Art. XII.—On a Partially White Form of Puffinus griseus Gmelin.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 12th June, 1917; received by Editors. 22nd December, 1917: issued separately, 24th May, 1918.]
Albinism of a complete or partial nature has several times been reported in connection with New Zealand birds, but the cases of its occurrence are not so frequent but that they should be recorded. On the 26th April, 1916, when returning from a trip to Stewart Island, I was shown by Mr. John Smith, of the Bluff, a live specimen of a mutton-bird (Puffinus griseus) which showed partial albinism. This interesting specimen was captured by Mr. Smith on Piko-mamaku-iti, the most northerly of the Titi Islands, where Mr. Smith was mutton-birding. The bird was a young one, and was caught in a nest. It was almost fully fledged. The head, neck, and upper part of the breast of this interesting specimen were pure white, back and upper part of the wings partly black, abdomen brown, the tail white. The bird, as mentioned above, was a young one, and in parts still had the down attached. Its beak was of a pinkish white, its legs pink, and its eye greenish. I examined the bird closely, and took certain measurements and other particulars, which were as follows:—
|Length from tip of beak to butt of tail||13.50|
|Length of side of beak||2.25|
|Length of beak from tip to nostrils||1.25|
|Length of wing from flexure||12.00|
|Total length of wing||19.00|
|Total spread of wings||42.50|
|Length of tarsus||2.25|
|Length of middle toe||2.75|
|Number of feathers in tail, fourteen.|
Note.—The above measurements are, I believe, correct; but, as the bird was alive and resented handling, some difficulty was experienced in
getting some of the measurements exactly. The normal colour of P. griseus is, of course, a sooty brown, the bill horn-colour, and the legs and feet brown. Mr. Smith informed me that partially white mutton-birds are not uncommon, but are yet sufficiently rare as to make a specimen of special interest even to the birders. I had hoped that this specimen would be sent to the Otago Museum, but I understand it has been disposed of privately.
As the normal number of feathers in the tail in Puffinus is only twelve, may not the above specimen be a hybrid between Puffinus griseus and some closely allied genus, such as Priocella, which has fourteen feathers in its tail? Of course, I may have made a mistake in identification, but the measurements closely accord with P. griseus. We know so little of the habits and life-histories of many of our sea-birds that some such explanation of these abnormal forms seems reasonable. The slight difference in the measurements with those laid down for P. griseus may be thus accounted for.
On the 14th June, 1916, I had an interview with Mrs. Sidney Ladbrook, of Mataura, who had just then returned from a birding expedition to Evening Island, off South Cape. She informed me that her party had found a pure-white mutton-bird on the island mentioned, but it was turned loose again. It seems that according to Maori superstition it is an evil omen to catch one of these rare specimens, portending death in the family of the captor. Mrs. Ladbrook informed me also that such a specimen is called a “jimmy bird” if it has white or pink eyes, but if the eyes are black it is known as a “queen bird” and the portent is less serious. The specimen which was caught on the trip just then completed was a pinkish white, but had black eyes. My informant says that these aberrant forms are sometimes found about the same spot in successive years. This latter statement receives corroboration from Mr. J. Bragg, of Half-moon Bay (see p. 38, Cockayne's Report on a Botanical Survey of Stewart Island, Parliamentary Paper C.–12, 1909: Government Printer).
Since the above article was written a curious coincidence has occurred which will probably serve to intensify the southern Maori superstition concerning the danger of interfering with a white mutton-bird. The bird referred to by Mrs. Ladbrook was, I understand, caught by her husband. During the birding season of 1917 Mr. and Mrs. Ladbrook went to the same island again, and during a storm two children—a daughter and a niece—whom they had taken with them were washed off the rocks and not seen again. Mrs. Ladbrook informed me that some fear of the result was expressed by the Maoris when the bird was caught. The belief is that the calamity will occur within a year, and in this instance has strangely proved quite accurate.