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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Anas Chlorotis. — (Brown Duck.)

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Anas Chlorotis.
(Brown Duck.)

  • Anas chlorotis, Gray, Voy. Ereb. and Terror, p. 15, pl. 20 (1844).

Native names.—Tarawhatu, Patake, Tete, and Tete-whero.

ad. suprà saturatè brunneus, dorsi plumis vix olivaceo lavatis et obsoletè fulvo marginatis, tectricibus alarum cinerascenti-brunneis, pallidiùs marginatis, majoribus rufescenti-fulvo terminatis: remigibus saturatè brunneis, scapis rufescentibus, minimis extùs sordidè viridibus rufescenti-fulvo terminatis, secundariis extùs angustè fulvo limbatis: scapularibus fulvo vermiculatis, extùs nigricantibus: supracaudalibus brunneis, latiùs fulvo marginatis: caudâ brunneâ angustè fulvo limbatâ: pileo sordidè rufescenti-brunneo, nigro vario: regione oculari albidâ: facie laterali brunneâ, genis rufescentibus: regione supraparoticâ viridi versus occiput extendente: gulâ fulvescente: pectore ferrugineo, maculis obsoletis nigris cordiformibus marmorato: abdomine medio crissoque pallidioribus, fulvescentioribus, obsoletè nigro transnotatis: hypochondriis brunneo et fulvescente transvermiculatis, plagâ crissali utrinque nigrâ, rufescente marginatâ et suprà viridi nitente: subcaudalibus nigris: subalaribus et axillaribus albis: rostro saturatè brunneo, ungue pallidiore: pedibus pallidè brunneis: iride saturatè brunneâ.

♀ capitis et colli lateribus fulvescentibus minutè brunneo striolatis: pectore haud rufescente: hypochondriis et scapularibus haud vermiculatis: subcaudalibus rufescentibus nigricante medialiter notatis.

Adult male. Head and anterior portion of neck blackish brown, darker on the crown, and narrowly edged with rufous, mottled on the chin with fulvous; eyelids greyish white; sides of the head posteriorly and the nape shining green in certain lights; this dark plumage is bounded anteriorly by a narrow zone of rufous white which nearly encircles the neck; below this zone and on the lower part of fore neck castaneous, changing into chestnut-brown on the breast and sides of the body, with numerous obscure rounded spots of black; general upper surface dark fuscous, margined with pale brown, and slightly glossed with green; on the lower sides of the neck posteriorly and on the smaller scapulars numerous freckles and vermiculations of pale rufous brown; the longer scapulars have a broad apical spot of velvety black on their outer webs, below which, and on the inner webs, they are vermiculated with pale ferruginous; primaries dusky brown, highly glossed with green, and margined on their outer webs with a narrow line of pale rufous brown; outer secondaries shining velvety green on their outer webs, with a broad apical margin of rufous white, dusky on their inner webs, their coverts dark brown, terminally edged with rufous, the closed wing presenting a dull speculum margined accordingly; the long inner secondaries dull shining green on their outer webs, broadly edged with pale fulvous; inner lining of wings and axillary plumes pure white, with a wash of dark brown near the margin; the long plumage covering the flanks castaneous brown, beautifully vermiculated with pale ferruginous; abdomen pale brown, obscurely spotted with a darker shade; below the vent and the under tailcoverts velvety black, tipped with brown; on each side of the rump a conspicuous spot of white, with black vermiculations on its upper edge; tail dark glossy brown, its upper coverts shining greenish brown, margined with rufous. Irides black; bill bluish black, the pectination of the upper mandible yellowish brown; feet dull slaty grey. Length 17 inches; wing, from flexure, 8; tail 4; bill, along the ridge 1·65, along the edge of lower mandible 1·75; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 2·25.

Adult female. Head and anterior portion of neck blackish brown; the crown darker, and edged with rufous; the sides of the head, throat, and fore neck thickly speckled and mottled with fulvous grey; no gloss on the head, nor is there any marginal zone on the neck, the colours gradually blending; lower part of neck behind page 258 and all the upper surface dark fuscous, each feather broadly margined with pale yellowish brown; lower sides of neck and upper part of breast dark fulvous brown, and the abdomen fulvous white, the feathers of these parts being largely centred with brown, and presenting on the surface a soft mottled appearance; long plumage covering the flanks dark brown, broadly edged with fulvous; surface of wings and tail as in the male; under tail-coverts brownish black, sometimes edged with rufous. Bill greyish brown; legs and feet pale yellowish brown.

Young male. Head and neck as in the adult female; there is no gloss on the crown, nor white circlet on the fore neck; the lower part and sides of neck are dull ferruginous brown, each feather with a central round spot of darker brown in its apical portion; breast and abdomen rufous white mixed with fulvous and obscurely spotted with brown; scapulars, as well as the long plumage covering the flanks, dark brown margined with fulvous, and showing little or no vermiculation; under tail-coverts pale rufous, blotched with dark brown; in place of the white rump-spots a few feathers freckled brown and white.

Nestling. Covered with thick, soft down, blackish brown with lighter markings on the upper surface; chin and underparts yellowish brown.

Varieties. In some examples of the male, the colour of the lower part of neck and breast deepens to a dark chestnut, and the abdomen is mottled and banded with pale fulvous on a dark brown ground; while in others the white circlet is wanting, and the vermiculation on the upper parts is scarcely apparent.

An albino form, the whole of the plumage being of a dull cream-colour, with obsolete markings, was shot in the Horowhenua Lake in June 1878.

In the Colonial Museum there is a partial albino, the head, hind neck, shoulders, and upper surface of wings being varied with irregular patches of white.

In the hands of the local taxidermist, Mr. Liardet, I saw two more (also from the Wairarapa) with partially white heads, and at Wanganui I examined a specimen in which the whole of the head and neck, and a portion of the back, were pure white.

Obs. The example figured in my Plate is a particularly fine male bird obtained in the Canterbury district, the skin of which is now in my collection:—Crown dark castaneous with greenish reflexions; the rest of the head, as well as the nape, metallic or bronzy green; a mark of fulvous white, a quarter of an inch wide in the middle, separating the dark brown of the upper fore neck from the rich castaneous colouring below; the feathers of the lower hind neck and shoulders more or less vermiculated with chestnut-brown; scapulars very prettily marked, being dark brown with a broad lunate spot of velvety black on the outer web, bordered along the inner edge with a line of fulvous brown, beyond which the webs are conspicuously vermiculated with chestnut-brown.

The female is somewhat smaller than the male. In some specimens the large wing-coverts overlapping the speculum are broadly margined at the tips with pale rufous.

Note. Mr. Reischek brought from the West Coast Sounds some examples of an apparently smaller form of this Duck. A pair of these (now in my collection), marked male and female, were shot together at night, at the mouth of a creek in Supper Cove. The male (in the “young” plumage described above) gives the following measurements:—Total length 16·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 7·25; tail 2·75; bill, along the ridge 1·5, along the edge of lower mandible 1·75; tarsus 1·25; middle toe and claw 1·9. The female is smaller, the wing from flexure being only 7 inches.

Some confusion has hitherto existed regarding this species, owing to the differences of plumage exhibited by the male, female, and young; but I trust that the above exhaustive account will sufficiently clear up the difficulty. I have shot birds in the various states of plumage described above, and have determined the question of sex by careful dissection.

This elegant little Duck is distributed all over the country, being met with in every inland lake, and often in the deep freshwater streams which run into them, where the overhanging vegetation affords ready shelter and concealment. Being a nocturnal feeder, it is not so commonly seen as the page 259 Grey Duck and the “Black Teal” or Scaup. It always retires up the creeks in the woods during the day, or conceals itself among the sedges and vegetation which usually fringe the inland water-courses and lagoons. At Horowhenua, for example, where they are particularly abundant, you rarely surprise one, except by means of a dog, during the heat of the day. But after sunset they begin to collect on the surface of the lake, emerging in pairs from their concealment, swimming down to the mouth of the bush creek, and then taking wing to their place of rendezvous. They then form into flocks, sometimes of considerable size, and are on the alert, feeding about the lake generally all night long. When hunting for its food, it makes a peculiar and rather musical sniffing noise.

For many miles along the low banks of the Manawatu and other tidal rivers in the North Island there are what the settlers term “kahikatea swamps,” extending often considerable distances inland. Here the land, at all times wet and swampy, is liable to frequent inundations from the river freshets. The trees, which consist almost entirely of white pine, are laden with a prodigal growth of kiekie (Freycinetia banksii), which entwines itself around the trunks, throwing out, tier above tier, its waving bunches of flag-leaves till a single tree sometimes supports many tons of this epiphytic growth; it also spreads along the damp ground, forming an almost impenetrable tangle, and shading from the sunlight the deep water-holes left by the subsiding river. Into this secure retreat, where the sportsman and his dog alike are baffled by the very exuberance of the vegetation, the Brown Duck loves to betake itself during the day, coming out in the cool hours of the evening to feed in the creeks and lagoons.

This Duck often wanders to a distance from its usual haunts. It has been met with in a raupo swamp far up the Wangaehu valley, and Captain Mair has found it among the thick undergrowth in a kakikatea swamp, in the remote Urewera country.

In the settlers’ bush-clearings at Eketahuna, in the Forty-mile Bush, I found them long after dark in the drains or watercourses along the sides of the road, diligently hunting for their food and uttering at intervals a soft and rather musical note. They were very tame, allowing me to approach within a few feet of them.

It is a very indifferent flier, but swims well and dives with facility. When shooting on a lake near Tiakitahuna, in the Upper Manawatu, some years ago, I came upon a flock of sixty or more of these birds; instead of taking wing when closely followed, they swam towards the shore, and then forming into a line they hurried forward in a very impetuous manner, keeping close under the banks of the lake, and uttering a low confused twitter.

It nests in places contiguous to its ordinary haunts, always selecting a dry and secluded spot for that purpose. Like many other Ducks, it forms its nest of dry grass, and lines the interior with soft down plucked from its own body. The eggs, which vary in number from five to eight, are very oval, large for the size of the bird, measuring 2·3 inches in length by 1·7 in breadth, and of a dark cream colour, with a slightly greasy surface.

Some years ago I received from Mr. Taylor White, of Hawke’s Bay, two skins of a Duck which was alleged to be a cross between the wild Grey Duck and the domestic species. The bird is undoubtedly a hybrid, but I am rather inclined to think that the male parent belonged to the present species or to Anas gibberifrons and not to Anas superciliosa *. I presented both specimens to the Colonial Museum, but before doing so I made the following notes:—

♂. General plumage slaty grey on the upper, and white on the underparts; crown and nape steel-black; throat white mottled with grey. Colours very indeterminate, the plumage of the back being much varied and

* Mr. Taylor White has, however, given the following particulars of another case in which the parent was undoubtedly of the latter species. He writes:—“About nine years ago a Grey Duck (Anas superciiosa) was trapped in the Wakatipu Lake district, and readily became tame, but was very shy with strangers. In the third spring it paired with a Domestic Duck (A. boschas). A brood of six hybrids was reared.

“1. These mainly partook in type of the Domestic Duck, but were smaller and more plump in shape; colour creamy brown with darker markings, inclining to white on lower part of breast, throat, and cheek; a dark line passing through the eye, as in A. superciliosa; beak brownish yellow; legs dull yellow; speculum blue, outer side black, margined with white, as in Domestic Duck. The drakes very similar to English Wild Duck, and having the curled tail-feathers; speculum blue. Could fly fairly well, but with reluctance.

“No. 2. One of these half-bred Ducks mated with a Grey Duck (A. superciliosa), and one Duck was reared, which in colour and size was almost identical with A. superciliosa, but had the speculum green, margined with white, and a slight touch of white on some of the secondary feathers of wing. Could fly strongly.

“No. 3. This Duck, when mated with a drake of Anas superciliosa, produced a brood in type and colour like the latter, some of which have reverted to a wild state. For several seasons the first brood have been all dark-coloured, and the second brood always includes pure white, or albinoes, and white with markings or dark pencillings of rufous; speculum green; dark-coloured bill and legs; curled tail-feathers wanting.

“No. 4. A drake, bred inter se, might be described as in foundation-colour like A. superciliosa; slightly tinged on the head with green; light colour on cheeks; dark mark through eyes; breast rufous; speculum green; tail and tail-coverts inclining to black, edged with brown; two small curled feathers in tail.

“No. 5. This season (1885) there was a brood of six, reared by a hybrid Duck, which might be easily mistaken for a coloured call-duck, and which was mated to A. superciliosa. The Ducks were slightly larger than the latter; foundation-colour and markings similar, having a washed-out look; sides of breast forward of thigh white-grey, same as lower part of breast of A. boschas. Bill blackish green in some, with legs the same; yellow in others, chequered with black, and legs yellowish black; speculum green, the outer edge black, margined with a white band above and below. The drake was identical in general appearance to Anas boschas; green head, white ring on front of neck, one curled tail-feather only. Colour of speculum green, margined with white. Can fly, but are thoroughly domestic. As in the Mallard, the bright colouring changes with the seasons.

“The hybrids lay twice in the season, but few young are reared, owing to want of convenient mates; and numbers are destroyed by dogs, cats, hawks, and rats. The latter are very destructive.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xviii. pp. 134, 135.)

page 260 vermiculated with dark brown, which colour asserts itself again on the lower fore neck; speculum very conspicuous, and bordered above with a white band edged with black. Bill and feet yellow.

♀. General plumage pale brown, with darker shaft-lines; upper parts prettily banded and mottled, partaking more of the appearance of a wild bird than a domestic one; vertex dark brown, with a slight gloss; throat and fore neck prettily stippled with black, just as in A. gibberifrons; speculum distinct, velvety black in its outer portion, and bordered above and below with a well-defined band of white; tail-feathers dark brown, with whitish edges. Bill yellow, with the unguis dark brown, and a broad mark of the same colour across the middle.

In my Introduction (pages xviii to xxxv) I have given an account of the various ancient forms of New-Zealand birds known to us by their fossil remains. To these must be added the extinct Duck, apparently allied to Anas chlorotis, of which a skeleton from the Earnscleugh Caves, in Otago, has been described *, under the name of Anas finschi, by Van Beneden, who supposes that this bird disappeared from the land at the same time as Dinormis. This writer says:—“In comparing these bones with the two species known in Europe, we have been quite struck with their resemblance to the fossil species which inhabited in great numbers the shores of the lakes, the bottoms of which at the present day constitute a considerable portion of the department of Allier, and to which M. Alphonse Milne-Edwards has given the name of Anas blanchardi … . . The principal difference between them and Anas finschi is that the head is not so long as in the New-Zealand species; and if there is but a slight difference in the size of the head, there is, on the other hand, a remarkable difference in the size of the bones of the limbs. The wings, as well as the feet, are stronger in the New-Zealand species; the clavicle is wider; but it is with difficulty one discerns differences between the sternums and plastron. That which is especially surprising in comparing these bones of a New-Zealand form with the European species is that one finds so faithfully reproduced all the characters peculiar to the birds of this family.”

* Annales de la Soc. Géol. de Belg. vol. ii. p. 123.