A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Le Coucou brun varié de noir, Montb. Ois. vi. p. 376 (1779).
Society Cuckoo, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. p. 514 (1782).
Cuculus taitensis, Sparrm. Mus. Carls, t. 32 (1787).
Cuculus taitius, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 412 (1788).
Eudynamys taitensis, Gray, Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 193 (1843).
Cuculus fasciatus, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 160 (1844).
Eudynamys cuneicauda, Peale, U. S. Expl. Exp. p. 139, pl. 38. f. 2 (1848).
Eudynamys tahitius, Gray, B. Tr. Isl. Pacif. Ocean, p. 35 (1859).
Eudynamis taitiensis, Cab. & Heine, Mus. Hein. Th. iv. p. 56 (1862).
Eudynamis tahitiensis, Potts, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. iii. p. 90 (1870).
Koekoea, Kawekawea, Koheperoa, and Kohaperoa.
♂ ad. brunneus, pileo longitudinaliter fulvo striato: corpore reliquo superiore brunneo et pallidè ferrugineo conspicuè at irregulariter transfasciato: tectricibus alarum fulvo maculatis: caudâ brunneo et ferrugineo transfasciatâ alboque terminatâ: remigibus brunneis, ferrugineo maculatis, fascias irregulares formantibus: supercilio angusto fulvo: regione auriculari brunneâ angustissimè fulvo lineatâ: genis et collo laterali albis ferrugineo lavatis et brunneo longitudinaliter striatis: subtùs albicans, plumis medialiter brunneo striatis et ferrugineo tinctis: hypochondriis brunneo transfasciatis: subalaribus fulvescenti-albis, angustè brunneo striatis: rostro pallidè brunneo, ad basin saturatiore, mandibulâ flavicante: pedibus viridi-flavis, unguibus brunneis: iride rubescente, interdum flavicante: regione ophthalmicâ nudâ sordidè viridi.
♀ vix a mari distinguenda: paullò minor: coloribus sordidioribus.
Juv. pallidior, suprà ubique albido maculatus, nec fasciatus: caudâ pallidè fulvo transfasciatâ: subtùs ochraceus, pectore abdomineque maculis elongatis triquetris notatis: rostro flavicanti-brunneo: pedibus viridi-flavis.
Adult male. Upper surface dark brown, with a purplish gloss, longitudinally streaked on the head and neck, barred and spotted on the wings and back with rufous; wing-coverts tipped with fulvous white; quills dark brown, banded with pale rufous; tail-feathers marked in their whole extent with narrow alternate bars of dark brown and rufous, tipped with white and finely glossed with purple; a broad line of yellowish white passing from the nostrils over the eyes, and another extending downwards from the angles of the mouth; lores and chin white, with numerous black hair-like filaments; sides of the neck dark brown mixed with rufous; throat, fore part of neck, breast, and sides of the body pure white, with numerous longitudinal streaks of brown, each feather having a broad mark down the centre; lining of wings fulvous white or pale fawn-colour; femoral plumes and under tail-coverts crossed with broad arrow-head marks of brown. Bill pale brown, darker at the base, and yellowish on the lower mandible; irides reddish brown, inclining in some to yellow; bare skin surrounding the eyes dull green; tarsi and toes greenish yellow; claws dark brown. Total length 16·5 inches; extent of wings 21; wing, from flexure, 7·5; tail 9·75; bill along the ridge I, along the edge of lower mandible 1·4; tarsus 1·5; longer fore toe and claw 1·4; longer hind toe and claw 1·25.page 128
Adult female. Slightly smaller than the male, and with the tints of the plumage duller, the purple gloss on the upper parts being scarcely perceptible.
Young. Upper surface blackish brown, marked on the crown with narrow streaks, on the hind neck with fusiform and on the back with rounded spots of fulvous yellow; quills and tail-feathers blackish brown, barred and tipped with fulvous brown. Under surface pale cinnamon-brown; on each side of the throat two longitudinal streaks, and on the breast and sides of the body broad shaft-lines of dusky black; under tail-coverts barred and tibial plumes crossed with marks of the same colour in the form of an inverted V. Bill yellowish brown; tarsi and toes greenish yellow.
Obs. In examples of the young birds much difference is observable both in the ground-tints and in the markings of the plumage. Some are much darker than others, and have the spots on the upper surface pale rufous instead of fulvous yellow; in others, again, they are yellowish white; some have the barred markings on the tail-feathers very obscure, while in others they are as distinct as in the adult, although not so regular in form.
Note.—There is a remarkable phenomenon in the animal world known to naturalists as “mimicry,” or the law of protective resemblance. It is developed chiefly among insects, and particularly among the Lepidoptera. Mr. Wallace describes, at page 205 of his enchanting book on the ‘Malay Archipelago,’ a butterfly which, when at rest, so closely resembles a dead leaf as almost to defy detection. The varied details of colouring combine to produce a disguise that so exactly represents a slightly curved or shrivelled leaf as to render the butterfly quite safe from the attacks of insectivorous birds, except when on the wing. The flight of the insect, on the other hand, is so vigorous and rapid that it is well able then to protect itself. Mr. Wallace adds that in many specimens there occur patches and spots, formed of small black dots, so closely resembling the way in which minute fungi grow on leaves that it is impossible not to believe that fungi have grown on the butterflies themselves! This protective imitation must obviously favour the species in the general struggle for existence, and may of itself be sufficient to save it from extinction. But there is another kind of “mimicry,” where one insect which would, on discovery, be eagerly devoured, assumes for similar protective purposes a close resemblance to some other insect notoriously distasteful to birds and reptiles, and often belonging to a totally different family or order. Numberless instances might be given in illustration of this singular fact, every department furnishing examples of adaptation more or less complete, and all being explainable on the principle of variation under natural selection or the “survival of the fittest.” Mr. Wallace, when exploring in the Moluccas, was the first to discover similar instances of mimicry among birds, although the law of protective colouring had long been known to exist in the case of birds’ eggs. He gives two very curious examples of external resemblance co-existing with very important structural differences, rendering it impossible to place the model and the copy near each other in any natural arrangement. In one of these a Honey-sucker has its colours mimicked by a species of Oriole, and the reason is thus stated:—“They must derive some advantage from the imitation, and as they are certainly weak birds, with small feet and claws, they may require it. Now, the Tropidorhynchi are very strong and active birds, having powerful grasping claws, and long, curved, sharp beaks. They assemble together in groups and small flocks, and they have a very loud, bawling note, which can be heard at a great distance, and serves to collect a number together in time of danger. They are very plentiful and very pugnacious, frequently driving away crows and even hawks, which perch on a tree where a few of them are assembled. It is very probable, therefore, that the smaller birds of prey have learnt to respect these birds, and leave them alone, and it may thus be a great advantage for the weaker and less courageous Mimetas to be mistaken for them. This being the case, the laws of Variation and Survival of the fittest will suffice to explain how the resemblance has been brought about, without supposing any voluntary action on the part of the birds themselves; and those who have read Mr. Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ will have no difficulty in comprehending the whole process.”
Among the many minor instances that have attracted notice, the English Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is supposed to derive protection from the resemblance of its markings to those of the Sparrow-Hawk (Accipiter nisus); but the resemblance is far more striking between our Long-tailed Cuckoo and a North-American species of Hawk (Accipiter cooperi). In fully adult specimens of the former it will be observed that the markings of the plumage are very pronounced, while the peculiar form of the bird itself distinguishes it very readily from all other New-Zealand species. Beyond the general grouping of the colours there is nothing to remind us of our own Bush-Hawk; and that there is no great protective resemblance is sufficiently manifest from the fact that our Cuckoo is persecuted on every possible occasion by the Tui, which is timorous enough in the presence of a Hawk. During a trip, however, on the Continent, in the autumn of 1871, I found in the Zoological Museum at Frankfort what appeared to be the accipitrine model, in a very striking likeness to our bird. Not only has our Cuckoo the general contour of Cooper’s Sparrow-Hawk, but the tear-shaped markings on the underparts and the arrow-head bars on the femoral plumes are exactly similar in both. The resemblance is carried still further in the beautifully banded tail and marginal wing-coverts, and likewise in the distribution of colours and markings on the sides of the neck. On turning to Mr. Sharpe’s description of the “young male” of this species in his Catalogue of the Accipitres in the British Museum (p. 137), it will be seen how many of the terms page 129 employed apply equally to our Eudynamis, even to the general words “deep brown above with a chocolate gloss, all the feathers of the upper surface broadly edged with rufous.”
The coincident existence of such a remarkable resemblance to a New-World form cannot of course be any protection to an inhabitant of New Zealand, and I do not pretend in this instance to apply the rule; but in the light of natural selection, to which at present no limit can be assigned, the fact itself is a suggestive one, and sufficiently striking to call for special mention.
The illustration which accompanies this article, although it may have the appearance of an exaggeration, is in reality a true picture of bird-life. The Long-tailed Cuckoo, which is a native of the warm islands of the South Pacific, visits our country in the summer and breeds with us; but the task of rearing its young (as many witnesses can testify) is entrusted to the Grey Warbler (Gerygone flaviventris), figured in our Plate—a species that performs the same friendly office for the Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus), another summer visitant.
Drs. Finsch and Hartlaub, in their valuable work on the Birds of Central Polynesia, record the occurrence of this species in Samoa, as well as in the Friendly*, the Society, the Marquesas, and the Fiji groups of islands; but although it migrates to New Zealand, there is no mention of its occurrence in any part of Australia or Tasmania.
In the still summer’s evening when the landscape is wrapped in the gloom of faded twilight—when no sound meets the ear but the low musical song of the pihareinga cricket and the occasional hum of a Prionoplus on the wing—there comes from the thicket a long-drawn cry, shrill and clear; then a pause of five minutes or more, followed by another cry; and so on at intervals till long after the pihareingas have ceased to chirp and the nocturnal beetles have folded their wings in sluggish repose. This is the first intimation we get that the Long-tailed Cuckoo has come amongst us.
It begins to arrive about the second week in October, but is not numerous till the following month, when the pairing commences. It is, however, somewhat irregularly dispersed over the country; for in the far north it is at all times a very rare bird. In the southern portion of the North Island, and throughout the wooded parts of the South Island, it is comparatively common. It appears to be most plentiful in November and December, becoming scarcer in January and disappearing altogether by the end of February. I have a note, however, of its occurrence at Otaki (in the North Island) as late as the first week in April.
Young birds are not unfrequently met with in the month of March or even later; but it seems probable that these are only solitary individuals hatched too late to permit of their joining in the return migration, and accordingly left to perish as the cold season advances; and this is likewise the case with our Shining Cuckoo. As an illustration of this, I may mention that a young bird of this latter species, which had been picked up dead in a garden, was brought to me at the end of February (long after the old birds had quitted the country), and that I found it excessively fat, and the stomach crammed with caterpillars—strong presumptive evidence that the bird had not suffered from the neglect of its foster-parents, but had succumbed to the exigencies of its late birth.
In the early dawn and during the cool hours of the morning, the Long-tailed Cuckoo resorts to the low underwood and brushes; but although its cry may be frequently heard, it is not easy to find the bird, inasmuch as the sound, though produced within a few yards of the listener, has the effect on the ear of one coming from a remote distance. This species, in fact, appears, like some others of the same family, to be endowed with a sort of natural ventriloquism, and its apparently far-off cry is often very deceptive.
* Dr. Finsch has identified a young male in the spotted dress in a collection of birds from the island of Eua.
It is not unusual to hear a pair of these birds answering each other for hours together from the tops of neighbouring trees. Indeed, I have observed that it is habitually stationary, for it may often be heard uttering its long, plaintive scream for a whole day in the same tree, but always quite out of view. During the quiet nights of December its piercing cry may be heard at intervals till break of day, varied only in the earlier watches by the solemn hooting of the Morepork.
This species is more predatory in its habits than is usual with the members of this group. Lizards and large insects form its principal diet; but it also plunders the nests of other birds, devouring alike the eggs and young. From the stomach of one which I shot in December 1856, I took the body of a young bird (apparently a Piopio), partly fledged and only slightly mutilated, showing the enormous capacity of the Cuckoo’s throat. This interesting object, preserved in spirit, is now in the collection of the Colonial Museum at Wellington. The large nocturnal beetle (Prionoplus reticularis), the various species of Deinacridœ and Phasmidœ, the kekereru or fetid bug, the large bush Cicada, and different kinds of spiders and caterpillars, all contribute to the support of this bird; for I have found their remains in abundance in the stomachs of specimens I have dissected.
As already stated, it is accustomed to rob the nests of other birds; and whether from this or some other cause, it is an object of constant persecution to the Tui or Parson bird. The instant one of these birds shows itself, the Tui commences its pursuit, chasing it from tree to tree, and fairly driving it out of the woods. I have actually seen three or four of these persecutors at one time following the unfortunate Cuckoo, with loud cries of intimidation, and, finally, compelling it to take refuge in the long grass on the banks of a stream.
During its sojourn with us it is generally met with singly or in pairs, but Captain Mair gives the following interesting particulars of a summer flight:—“Passing down the Hurukareao river, in the Urewera country, during the intensely hot weather of February 1872, I was astonished at the number of Koheperoa that coursed about overhead. During the three days that we were making the passage, I saw some hundreds of them, swarming about in the air like large dragon-flies, as many as twenty or thirty of them being sometimes associated together. The loud clamour of their notes became at length quite oppressive. There was much dead timber on the banks of the river, and it appeared to me that the birds were feasting on the large brown cicada. This is the only occasion on which I have observed this bird consorting as it were in parties.”
* Mr. Justice Gillies thus describes a nest of the Grey Warbler which he found depending from a manuka bush close to the roadside, and about five feet from the ground, at the Bay of Islands (it was on the 7th October, and the nest contained four eggs):—“It is of the shape of a soda-water bottle, eight inches in length by about four in diameter at its widest part. The side aperture is fully one-third way down from the twig on which it hung, and measured one and a half inches across by about one inch perpendicular. The upper portion of the nest somewhat overhangs the aperture, forming a sort of hood. The nest is composed of twigs, grass, cow-hair, and greenish spider-nests, with a white coral-like moss scattered over the outside. The eggs are ten sixteenths of an inch in length by seven sixteenths of an inch greatest diameter, ovoid, of a faint pinkish colour, with small brown spots, more numerous at the larger end of the egg.” The learned author continues:—“How the Long-tailed Cuckoo (Eudynamis taitensis) can, as stated by Dr. Buller (‘Birds of New Zealand,’ p. 75), deposit its eggs in such a nest I can scarcely understand. On the 22nd instant (October) one of my children discovered, under a large Cupressus macrocarpa in my garden, a specimen of the Eudynamis taitensis, recently killed, apparently by a Hawk. It would have been impossible for the Eudynamis to have entered the opening in the nest of the Greygone.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 524.)
On referring to the page of my first edition as cited above, it will be seen that, so far from making the supposed statement, I then expressed, as I now repeat, a very decided opinion to the contrary.
An egg forwarded to me some years ago by the Rev. R. Taylor, of Wanganui, as belonging to this species, is almost spherical in shape, with a slightly rough or granulate surface; it is of a pale buff or yellowish-brown colour, and measures 1·25 inch in length by 1·15 in breadth. A specimen in the Canterbury Museum, taken by Mr. Smith from a Warbler’s nest at Oamaru, in November 1885, corresponds exactly with mine (which is now in the Colonial Museum at Wellington) except that it is slightly narrower.
“Oct. 29th. Found Wood-Robin’s nest with two eggs. Oct. 31. Visited Robin’s nest; four eggs. Nov. 3. Agreeably surprised to find egg of Eudynamis taitensis placed among the rest; for this is the first time I have seen its egg in the nest of this species. It was almost round in shape, with a deeper shade of colour than the specimen in the Canterbury Museum. Nov. 7. Found Robin sitting, and did not disturb her. Nov. 10. Made bird fly off, in order to examine the eggs, which I found to be all right. She was very tame, and came close to my face whilst I was looking at the eggs. Nov. 15. Again found bird on the nest, and left her undisturbed. Nov. 24. Visited nest again, and found all the eggs hatched; young Cuckoo of enormous size compared to its mates; must have been hatched out later than the others, as one of the young Robins was dead. I took the former in my hand, and found it to be a very helpless creature, with the skin almost entirely naked and the eyes closed. Nov. 28. Found young Cuckoo thriving well, being kept constantly supplied with food by the Robin, whose own surviving offspring, three in number, appear likewise to be doing well. Dec. 2. Young Cuckoo growing rapidly. It will soon be too large for the nest, and already has to lie on the top of the young Robins. Dec. 6. Cuckoo still in nest, and now covered with thick blackish downy feathers. It seems very robust; and I observed it raise its body over the edge of the nest in order to void its excrement. Dec. 8. Young Cuckoo has grown so much that it quite fills the cavity of the nest. The young Robins appear instinctively to remain at the bottom for self-preservation; for if the Cuckoo could displace them, he could occupy the whole of the cavity of the nest. Dec. 9. Removed two of the young Robins, in order to make room for the increasing size of the Cuckoo. Dec. 10. Young Cuckoo and remaining Robin doing well, the latter being nearly ready to fly. Dec. 11. Placed the nest, with both occupants, inside a box with wire-netting in front—the mesh being large enough to admit the head of the parent—and left it there. Dec. 15. Found young birds quite active, having been fed by the old ones through the netting. Liberated the Robin and brought the Cuckoo home. It is now in fine plumage, spotted with white or greyish white on a brown ground. Dec. 17. Cuckoo doing well and eats freely. Moves about the box in a clumsy way, and utters a peevish chirp, usually after being fed. Legs well developed, but apparently weak; eyes very bright. Dec. 22. Young Cuckoo died last night, much to my regret, as I was anxious to make it live through the winter.”
Shining Cuckoo, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. p. 528, pl. xxiii. (1782).
Cuculus lucidus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 421 (1788, ex Lath.).
Variable Warbler, Lath. Gen. Syn. Suppl. ii. p. 250 (1801).
Sylvia versicolora, Lath. Ind. Orn. Suppl. ii. p. 250 (1801).
Chalcites lucidus, Less. Traité d’Orn. p. 153 (1831).
Cuculus nitens, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 151 (1844).
Cuculus versicolor, Gray, Gen. of B. ii. p. 463 (1847).
Chrysococcyx lucidus, Gould, B. of Austr. iv. pl. 89 (1848).
Cuculus chalcites, Illiger, MS. in Mus. Berol., undè
Chrysococcyx chalcites, Licht. Nomencl. Av. p. 78 (1854).
Lamprococcyx lucidus, Cab. & Heine, Mus. Hein. Th. iv. p. 14 (1862).
Chrysococcyx plagosus, Hutton (nec Lath.), Trans. N.-Z. Inst. (1872), vol. v. p. 223*
Warauroa, Pipiauroa, and Pipiwarauroa.
Ad. suprà metallicè viridis, æneo et cupreo nitens, supracaudalibus lateralibus latè albo semifasciatis: fronte, supercilio distincto et facie lateral albo maculatis, viridi transfasciatis: loris mentoque albidis haud viridi notatis: tectricibus alarum dorso concoloribus: remigibus brunneis, ad basin pogonii interni albidis, primariis extùs æneo nitentibus, secundariis magis conspicuè lavatis et pennis dorsalibus omninò dorso concoloribus: caudâ brunneâ, æneo-viridi nitente, fasciâ anteapicali nigricante, rectricibus tribus exterioribus ad apicem pogonii interni albo maculatis, pennâ extimâ albo conspicuê fasciatâ, penultimâ in medio vix rufescente tinctâ: pectore et subalaribus albicantibus transversim æneo-viridi fasciatis: abdomine puriùs albo, hypochondriis subcaudalibusque conspicuè æneo-viridi transfasciatis: rostro nigro: pedibus brunnescenti-nigris, plantis pedum flavicantibus: iride nigrâ.
Juv. obscurior et sordidior, minùs metallicus: tectricibus alarum brunneo marginatis: caudâ nusquam rufescente: gutture et pectore superiore fulvescenti-albis, fuscescenti-brunneo variis, vix viridi lavatis: corpore reliquo subtùs fulvescenti-albo, hypochondriis et corporis lateribus fasciis interruptis metallicè viridibus notatis: subcaudalibus maculis viridibus triuetris transnotatis.
* “Captain Hutton says that the Chatham-Island Bronze Cuckoo is not the same as the New-Zealand one, but is C. plagosus of Australia, in which opinion I do not agree, after having compared a specimen from the Chatham Islands lent me by the New-Zealand Institute. The underparts show a little broader gold-green crossbands, and the second tail-feathers, instead of two welldefined rusty bands, have only indications of them; but there is no other difference, and I see no reason to separate the Chatham Island bird from the New-Zealand C. lucidus.” (Finsch, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 227.)
Young. Metallic tints of the upper parts duller; upper wing-coverts edged with brown; tail-feathers as in the adult, but with the rufous markings obsolete; throat and fore part of neck yellowish white, clouded and mottled with dusky brown, faintly glossed with green; underparts generally yellowish white, marked on the sides and flanks with fragmentary or interrupted bands of dull shining green; the under tail-coverts crossed by broad triangular spots of the same.
* Cf. Ramsay, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. vol. iii. p. 256.
This is undoubtedly the most tropical-looking of our birds. The glancing of the sunlight on its burnished plumage is very effective, especially, too, when the bird is seen resting on the bare stems of the quasi-tropical Cordyline, or feeding on the green-and-gold cicada, which is so abundant there*.
* In New-Zealand scenery there is much to remind one of a tropical country. The scattered clumps of “cabbage-trees” in the open and the nikau-palms in the deep wooded gullies have quite a tropical aspect, and the wild luxuriance of the evergreen bush brings vividly to mind the rank prodigality of a Brazilian forest. To show that this is not a mere play of fancy, I will give here a leaf from my own diary containing an account of a day at Rio do Janeiro:—
“We landed from the S.S. ‘Tongariro’ at 9 A.M. on the 1st April, and came on board again before midnight, having spent a very pleasant day on shore. On landing, we walked through the market-place, which was interesting, then up the principal street, through which no wheeled vehicles are permitted to pass. The passage is narrow and the balconies are overhanging, giving it the appearance of a street in Constantinople. Many of the shops are most attractive in their multifarious exhibits—feather-plumes, rare butterflies, and brilliant beetles being not the least interesting objects. At the street corner we took a tramcar, and, after one or two changes, proceeded to the railway station, passing on our way some fine public and private buildings, notably a marble palace, the property of a rich coffee-planter. Many of the gardens are very beautiful, being brilliant with tropical flowers of every hue. After a short delay at the station, we entered the railway carriage and started up the Corco Vardo line. From the commencement to the finish at the peak the trip was one of unmitigated enjoyment. The day was clear as crystal, with the sun hot and bright; and the scenery was enchanting. The railway line, which ascends spirally at a gradient of 1 in 3, is something quite unique. Looking down into the deep gullies, I was often reminded of our beautiful New-Zealand bush in the tangled richness of the vegetation. There was the same character of forest-growth, the same crowding together of the tree-tops, the same wealth of lianas, vines, and epiphytes, but all on a more luxuriant scale. In place of our Astelia cunninghamii, with its narrow flag leaves, the trees were laden with large clumps of some tropical species with leaves six inches in width; in place of our tiny-flowered orchids there were magnificent tropical species with gorgeous blossoms. There was along the wayside a dense undergrowth in every shade of green, but the leaves were larger and the foliage richer than in the New-Zealand woods, whilst in the places exposed to the sun beautiful flowers of brilliant hues added the charm of high colour to this sylvan picture. The ground below the forest trees was covered with vigorous young plants of many kinds; but the eye sought in vain for that ever-present charm of the New-Zealand bush, the carpet of spreading ferns and mosses. Here and there could be seen a tuft of maiden-hair or a clump of Pteris struggling to assert itself, but nothing to remind the observer of the glorious beds of Lomaria, the fields of Asplenium bulbiferum, and the other beautiful forms so familiar to the wanderer in our native woods. As our train moved slowly up the side of the mountain, the eye seemed never tired of gazing on this view of tropical growth, rendered the more conspicuous by clumps of banana-trees and groups of beautiful palms, lifting their tops proudly above the forest vegetation, whilst huge masses of crimson and purple flowers lightened up the rolling landscape of living green.
“Then all along the line brilliant butterflies of every size and colour fluttered in the warm sunlight; glorious morphos, with a spread of six inches and of the richest metallic blue, hovered, hawk-like, among the trees; large black-and-grey ‘swallow-tails’ winged their way like Swifts among the lower vegetation; crimson Danaidæ and smaller forms of different kinds-scarlet, golden-yellow, green, or spotted—rested on the leaves or hovered over the flowers, almost within reach of our delighted party, some being actually caught by the hand from the carriage windows. Then here and there a tiny humming-bird, sparkling like a ruby under the rays of the midday sun, might be seen suspended before an open flower or spinning like a moth through the air in search of its absent mate. Such were the sights of tropical loveliness through which we passed on our way to the summit of the Corco Vardo. The view from this point, which is just 2200 feet above to sea-level, baffles description. The far-reaching panorama of sea and land, the wondrous archipolago in front and the glorious amphitheatre of mountains behind—on the one hand the boundless Atlantic, on the other the towering peak of Techuka, 3300 feet high, rising out of deep valleys filled with tropical forests; then, contracting the scope of vision to the left, the city of Rio in all its quaint oriental beauty lying before you far down in the plains, its suburbs of villas and gardens spreading away for miles and far as the eye can reach, whilst to the right, nestling as it were in an illimitable expanse of ornamental shrubbery, are the Botanical Gardens, with their double row of Imperial palms in perfect symmetry, their feathery tops reared nearly a hundred feet above the ground, presenting a picture of unparallelled beauty; then, still further contracting the scope of vision, the sides of the Corco Vardo and the deep ravine below, clothed and filled with a perfect tangle of tropical vegetation, wildly exuberant in its growth, presenting every hue of green, and enlivened with spreading floral masses of purple and white. The view which burst upon us when we took our stand on the topmost peak of the Corco Vardo was, in short, one which no human artist could depict and no words describe: a view to be gazed on once and then remembered all through life!”
During its sojourn with us it subsists almost exclusively on caterpillars, and the black leech which attacks our fruit-trees. It is therefore entitled to a place among the really useful species.
In disposition it is very gentle. On one occasion I was watching this bird from the window of my hotel, foraging in the garden below for caterpillars, while a brood of young Sparrows were doing the same. Whilst the Cuckoo rested for a moment on a slanting stick, the Cock Sparrow dropped down till it almost touched him, as if to inspect his shining coat. The object of these attentions never left his perch, but simply swerved his body and spread his outer wing, without uttering a sound. I noticed that the young Sparrows were far more active in catching caterpillars than the Cuckoo, although both birds adopted the same plan of search, darting right into the shrub-tops and bringing out their victims to batter and kill them before swallowing.
Its general attitude is that depicted in the Plate, with its tail half-spread and its wings drooping, my artist having utilized a pencil-sketch which I made of a captive bird as it rested quietly on the paper-basket in my study.
Its cry is a remarkable one, as the bird appears to be endowed with a peculiar kind of ventriloquism. It consists of eight or ten long silvery notes quickly repeated. The first of these appears to come from a considerable distance; each successive one brings the voice nearer, till it issues from the spot where the performer is actually perched, perhaps only a few yards off. It generally winds up with a confused strain of joyous notes, accompanied by a stretching and quivering of the wings, expressive, it would seem, of the highest ecstasy. The cry of the young birds is easily distinguished, being very weak and plaintive*.
I had a young bird brought to me as late as the 15th February. It appeared to be in vigorous health, with the membrane at the angles of the mouth still visible; and on being approached by any one would open its mouth in an imploring sort of way, but without making any sound.
Like the Long-tailed Cuckoo already described, this species is parasitic in its breeding-habits, and entrusts to a stranger both the hatching and the rearing of its young.
The little Grey Warbler (Gerygone flaviventris) is the customary victim; but exceptional cases have been recorded where the duty was entrusted to the South-Island Tomtit (Myiomoira macrocephala); and Captain Mair assures me that he once saw the young of this species attended and fed by a Korimako (Anthornis melanura). Dr. Bennett, writing of the same bird in Australia, states† that the egg of the Shining Cuckoo has been found in the nest of Acanthiza chrysorhina, and that he has seen a nest of this bird with five eggs, that of the Cuckoo being deposited in the centre of the group, so as to ensure its receiving the warmth imparted by the sitting bird, and thus less likely to be addled. He also narrates the following circumstance:—“A White-shafted Flycatcher (Rhipidura albiscapa) was shot at Ryde, near Sydney, in the act of feeding a solitary young bird in its nest, which, when examined, was found to be the chick of the Bronze Cuckoo of the colonists…… It was ludicrous to observe this large and apparently well-fed bird filling up with its corpulent body the entire nest, receiving daily the sustenance intended for several young Flycatchers.”
Mr. G. M. Thomson records in the ‘Journal of Science’ (vol. ii. p. 576) that an egg of this Cuckoo was found on November 5th in a House-Sparrow’s nest which had been built in a large bramble-bush and which contained besides three legitimate eggs. He describes it as being “10 lines long, of very thin texture, and much paler than usual, being of a pale greenish white feebly marked with pale brown spots and markings”‡
* Captain Mair writes to me:—“Speaking from ten years’ observation of this bird in the Tauranga district, I may state that it never sings after the middle of February and seldom after the beginning of that month. As lite as the end of March or beginning of April, during several successive years, I have met with these birds in the Mangorewa forest between Tauranga and Rotorua, but never heard them utter a note at this season. I have seen numbers of them perched in silence on the branches of the poporo (Solanum nigrum), always in full feather, but absolutely songless. This I regard as a very curious fact.”
† Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia, p. 207.
‡ Mr. Thompson states, further, that in Otago, Gerygone flaviventris, Myiomoira macrocephala, and Zosterops cœrulescens. are the usual foster-parents. Mr. Gould records that, in Australia, the task of incubation is often delegated to the Yellow-tailed Acanthiza, and adds, “I have several times taken the egg of the Cuckoo from the nest of this bird, and also the young, in which latter case the parasitical bird was the sole occupant.” Mr. Potts reports (Journ. of Science, ii. p. 477) that at Ohinitahi he found an egg of this species in the nest of Zosterops cœrulescens, together with three eggs of the dupe. He enumerates sixteen instances, between Oct. 28 and Jan. 6, of its being found in the nest of Gerygone flaviventris. Generally there were from one to three eggs of the dupe in the nest; in two cases (Dec. 18 and Jan. 6) the Cuckoo egg only; and in three other cases (Dec. 17, Dec. 23, and Jan. 1) the young Cuckoo only. He states further that he has in his possession an egg of this bird taken from the nest of Gerygone albofrontata at the Chatham Islands.
As it is usual to find the Cuckoo’s egg associated with those of the Grey Warbler, we may reasonably infer that the visitor simply deposits its egg for incubation without displacing the existing ones. But the young Cuckoo is generally found to be the sole tenant of the nest; and the following circumstance, related to me by the Rev. R. Taylor, sufficiently proves that the intruder ejects the rightful occupants and takes entire possession. He discovered the nest of a Grey Warbler in his garden-shrubbery containing several eggs, and among them a larger one, which he correctly assigned to the Shining Cuckoo. In due time all the eggs were hatched; but after the lapse of a day or two the young Cuckoo was the sole tenant of the nest, and the dead bodies of the others were found lying on the ground below. At length the usurper left the nest, and for many days after both of the foster-parents were incessantly on the wing, from morning till night, catering for the inordinate appetite of their charge, whose constant piping cry served only to stimulate their activity.
Since the above was written, I have had an opportunity of examining a young Cuckoo in possession, and it exhibits a droll phase of bird-life, the intruder occupying the entire cavity of the nest, with its head protruding from the opening.
I have received from Mr. W. W. Smith, of Oamaru, some interesting notes from his diary*, showing how inevitably the young Warblers, in the struggle for existence, must succumb to the more vigorous intruder.
The egg of the Shining Cuckoo is of a broad ovato-elliptical form, generally of a greenish-white or very pale olive colour, often clouded or stained with brownish grey, and measuring ·8 of an inch in length by ·5 in breadth. One taken by myself, many years ago, from the nest of a Grey Warbler, in the manuka scrub, on what is now the site of a flourishing city, was of a pale creamy colour; and another, which was laid by a captive bird in my possession, is pure white. A specimen in the Otago Museum is broadly elliptical in form, measures ·7 of an inch in length by ·5 in breadth, and is of a uniform dull olivaceous grey inclining to brown. Of two specimens in my son’s collection one is rather more elliptical in form and of a uniform olivaceous brown, somewhat paler at the smaller end; the other (which came from the Chatham Islands) is pale olivaceous grey, perceptibly darker at the larger end, and very minutely granulated with brown over the entire surface.
* “Oct. 7th. Found a nest of Gerygone flaviventris, with four small eggs and one much larger. The latter I take to be the egg of the Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus). Left the nest, intending to return in a few days. 11th. Visited place again. The Grey Warbler flew out when I approached. Five eggs still all right. 21st. Still unhatched. 24th. Two young ones hatched; one egg lying on the ground outside the nest, containing chick quite could and dead. 25th. Three young ones in nest; large egg unhatched. 26th. Large egg hatched—a chick of the Shining Cuckoo; very clumsy in nest, lying on top of the three young Warblers. 30th. Found one dead chick lying on the ground; two young Warblers still alive; young Cuckoo growing rapidly, being now nearly large enough to fill the nest itself; beak and legs fairly well developed. Nov. 2nd. One of the young Warblers lying dead in nest, the other alive. Young Cuckoo has now its eyes open; signs of feathers on the neck and wings, but underparts of the body perfectly bare. 5th. Visited nest again. Young Cuckoo thrust out its head to receive food when I approached. Lifted the surviving young Warbler out of the nest, and found it very feeble. 6th. Young Cuckoo lying with its head at opening of nest, having taken full possession. Its lifeless companion was lying underneath, having apparently died from starvation. 8th. Found young Cuckoo almost ready to leave its cradle. Brought both nest and bird home with me. 10th. Thriving well, being fed on small worms, grubs, flies, spiders, and very small pieces of lean meat. 15th. Has now come out of nest; eats largely three times a day, but does not care for meat; increasing rapidly in size. 20th. Nearly feathered. Placed it in a cage, but it looks sickly. 21st. Young Cuckoo died. Proved, on skinning, to be a male bird.”