A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Majaqueus Parkinsoni. — (Black Petrel.)
Procellaria parkinsoni, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 245.
Majaqueus parkinsoni, Gray, Hand-1, of B. iii. p. 108 (1871).
Procellaria parkinsoni, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 302 (1873).
Native names.—Taiko and Kuia.
Ad. oraninâ brunnescenti-niger, interscapulio scapularibusque pallidioribus marginatis: rostro flavicanti-brunneo, culmine et apice brunnescentibus: pedibus nigris: iride nigrâ.
Adult. Entire plumage brownish black, the feathers of the back and mantle narrowly edged with a lighter shade. Irides black; bill yellowish horn-colour, shaded with dark brown on the culmen and towards the tips of both mandibles; legs and feet black. Total length 18 inches; wing, from flexure, 1375; tail 5; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible 2, length of lower mandible 2; tarsus 2; middle toe and claw 2·75.
Young. Plumage, as in the adult, glossy black; down adhering to underparts long, thick, and blackish brown in colour; bill black, marked with horn-grey on the sides and unguis; feet black.
Nestling. The young is first thickly covered with sooty down, which adheres to the plumage for a considerable time, as in other Petrels, imparting to the body an appearance of unnatural size. It comes off first from the head, breast, and upper surface; and in this operation the bird itself no doubt assists.
Obs. The above description of the adult is taken from a New-Zealand specimen in the British Museum, presented by Miss R. Stone. Some examples have the underparts much tinged with brown.
This species, which appears to be peculiar to the New-Zealand seas, is by no means uncommon in the Hauraki Gulf, resorting to the Little Barrier and adjacent islands to breed. Mr. Kirk, the well-known botanist, who has carefully explored these islands, informs me that he found both this and Gould’s Petrel breeding in subterranean burrows. He observed that the two birds differed entirely in character—M. gouldi being extremely vicious, fighting savagely even with a dog when attacked, whereas M. parkinsoni would allow itself to be seized by the hand in its burrow almost without resistance.
It is diurnal in its habits, hunting in the open sea like the Albatros. I have watched several at one time following our steamer, not immediately in the ship’s track, but wheeling about with angular wings, like black kites, occasionally mounting high in the air, then descending almost to the surface, and always maintaining a circular course of flight.
It has a soft whistling cry of kuia, whence its name. It is also said to make at certain times a mewing sound, like a young cat.
I have not often been able to identify them on the wing, for, at a little distance, dark Petrels are all very much alike. A pair which I saw, in fine, calm weather, off the port of Napier early in December, were flying low, keeping close to the surface of the water, and with a somewhat rapid movement of their wings.page 243
The stomachs of several which were examined contained blubber-like matter and the sharp-pointed beak of some cephalopod.
My son Walter obtained at Manawatu, in the month of September, an adult bird which had been captured by the Maoris far inland; and at this season it was so fat that he had the utmost difficulty in detaching the skin.
It breeds in communities, often resorting for that purpose to the tops of low mountains far removed from the sea. The Maoris soon discover these breeding-places, and not only collect the young, but capture large numbers of the old birds by lighting fires on calm nights and thus decoying them to their destruction.
In the Bay of Plenty, about four miles north of Matata, there is a high sea-cliff of soft sand-stone called Te Tuhi-o-mahuika. The softer parts of the rock have been eroded by the weather, leaving the harder contorted strata intact and projecting from the face of the cliff in all sorts of eccentric shapes; and here it was, according to Maori tradition, that their famous ancestor, Mahuika*, obtained most of his patterns in the art of ornamental “tattooing.” That is doubtless a myth, but after allowing the eye to rest for some time on these curious natural devices in the face of the rock, I found I could trace a resemblance to many of the typical forms in the highly artistic moko of the present day. In the deeper cavities caused by this singular erosion of nature the Black Petrel forms her nest and hatches her brood in perfect security, no one ever attempting to scale these perpendicular cliffs.
Mr. Cheeseman writes to me from Auckland:—“This species breeds on the coast-ranges north of the Manukau, and on the Cape Colville peninsula, also on many of the small islets off the eastern shore. A friend fishing a short time ago in Rangitoto channel, caught a small shark, which he cut up for bait, throwing portions overboard. He was soon surrounded by large numbers of M. parkinsoni, and by continuing to throw over small pieces of the shark, he induced them to come so near the boat as to enable him to kill several with the blade of his oar, some of which he brought to the Museum.”
Mikaera, a Wainuiomata native, brought to the Colonial Museum, on the 1st February, an egg of this species which he had taken from a burrow in the hills on the north side of Wellington harbour; and I have received eggs from the Little Barrier in the beginning of December.
* Mahuika was the Maori “Ulysses.” It was he who discovered the art of making fire by the friction of two dry sticks. He had dominion over the animal creation and was exacting in his demands. On one occasion, according to mythical tradition, being thirsty he appealed to the Kiwi to bring him water. The bird refused, whereupon he kicked it and broke its back, which accounts for the crouching attitude of the Kiwi as compared with other birds.
An egg in my son’s collection is broadly elliptical, measuring 2·7 inches in length by 2 in breadth; originally white, it is much soiled over its entire surface by contact with the bird’s feet. Other specimens which I have examined are slightly narrower or more elliptical.
* Trans. N.-Z. Inst, vol. xviii. pp. 87, 88.