early settlers in the sixties failed to make much impression on them, when they lined stable-roof and grain-stacks, eating the grain, and doing immense damage. They were shot in hundreds, often a dozen at one shot, but even that did not exterminate this determined creature. At Catlin's he is now becoming scarce; and can you wonder at it, when Dunedin “sports” come back from their expeditions with three, four, or six sacks full of kakas and pigeons? The kaka still swarms in the dense bush in Nelson, Marlborough, and Stewart Island, but must eventually go. In Maruia he is found in thousands. Last year three men shot four hundred in three days in that district, and the statement was made to me that they were required for food! The bird is also plentiful on the coast range of the Bay of Plenty.
The kea will remain stationary unless a determined crusade of flockowners is made against him. Powerful of flight, savage and strong with bill and claw, he can effectively deal with ferret and rat—probably turn the tables upon them, and make them food for his young. Nesting deep in the rocks, where seldom the eggs or young can be found; inhabiting wild and mountainous country, seldom visited save by the shepherd; wary and alert; tame in the early days—he has no doubt become more fearful on the approach of man. He has acquired a taste for mutton, which may prove his undoing; still, the kea has a chance of surviving most of our feathered friends of New Zealand.
Of our two cuckoos—the bronze and the long-tail—we need have no apprehension. Both migrants, and both parasitic, they are finding homes for their young in the nests of the imported birds. When our warbler, our robin, our tomtit, and our canary go, there will still be the nests of the sparrow, linnet, blackbird, and thrush for his workhouse brats. The canary and robin and others may all go under, but the koekoea will never fail to find homes for his young and nests to rob from
among the imported birds. Both birds are predatory, and have been repeatedly seen eating eggs of other species.
Our wood-pigeon, the most beautiful and harmless bird we have, one of nature's noblemen, is, like the kaka, deliberately being gunned to death. At Catlin's, where it breeds, it is actually shot in the breeding season. It lays but two eggs, in a flimsy and unprotected mass of sticks, which does duty for a nest, and numbers of young perish on this account alone. If, as now happens, we permit of indiscriminate shooting at this time, the eggs and callow young will rot, and this noble bird will soon be wiped out of existence altogether. The pigeon is still plentiful throughout New Zealand, but with this sort of thing going on he must go. A weasel has been seen to run up a tree to a pigeon on the nest, and, with its active twisting and turning, running round and round, so fascinate the bird that it has fluttered helplessly to the ground, where it was soon “polished off.” You will thus see that unless some strong steps are taken to protect this bird from man and beast, neither bush resident nor nature-lover elsewhere will have any opportunity of seeing it outside of our museums. The birds are found in immense numbers in the Urewera country, the Upper Wanganui and Rangitikei districts, Whangape, northern Auckland, and on the Bay of Plenty coast ranges.
On the Taieri Plain in the fifties our native quail abounded through tussock and flax-bush. Now, search New Zealand through length and breadth and you will find them not. They are absolutely extinct. Tussock-burning destroyed nests and eggs innumerable. These birds were the natural quarry of the sparrow-hawk and harrier. Their eggs—from ten to twelve—were carefully hidden in tussock, and their numerous progeny were ready to hide almost the moment they were hatched; but what chance had they when the settler came among them? The quail was an active little bird, with keen sight, but poor of flight, beautifully coloured (for protection), a born mimic, and clever hider, and the sparrow-hawk and harrier and Maori would never have exterminated it, but the white man, with his gun, dog, and, worst of all, his agricultural implements—his plough, his harrow, his poisoned grain, his scythe, and, later, his reaping-machines—has gradually done the deed, and the quail has gone.
Our kiwis, with our kakapos, are being wiped out of existence. Conspicuous, easily captured by dog or weasel, hatching but one egg at a time, and the egg or young comparatively easily got at, no wonder the kiwi finds the tourist traffic too much for it, and that the day of the wingless bird is over. Semi-nocturanal as it is, man is not its hunter, but
man's satellites, the dog and the weasel. Save only on our sanctuary islands are the birds common, on Stewart Island, Resolution Island, Kapiti, and the Barriers; but they are practically extinct on the south-east coast of the North Island and the great forests of Tuhoe-land.
Of our waders, the plovers, dotterels, oyster-catchers, and stilts, moving from district to district, breeding in shinglebeds, eggs protectively coloured, inhabiting marshes and sea-coast, are brought less into contact with civilisation, and in many localities—especially the great river-beds of Canterbury—are still fairly numerous. On the great inland lakes of Wanaka and Te Anau, and even as near as Waikari and Cargill's Links, the dotterels and plovers are to be found to-day. They are reported as increasing at Sheffield and Waihemo.
Our herons are very rare. The kotuku, that magnificent bird, so scarce even on the advent of the pakeha that for the Maori to have seen one was evidence of a lifetime, too often mercilessly shot by every observer, his limits are narrowed down to a few spots in Westland. A pair were known at Stewart Island last year; now only one remains there. Perhaps one or two specimens are still to be seen at Te Anau; the rest are in museums or private houses. Two years ago one appeared in Pelichet Bay for a few days, and then disappeared. Herons (species not mentioned) are reported from Raglan and Waianiwa.
The blue heron is almost as rare, and the little bittern is extinct. The bittern is seen now and again where swamps remain, but as these are drained he is bound to disappear. It is pleasing to note that he is still seen at Mongonui, Raglan, Kaikoura, Ramarama, Waiau, Ashburton, Patea, Tautuku, on the Islands of Kapiti, Stewart, and the Barriers, and in the Urewera swamps. He is also recorded at the Bay of Islands.
Our godwits, migratory, and breeding elsewhere, will always remain with us, but our snipe has gone, save on our outlying islands.
Our weka, breeding in hollow logs and under fern-trees, or in clumps of Astelia, suffers to a great extent with our kiwi and kakapo. He seems to be weathering the storm in many places, for he is on the increase at Romakoriki, Havelock, Hawke's Bay, Rongotea, Waverley, Albert Land, Carnarvon, Streamlands, and the Maruia Forest. He is reported from many other places to be present, if not on the increase. He is probably too powerful for weasel and stoat, and is getting the best of them. He has found some suitable food, and some better nesting-places. Government protection is undoubtedly assisting him, and so this flightless bird has a better chance than his confrères; but, as far as can be seen, near us and on the hills
and valleys of Otago he is very scarce. He is disappearing from Ashburton, West Oxford, and Tauranga, and is considered extinct at Wairio and other places.
Our striped rail, water-crake, and swamp-crake, with the bittern and the pukeko, remain only in such portions of our islands as are undrained so far as swamp exists. Mr. Hamilton reported them common at Petane in 1885, and I quote from the Trans. New Zealand Inst.: “A cat belonging to a neighbour has brought me in during the years 1881–1883 seventeen specimens of this crake and twelve specimens of the next species (Tabuensis). Both of these birds abound in the raupo swamps of the district, but are extremely difficult to obtain unless a friendly mouser takes the matter in hand.” If one cat could do this damage twenty-three years ago there is little wonder that these birds are now seldom seen.
Whether our takahe still remains deep in the fastnesses of the West Coast time alone will show. Probably in some of the yet untrodden millions of acres of south-west Otago we shall light upon him. He is much too big and powerful for the weasel, so that if he is in the forests at this-day he will remain till such time as man and dog rout him out.
The pukeko, a conspicuous bird, with slow laborious flight, is fast going—his swamps extensively drained, his nests easily found. To a great extent gregarious and easily potted in numbers, slow and stupid in getting out of range, exchanging his original diet of lizards, worms, and small birds' eggs for the product of the farmayard and paddock, he falls a prey to poisoned grain and gunshot. He is still found fairly common in the great swamps of the north, but near habitations he is very rare. I see he is plentiful near Wanaka, and is blamed for a lot of egg-stealing; and at Parua Bay he is credited with destroying crops of maize. He is on the increase at Waimate, Streamlands, and Waikaka Valley, and is held as common at Ramarama, but elsewhere throughout the Islands he is very scarce. Grain-poisoning caused his downfall; where such has been abandoned he shows signs of increase.
There remain our ducks—those beautiful birds which we allow to be slaughtered year after year. Our blue-duck still exists in North Canterbury in great numbers, and on some of the inaccessible inland lakes and in the Maruia Forest may be found nesting in trees 20 ft. or 30 ft. from the nearest creek. It seems a pity that numbers of our inland lakes are not made sanctuaries, and stiff fines imposed on law-breakers. I think the “sport,” who represents a very small proportion of our people, should have his daily bag curtailed—say, three to six pairs of grey-duck, teal, or paradise; or, if popular feeling
could be aroused, put a stop to native-bird shooting altogether, and preserve for all time our splendid creatures.
the paradise duck can be seen in many places in immense numbers; and in the Maruia Forest he abounds, but as this is settled he will go. This is one of the loveliest birds we have, and might well have protection. A friend described to me how he surprised a pair, with ten small ones, on a branch of the Buller River. The old birds instantly took to the water of the swollen rushing torrent, and, beak to tail, sailed diagonally across, with all the tiny ones resting safely above and against them as they bravely breasted the turbulent stream. A more beautiful device or a more marvellous display of instinct could hardly be imagined.
Our grebe and dabchick, expert divers, remain in fair numbers on some of the lakes in Nelson and Otago. Alert enough to escape gunshot, diving at the flash, breeding in hidden places, living more in lagoons and lakes than swamps, escaping in this way the fate of the swamp birds, useless as food, too clever, for the sportsman, and protected by the Government, they survive, and let us hope will long survive, their less fortunate brethren.
Our sea-birds I have touched on. Our shags, though shot at and destroyed in great numbers, remain with us: breeding in rookeries in almost inaccessible positions, feeding on fresh-and salt-water fish, they have a better chance. Our penguins, though slaughtered in millions for oil on the outlying islands, remain and will remain when our present generation has been forgotten.
Dr. Cockayne urges the setting-apart of Stewart Island as a sanctuary for our flora and fauna. Let us of the New Zealand Institute give the utmost assistance in urging this matter on our local Members of Parhament. What a magnificent scheme; what pleasure it will give the tourist of the future and our children's children to be able to go in two days to an island teeming with the kiwi, kakapo, weka, tui, mocker, pigeon, kaka, robin, fantail, tomtit, and canary—all these and more abounding, and making the forest welkin ring!
In addition to this, I should urge the preservation of such areas as Maruia: 1,000 acres of virgin bush (totara and pine), teeming with bird-life, is plotted, and being felled for settlement. Here the kiwi and weka are common; weasels are plentiful; kakapos are very rare; tuis, mocker, wrens, and robins are very common; tomtits not so common; fantails plentiful; canaries very common, in flocks; pigeons very common; kakas shot in hundreds; and paradise and other ducks very common indeed. Surely as good, if not better,
agricultural land can be obtained elsewhere, at less cost. Why hack down, burn, and destroy splendid timber land in one part of the country and feebly attempt to sow and replant with trees other parts? Why make an attempt to preserve our native birds by providing sanctuaries in parts where birds are scarce, when in other parts, where the birds exist in myriads, we wantonly and by law exterminate and destroy them?
Thus have we taken a hurried survey of our avifauna, birds many of them unique in the scientific world. The least valuable for game, the poorest songsters, the least interesting still survive in considerable numbers; the battered ranks of the rest tell the sad tale. It is indeed pitiful reading, this passing of the New Zealand ornis.