Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 47, 1914
This text is also available in PDF
(510 KB) Opens in new window
– 593 –

Art. LVI.—New Zealand Bird-song: Further Notes.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 4th November, 1914.]

The figures accompanying this article contain the new notes observed since publication of the paper in the Transactions of 1912 (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 45, p. 387). As before, for convenience of reference, the variations in the notes of each species of bird have been numbered consecutively from (1) onwards, the earlier numbers appearing in the Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 41, p. 422; vol. 43, p. 656; and vol. 45, p. 387: reference is at times made to these earlier-numbered variations. The notes from the bush in the vicinity of Hokitika were noted at a time when the birds were not yet in full spring song—from the middle of July, through August, and into the first week of September, 1914—the weather being generally fine, but with only two or three really warm days. Those noted during the summer of 1913–14 are from the Stony Bay Bush, Banks Peninsula. This bush had been preserved uncut from the time of settlement of the Peninsula; but old Mr. Boleyn dying last year, the sons have now commenced the destruction of the bush, a sawmill being erected in 1914. When notes were heard on one day only, the date on which they. were heard is given.

The Tui.

There was little variation of song in 1913–14, and few birds singing. The common theme was as in (80). The full theme was heard only twice or three times; more often it discontinued at the double bar at 3, this portion of the song occupying three to four seconds in utterance; less often

it included all up to the double bar at 4. The sound of the notes was flute-like, the last ones only being susceptible of vocalization. The final two notes were often uttered alone. The parts of the theme numbered 3 and 4 were extremely varied, as shown in (80A) to (80G) inclusive. Whilst singing, the bird sat with head thrust out and upwards until the kraw was uttered, when it was lowered and thrust downwards, and kept down for the second four notes: these were almost always four in number; occasionally three or five. The themes in (81) and (81A) are variants made by using the notes

– 594 –

of part 3 in (80) preceded by runnel notes in triplets. The reedy note (82) was a ninth higher than the note of last year as in (38): it was heard on most days, but only occasionally. The triplets in (83) are a variant of the theme (69), one of the runnel songs: it was uttered in about a second. No. (84) is part only of a bubbling song. Though only about 50 ft. away from the bird, the first part was barely audible, and was led up to by a soft click: clicks were interspersed if the song was long continued,

and (84) is only part of the song heard. The latter part was more deliberate and much louder, in comparison, than the former, yet still very soft and sweet. This seemed a greater effort to the bird than the ordinary song; the head was thrust well out and upwards, the throat quivering right round the neck and down to the breast; the beak was partly open at times. The theme noted occupied about three seconds. The foregoing are all from Boleyn's Bush, but these delightful sounds are now being banished by those of the axe.

The notes of (85), uttered softly like the notes of the bubbling song, were sounded whilst the bird dropped with closed wings from a height into the tree: they occupied little over a second. Many bubbling songs were heard on occasional days, differing from those recorded, but they were not repeated often enough for their sequence to be caught and noted. The sounds kree, kraw, krurr, tsrr, and other unmusical sounds, were never heard at Hokitika; and, instead of the common bell notes of the Peninsula, a guggle on d was sounded (86), the sound being that of a wooden mallet striking a bell quickly.

The Bell-bird.

During the summer of 1913–14 only one bell-bird was seen in the Stony Bay Bush, but no note whatever was heard. In the bush on the south side

of the Hokitika River, a mile from the town, the pleasing cheery theme of (22) was heard on several occasions. In (23), heard at Bluespur, the prolonged f was a vibrato containing four or five notes.

– 595 –

The Grey Warbler.

No. (21) is rather a little soliloquy than a song: it sounded tentative, as if the bird were trying its voice, and might break into song at any part of this uncertain prelude; but the song rarely followed. The opening was varied as in (21A), and the whole was sung more softly than the ordinary song. The usual rambling indeterminate song was heard many times on

Picture icon

many fine

the West Coast, and a few new definite themes were noted. That of (22) was repeated, twice or more in succession, and was heard on different days at Mahinapua; (23), heard at Bluespur, was repeated several times, as were (24), the opening varied as in (24A), and (25); the last two themes were heard at Fisherman's Creek, opposite Hokitika, on the south side of the river. The notes of (24A) were at times sounded alone.

The Yellow-breasted Tit.

The ordinary song (1) was varied as in (8), at Stony Bay Bush, the song occupying about two seconds. The variation (9), one and a half seconds, was heard at Fisherman's Creek, Hokitika.

The Long-tailed Cuckoo.

This was not heard in 1913–14; but whilst at Hokitika I was several times conversing with Mr. J. Cunningham, surveyor, who has had long experience in both North and South Island bush, and he informed me that on one occasion he was camped on the western slope of a sharp ridge between Coromandel and Thames: hearing a great twittering, and attracted by its unusual sound, he investigated, and found large numbers of long-tailed cuckoos gathered together. Suspecting they might be assembling for migrating, he watched all night, but they remained that night and next day, when still more came, till they were there “in hundreds.” He watched next night too, but knew he must have dozed for a short time, as in the morning all were gone: they must have left between 2 o'clock and day-break.

– 596 –

The Shining Cuckoo.

Five years ago the notes of (1) and (2) were taken down, and the bird noted as unknown, as it was elusive and would not permit itself to be seen; but on speaking to another North-Islander I discovered the notes were those of the shining cuckoo. They have been heard every year in Boleyn's Bush, Stony Bay, being noted on the 28th December, 1913, as in (3). The notes start fairly loudly, in a clear open whistle, and gradually increase in loudness, dying off on the final slur; the interval of the slur varies, as indicated. In each couple of notes the first is accented, the second staccato. The number of upward slurs constantly varies. The theme (3) may be whistled independently, or continued into (4) or (5); and again (4) and (5) may be whistled independently. The Maori called the shining cuckoo “the bird of Hawaiki,” as though they had known it before their migration to

New Zealand: it is hardly probable that they knew of its migratory habits—at any rate, it is not known that they knew of them; and, as regards the long-tailed cuckoo, they said, through probably they did not believe, that as the cold days approached the bird cast its feathers and took on the shape of a lizard, changing to a bird again as the warm summer nights caused a new growth of feathers. They say the cry of the shining cuckoo changes as the days grow warmer, from kui kui te ora, kui kui te ora, to witi ora, witi ora. The variants (4) and (5) were more frequent on hot north-west days, and on those days the bird seemed most lively in song; the upward slurs of (5) might be vocalized wit, and all the downward slurs tiu, but I have heard no notes that could be vocalized either kui kui te ora or witi ora.

The Haurikiriki.

In the bush close to Hokitika I heard the theme (4), and thought I recognized the slurred note, though the others, except in quality, were new. There were several birds, feeding and travelling together: one would start the song, others would join in on the second or third note, and all the birds, apparently, come in on the slur. It was a bright, cheerful call, and as soon as I saw the singers I recognized them at once as the bird I have doubtfully called a hedge-sparrow in previous notes: some have suggested it may

– 597 –

be a brown creeper. I described the bird and its call to Mr. Cunningham, the surveyor, and he said it was known in the North Island as the haurikiriki, and that its liveliness was always a sign of spring and a spell of fine

weather. The song (6) was heard in the Stony Bay Bush on the 13th January, 1912, and other days: the full song only occasinally; more often it would break off after the first or second slur. In the achromatic drop ending the song seven or eight notes were sounded, so there may be intervals here even less than quarter-tones; the run had the sound of whistling through water, and occupied about one second.

The Bush-canary.

I saw one bush-canary whilst travelling on the coach towards Kanieri Township, and it uttered the pleasant slurred note (1), which sounded very like the familiar sweet of its cage namesake.

The Blight-bird.

The common call, always heard when the bird moves about searching for food, is as in (3), a clear, plaintive slur. A soft conversational call

(4) was heard at Mount Misery, Hokitika, whilst two birds sat in a tree preening themselves and moving about: it was the faintest twitter, barely audible, though the birds were only 10ft. to 12 ft. distant.

The Sea-marten (Tern).

Two sea-martens, or sea-swallows, were flying above the shingly Hokitika River bed on the 6th September, 1914, uttering the notes in (4) and (5)—

sometimes the single whistling notes of (4), and sometimes a single vibrato drop from c to a (five notes to the vibrato) uttered more loudly. The notes

– 598 –

differ slightly in pitch from those recorded on the Fork River bed, Mackenzie Plains, in 1910. When the birds flew nearer, the tsit sounded on g. One plunged into the water, was under for about a second, and emerged uttering the cries of (6) very forcibly: the keeahk sounded like a cry of aggravation.

Addendum.

Mr. C. Howard Tripp, of Timaru, has been good enough to send the following note on tuis singing in harmony:—

“Though I was brought up close to native bush, and amongst native birds, particularly the tui, or parson-bird, I have only twice heard them singing in harmony, and have only met one other person who had also heard them. The first time was many years ago when camping in the bush up the gorge of the Orari River, when, shortly after sunrise in the summer holidays, about fifty or more tuis in the trees over and adjacent to our tent commenced to sing in most perfect harmony, and continued to do so for fully half an hour, and without leaving their perches. The second occasion was at the Orari Gorge homestead, a few years later, again on a bright sunny early summer morning; but then the harmony lasted for only about five minutes. As the bush near the Orari used to be favourite places for tuis, I have, of course, many times heard large numbers of tuis singing together, and have listened attentively for this harmony, but failed to hear it. Captain Cook, in his ‘First Voyage,' describing Queen Charlotte Sound, writes as follows: ‘The ship lay at the distance of somewhat less than a quarter of a mile from the shore; and in the morning we were awakened by the singing of the birds; the number was incredible, and they seemed to strain their throats in emulation of each other. This wild melody was infinitely superior to any that we had ever heard of the same kind. It seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned, and perhaps the distance and the water between might be no small advantage to the sound.' Sir Walter Buller, I notice, in his noted book on ‘The Birds of New Zealand,' quotes the above in the description of the makomako, or bell-bird. I am inclined to venture to doubt his correctness. If Captain Cook had spoken of slightly muffled bells I should have said that Captain Cook was listening to a similar harmony of tuis that I have heard twice, and not the makomako. You will notice that both the occasions I heard the harmony, and when Captain Cook did, was early morning. If any of the members have ever heard a similar harmony I would be much obliged if you would communicate with me.”

I have not heard tuis singing in harmony in the way described by Mr. C. H. Tripp in the above note, but from the nature of many of the notes both of the tui and bell-bird it must often happen that, when numbers of the birds are singing, harmony will emerge from the body of sound. If the notes of such tui themes as (63) and (67) on page 389, Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 45, or such a bell-bird theme as (22) recorded in the present volume, be sounded, it will be found that they form perfect chords; so that however many birds were singing, and no matter in what sequence the different notes were sung by the different birds, the result must be harmonious, whether the birds intended it or not. Mr. Tripp inclines to the opinion that the birds heard by Captain Cook whilst lying in Queen Charlotte Sound were tuis, rather than bell-birds; but, so far as my limited

– 599 –

experience goes, they might have been either, or both in concert, for both have notes and themes to which Captain Cook's description might apply. Whilst much of the harmony heard is probably not produced intentionally, I think it quite as probable that occasionally it is intentional, for I have on one occasion heard a duet between a tui and a bell-bird, as recorded on page 666, Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 43. There was absolutely no doubt of the fact, for both birds were in view, sitting in the same tree, and the bell-bird repeatedly came in at the right moment—on the very beat. The tui sang his bell notes, and at once the bell-bird sang his theme to the bass of the tui's aurr aurr.