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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Anas Gibberifrons. — (Wood-Teal.)

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Anas Gibberifrons.

  • Anas (Mareca) gibberifrons, Müller, Nat. Gesch. Land- en Volkenk. p. 159 (1841).

  • Querquedula gibberifrons, Bonap. C. R. xliii. p. 650 (1856).

  • Anas gibberifrons, Schl. Mus. Pays-Bas, Anseres, p. 58 (1866).

  • Anas gibbifrons, Eyton, Synopsis Anat. p. 94 (1869).

  • Anas gracilis, Buller, Ibis, 1869, p. 41.

  • Nettion gibberifrons, Gray, Hand-l. of B. iii. p. 33 (1871).

  • Virago castanea, Newton, P. Z. S. 1871, p. 651.

  • Anas castanea, Hutton, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. xii. p. 272 (1880, nec Gould).

Native names.—Tete, Tete-moroiti, and Pohoriki.

Ad. suprà brunneus, dorsi plumis fulvescente marginatis: pileo saturatiùs brunneo fulvescente longitudinaliter notato, quasi striolato, occipite vix viridi nitente: facie laterali fulvescenti-albidâ, minutè brunneo striolatâ: tectricibus alarum saturatè cinerascenti-brunneis unicoloribus, majoribus ad apicem latissimè albis, fasciam conspicuam alarem exhibentibus: remigibus saturatè brunneis, secundariis extùs lætè velutinis, angustè albo terminatis, pennis duabus mediis extùs nitenti-viridibus, secundariis dorsalibus intùs brunneis dorso concoloribus: caudâ brunneâ, rectricibus obsoletè fulvescente marginatis: gutture toto fulvescenti-albido, unicolore: corpore reliquo subtùs brunnescenti-fulvo, plumis medialiter saturatè brunneis, quasi marmoratis, hypochondriis magis distinctè, pectore medio et abdomine obsoletiùs notatis: rostro pallidè brunneo, versus apicem mandibulæ flavicanti-albo: pedibus pallidè brunneis: iride saturatè brunneâ.

Adult male. Upper surface dusky brown, with greenish reflexions; the feathers of the back and the scapulars narrowly margined with fulvous white; crown and nape blackish brown, minutely marked with fulvous white; throat, fore neck, and sides of the head fulvous white, the latter marked with sagittate spots of brown; underparts light fulvous brown with obscure spots of a darker shade, especially on the breast and sides of the body, each feather having a broad central mark of blackish brown; throat and abdomen more or less tinged with cinnamon; primaries and tail-feathers dark brown; the outer portion of the upper wing-coverts pure white, forming a conspicuous bar across the wing; the secondaries velvety black, narrowly tipped with fulvous, and a speculum of shining green occupying the outer webs of the three middle ones. Irides dark brown; bill pale brown, yellowish white towards the base of lower mandible; feet pale brown. Length 17 inches; extent of wings 25·5; wing, from flexure, 8; tail 4; bill, along the ridge 1·5, along the edge of lower mandible 1·75; tarsus 1·25; middle toe and claw 1·25.

Female. Somewhat smaller than the male, and with the tints of the plumage paler. In other respects the sexes are precisely alike. Length 15·5 inches; extent of wings 23·5; wing, from flexure, 7·5; tail 3·5.

Albinism. My collection contains a specimen (obtained from the Wairarapa in June 1879) adorned with a lovely white head; there is an irregular patch of brown on the vertex between the eyes, and the chin and throat are likewise brown; but around the upper part of the neck there is a patchy white collar, and the upper wings are almost wholly white, as are also the edges of the wings and some of the primaries and secondaries.

Obs. I have examined specimens from Celebes, and although I am not prepared at present to separate our bird, it seems to me that the former are appreciably smaller in size and darker in plumage.

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I obtained my first specimens of this somewhat rare Duck (in 1866) on the Oroua stream, near its junction with the Manawatu, in the Province of Wellington. I observed that on being disturbed from the marsh where they were apparently feeding they rose high in the air, and came down suddenly into the creek with a rapid, oblique, and rather awkward flight. On the water they kept near to each other, and I killed both at one shot. They proved, on dissection, to be male and female; I found the skin very tender, and the flesh extremely delicate, with fat of a bright yellow colour.

I afterwards saw a pair on the wing, passing over one of the freshwater lagoons of the Upper Manawatu, the white alar bar being very conspicuous; and, subsequently, I obtained a fine specimen in the flesh from Napier. It is comparatively plentiful in some of the sulphur-springs at Ohinemutu, and was so formerly at Rotomahana, where, as Captain Mair informs me, he once killed as many as eleven at a single shot on the water. It sometimes swims in pairs, but usually associates in small flocks of a dozen or more. It is easily distinguished from all the other species by the conspicuous white bar on the wings. Its form is remarkably slender and graceful, the contour of the body being almost as elongate as that of a Gannet. The stomach of one I dissected contained numerous particles of gravel and comminuted vegetable matter.

Although of rare occurrence in most parts of New Zealand, the species has a wide geographical distribution, examples having been recorded from Timor, Flores, Celebes, Northern Australia, South Australia, and New Caledonia. It bears a close resemblance to Anas punctata of Australia; but it is appreciably smaller, and the male does not exhibit the bright summer plumage of that species. Mr. Gould, in his account of Anas punctata, observes:—“There appear to be two very distinct races of this bird, one of which is much larger than the other; so great, in fact, is the difference in this respect in specimens from various parts of the country, that the idea presents itself of their being really distinct species. The smaller race inhabits Tasmania, the larger the western and southern portions of Australia.” These remarks, no doubt, refer to the present species, inasmuch as I was able to identify a specimen received by the late Sir J. von Haast from Australia with the true A. gibberifrons. This circumstance was noticed by me in a communication to the ‘Ibis’ (1869, p. 42, note); and I have since had an opportunity of further verifying the fact by the examination of several specimens in the Sydney Museum.

An excellent plate of this Duck appeared in the ‘Proceedings of the Zoological Society’ (1882, pp. 453, 454, pl. xxxiii.), in illustration of a paper by Dr. Sclater, in which he reported that a pair of live ones from Australia, in the Society’s Gardens at Regent’s Park (previously supposed to be A. castanea), had nested in what is termed the “Waders’ Pond,” towards the end of March, and had brought out four nice young birds *. In this figure, however, the bill and feet are represented as being black instead of yellowish brown.

* Dr. Sclater continues:—“There is no longer any doubt that we have here to deal with a species which, however much it may resemble the female of Anas castanea, is quite distinct, and of which the sexes, as may be proved by the examination of our breeding birds, are very nearly alike, the female being merely slightly smaller in size and duller in plumage. It is, in fact, the species described in the ‘Ibis’ for 1869, by Dr. Buller, from New-Zealand specimens, as Anas gracilis, but subsequently identified by Dr. Finsch (‘Ibis,’ 1869, p. 380) with Anas gibberifrons, S. Müller. As regards the synonyms of this species, after the positive statement of Dr. Finsch and Prof. Schlegel, I think we can hardly accept Prof. Hutton’s unsupported opinion that ‘Anas gracilis is distinct from A. gibberifrons’… . . Having been in error myself as to my first identification of these Ducks, I fear I have also led Prof. Newton into an error upon the same subject. In January 1871 I furnished Prof. Newton with what I believed to be specimens (in the flesh) of a male and female Anas castanea that had recently died in the Society’s Gardens. Prof. Newton, trusting to Mr. Baker’s determination that the presumed female was really of that sex, read a paper upon these birds before this Society in November of that year, in which he pointed out that the presumed female possessed the extraordinary peculiarity of having a bulla ossea, hitherto only known to occur in the male sex of the Anatidæ, and proposed in consequence the new generic term Virago for Anas castanea. But Prof. Newton having been kind enough to send me up the skins of this presumed pair of birds for examination, I think I may say that there is little doubt that Mr. Baker must have made an error in his determination of the sex of the supposed female, and that that bird is in all probability a male of Anas gibberifrons.”

I happened to be present at the meeting of November 1871, and ventured to express a strong opinion at the time that the specimen exhibited as ♀ Anas castanea was in reality ♂ A. gibberifrons, a view which has proved to be correct.