A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Order GALLINE — Fam. TETRAONIDÆ
Coturnix Novæ Zealandiæ
Coturnix novæ zealandiæ, Quoy et Gaim. Voy. de l’Astr. (Zool.) i. p. 242, pl. 24. fig. 1 (1830).
Native names.–Koreke and Kokoreke.
ad. supra rufescenti-brunneus: dorsi plumis medialiter fulvo striatis, utrinque nigro marginatis, plumis quibusdam nigro irregulariter maoulatis aut vermiculatis: pileo saturatius brunneo, supercilio et linea verticali fulvescentibus: collo postico et laterali fulvescente: facie laterali et gutture toto castaneis, genis et regione auriculari paullo nigricante variis: tectricibus alarum minimis et medianis dorso concoloribus, his magis fulvescentioribus: remigibus nigricantibus, secundariis anguste fulvo vermiculatis: rectricibus nigris, fulvo transfasciatis, scapis etiam rufescenti-fulvis: subtus albioans, pectore superiore et abdomine imo fulvescentibus: pectoris plumis nigro marmoratis, fascia latâ nigrâ transfasciatis, abdominis plumis fasciis sagittiformibus nigris notatis: hypochondriis rufescenti-fulvis nigro transversim irregulariter fasciatis, et conspicue medialiter albo striatis: crisso et subcaudalibus nigro notatis et fasciatis: subalaribus albidis, anguste brunneo marginatis, margine alari brunneo vario: rostro nigro, versus apicem dilutiore: pedibus pallide carneis: iride pallide brunneâ.
♂ ad. mari similis, sed paullo major, ubique dilutior: facie castaneâ et pectore nigro absentibus: facie laterali guttureque fulvescenti-albis, illâ brunneo maculatâ: corpore reliquo subtus rufescente, abdomine medio albicante, plumis omnibus nigro marginatis, pectoris plumis et hypochondriis medialiter albo lineatis.
♂ juv. similis feminae, sed facie laterali et gutture pallide rufescentibus: corporis subtus plumis latius nigro marginatis.
♂ juv. similis feminæ adultæ, sed corporis subtus plumis magis distincte nigro marginatis.
Adult male. Crown of the head and nape dark brown edged with paler, a series of feathers down the centre and on the sides marked in the middle with yellowish white; shoulders, mantle, and all the upper surface rufous brown, beautifully varied with black, and marked with numerous Ianceolate stripes of white. On closer examination it will be found that this effect is produced by each feather having a broad lanceolate mark of white down the shaft, bordered on each side with black, dark brown on the webs, fancifully rayed, or banded transversely, and largely tipped with rufous brown. Lores, line over the eyes, sides of head, and throat rufous, with a lunar mark from the ear-coverts on each side, and an anterior edging or border of black; lower part of the neck mottled or obscurely spotted with black and white, the former preponderating; examined separately, however, each feather is black crossed by irregular bands and largely tipped with white; sides and long plumage overlapping the thighs rufous brown, each feather margined and marked down the centre with white, and handsomely streaked and barred on the webs with brownish black; abdomen fulvous white, the under tail-coverts barred with black; primaries and outer secondaries dark brown, the latter rayed on their outer webs with zigzag lines of paler brown; inner secondaries and all the wing-coverts, as well as the tail-feathers, greyish brown, varied with pale rufous, each feather with a narrow shaft-line of white. Irides light hazel; bill black, paler at the tip; tarsi and toes pale flesh-brown. Total length 8·5 inches; extent of wings 14; wing, from flexure, 4·25; tail 1·5; bill, along the ridge ·5, along the edge of lower mandible .6; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw 1·25.
Adult female. In the female there is no rufous colour on the face or throat; the upper surface is light ferruginous brown mixed with fulvous, and handsomely varied with black; the lanceolate stripes are yellowish page 226 white, changing to fulvous on the longer secondaries and on the lower part of the back; the throat, fore neck, sides, and flanks ferruginous brown, and the breast fulvous white, all more or less varied with black; on the neck and breast each feather is marked near the tip with a broad crescent, and on the webs with irregular spots of brownish black; the feathers covering the sides, and the long feathers overlapping the thighs, have a broad stripe of white down the shaft and are streaked and marbled on both webs with black; the abdomen is white, the sides fulvous, and the under tail-coverts dark fulvous varied with black. The female is, moreover, slightly larger than the male in all its proportions.
Young male. In the young male the prevailing colour of the upper surface more nearly approaches that of the adult female. The rufous colouring on the cheeks and throat is very pale, and the lunate marks are less distinct than in the adult. The plumage of the underparts is largely washed with fulvous, and the dark crescents are broader and more conspicuous.
Young female. The only perceptible difference in the markings of the young female is that the dark crescents on the under surface are better defined and less blotched than in the adult bird. In my old collection (now in the Colonial Museum) there are two young females from the same nest, in one of which the prevailing tint of the plumage resembles that of the adult female, while in the other it approaches very near to that of the adult male.
Very young state. Crown of the head light fulvous varied with dark brown; ear-spots black; back and upper surface of wings yellowish brown, with dull black markings, each feather with a lanceolate stripe of fulvous white down the centre; throat and fore neck buffy white; breast and underparts pale buff, each feather marked near the tip with two converging elongate spots of a dull black colour. Bill, tarsi, and toes pale brown.
Obs. A beautiful male specimen obtained many years ago at Whangarei, in the North Island, and presented to me by Major Mair, differs from all my South-Island examples in having the whole of the plumage darker, the breast being almost entirely brownish black, relieved only by a few touches of fulvous white; the rufous colour on the face and throat is brighter, the lanceolate markings on the upper surface are very distinct, and the abdomen is fulvous.
* To these may now be added the Swamp-Quail (Synoïcus australis), which has rapidly spread itself over the North Island, being plentiful even in the Taupo country. Three specimens of this bird (obtained at Tauranga) were sent to me by the Hon. Dr. Pollen, the then Premier, and I afterwards handed them over to the Colonial Museum with the following note:—“Two of these are in the normal plumage of the ♂ and ♀; the other is a remarkable instance of melanism. The entire plumage is a brownish slate-colour, paler on the underparts; on the crown and nape there are obsolete shaft-lines, and the whole of the upper surface is obscurely varied and mottled with blackish brown, washed with chestnut-brown on the wings. It is slightly smaller than the other specimens and proved on dissection to be a male.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xiv. p. 534.)
According to the Maoris, even in the North Island it was formerly very abundant, certain grassy plains, like the Murimotu, in the Taupo district, being noted for them. Even at the present day, in the investigation of title in the Native Lands Court, the older generation of Maoris, when giving their evidence, often refer to the Quail preserves of former times in support of the tribal title*.
Sir Edward Stafford related to me the following circumstance in illustration of the suddenness with which the Quail disappeared from localities where it had once been plentiful:—On one occasion about the year 1848, accompanied by two other sportsmen, he went out to his own estate, about thirty miles from Nelson, for a day’s Quail-shooting; and in the course of a few hours the party bagged 29½ brace. In the hope of preserving the game, he prohibited any shooting over this ground during the following year; but in the ensuing season, when he naturally looked for some good sport, there was not a single Quail to be found!
Sir Frederick Weld (the present Governor of the Straits Settlements), about the same period, tried a similar experiment on his property at Stonyhurst, but with no better success. Finding the Quails very abundant in a particular locality, and being anxious to preserve them, he protected a suitable cover of about 2000 acres, never allowing the sheep upon it, nor permitting fires to overrun it. When this protection was first extended, there were almost incredible numbers of Quails on the land; but in less than a year they had all disappeared. In 1851 Dr. Shortland found it very numerous on the open downs of Waikouaiti; and as late as 1861, as we learn from Haast’s ‘Journal of Exploration in the Nelson Province,’ it was “still very abundant on the grassy plains of the interior, rising close to the feet of the traveller at almost every step.”
A specimen was shot by Major Mair at Whangarei in 1860; Sir James Hector reports the taking of a pair at Mangawhai in 1866; Captain Mair saw one at Maketu in 1867; and the Hon J. C. Richmond met with some in the Taranaki district in the months of November and December 1869. These are, I believe, the last recorded instances of its occurrence in the North Island. In the more retired portions of the South Island it was occasionally to be found down to 1875; but it had before that entirely disappeared from the settled country on the eastern side of the Alps.
In the autumn of 1860 I met with a bevy of nine on a dry grassy ridge in the midst of some shallow swamps about two miles from Kaiapoi (in the provincial district of Canterbury); and having with me a good pointer, I fortunately succeeded in bagging the whole of them. They afforded capital shooting, rising quickly and, after a low rapid flight of fifty yards or more in a direct line, dropping suddenly into the grass again. The stomachs of those I opened contained green blades of grass and a few bruised seeds, as well as some small fragments of quartz. The bevy consisted of an adult male and female, with seven birds of the first year; and as we may infer from the circumstances under which they were found that they comprised a single family, we have some evidence that this species is not less prolific than the other members of the extensive tribe to which it belongs.
* Extract from Aporahama Te Kume’s evidence in the Tokoroa case, at Cambridge, June 1880:—“Wahineiti died at Tauranga. He said to Ngatikes, Don’t take me to Maungatautari but to Tokoroa, that the rushes of my land may grow over me, and that my body may drink the dews of Tokoroa.’ This occasioned the name of Horohau: hence, too, the proverb ‘Nga wi o Tokoroa.’ These plains were famous for the abundance of Quail.”
It may be interesting to mention, as showing the value attaching to extinct or rapidly expiring forms, that a skin of this bird (and that, too, a female) sent from the Canterbury Museum to Italy fetched as much as ·75. My own collection contains an adult male and female (from the North and South Islands respectively), a young male of the first year, and another in the “very young state” described above. The last-named bird was one of a clutch of four, and I am indebted for this, among other rare specimens, to my lamented friend Sir Julius von Haast, the announcement of whose death in New Zealand reached me whilst these pages were passing through the press.
There is a specimen of the egg of this species (probably the only one in Europe) in Professor Newton’s fine collection at Cambridge; and there are five examples in the Canterbury Museum which exhibit a slight variation in form and a considerable difference in colour. Two of them (presumably from the same nest) are of a regular oval form and of equal size, measuring 1·3 inch in length by in breadth; these are of a pale yellowish-brown or buff colour, thickly marked with umber, the dark colour often preponderating and having the appearance of daubs or smudges on the outer surface of the shell. Two others (also exactly alike) are of a slightly larger size and of a thicker or broader form; these are of a dull cream-colour, sprinkled and minutely dotted all over with blackish brown. In one of them the spots are confluent at the larger end, forming a greyish-brown patch nearly half an inch in diameter; and in both the more conspicuous spots have a light or faded centre. The fifth egg is smaller and more rounded than any of the rest; it is of a yellowish-white colour, covered all over, but more thickly at the ends, with small smudgy spots of umber; and it has likewise a more glossy appearance than the others. On comparing the eggs of this species with those of Coturnix pectoralis, of Australia, there is a manifest difference, those of the latter bird being, as a rule, creamy white, with very obscure surface-spots.
After the above article had been sent to press, I received from the Colony the welcome intelligence that the last refuge of this well-nigh extinct species had lately been discovered. During the recent expedition of the Government steamboat ‘Stella’ to the Kermadec Islands, for the purpose of annexing them to New Zealand, Captain Fairchild, on his return voyage, landed on the Three Kings, a group of small islands situated about 32 miles W.N.W. of Cape Maria Van Diemen, the largest of them being only 1 ¾ miles long by ¾ of a mile in width, and rising about 900 feet above the sea-level. There is no “bush” on this island, but the surface is covered with stunted Leptospermum, fern, flax, and sedges, with here and there a grassy flat. Notwithstanding the scantiness of the vegetation, no less than five plants were discovered entirely new to the New-Zealand flora, and these have since been described and named by Mr. Cheeseman, F.L.S., not the least interesting one being Pittosporum fairchildi. But, from an ornithologist’s point of view, the most important discovery made was the existence there of several bevies of New-Zealand Quail, which were comparatively tame and fearless; and the explorers being fortunately without firearms they were left unharmed.
It is to be earnestly hoped that prompt steps will be taken by the Government to save and perpetuate this last remnant of an expiring race!
Carpophaga Novæ Zealandiæ
New-Zealand Pigeon, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 640 (1783).
Columba novæ seelandiæ, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 773 (1788).
Columba zealandica, Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 603 (1790).
Columba spadicea, Less. Voy. Coq. i. p. 710 (1826).
Columba spadicea leucophæa, Hombr. & Jacq. Ann. Sci. Nat. xvi. p. 319 (1841).
Carpophaga novæ seelandiæ, Gray, in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 194 (1843).
Columba argetræa, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 80 (1844).
Hemiphaga novæ-zealandiæ, Bonap. C. R. xxxix. p. 1077 (1854).
Native names.-Kuku, Kukupa, and Kereru.
Ad. dorso æneo-ferrugineo: pileo antico lætè metallicè viridi, posticè cum nuchâ et colli lateribus magis æneo nitentibus, his cyanescente tinctis: dorso postico et uropygio nitidè viridibus cyanescente lavatis, supracaudalibus olivascenti-viridibus æneo lavatis: tectricibus alarum minoribus et majoribus dorso proximis æneo-ferrugineis dorso concoloribus, majoribus et medianis exterioribus nitidè viridibus: remigibus nigris suprà cyaanescenti-viridi nitentibus, secundariis æneo lavatis: caudâ nigrâ suprà saturatè viridi lavatâ, subtùs nigricante, pennis omnibus versùs apicem cinerascentibus: facie laterali cum gutture toto et pectore superiore lætissimè metallicè viridibus: corpore reliquo subtùs purè albo: subcaudalibus cinerascentibus: subalaribus cinereis: rostro coccineo, versus apicem flavicante: pedibus coccineis: iride coccineâ, annulo ophthalmico pallidè rubro.
Adult male. Head, neck, and fore part of breast shining gold-green, changing according to the angle of view; nape, shoulders, and upper surface of wings, as far as the carpal joint, coppery purple, with bright metallic reflections where this colour blends with the green of the surrounding parts; back and rump greyish green, with dull metallic reflections; quills and their coverts bronzy green, with the inner webs dusky, the secondaries tinged with coppery purple; an obscure band of grey (more conspicuous in the young bird) crossing the outer webs of the primaries, being widest on the fifth and sixth quills; tail-feathers black, with blue reflections on their edges, and terminally margined with brown; under surface of tail-feathers silvery grey towards the base, especially on the outer ones, blackish in their apical portion, with lighter tips; their upper coverts dull shining green; underparts from the breast downwards pure white, the lower tail-coverts tinged with yellow; lining of wings delicate ash-grey. The line of demarcation between the lustrous green and the white is well defined, crossing the breast with an easy curve and terminating immediately above the insertion of the wings, so that when the bird is at rest a narrow margin of white appears over the bend of each wing. Irides and feet carmine-red; soles yellow and covered with small flattened papillæ; claws black; bill carmine-red in its basal half, changing to yellow towards the tip; eyelids pale red, with a reticulate margin, imparting to the brilliantly coloured eyes a very soft expression. Total length 21 inches; extent of wing 32; wing, from flexure, 10.75; tail 8.5; bill, along the ridge .75, along the edge of lower mandible 1.4; middle toe and claw 2.25; the lateral toes equal, being .75 shorter; hind toe 1.4.
Female. Hardly distinguishable from the male, but with the metallic tints of the plumage somewhat duller.
Young. The bronzy plumage of the neck and breast has much less iridescence than in the adult, but the hind neck and smaller wing-coverts are of a rich metallic purple shot with blue and changing in different lights; page 230 the throat is greyish, each feather with a terminal margin of fulvous; the white of the underparts is washed with cream which deepens to fulvous, or sometimes pale rufous, on the flanks and under tail-coverts; the inner lining of the wings is uniform dark grey, and along the carpal flexure there are a few touches of fulvous. The size is appreciably less than that of the fully-grown bird; the bill and irides are of a less decided or lighter colour; the feet instead of being carmine are of a bright coral-red, and the soles pale brown instead of yellow.
Fledgling. A specimen in my collection has the chin and upper part of throat greyish brown, the feathers minutely tipped with whitish grey; the white plumage of the underparts washed with cream-yellow; the under tail-coverts stained with pale rufous; nape and hind neck shaded with coppery and vinous brown; lining of wings clear ash-grey.
Nestling. A very young chick, which I examined as a dried specimen, was covered sparingly with yellowish-White down, looking very much like flax tow, and perfectly bare on the abdomen.
Obs. Before arriving at full maturity the plumage is subject to slight variations. It is not unusual to find the under tail-coverts pale rufous and the white plumage of the underparts clouded or marked with grey.
Varieties. There is a lovely albino in the Colonial Museum, from the Wairarapa, the entire plumage being of a pure milk-white, the small wing-coverts alone presenting a slight tinge of yellowish brown; bill and feet carmine-red. Partial albinos, or light-coloured varieties, are occasionally met with. A specimen presented to me by the late Mr. Edward Hardcastle, R.M., has the head, neck, fore part of the breast, and all the upper parts pale yellowish brown, more or less glossed with purple; the wing-coverts and scapulars stained towards the tips with coppery brown; the quills and tail-feathers uniform pale yellowish brown, tinged with vinous, the tips of the latter paler. In another specimen, shot at Maungakaramea, near Whangarei, and for which I was indebted to the late Mr. Henry Mair, the neck, shoulders, back, upper tail-coverts, scapulars, and wing-coverts present scattered feathers of pure white, imparting to the plumage of the upper parts a spotted appearance. Both of these specimens are now in the Colonial Museum. A third example, in the possession of Mr. William Luxford, of Wellington, has the head, neck, shoulders, and upper wing-coverts coppcry brown, and the rest of the upper parts pale grey; the primary quills tinged with brown at the tips; the underparts of the body white. Another in the Colonial Museum has the head, neck, breast, and upper parts generally pale vinous brown, without any gloss, and becoming darker on the inner webs of the quills and tail-feathers; the shoulders and smaller wing-coverts dark velvet-brown, fading off on the outer feathers, this dark patch upon the lighter plumage forming a very conspicuous feature; bill and feet almost white. Another in my own collection, presented by Mr. W. Marshall, who obtained it in the Upper Rangitikei district, is very similar, but there is a larger admixture of brown in the general plumage, and the velvet-brown extends over the entire mantle but is relieved by a light feather here and there; the quills on their inner webs and all the tail-feathers except the middle one are rufous brown with pale tips. In each wing two of the quills are entirely dark.
There is a very curious example in the Auckland Museum (marked ♂) and obtained from the Waikato in June 1884:-The head, neck, breast, upper surface of wings and tail pale vinous brown, relieved by touches of creamy white; the hind neck shaded with darker brown with a very faint gloss; shoulders, mantle, and smaller wing-coverts bright coppery brown, shaded with ashy brown, the central part of each feather being of that colour; this darker colour prevails on the scapulars, which are entirely dark brown with paler tips, delicately glossed with purple, and with whitish shaft-lines; primaries and tail-feathers dark vinous brown on their inner vanes, and paler brown shading off into creamy white on their outer; the larger wing-coverts pale vinous brown with whitish margins. Underparts pure white. Irides, bill, and feet as in the normal bird. The distinguishing feature is the bright eoppery brown mantle, which is very conspicuous. The outer tail-feathers are much abraded and worn.
Mr. Cheeseman showed me a very finely coloured specimen shot by himself in the neighbourhood of Auckland. In this bird all the colours were highly iridescent, even the tail-feathers having a fine edging of metallic blue*.page 231
Differing again from all the foregoing is a partial albino obtained at Ngunguru and sent to me by Capt. Mair. In this bird the shoulders, back, rump, and upper tail-coverts have a rich appearance, the white predominating. Some of the wing-feathers and their coverts are wholly white, with bronzed edges and clouded with grey, while others again present the normal coloration. The distribution of colours, however, is quite irregular, the white largely predominating in the right wing.
In the Natural History Museum of the Jardin des Plantes there is a curious variety, from the collection of MM. Hombron and Jacquinot, marked “Akaroa, ♀.” In place of the bronzy green the general plumage is dark cinnamon-brown, shaded with vinous brown on the smaller wing-coverts; underparts white with a slight wash of cinnamon which is darker on the under tail-coverts. The wing-feathers are uniform cinnamon-brown; so are the tail-feathers, but these are darker in their central portion and have whitish tips. Bill and feet yellow. This is, I believe, the type of Carpophaga spadicea leucophtsa of those naturalists. This was suggested by me in my former edition (p. 158), but I had not at that time examined and identified the bird, as I have since done.
Remarks. The head is small, the neck of moderate length, and the body full, with a prominent and rounded breast; the primaries graduate upwards to the third and fourth, which are generally of equal length; the fifth is slightly shorter, and the rest are rapidly diminished; the secondaries are broad and rounded; the tail-feathers large and even, forming together an ample fan when the tail is expanded. The plumage is thick and compact, and each feather is furnished with a dense undergrowth of downy plumules of extreme fineness, which branch laterally from both sides of the shaft. This peculiarity is most fully developed in the long plumage of the back, where only the tips of the feathers assume the surface character. By this wise provision of nature, the bird is perfectly clothed in a thick undercovering of soft down, and much warmth imparted to the body. The tarsus is completely concealed. On moving the lowest feathers, however, two broad scutella are exposed; on the middle too there are 11 scutella, on the outer toe 10, on the inner toe 7, and on the hind toe 4.
On some specimens, particularly young birds, a fine white powder, like pulverized chalk, is observable on the feathers of the head and hind neck. I noticed this in a very pronounced degree, and extending to the back, in a bird which I shot on the Pirongia Range in the month of November—so much so as to leave a distinct chalk-mark on any dark object brought into contact with it. It is evidently an emanation from the skin, and doubtless serves some useful purpose in the natural economy of the bird.
Of the large and well-defined group of fruit-eating Pigeons found dispersed over the sea-girt lands of the southern hemisphere, the single species inhabiting New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the finest both for size and brilliancy of plumage.
In its native country it is less esteemed for its beauty than for its value as an article of food; and to both Maoris and colonists, in every part of New Zealand, pigeon-shooting, at certain seasons of the year, affords agreeable recreation, while to many it is a source of profitable employment. Owing to the loud beating of its wings in its laboured flight it is readily found, even in the thickest part of the bush, and being naturally a stupid bird it is very easily shot; so that in a favourable locality it is not an unusual thing for a sportsman single-handed to bag fifty or more in the course of a morning. In some districts the slaughter has been so great during a productive season that the Pigeons have never afterwards recovered their numbers; but in most of our woods, notwithstanding this persistent persecution, they reappear in each successive year in undiminished plenty. The page 232 “season” is indicated by the ripening of certain berries on which this species subsists; and the abundance of the birds is regulated to a great extent by that of the food-supply, which is more or less variable. A sporting gentleman pointed out to me a taraire grove at Ramarama, near Auckland, where in 1869 he found the Pigeons so numerous that he shot eighty-five in the course of two mornings; but in the following year, owing to the partial failure of the taraire berry, there was hardly one to be seen there.
It is to be met with on the Little Barrier, and more plentifully on the Hen and Chickens, just before the large-leaved parapara (Pisonia umbellifera) has ripened its fruit. This bird seems to be fond of the green berries; and it is accordingly very difficult to obtain ripe seed of this valuable tree.
It is said to have made its first appearance at the Chatham Islands about the year 1855. Be that as it may, it is now comparatively plentiful on all the islands of the group, and has been found breeding on Mangare.
In the spring and early summer it is generally very lean and unfit for the table; but as autumn advances and its favourite berries ripen, it rapidly improves in condition, till it becomes extremely fat. It is esteemed most by epicures when feeding on the mast of the miro, which imparts a peculiar richness to the flesh. In January the berries of the kohutuhutu, poroporo, kaiwiria, puriri, mangiao, and tupakihi constitute its ordinary bill of fare. From February to April their place is supplied by those of the tawa, matai, kahikatea, mapau, titoki, and maire. It is worth remarking that in localities where it happens to be feeding exclusively on the pulpy fruit of the kahikatea, it is not only in very poor condition, but acquires a disagreeable flavour from the turpentine contained in the seeds. Towards the close of this period also, the ti-palm, which comes into full bearing only at intervals of three or four years, occasionally supplies this bird with an abundant feast. These tropical-looking palms often form extensive groves in the open country or in swampy situations; and when the Pigeons resort to them they are speared and snared in great numbers by the Maoris, an expert hand sometimes taking as many as sixty in a single day. In May and June it feeds chiefly on the miro and pate, when it reaches its prime and is much sought after. From July to September it lives almost entirely on taraire in the north, and on hinau, koeka, ramarama, and other smaller berries in the south. During the months of October, November, and December it is compelled to subsist in a great measure upon the green leaves of the kowhai (Sophora tetraptera), whauhi, and of several creeping plants. It also feeds on the tender shoots of the puwha, a kind of sow-thistle; and the flesh then partakes of the bitterness of that plant. When the bird is feeding wholly on the dark berries of the whao the colour of its flesh is said to become affected by that of the food.
The Pigeon-season, however, is to some extent contingent on locality; for example, in the spring of 1863 I found these birds in the Upper Manawatu living on kowhai-leaves, and so lean in body as to be scarcely worth powder and shot, while in the low timbered flats under the ranges, where they were feeding on the ripe berries of the karaka (Corynocarpus lœvigata), they were in excellent condition.
At the Rev. Mr. Chapman’s old mission station at Te Ngae (Rotorua), formed in 1835, and now much out of repair and overgrown, there are several hundred acres of sweet-briars, run wild and presenting quite an impenetrable thicket. During the autumn months, when the red berries of the briars are fully ripe, large numbers of the Wood-Pigeon resort to these grounds to feed on this fruit, and at this season become exceedingly fat.
Captain Mair, who kept a winged bird in his possession for about eight months, informs me that it fed readily on boiled potato, rice, wheat, and berries of every kind, and that it ultimately died of sheer fatness. It continued shy and untamable to the last, and on being handled would strike fiercely with its wings. The late Dr. Allison, of Wanganui, however, succeeded in rearing a young one which became perfectly tame and associated with his domestic Pigeons. I may also mention page 233 here, as a somewhat curious fact, that at the Chatham Islands, in 1855, I observed one of these birds flying and consorting with a flock of common dove-cot Pigeons which had taken to the woods and become partially wild.
There is probably no New-Zealand bird that could be domesticated to greater advantage than this Pigeon. Some years ago a tame, healthy, and remarkably handsome one was exhibited at the Wellington Pigeon and Poultry. Show, and carried off the palm against every competitor in that department. Another, which lived for many months in the Acclimatization Gardens at Christchurch, was shipped home to the Zoological Society, but did not long survive the change of climate.
The New-Zealand Pigeon is strictly arboreal, and appears, as a rule, to prefer the densest foliage. When not engaged in filling its capacious crop with fruit or berries, it generally reposes on a thick limb, with the tail drooping and half-spread, the wings closely folded, and the head drawn in; but on the slightest alarm it stretches up its lustrous neck, and gently sways its head to and fro, uttering a scarcely audible coo, slowly repeated. It rises with an awkward flapping, and flies direct, with a rapid opening and closing of its wings, producing the sound so familiar to the gunner’s ear. In the bush it generally flies low, but when settling it habitually makes a graceful upward sweep in its course.
When seen from the front its ample white breast is a very conspicuous object in the bush, and the woodcut at the end of this article (from one of my own sketches) will recall its showy appearance to those who are familiar with the bird in its native haunts.
I have remarked a peculiar soaring habit which this bird indulges in during the breeding-season. Mounting high in the air, in a direct upward course, it suddenly opens its wings and tail to their full extent, and glides slowly downwards in an oblique direction, and without any apparent movement of those members. I very frequently observed this peculiar soaring flight during my ascent of the Upper Wairoa river, north of Auckland, where the solitudes of the endless pine-forests afford this species a secure and quiet breeding-place.
On the wing the whiteness of the underparts is very conspicuous, owing to the manner in which the body is swayed from side to side.
This species retires to the high wooded lands of the interior to breed; and its nest is therefore seldom met with. It is a very rude, flat structure, composed of twigs loosely placed together, and containing generally only one, but sometimes two eggs. These are perfectly oval in form, measuring 1·9 inch in length by 1·4 in breadth; the surface is smooth without being glossy, and of the purest white. Mr. J. D. Enys informs me that on the 8th of January, 1862, he found a nest containing one egg perfectly fresh, on the 31st of the same month another containing a young Pigeon fully fledged, and on the 3rd of February two more nests, in both of which there was a solitary halfgrown bird.
A nest in the Canterbury Museum (received from Milford Sound) consists merely of a layer of dry twigs, so loosely put together that the eggs are visible from beneath.
There is another nest, from Little River (April 1873), which forms a very pretty object. It is placed on the lateral fork of a branch of totara, supported underneath by an epiphytic growth of native mistletoe (Loranthus micranthus), which, although dried, still retains its leaves. The nest (which contains a single egg) is very slight, and admits the light through its foundations, being formed of slender dry twigs of Leptospermum laid across each other and forming a shallow depression, with the ends of the twigs projecting all round. Slight as the structure is, however, there is some appearance of finish about it.
In the Rev. Mr. Spencer’s fine old garden at Tarawera, where well-grown specimens of English oak, elm, and walnut mingle in rich profusion with almost every kind of native tree and shrub, a pair of these birds some time ago took up their abode and bred for two successive years, at a spot page 234 not fifty feet from the reverend pastor’s study windows. And they would doubtless have continued to breed in this quiet retreat had not one of the Maori school-boys, anxious to try his fowling-piece and wholly unmindful of the consequences, shot both birds during the breeding-season, leaving a pair of callow young to perish miserably in their nest.
Some colonists are of opinion that this fine Pigeon is less plentiful than it was formerly; but I do not think there is much fear of its becoming extinct so long as the native forests remain.
Its relative abundance may be inferred from the fact that in July and August 1882, Rawiri Kahia and his people snared no less than eight thousand of them in a single strip of miro bush, about two miles in extent by half a mile in width, at Opawa, near Lake Taupo. The birds thus snared are preserved in their own fat and potted as “huahua kereru.” Food of this kind is esteemed a great delicacy and elaborately carved kumetes are sometimes used for serving it at the tribal feasts.
Notwithstanding its uncertain seasonal movements, there is perhaps no bird so characteristic of the native woods, for, at one time or another, it is met with everywhere. But there are certain tracks of forest which the Pigeon specially affects, the preference being of course due to the predominance of particular fruit-bearing trees. One of these favourite districts is the extensive forest track known as the “Forty-mile Bush,” lying between the townships of Masterton and Woodville, and extending thence eastward towards Napier under the name of the “Seventy-mile Bush.” A good macadamized road passes through this bush-land, a great portion of which is perfectly level; and perhaps in no part of New Zealand can the transcendent beauty of the native woods be seen to greater advantage. Coming from the Wairarapa side, you first of all pass through some magnificent clumps of rimu, many hundreds of acres in extent, with just a sufficient admixture of kahikatea and rata to set off the peculiar softness of the former, with its “fountain of foliage” and its uniform tint of yellowish green, the young trees gracefully drooping their tasselled branchlets of still paler green. Then, fringing the road on the upper or hill-side, for miles together are glorious beds of Lomaria procera, their fronds from three to five feet long, on gracefully pendent stalks, and so closely set that a whole regiment of soldiers might lie in ambush there; then a sudden turn in the road brings you into dense bush again, with its ever-varying shades of green and yellow and brown, blended together in one picturesque and harmonious whole. The tree-fern with its spreading crown is always present—the shapely form of Cyathea dealbata with its large umbrella top, the taller Cyathea medullaris rearing its head some forty feet or more, and Dicksonia antarctica on its massive stem hung round with a brown garment of withered fronds—the lofty dark green rewarewa and brighter kohekohe mingle with the titoki and miro, and the tawa with its light green foliage stands out in bold relief against a dark background of kahikatea trees standing close together. Then you come upon an old Maori clearing abutting on the road, presenting a tangle of new-grown shrubs and saplings, close and compact, and all of the freshest green; and from the very midst of this there rises, like a silent monitor with its bleached arms pointing heavenward, a former monarch of the forest, long since dead and withered and now decaying slowly under the crumbling hand of time, but bearing on its lower forks huge bunches of green Astelia, and quite hidden at its base by a luxuriant growth of underwood. In the more recent openings in the bush the trunks of the trees may be seen laden with tons of climbing plants and epiphytic vegetation of various kinds—the kiekie with its hydra-headed branches of waving tufts, the akakura and the waxy Metrosideros—and the ground below them covered with ferns and mosses and cryptogams in amazing variety. And so, on and on, through endless changes of timber-growths and woodland scenery, as the coach rattles along the road, disclosing new beauties at every turn—now through a river-bottom filled with close-growing kahikatea, then over a ridge covered with Fagus, dark and sombre; now past a wide opening caused years since by the ravages of fire or flood and overgrown with the red-stemmed mako, the native myrtle, and a hundred other less conspicuous shrubs, bound and matted together by masses of tataramoa or covered page 235 with a spreading network of pohuehue; then entering again a stretch of what is known as “mixed bush,” where all kinds of New-Zealand trees and shrubs and ferns are crowded together in harmonious confusion, presenting a study to which no pen, however gifted, could do adequate justice. As you gaze upon this sylvan picture you are forced to admit that there is nothing in the world more beautiful!
As we approach the river-banks, the low bushes are covered with a thick mantle of convolvulus, closely studded or spangled with the pure white flowers, like innumerable luminous stars on a cloth of vivid green; and the tree night-shade (Solanum nigrum) grows in wild luxuriance, its pale blue bells having a pretty effect against the sombre foliage.
But the principal charm of these woods is the rapid change in their aspect as one season succeeds another. In the autumn months, when the berries of various trees have ripened, they are swarming with Pigeons, especially in the more fruitful seasons which occur at intervals of two or three years. In the winter they are deserted, and you may travel for a whole day without seeing or hearing a bird of any kind, except those that commonly frequent the road. But this lifeless season is of short duration, and is followed by the gladness of the early spring-time. The whole bush is then decked out with the beautiful star-like Clematis, hanging in garlands round the trees, festooned in clumps among the lower vegetation along the open roadside, and displaying its petals of snowy white in great profusion. The pukapuka, which is abundant everywhere, supports on its poisonous stems a crown of creamy blossoms in clusters so thick as quite to conceal the leafy top; the kowhai, having shed its leaves, is transformed into a glory of golden yellow, each branchlet bending under a cluster of horn-shaped flowers of uniform pale yellow with a green peduncle.
Visit these woods again at the commencement of summer and the whole scene has changed. The hanging festoons of Clematis have disappeared and in their place may be seen bunches of green silky tassels, containing the seed-vessels of this plant and possessing a characteristic beauty of their own; and underneath the golden kowhai trees the ground is carpeted with fallen petals. But the crowns of Cordyline are now bearing, in rich plenty, their drooping branchlets of fragrant flowers; the tawhero, of which the lower forest is largely composed, is covered with bottle-brush flowers of delicate waxy white; the miro is one mass of whitish inflorescence, intermixed with the pale green foliage of that tree; whilst clinging to the underwood and hanging from almost every branch the kohia creeper exhibits its minute pearly bells in rank profusion. Then every here and there may be seen, placed high up in some sturdy fork, a bunch of Loranthus ablaze with its crimson flowers and forming a picturesque object amidst its green surroundings. The rata, or Christmas-flower, as it is called, is just making its appearance; here and there a vigorous young tree in advance of the rest has swathed itself in colour, but for the most part the only indication at present is a crimson blush on some of the branches. Before the ides of December have passed these noble rata trees will be enveloped in a mantle of flery red. But the whole woodland already seems abloom and the air is laden with a faint but pleasant perfume. As a consequence of this, and the abundance of insect life which it betokens, the bush is again alive with Tuis and other birds.
We rest for awhile in a lovely wooded valley which is illumined by the bright afternoon sun and exhibits some wonderful effects of light and shade. The road lies before us, straight as an arrow, through a wooded vista nearly two miles in length; fringing it, where we stand, is a grove of the beautiful silver-leaved Pittosporum, with shapely tops as if specially trained for some ornamental garden; beyond this a clump of its broad-leaved cousin (Pittosporum undulatum) closely commingled with the ramarama and many other stately shrubs, whilst in the shaded hollow below us are some splendid specimens of the native fuchsia, attaining to the size of veritable trees, some having trunks two feet in diameter and branches laden with moss; then behind comes the low forest all abloom as described, and beyond that, far and away, the rolling “forest primeval” of rimu and rata and kahi- page 236 katea. To add to the enchantment of the spot, there is a whole choir of singing Tuis, who, having regaled themselves among the flowers, are now piping and sobbing in chorus; a wandering flock of Zosterops, quite concealed from view, are warbling a low, pathetic lay; a solitary Warauroa from a lofty tree-top emits his plaintive call, with none to answer; and heedless of all the rest a tiny Riroriro, hiding in a bramble-bush, trills its silvery note with untiring energy. Then, as we move forward, a Parrakeet, startled by our approach, rises from the low underwood with laboured and zigzag flight and settling on a branch near the roadside adds its lively chatter to the other sounds of this sylvan valley. As the sun goes down and the shades of evening advance all these voices are silenced; but the Tui continues still to flit across our path, and the Flycatcher to display its pretty fan as it hawks for invisible flies. Then comes the scream of the Kaka as it wings its distant way high above the tree-tops; after which, with scarcely a moment of twilight between, the woods are plunged in gloom, the Owl comes out from its hiding-place, and the glow-worms shine on the damp roadside.
Such is the New-Zealand bush, replete, as it is, with a flora entirely its own-charmingly green in summer and winter alike-the pride and glory of the land and the natural home of the birds whose life-history I have endeavoured to portray in the foregoing pages.
* Mr. T. W. Kirk gives the following description of another remarkable variety shot by Mr. Greville in the Seventy-mile Bush and presented by him to the Colonial Museum:—“Head, neck, and fore part of breast, which in ordinary specimens are shining gold-green, are here thickly strewn with white feathers. On the fore neck the coppery purple band is replaced by a largo patch of pure white feathers. The nape, shoulder, and upper surface of wings are also thickly strewn with white feathers; back and uropygium have likewise very white patches, but getting fewer towards the latter portion. The bright green of the breast is succeeded by a band of pale grey, which fades as it approaches the abdomen. Quills and tail-feathers normal colour. In no instance is a parti-coloured feather to be found, the white feathers being pure; even the shafts are destitute of colour, Eycs pink, with carmine-red as is usual; feet paler than oustomary; the soles flesh-colour rather than yellow; bill normal colour.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xviii, p. 129.)