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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Majaqueus Gouldi — (Grey-Faced Petrel.)

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Majaqueus Gouldi
(Grey-Faced Petrel.)

  • Pterodroma macroptera, Gould, Handb. B. of Austr. ii. p. 449 (1865, nec Smith).

  • Æstrelata gouldii, Hutton, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. ii. p. 79 (1869).

  • Procellaria gouldi, Hutton, Cat. Birds N. Z. p. 47 (1871).

  • Procellaria gouldi, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 308 (1873).

Native name.—Oii.

Ad. fuliginoso-niger, subtús brunnescentior: fronte, loris et facie anticâ albicanti-cinereis: rostro et pedibus nigris; iride nigrâ.

Adult male. General plumage sooty black, tinged with brown on the underparts; forehead and parts surrounding the base of the bill whitish grey, shading gradually into the darker plumage. Irides, bill, and feet black. Total length 17 inches; wing, from flexure, 12; tail 5; bill, along the ridge 2, along the edge of lower mandible 1·75; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 2·5.

Female. Differs from the other sex only in having the plumage more suffused with brown, many of the feathers of the back, breast, and under tail-coverts being margined with pale brown.

Young. There is a full-grown fledgling in the Auckland Museum, in which the plumage is as in the adult, but with long thick down of a sooty-grey colour still adhering to the breast, and some paler-coloured down on the throat. Obtained on the Hen Island in the Hauraki group.

Nestling. Covered with dingy slaty-grey down; the black feathers appear first on the head and in four or five parallel series on the cheeks. The down is long, thick, and fluffy, especially on the underparts; and the bill and feet are perfectly black.

Remarks. The form of this Petrel is rather slender; the tail is long and cuneate; and the wings, when folded, extend about half an inch beyond it.

I have taken the above description from the type specimen in the Auckland Museum. Professor Hutton, who first distinguished the species, observes:—” It is very common on the Tasmanian and New-Zealand coasts, and is undoubtedly the bird that Mr. Gould refers to as the dark Petrel with a grey face, which he shot off the coast of Tasmania, and which he suggests might be Procellaria macroptera of Dr. A. Smith. According to that author, however, the bird he called P. macroptera has no grey face, but a white circle round the eye and reddish-brown legs and feet, in all of which respects it differs from the present bird … . I am informed by Mr. Kirk that this bird breeds in holes on a little island called Kitakita, near the Kawau, and that when attacked by dogs fights hard for its life, often tearing open their noses with its sharp curved bill, and in this respect differing remarkably from P. parkinsoni, which we found on the Little Barrier Island to surrender at discretion, without any fighting.”

As already stated on p. 221, Mr. Salvin disallows this species; but I have thought it safer to retain it for the present, especially as Dr. Finsch writes:—” I got the type specimen from the Auckland page 246 Museum for comparison, and am quite sure of its specific distinctness” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 233).

I have seen this Petrel as far south as the Bay of Plenty. It flies low and more swiftly than M. parkinsoni.

Unlike the preceding species, which resorts to the summits of the hills, this Petrel, which is comparatively plentiful on the Little Barrier, generally seeks holes near the base of the cliffs. They breed in companies, sometimes four or five pairs having their nests within the same little cavern, each nest being placed at the end of a separate burrow, having a bend and varying in length, with an oval chamber at the further end. These burrows are generally about three feet in extent (one, however, measured four), and the nest-chamber is decidedly smaller than that usually formed by Majaqueus parkinsoni. The egg is deposited on a few dry leaves, there being very little care bestowed on the nest itself.

Like the allied species it is diurnal at sea, and doubtless sleeps at night on the bosom of the deep, for it does not return to land after the responsibilities of the breeding-season are over; but with the recurrence of spring, the reproductive instinct impels it again to navigate its way back to its “island sanctuary” to repair its burrow and refit its nest.

Reischek found Gould’s Pertel all round the coast of the Little Barrier, and on some occasions came upon wild pigs intent on rooting out the eggs and young birds. This they would often accomplish if the conditions were favourable. In the case of Æstrelata cookii, however, the length and tortuous course of the burrow placed the nest beyond the reach of these merciless depredators. The above collector found broken egg-shells at the end of August, and the Maoris say that the breeding-season extends through September, which is no doubt the fact, as the young birds do not come to their full maturity till the end of December or beginning of January, when the food-parties repair to the island to dig them out.

Curiously enough, here again Messrs. Hutton, Kirk, and Reischek are at issue, for the latter says:—“Instead of being fierce like Procellaria parkinsoni, which rushes to the attack the moment the dog shows himself at the mouth of the hole, P. gouldi is a comparatively mild bird, retiring when molested to the furthest corner of its burrow, and only biting when taken hold of.” As this collector furnished me with specimens of both birds, there can be no doubt as to the identification of the species to which his notes refer.

My explanation of this conflict of testimony among accurate observers is that it is impossible to lay down any general rule of character for either species, their conduct under circumstances entirely novel to them being determined partly by the disposition of the individual bird and partly by the conditions under which they are found, for theoretically a mother with hatched offspring would be fiercer than the occupant of a newly-made nest.

There is a breeding-place of this Petrel, as I am informed, sixty miles inland from Opotiki, near the source of the Waioeka, a river which takes its rise in Maungatapere and Rangiwhakakapua, the range of mountains terminating at the East Cape. It is said to breed in large numbers on the Island of Karewa, in the Bay of Plenty. In March the Maoris visit the island and collect the young of this and other species.

This Petrel breeds also on Whale Island and on the other small islands off the east coast, on several of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, and (according to Cheeseman) on the coast-line north of the Manukau.

An egg of this species, in the Auckland Museum, which was obtained on one of the small islands in the Gulf of Hauraki, is of a regular oval form, measuring 2·6 inches in length by 1·76 in breadth, and is of a dirty white colour. Another specimen in my son’s collection is more ovoid, measuring 2·75 inches in length by 1·95 in breadth, and is of a creamy-white colour.