A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Sphenoeacus Rufescens. — (Chatham-Island Fern-Bird.)
Sphenoeacus rufescens, Buller, Ibis, 1869, p. 38.
Megalurus rufescens, Gray, Hand-1. of B. i. p. 206 (1869).
Ad. suprá saturatè castaneus, pileo concolore: dorso paullò fulvescente, plumis latè medialiter nigis: tectricibus alarum medialiter nigris, dorso concoloribus: remigibus nigris, rufescente limbatis: caudâ rufescente, subtùs fulvescentiore, scapis pennarum nigris: loris et supercilio distincto fulvescenti-albis: regione paroticâ saturatè castaneâ, nigro notatâ: genis fulvescentibus, nigro maculatis: subtùs fulvescenti-albus, corporis lateribus castaneis nigro striolatis, dorso concoloribus: subalaribus stramineis, rufescente lavatis: rostro corneo, mandibulâ flavicante: pedibus flavicanti-brunneis: iride nigrâ.
Adult male. Upper parts dark rufous-brown, brightest on the crown and hind neck; streak over the eyes, throat, breast, and abdomen dull rufous-white, slightly tinged with yellow on the throat; sides of the head, ear-coverts, and a series of spots from the base of the lower mandible brownish black; sides of the body and the flanks bright rufous-brown, each feather with a central streak of black; wing-feathers dusky black, margined on both webs with rufous-brown; the wing-coverts and the scapularies broadly centred with brownish black; tail-feathers clear rufous-brown, with glossy black shafts, paler on their under surface. Irides black; bill and feet yellowish brown. Total length 7·25 inches; extent of wings 7; wing, from flexure, 2·25; tail 4·25; bill, along the ridge ·5, along the edge of lower mandible ·7; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw ·85; hind toe and claw ·75.
Female. Similar to the male, but somewhat smaller in size and with rather duller plumage.
Obs. Prof. Hutton states that two of the specimens collected by Mr. Travers are “variegated with white feathers, principally on the wings.”
This well-marked species is confined to the Chatham Islands, where it was first discovered, in 1868, by Mr. Charles Traill, a gentleman greatly devoted to conchology, who visited that group for the purpose of collecting its marine shells. He obtained it on a small rocky isle, lying off the coast of the main island, during one of his dredging-expeditions; but he was unable to give me much information respecting its habits or economy, merely stating that he observed it flitting about among the grass and stunted vegetation, and succeeded in knocking it over with a stone.
Mr. Henry Travers says:—“I only found this bird on Mangare, where it is not uncommon. Its peculiar habit of hopping from one point of concealment to another renders it difficult to secure. It has a peculiar whistle, very like that which a man would use in order to attract the attention of another at some distance; and although I knew that I was alone on the island, I frequently stopped mechanically on hearing the note of this bird, under the momentary impression that some other person was whistling to me. It also has the same cry as Sphenœacus punctatus. It is solitary in its habits and appears to live exclusively on insects.”
I am indebted to Mr. Walter Shrimpton for an egg obtained on Pitt Island, and assigned, I believe correctly, to this species. It is broadly ovoido-conical, measuring ·80 of an inch in length by ·65 in breadth, and has the entire surface covered with a speckled or marbled graining of reddish brown on a creamy-white ground.