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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Fam. XENICIDÆ* — Xenicus Longipes. — (Bush-Wren.)


Xenicus Longipes.

  • Long-legged Warbler, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 465 (1783).

  • Motacilla longipes, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 979 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Sylvia longipes, Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 529 (1790).

  • Acanthisitta longipes, Gray, List of Gen. of Birds, App. p. 6 (1841).

  • Xenicus longipes, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 218.

  • Xenicus stokesii, id. tom. cit. p. 219.

Native names.

Matuhituhi, Piwauwau, Puano, and Huru-pounamu.

♂ pileo umbrino: dorso toto viridi, uropygio lætiore: supercilio distincto albo: plumis anteocularibus nigris: regione paroticâ brunneâ vix viridi lavatâ: tectricibus alarum dorso concoloribus, vix flavido tinctis: alâ spuriâ nigrâ: remigibus brunneis, extùs olivaceo-viridi lavatis: caudâ suprà olivaceo-viridi, subtùs flavicante: mento albido: corpore reliquo subtùs pulchrè cinereo, pectore vix argenteo-nitente: abdomine imo et subcaudalibus viridibus, hypochondriis olivaceo-flavis: cruribus brunneis: subalaribus et margine alari pallidè citrinis: rostro saturatè brunneo: pedibus flavicantibus.

♀ dissimilis: suprà ferrugineo-brunnea: uropygio vix olivaceo tincto: supercilio lato albo: subtùs pallidè chocolatina, hypochondriis et abdomine imo sordidè flavis.

Adult male. Upper parts dark green, tinged with yellow, shading into dark brown on the forehead and crown; sides of the head black, with a broad superciliary streak of white extending beyond the ears, and then changing to yellow; sides, thighs, and rump bright greenish yellow; fore neck, breast, and abdomen cinereous grey, with a beautiful gloss (sometimes tinged with cobalt), and softening into greyish white on the throat; lining of wings pale yellow; quills, on their outer webs, and the tail-feathers olivaceous green. Irides and bill brownish black; tarsi and toes pale brown. Extreme length 4 inches; wing, from flexure, 2·26; tail 1 (more than half of it concealed by the soft coverts); bill, along the ridge ·5, along the edge of lower mandible ·7; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw ·9; hind toe and claw ·8.

Adult female. Upper parts umber-brown, tinged with yellowish green, especially on the rump; crown shaded with purplish brown; superciliary streak white; throat, sides of the neck, breast, and upper part of abdomen delicate vinous brown; sides of the body, flanks, and thighs dull lemon-yellow; inner lining of wings pure yellow.

Young male. Plumage generally as in the adult, but with the green tints of the upper parts paler, and the silky grey of the breast tinged with purple; crown of the head and hind part of neck chocolate-brown, blending into the olvaceons green of the upper parts; superciliary streak broad and conspicuous.

Obs. The figure of X. longipes in the ‘Voyage of the Erebus and Terror,’ which represents a bird with a white eye-circlet and an upturned bill like that of Acanthidositta, is copied from a rough half-finished drawing of Forster’s (1777) and is strikingly incorrect. Professor Hutton, whose views are entitled to respect, wrote

* Strictly speaking Acanthidosittidæ is the right name for this family, Acanthidositta being an older genus than Xenicus, but I am unwilling to disturb a name that has already obtained currency.

page 109 thus, after the appearance of my former edition:—“Dr. Buller obtained specimens of X, stokesii which he wrongly determined as X. longipes; in fact all the specimens of X. longipes in his collection were X. stokesii; these he compared with X. stokesii in the British Museum, and naturally found them identical. But until it is explained how it is that the figure and description of X. longipes in the ‘Voyage of the Erebus and Terror’ differ so much from specimens of X. stokesii, I must continue to regard them as two species” (‘Ibis,’ 1874, p. 37). A specimen, however, labelled by Prof. Hutton “Xenicus stokesii, female,” and sent to Dr. Finsch for examination, was referred by this naturalist, without hesitation, to X. longipes, Gmelin. It is perfectly clear that X. stokes has no existence as a species.

This species is confined to the Fagus-forests which clothe the sides of our subalpine ranges in the South Island, never being met with in the low country. In many parts of the Nelson provincial district it is quite abundant, but only in the dense bush. In the dark forest lying between Wallis-head and Tophouse, also along the wooded banks of the Pelorous river, it is said to be very plentiful, and even in the Fagus-covered hills in the vicinity of Nelson it is a comparatively common bird, although less numerous now than formerly. Mr. Travers found it numerous in the Spencer ranges (Nelson) at an elevation of 3000 feet; Sir J. Hector obtained specimens in the high wooded lands of Otago, where, as he informs me, it was a very rare bird; Sir J. von Haast met with it frequently during his exploration of the interior of the Canterbury district; and I observed it in the high wooded ranges forming the inland boundary of Westland. The localities I have enumerated are all in the South Island. There are specimens, however, in the British Museum which are said to have been obtained by Captain Stokes in the Rimutaka ranges (in the provincial district of Wellington); and although I never met with the species in that district, or, indeed, in any part of the North Island, an intelligent Maori, to whom I showed a coloured drawing of the bird, appeared at once to recognize it. He said that he had often seen it in the Ruahine mountains, and that during severe winters it sometimes appeared in the low country; and he further spoke of the plumage as being “like silk,” an expression so aptly descriptive of its peculiar softness, that I believe the man was quite familiar with the bird.

The Maoris have a saying that if you kill this bird “ka panga te huka” (or, “snow will fall”).

It is generally met with singly or in pairs, but sometimes several are associated, attracting notice by the sprightliness of their movements. They run along the boles and branches of the trees with restless activity, peering into every crevice and searching the bark for the small insects, chrysalids, and larvæ on which they feed. It is generally arboreal in its habits, seldom being seem on the ground, in which respect it differs conspicuously from the closely allied species, Xenicus gilviventris. It has a weak but lively note, the sexes always calling to each other with a subdued trill, and its powers of flight are very limited.

On comparing my specimens of this bird with the type of Mr. G. R. Gray’s Xenicus stokesii in the British Museum, I feel satisfied that they are referable to one and the same species, the difference of plumage being only sexual.

In June 1882 the late Mr. W. A. Forbes made a communication to the Zoological Society, showing, from an investigation of their anatomy, that Xenicus and Acanthisitta (rectius Acanthidositta), hitherto supposed to be allied to Certhia and Sitta, were in reality mesomyodian forms, the discovery of such low types among the Passerine birds in New Zealand being a fact of considerable interest in zoo-geographic distribution. The characters pointed out by this able investigator* went

* The following is extracted from the paper referred to:—

“The subjoined drawings of the syrinx of Xenicus—with which in all points Acanthisitta appears to agree in every essential respect—will show that it has none of the complex nature of that organ in the Oscines, the thin lateral tracheal muscle terminating on the upper edge of a somewhat osseous box formed by the consolidation of the last few tracheal rings, and there being uo other intrinsic syringeal muscle whatsoever. The box has a well-developed antero-posterior pessular piece. The bronchial rings are throughout of quite simple form, and are separated by but narrow intervals. None are modified in form to serve for the insertion of a vocal muscle, as the latter terminates higher up, as already described, on the tracheal box, and therefore quite out of the region of the bronchi.

Synrix of Xenicus longipes, much enlarged. A From in front. B. From Behind. m. Lateral tracheal muscle.

Synrix of Xenicus longipes, much enlarged. A From in front. B. From Behind. m. Lateral tracheal muscle.

“The lateral position of the single syringeal muscle is that characteristic of all the Mesomyodian Passeres, though in most of these it terminates on one of the bronchial rings, and not, as in the birds under consideration, on the sides of the trachea. This may easily be seen by comparing the accompanying flgures of Xenicus with the beautiful series given by Johannes Müller of the syrinx of many of the Neotropical Mesomyodi, with those of Garrod of Pitta, or my own of Eurylamms, Oymbirhynchus, and Philepitta. In fact it resembles rather that of Todus, as lately described and figured by myself. Externally the non-oscine nature of Xenicus and Acanthisitta is at once proclaimed by the structure of their wings, which have a ‘first’ (tenth) primary nearly as long as the preceding one, and by the non-bilaminate tarsus. The latter is covered almost completely by a single large scute, with only some very obsolete traces of transverse division below, whilst behind its edges are contiguous for the greater length of the tarsus, leaving only small areas at each end of that bone, which are covered by very small scutellæ of irregular form. The digits are slender and compressed, the foot being slightly syndactyle by the union of the fourth toe to the third for the greater part of its two most basal joints. The tail is short and weak; and there are only ten rectrices in each of my specimens. [This is the normal number.] In all other points, Xenicus and Acanthisitta conform to the general Passerine type. There is no trace of a plantar vinculum. The tendor patagii brevis has the peculiar arrangement characterizing the Passeres, only slightly masked by the muscular fibres somewhat concealing the two superimposed tendons, as is frequently the case in the short-and-rounded-winged forms of the group. The gluteus primus is well-developed. The tongue is lanceolate and horny, with its apex somewhat frayed out and its base spiny. The main artery of the leg is the sciatic. The sternum has a single pair of posterior notches and a bifld manubrium. In the skull the nostrils are holorhinal, the vomer broad and deeply emarginate anteriorly, the maxillo-palatines slender and recurved.” (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1882, pp. 569–571.)

page 110 to show that the affinities of the Xenicidæ (as he proposed to call the family) could only make it compare with Pipridæ, Tyrannidæ, Pittidæ, and Philepittidæ. From all these groups, however, it differs widely in the number of rectrices, the character of the tarsus, and the non-oscine syrinx.

The nest (of which there is a specimen in the Canterbury Museum) is usually placed among the upturned roots of a fallen tree, or in the fork of a double trunk, at a low elevation from the ground. It is a compact structure, composed entirely of green moss, oval in form, measuring about eight inches in length by about five inches in breadth, with a small entrance on the side not far from the top, and so small as scarcely to admit the tip of the finger*.

Mr. W. W. Smith has furnished me with the following note:—“The Bush-Wren nests in small holes and forks of trees and builds a very comfortable nest. When found in a hole they are generally open at the top or cup-shaped; when built in a fork they are slightly hooded. The eggs, which are usually five or six in number, are small, roundish in shape, and white with irregular pink blotches on the thick end.”

* One which was found in a birch-forest far up the Havelock, in the month of December, was so admirably hidden amongst the surrounding moss that its detection was quite accidental. It was situated beneath the moss-covered roots of a ribbon-wood tree, and was pouch-shaped in form, with the opening near the top, and composed almost entirely of minute fern-roots, carefully interwoven, especially at the entrance. It measured about 3·6 inches in height by 3 in breadth; and the cavity, which was profusely lined with feathers, extended to a depth of 2·6 inches, with an opening one inch and a half across. (‘Journal of Science,’ vol. ii. p. 281.)

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