A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Apteryx Bulleri. — (North-Island Kiwi.)
Apteryx australis, Gould, B. of Austr. vi. pl. 2 (1848, nec Shaw).
Apteryx australis var. mantelli, Finsch, J. f. O. 1872, p. 263.
Apteryx mantelli, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 358 (1873, nec Bartlett).
Apteryx mantelli, Sharpe, App. Voy. Ereb. and Terr. p. 36 (1875, nec Bartl.).
Apteryx bulleri, Sharpe, Proc. Well. Phil. Soc. p. 6 * (1888).
Native names.—Kiwi and Kiwi-parure.
Ad. rufescens: dorsi plumis rufescentibus ad basin pallidioribus, utrinque nigro marginatis, quasi striatis, scapis plumarum productis, duris: pileo et collo postico nigricanti-brunneis, plumis ad basin grisescentibus: fronte et facie laterali clariùs grisescentibus, illâ pallidiore: gutture sordidè brunnescente: corpore reliquo subtùs grisescenti-brunneo, plumis medialiter pallidioribus, quasi striolatis: corporis lateribus dorso concoloribus: rostro albicanti-corneo: pedibus saturatè brunneis: iride nigrâ.
* Dr. Finsch, as far back as 1871, wrote to me:—“You are quite right in what you say about Bartlett’s Apteryx mantelli. This is, as I have already stated, by no means a species; for all the characters given by him are without value. I have examined about twenty specimens, from the South Island, and they all belong to one and the same species. Bartlett was not, at the time he described his bird, aware of the great variation in the size of the two sexes, and in the scutellation of the tarsus also. Sometimes the scutellation in one and the same bird is different in the two legs. In any case, his name of Apteryx mantelli cannot become applied to the North Island bird, and will always remain a synonym of A. australis. The North Island bird, if it is in reality a distinct species, must have a new name; and if satisfied with the characters, on an actual comparison of specimens from the North and South Islands, I propose to distinguish the northern species as Apteryx bulleri.”
As will be explained further on (see p. 324), Dr. Finach arrived at the conclusion that the two birds were inseparable. Holding strongly to the opposite view, I figured and described the North Island bird, in my former edition, under the name of Apteryæ mantelli.
Mr. Sharpe, after a close study of a complete series of specimens in my collection, has lately contributed a paper on this subject to the Wellington Philosophical Society (l. c.), in which he says:—“During a recent examination of some skins of Apteryges, in company with Sir Walter Buller, I became firmly convinced that the ordinary brown Apteryx of the North Island is certainly specifically distinct from the Apteryx australis of the South Island; and I was a little surprised to find, on going over the literature of the subject, that, notwithstanding a similar verdict on the part of such excellent naturalists as Sir James Hector, Sir Julius von Haast, Professor Hutton, Mr. Potts, and others, the North-Island bird has not yet received a distinctive name. It has generally been called by naturalists Apteryx mantelli of Bartlett, under which name it appeared in the first edition of Buller’s ‘Birds of New Zealand,’ and it is the Apteryx australis var. mantelli of Finsch’s paper in the ‘Journal für Ornithologie’ (1872, p. 263). The characters given by Mr. Bartlett for his Apteryx mantelli are founded on the natural variations of Apteryx australis, of which A. mantelli is a pure synonym, and the North Island Apteryx awaits a title. The pair of adult birds in Sir Walter Buller’s collection are relatively much smaller than the corresponding sexes of A. australis, and the colour is of a blackish brown instead of a tawny tint, while the curious harsh structure of the plumage, especially of the feathers of the rump and nape, is a further character of importance.
“It gives me great pleasure to adopt a suggestion of my friend Dr. Finsch that the North Island Apteryx be called Apteryx bulleri, after the learned author of the ‘Birds of New Zealand,’ a work which, in its first edition, seemed to me to be as complete as it was possible to make a history of the birds of any single area until I saw the magnificent new edition on which Sir Walter Buller is now engaged, and on the completion of which I should think any one would find it difficult to write anything more about the birds of New Zealand.”
Adult. Head, neck, and fore part of breast dark greyish brown, the produced filaments of the feathers black, inclining to grey towards the base of the bill; general plumage of the upper parts dark rufous streaked with blackish brown; lower part of breast, abdomen, and inner side of thighs pale greyish brown. The streaky appearance of the upper surface is produced by each feather having the centre pale rufous-brown, darker towards the tip, and the long hair-like filaments on both sides black; the fluffy basal portion of the feather is of a uniform light grey. The long straggling hairs or feelers which beset the fore part of the head and angles of the mouth are jet-black. Irides black; bill clear white horn-colour; tarsi and toes pure whitish or pale brown to dark brown; claws blackish brown, that of the middle toe whitish towards the base.
Male. Extreme length, following the curvature of the back 23 inches; bill, along the ridge 4·25, along the edge of lower mandible 4·85; tarsus 2·75; inner toe and claw 2·25; middle toe and claw 2·9; outer toe and claw 2·1; hallux or hind tarsal claw ·5.
Female. Extreme length, following the curvature of the body, 27·5 inches; bill, along the ridge 6, along the edge of lower mandible 6·6; tarsus 3·5; inner toe and claw 2·6; middle toe and claw 3·4; outer toe and claw 2·2; hallux or hind tarsal claw ·75.
Obs. As will be at once apparent from the above measurements, the male is considerably smaller than the female. It is moreover usually of a brighter rufous, inclining to chestnut-brown, although the tone of the colouring in different-examples is somewhat variable.
The males have pale brown legs and feet, sometimes whitish, and occasionally marked with blackish brown on the hind part of the tarsus. The females have occasionally the same, but generally their tarsi and toes are dark brown, and sometimes (in very old birds) uniform brownish black.
Young male. A young male which I received from the Upper Wanganui, in October 1870, had the general tints of the plumage lighter than in the adult female, but not so bright as in ordinary examples of the adult male; the sides of the head whitish grey, with a dark ear-spot; the-bill 3 inches long and of a white horn-colour; tarsi in front and toes whitish or flesh-coloured; the edges of the metatarsal scutella margined with pale brown, hind part of tarsi and soles darker, and the claws blackish brown. In this bird the feathers of the back were far less rigid than in the full-grown bird; the rudimentary wings were furnished with a delicate sharp-pointed spur of an arched form, half an inch in length, brown in its basal portion and yellowish towards the tip. The tubes of the quills were extremely small, narrow, and flexible, the feathery shaft being far more ample in proportion than in the adult bird.
In another example of the young bird (in a more advanced condition, judging by the greater strength of the quills) the tarsi and toes were of a dark greyish-brown colour.
Younger state. In the very young bird the plumage is soft and fluffy, and of a uniform dull blackish brown, with the rigid tips of the shafts and the produced hair-like filaments black; paler or greyer on the head and throat. Bill shining ivory-white; tarsi and toes delicate grey; claws black.
Obs. To show how much individuals of both sexes vary in size, I will give here the measurements of two fully adult birds captured by myself in the Pirongia ranges:—
♂ Length (measured as above) 22 inches; bill, along the ridge 3·75, along the edge of lower mandible 4·25; tarsus 2·5; middle toe and claw 2.
♀ Length 25·25 inches; bill, along the ridge 5·2, along the edge of lower mandible 5·75; tarsus 2·75; middle toe and claw 2·75.
In the last-mentioned bird the plumage is in excellent order (in spite of the breeding-season, which is destructive to most specimens), and the lega and feet are of an almost uniform blackish brown, the scutella, which are very regular and distinct, having the centre somewhat lighter.
Another female, from Kawhia, gives the following measurements:—Length 26 inches; bill, along the ridge 5·5, along the edge of lower mandible 6; tarsus 3; middle toe and claw 3.
Varieties. There is much individual variety in the shade of the plumage, some being of a lighter and brighter rufous-brown than others, and some being entirely blackish brown on the upper surface; but on a general view the species is decidedly darker than Apteryx australis of the South Island. As mentioned above, the page 310 male bird has light-coloured and the female dark-coloured legs and feet, but the rule in regard to the latter has its exceptions. It would seem that the older the female bird gets the darker become the extremities, and there is every reason to believe that the Kiwi, like other struthious birds, lives often to an extreme age.
A specimen obtained by me on the Pirongia mountain, during a Kiwi-hunt fully described in the following pages, is deserving of special mention here. The natives called it a “Kiwi-kura,” in allusion to the reddish hue of its plumage. Instead of being blackish brown or rufous brown like the rest, the whole of the body-plumage is of a uniform dull brick-red; and, what is more remarkable still, instead of the plumage being thickset with narrow shaft-lines, the feathers are long, broad, and fluffy, but with numerous stiff filaments, thus preserving the distinctive character of Apteryx bulleri, as hereinafter explained. The face, chin, and upper part of the throat are greyish white; tarsi and toes pale greyish brown; claws greyish black with white ridges. The stomach contained hinau and taiko berries. On dissection it proved to be a male, the testes being largely developed. Extreme length, following the curvature of the back, 24 inches (to end of outstretched legs 30·75); bill, along the ridge 4, along the edge of lower mandible 4·75; tarsus 2·5; middle toe and claw 3.
This very interesting specimen was found in a nest-burrow with two young birds; and, as might have been expected, these, instead of being almost black, like ordinary examples, were reddish brown with much softer plumage. One of these chicks afterwards made its escape; the skin of the other (which proved on dissection to be a male) is in my collection. At the age of three weeks it gave the following measurements:—Length 9·5 inches; bill, along the ridge 1·75, along the edge of lower mandible 2·25; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 1·75. The frayed or open character of the plumage so conspicuous in the adult is likewise congenital.
There was a somewhat similar bird to this (also a male) in the collection which I presented some years ago to the Colonial Museum; but in that example the colour was brighter and more inclined to chestnut.
In Sir Robert Herbert’s collection of New-Zealand rarities at Ickleton there is a fine female specimen of Apteryx bulleri from the Pirongia Ranges, in which not only is the plumage darker than in ordinary examples, but the tarsi and toes are almost black. There is a similar specimen (likewise a female) in my own collection. These were the only black-legged examples out of some thirty adult birds examined by me from that locality; but a male specimen from the Hokianga district has the plumage even darker and the tarsi and toes perfectly black. A fourth example from the Kawhia district (an adult female), which I purchased alive from the natives, has the extremities brownish grey, with black borders to the well-marked scutella. This bird likewise differs from the typical form in having the bill dark brown on its upper surface from the base to the tip, with a tinge of the same colour on the lower mandible; and the claws blackish brown with whitish or horn-coloured ridges.
In the structure of the plumage also there is more or less variation observable. Some have the prickly character, owing to the rigidity of the produced shafts, more pronounced than others; and in some the plumage is thicker and longer than in others. In one of my specimens from Pirongia the plumage of the shoulders is so dense and long that it forms, as it were, an overhanging mantle.
It is said that during one hunting-season (in 1885) the Taupo natives caught on the Kai-manawa Ranges no less than three hundred Kiwis, of which five were albinoes. One of these was brought in to Taupo alive, and was in Major Scannell’s charge for about five weeks. Ultimately it came into the possession of Mr. Thomas Morrin of Auckland, who forwarded it to the Zoological Society of Sydney. Major Scannell informs me that it was a very handsome bird, being snow-white in every part, even to the bill and legs; and that, owing to the extreme softness of the plumage, the bird looked, when at rest, exactly like a ball of white wool. Soon after its capture it became quite tame and ate voraciously of earthworms, a quart measure of which would disappear in a day. It did not long survive its expatriation, and is now preserved in the Australian Museum.
General Remarks. Although the head of the Apteryx is small, the neck is large and muscular. There is also a great development of muscle on the thighs; and the feet are strong and powerful, and armed with sharp claws. (In the adult female, of which the general measurements are given above, the circumference of the tibia in its largest part was 6·25 inches, of the tarsal joint 3·25, and of the tarsus 2.) The bill is broad at the base, then tapering, gently arched, and very much produced, with a slight enlargement at the tip, under which the nostrils are situated. The tongue is short and flattened, very thin, but rigid in its anterior portion, with an even width of ·2 of an inch, and rounded at the extremity. The wings are page 311 rudimentary, and are entirely concealed by the plumage of the body: in a bird of the largest size the humerus measures only 2 inches, and the cubitus 1·25. At the extremity of the latter there is a slender claw or spur, like a twisted piece of wire in appearance, bluish black in colour, and varying in length from half an inch to 1·1, being generally more largely developed in the female. The tubes of the quills in a full-grown specimen are 1·25 of an inch in length, and ·1 of an inch in diameter in their thickest part. In the fully adult bird the scales covering the tarsi and toes are closely set with overlapping edges, and are perfectly smooth; in the young they are soft and detached, presenting a reticulated surface. The feathers are lanceolate and composed externally of long disunited barbs or filaments; the downy portion towards the roots is very largely developed, and far exceeds in extent the exposed or hairy portion. They are destitute of the accessory plumule so highly developed in some of the struthious birds, for example in the Emu and Cassowary; but the basal or concealed portion of each feather is very fine and silky. Beyond the extremity of the barbs the shaft becomes more rigid, and on the upper and hind parts of the body it is produced to a sharp point. The development of this structure to such an extent as to render the plumage stiff and harsh to the touch is the character which separates the present species from its near ally Apteryx australis. The fore part of the head and sides of the face are beset with straggling hairs or feelers, varying in length from 1 to 6 inches, and perfectly black.
A full and complete history of the remarkable wingless birds which, even to the present day, form the most distinctive feature in the avifauna of New Zealand, would necessarily fill a volume. As, however, the osteology and anatomy of these singular forms have already been exhaustively discussed by Professor Owen in several able ‘Memoirs’ published by the Zoological Society, I do not propose to touch on this part of the subject, but rather to confine myself to some account of their life-history; and as the habits of the several species of Apteryx at present known to us appear to be the same in almost every respect, I consider it sufficient for my present purpose to record the observations I have made on the bird inhabiting the North Island, an excellent portrait of which, from a living bird, is given on the foregoing Plate.
Some six-and-twenty years ago, when residing at Wellington, I received, through the kind offices of Mr. Richard Woon, my first live specimens of the Apteryx. They were eight in number, mostly females, and all full-grown. Three of these birds having shortly afterwards died, I forwarded them in spirits to Professor Owen, to assist him in his examination of the anatomy of this anomalous form. The others remained in my possession for a considerable time; and I was thus afforded a favourable opportunity of studying their peculiarities of structure and habit. In the letter forwarding them, Mr. Woon gave the following information:—“They were caught by muzzled dogs in the bosky groves and marshes of the Upper Wanganui, at a place called Manganuioteao, about 100 miles from the mouth of the river. There are great numbers still to be found in this district. They go together in companies of from six to twelve, and make the country resound at night with their shrill cry.”
During my subsequent residence at Wanganui as Resident Magistrate, I had in my possession at various times no less than seventeen of these birds, of different ages, and all obtained from the same locality, which appears to be one of the last strongholds of the Apteryx in the North Island. In former years they were very abundant in the mountainous part of the Hokianga district, north of Auckland; but according to all accounts they are now comparatively scarce in that part of the country. To the present day they linger on some of the small islands in the gulf of Hauraki; for although so singular a fact has often been called in question, resting as it apparently did on the mere assertion of the natives, the matter was placed beyond all dispute by Mr. T. Kirk, who obtained several himself on the Little Barrier.
The natives whom I found camping at the foot of the Kaimanawa range in March 1887 assured me that the Kiwi was still very plentiful there. About a fortnight before the date of my visit (or end of February) they captured a female with a well-grown young one in a hollow log. It may be inferred therefrom that this species commences nesting about the beginning of January.page 312
I cannot better illustrate the habits of this bird under confinement than by giving the following extracts from a notebook containing the record of my own observations from time to time. The first entry relates to a fine bird brought to me by a native from Ranana, who stated that he had taken it from a small natural cavity on the slope of the Mairehau hill, some fifty miles up the Wanganui river.
“Oct. 1866. One of the inmates of my aviary at present is an adult female Kiwi, only recently captured. During the day it retires into a small dark chamber, where it remains coiled up in the form of a ball—and if disturbed or dislodged, moves drowsily about, and seeks the darkest corner of its prison, when it immediately rolls itself again into an attitude of repose. It appears to be blinded by the strong glare of sunlight; and although it recovers itself in the shade, it can then only detect objects that are near. Night is the time of its activity; and the whole nature of the bird then undergoes a change: coming forth from its diurnal retreat full of animation, it moves about the aviary unceasingly, tapping the walls with its long slender bill, and probing the ground in search of earthworms. The feeding of this bird at night with the large glow-worm (‘toke-tipa’ of the natives) is a very interesting sight. This annelid, which often attains a length of 12, and sometimes 20 inches, with a proportionate thickness, emits at night a bright phosphoric light. The mucous matter which adheres to its body appears to be charged with the phosphorus; and on its being disturbed or irritated the whole surface of the worm is illumined with a bright green light, sufficiently strong to render adjacent objects distinctly visible. Seizing one of these large worms in its long mandibles, the Kiwi proceeds to kill it by striking it rapidly on the ground or against some hard object. During this operation the bird may be clearly seen under the phosphoric light; and the slime which attaches itself to the bill and head renders these parts highly phosphorescent, so that, even after the luminous body itself has been swallowed, the actions of the bird are still visible. There is no longer the slow and half stupid movement of the head and neck; but the bill is darted forward with a restless activity, and travels over the surface of the ground with a continued sniffing sound, as if the bird were guided more by scent than by sight in its search for food.”
The subject of this notice having afterwards died, I sent the skeleton (skilfully prepared by the late Dr. Knox) to Professor Newton, of Cambridge; and it still occupies a place of honour in the University Museum.
The next entry in my notebook refers to a purchase of eight from the Upper Wanganui natives in October 1870:—“The lot consists of two adult males, one young male, three adult females, and two young birds of doubtful sex. One of the females has the plumage very much faded and worn, resembling somewhat that of the Australian Emu, the tips of the feathers having, as it were, a weather-beaten appearance. The old birds are shy, always attempting to hide themselves from view, but very vicious when taken hold of: they struggle violently and utter a low growling note, accompanied by a vigorous striking movement of the feet. The young birds are particularly savage, and instead of running away they charge you in the most plucky manner, using their feet as weapons of offence: when provoked they manifest their anger by an audible snapping of the bill; and at other times they emit a peculiar chuckle, not unlike that of a brood-hen when disturbed on her nest. I have only once heard these captives produce the loud whistling cry which is so familiar to the ear in the wild mountain-haunts of the Kiwi. The birds occupy at present an empty stall in my stable, and they find both concealment and warmth by burying themselves in a heap of loose straw. During the day they remain coiled up in the form of an almost perfectly round ball, with the head and bill hidden beneath the dense hair-like plumage of the body. If hungry, however, they will sometimes wander about in a desultory manner, probing or touching every object with their bills. They often huddle together when at rest, lying one upon another like little pigs; and when sound asleep no amount of noise will rouse them. On being thrust with a stick, or rudely wakened, they move about in a drowsy inert manner, and soon page 313 relapse into a state of apparent lethargy. They have naturally a peculiar earthy smell; and the place in which they are confined has acquired a very perceptible odour. On taking my dog to a spot in the garden where the Kiwis had been probing for worms on the previous day, he took up the scent very readily, and followed it without any check. I am informed by old Kiwi-hunters that the bird is easily ‘brought to earth,’ and captured by dogs accustomed to the work, and that in former times a hundred or more have been taken in this way in the course of a single night. My birds have shown a preference for earthworms; but they will also partake readily of minced liver, or pounded flesh of any sort. For the first few days of their captivity the old birds ate very sparingly of this new diet; but the young ones were not so fastidious, eagerly devouring any thing that was offered them.”
The Kiwi is in some measure compensated for the absence of wings by its swiftness of foot. When running it makes wide strides and carries the body in an oblique position, with the neck stretched to its full extent and inclined forwards. In the twilight it moves about cautiously and as noiselessly as a rat, to which, indeed, at this time it bears some outward resemblance. In a quiescent posture, the body generally assumes a perfectly rotund appearance; and it sometimes, but only rarely, supports itself by resting the point of its bill on the ground. It often yawns when disturbed in the daytime, gaping its mandibles in a very grotesque manner. When provoked it erects the body, and, raising the foot to the breast, strikes downwards with considerable force and rapidity, thus using its sharp and powerful claws as weapons of defence. The story of its striking the ground with its feet to bring the earthworms to the surface, which appears to have gained currency among naturalists, is as fanciful as the statement of a well-known author that it is capable of “inflicting a dangerous blow, sometimes even killing a dog!”
While hunting for its food the bird makes a continual sniffing sound through the nostrils, which are placed at the extremity of the upper mandible. Whether it is guided as much by touch as by smell I cannot safely say; but it appears to me that both senses are called into action. That the sense of touch is highly developed seems quite certain, because the bird, although it may not be audibly sniffing, will always first touch an object with the point of its bill, whether in the act of feeding or of surveying the ground; and when shut up in a cage or confined in a room it may be heard, all through the night, tapping softly at the walls. The sniffing sound to which I have referred is heard only when the Kiwi is in the act of feeding or hunting for food; but I have sometimes observed the bird touching the ground close to or immediately round a worm which it had dropped without being able to find it. I have remarked, moreover, that the Kiwi will pick up a worm or piece of meat as readily from the bottom of a vessel filled with water as from the ground, never seizing it, however, till it has first touched it with its bill in the manner described. It is probable that, in addition to a highly developed olfactory power, there is a delicate nervous sensitiveness in the terminal enlargement of the upper mandible. It is interesting to watch the bird, in a state of freedom, foraging for worms, which constitute its principal food: it moves about with a slow action of the body; and the long, flexible bill is driven into the soft ground, generally home to the very root, and is either immediately withdrawn with a worm held at the extreme tip of the mandibles, or it is gently moved to and fro, by an action of the head and neck, the body of the bird being perfectly steady. It is amusing to observe the extreme care and deliberation with which the bird draws the worm from its hiding-place, coaxing it out as it were by degrees, instead of pulling roughly or breaking it. On getting the worm fairly out of the ground, it throws up its head with a jerk, and swallows it whole.
In preparing my specimens I was astonished at the toughness of the skin, even in the very young birds; and the late Mr. Dawson Rowley, writing of the dried skin, sent me the following interesting note:—“I have a portion of the skin of an adult male Apteryx before me; this is so thick that a pair of light shoes might easily be made of it. In setting up these birds, the toughness of the skin page 314 is such that it can hardly be relaxed: water has little effect upon it. It resembles leather, and is more like the skin of a mammal than that of a bird.”
From time to time live examples of the Apteryx have been received by the Zoological Society; and the following notes by Mr. Bartlett, on the incubation of this bird in the “Gardens” (P. Z. S. 1868, p. 329), are worth quoting:—
“In 1851 Lieut.-Governor Eyre presented to the Society an Apteryx. This bird proved to be a female. In the year 1859 she laid her first egg, and has continued to lay one or two eggs every year since that time. In 1865 a male bird was presented by Henry Slade, Esq. During the last year these birds showed symptoms of a desire to pair. This was known by the loud calling of the male, which was answered by the female in a much lower and shorter note. They were particularly noisy during the night, but altogether silent in the daytime. On the 2nd January the first egg was laid, and for a day or more the female remained on the egg; but as soon as she quitted the nest the male bird took to it, and remained constantly sitting. On the 7th of February the second egg was laid, the female leaving the nest as soon as the egg was deposited. The two birds now occupied the two opposite corners of the room in which they were kept, the male on the two eggs in the nest under the straw, the female concealed in her corner, also under a bundle of straw placed against the wall. During the time of incubation they ceased to call at night—in fact, were perfectly silent, and kept apart. I found the eggs in a hollow formed on the ground in the earth and straw, and placed lengthwise side by side. The male bird lay across them, his narrow body appearing not sufficiently broad to cover them in any other way; the ends of the eggs could be seen projecting from the side of the bird. The male continued to sit in the most persevering manner until the 25th April, at which time he was much exhausted, and left the nest. On examining the eggs I found no traces of young birds. Notwithstanding the failure of reproducing the Apteryx, I think sufficient has been witnessed to show that this bird’s mode of reproduction does not differ essentially from that of the allied struthious birds, in all cases of which, that have come under my observation, the male bird only sits.”
The enormous size of the Kiwi’s egg has often been the subject of speculation and comment; for, till the fact was established beyond all question, it seemed almost impossible that the very large eggs occasionally brought in by the natives were the produce of this bird. In the spring of 1870 I had the pleasure of forwarding several live examples of the Apteryx to the Hamburgh Consul at Wellington, for transmission to the Zoological Society of Berlin; and one of these afterwards furnished the subject of the following notice in the minutes of the Wellington Philosophical Society*:—
“Dr. Hector drew the attention of the meeting to an interesting specimen of an egg of the Kiwi taken in utero. He stated that the bird from which the specimen had been taken belonged to Mr. Krull, and had recently died. It had been presented to the Museum; and on being skinned, it was found to contain a fully formed egg, the large size of which had evidently been the cause of the death of the bird. He considered the specimen unique and setting at rest all doubt as to whether the Kiwi really lays an egg so disproportionately large to the size of the body of the bird.”
The period of gestation in this bird appears to be unusually protracted; and one of my captives, for the space of forty days before extruding her egg, moved about with evident difficulty, being apparently unable to stand upright, resting the weight of the body on the heel of the tarsus, and walking in a staggering manner. She laid a very large egg on the 22nd March, recovered her full activity on the following day, moped on the next, and died on the 25th.
Since the foregoing pages were written, for my former edition of this work, I have had an opportunity of seeing the Kiwi in its home, and of studying the natural history of the species in its wild state.
* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. 1870, vol. iii. p. 73.
In October 1882 I was attending the Native Land Court at Cambridge professionally, and in order to enable the native tribes to attend a projected meeting between the Minister for Native Affairs and the “Maori King” at Whatiwhatihoe, I had applied to the Court for a week’s adjournment, which was accordingly granted. This gave me the long-desired opportunity for a Kiwi-hunt in the celebrated Pirongia ranges. Owing to our strained relations with the “King party,” no European had been admitted into this part of the country for many years. It was necessary therefore to obtain King Tawhiao’s consent before starting on the expedition. This was readily obtained at a private interview with the old chief, who assured me that, owing to the long closure, “the mountain was now full of Kiwis.” I then saw Keremeneta Ngataierua, a well-known Kiwi-hunter and the owner of well-trained dogs, and made arrangements for an expedition on the morrow. His party had already been out and caught a few birds, bringing in also three chicks and an egg, con taining an embryo just ready for extrusion. I purchased the egg, and one of the women present then produced a newly-hatched chick from her bosom (where it was kept for warmth) and gave it to me. This young bird seemed at first very weakly and on being turned loose in my room assumed the posture shown in my sketch, and remained perfectly motionless till darkness came on, when it assumed quite a lively rôle—running about the room and gently tapping with its bill, after the manner of the old bird, as already described.
After sketching the likeness of this defenceless chick (which proved to be a male) I sacrificed his little life on the sacred altar of science and made a pretty cabinet specimen of the skin (see woodcut on page 326).
At noon on Tuesday, Nov. 1, we had completed all our arrangements for a week’s sojourn in the bush and started, fully equipped, for a small kainga, about a mile from Alexandra, where we found our men and dogs awaiting us. The former consisted of an experienced Kiwi-hunter, Wiremu Rihia by name, and two young natives who were to carry our provisions and make themselves generally useful. The dogs were small black mongrels, one of them having something of the colley in him. My companion was Mr. G. Lindauer, the well-known Austrian artist, who fully shared my enthusiasm about a Kiwi-hunt. Some little time was lost in arranging terms with the men and a tariff for the use of the dogs. The latter was ultimately fixed at five shillings for every adult Kiwi taken and something less for the young ones and eggs. It was 3 P.M. before we got fairly started on our expedition. The central cone of Pirongia, which encloses an ancient volcanic crater, towers up to a height of 2800 feet above the level of the sea, and is clothed with dense vegetation to its very summit. The ascent commenced at once, and in less than an hour we had reached the site of the ancient Pirongia pa, the earthworks of which were still distinctly traceable, indicating fortifications of a very formidable kind in the olden time. From this point we obtained a grand panoramic view of the Waikato lands—the theatre of the late war between the British troops and the Maoris, lasting over several years and costing much “blood and treasure.” Away to the right, standing up in bold relief against the sky, was Kakepuku, in the form of a natural pyramid, and, in the distance beyond, the long central range of Maungatautari, marking the ancestral home of the Ngatiraukawa. Far down below us, winding through the plains and showing itself at intervals like a broad streak of molten silver, was the picturesque Waipa river, bounding the “King’s territory” and spanned, in the direct line of our view, by the new bridge leading to Whatiwhatihoe, recently opened by the Native Minister, and named by the king, in a symbolic way, Tawhara-kaiatua. Away to the extreme right, looking hazy blue in the afternoon light, were the heights of Rangitoto, where, according to our native guides, there exists another Kiwi preserve; and far beyond again could be seen the snow-clad tops of Tongariro and Ruapehu, the giants of the north. In the deep gullies around and in front of us clumps of native bush in all its endless variety filled in the view, the ever-present tree-fern with its lofty crown of spreading fronds being the predominant feature. Groves of these beautiful page 316 objects, and thousands of single ones scattered through the bush, render the landscape characteristic and picturesque. After a brief halt, our natives resumed their swags and we continued the ascent, arriving at Pukehoua, at the edge of the mountain-forest, in time to fix our little camp and cook the evening meal before the shades of night had closed in upon us.
At daybreak one of the native attendants called me up to hear the rich flute-notes of the Kokako (Glaucopis wilsoni) in the low timber at the edge of the forest. I went after him with my gun, but owing to the thickness of the underwood I failed to find the bird. Leaving our camp at 6 A.M. we entered the dense bush and resumed our ascent of the range. Before we had gone far the dogs (each of whom carried a sheep-bell around his neck) took up the Kiwi scent and disappeared down a ravine, one of the natives dashing after them. He presently reappeared with a fine female Kiwi, which was immediately secured in a Maori ket. I returned with him to the spot and saw at once how utterly hopeless it would be to attempt Kiwi-catching without dogs. Near the bottom of a deep gully, completely choked up with the ground-kiekie (Freycinetia banksii), so thick and luxuriant indeed that it was a matter of difficulty to push through it at all, down among the gnarled roots of a tawhero, and quite hidden by a growth of Asplenium bulbiferum and other ferns, was the entrance to the Kiwi’s retreat—a rounded and perfectly artificial entrance, just large enough to admit the hand. I inserted my arm to its full length and could just reach the extremity of the chamber, which spread laterally and widened at a little distance from the mouth. On getting back to the track on the ridge, the natives showed me another “rua-kiwi,” from which they had, not long before, taken an adult Kiwi and an egg. This hole was in brown vegetable mould alongside a fallen tree, and the entrance was so perfectly round that I at once felt persuaded that the Kiwis, if they do not actually dig or burrow their holes with their well-armed feet, at any rate scrape and adapt them. Natural holes and cavities are so numerous, owing to the gnarled character of the roots, that the birds would have no difficulty in finding a cavity suitable for nesting-purposes, with the smallest possible labour in preparing it. But more about this anon. After a couple hours’ tramp through the bush we came to the place previously decided on for our camp and daily rendezvous.
Our natives were not long in putting up a double shelter, in the form of an inverted V, with the apex open. A log fire occupied the space between, the opening in the roof permitting the smoke to escape. My friend and myself occupied one side and the natives the other. These bush huts, which are quite impervious to the rain, are very simply and rapidly constructed. First, a slanting framework of slender sticks cut from the adjoining woods is erected, and this is thatched on top and sides with the pliant leaves of the nikau palm (Areca sapida), the long fronds being skilfully interlaced together, and covered on the outside with a thick layer of tree-fern branches placed with the lower surface reversed, so as to prevent annoyance from the dusty seed-spores.
Our camping-place was conveniently chosen, with ready access to firewood and water, besides being a very picturesque spot; and as it may give some faint idea of the richness and surpassing loveliness of the New-Zealand “Bush,” I shall endeavour to describe it. Behind and overshadowing us was a grove of fine tawa trees, their tops meeting so as to admit only a glimmering of the sunlight, and immediately beyond them, in striking contrast with the clear, upright boles of the former, a group of tawhero, their trunks covered from the ground upwards with a dense growth of climbing kiekie, spreading out its tufted arms in all directions. Right in front of us was a thick and almost impenetrable tangle of undergrowth, laced together with the kareao-vine, which hangs its wiry cables from the tree-tops above and twists and coils about among the underwood in every conceivable form. Then a little to the right and open to the light of heaven through a gap in the forest could be seen a lovely group of Cyathea medullaris, the stems of the largest being some forty feet in height, and in their very midst, touched by their waving fronds and leaning against a sturdy hinau, stood a withered, crownless trunk, covered with a thick profusion of epiphytic plants in every shade page 317 of green, and forming with the tree-ferns a study that I was never tired of gazing upon from our open shelter. When broad daylight poured in upon us through the opening in the forest, or the slanting rays of the setting sun lighted up the feathery crowns of these majestic tree-ferns, casting the vegetation below into deeper shade, the effect was simply enchanting. Then out of the tangle in front there rose a beautiful specimen of Cyathea dealbata, its star-like crown, a perfect model of graceful symmetry, and its lofty stem draped with creeping kohia of brilliant green; while, to heighten the general effect, there hung from a neighbouring tree festoons of the beautiful white clematis, just bursting into full bloom. Examined more in detail the surroundings of our little camp were full of interest. The whole ground was carpeted with mosses and ferns of all the commoner species, whilst a fallen log at our very feet presented on its damp surface a perfect garden of the curious kidney ferr (Trichomanes reniforme)—tens of thousands of beautiful ferns of vivid satiny-green crowding one upon another in endless profusion, intermingled with the delicate fronds of Hymenophyllum. Whilst we were engaged in camp preparations the native lad who had taken charge of the dogs came in with three fine Kiwis, caught in our vicinity, but unfortunately crushed to death, as the dogs were left unmuzzled.
After having refreshed ourselves in the morning, we started on our first real Kiwi-hunt. We took a course down the side of the gully and were soon in a perfect labyrinth of supplejack (Rhipogonum scandens). These vines hung from the trees, ran along the ground, twisted around each other and crossed and recrossed, forming the most complete Chinese puzzle one could imagine, and so interlacing the underwood together that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to get through it even at a slow pace. Then when the little dogs took up the scent and disappeared down the gully it became necessary to follow quickly in the direction their bells indicated, so as to be “in at the death;” and then the hunt became as exciting as it was difficult—the kareao catching the feet and tripping one up or striking painfully across the shins—and so up and down, now swinging by a vine, now pushing on all fours through the tangle; forcing one’s way through clumps of kiekie and dense beds of Lomaria down into the bottom of the ravine; then, as the scent led upwards, following the tinkling bells (the dogs being out of sight) up the tangled slope again, the course sometimes forming a complete circuit of the “field” and representing the erratic wanderings of the Kiwi upon the feeding-ground the night before. Heated, out of breath, scratched in the face and hands, and with our shins aching from repeated contact with the kareao-vines, every now and then we halted to ascertain by the sound of the bells the position of the dogs, and then, full of excitement, resumed our novel chase again. At length, just beside a rough track on the hillside, our dogs ran their quarry to earth, and began to tear with their paws at the opening to the “rua-kiwi.” Calling the dogs off and closing in upon the spot, we drew from the cavity a fine male Kiwi, and then two vigorous young birds, all unharmed but evidently much scared and striking boldly with their claws. Our captives were soon secured in a Maori ket and we sat down to rest for a short time before taking up the scent again. I put my arm far down into the cavity and found that although the rounded entrance was just large enough to admit the bird, the chamber opened out inside, extending diagonally to a depth of about two feet, and wide enough at the bottom for the accommodation of two full-grown birds. I drew out the nest-materials, consisting of shreds of kiekie-leaves and other dry litter, mixed with Kiwi-feathers.
* For the information of collectors it may be mentioned that as soon as the bird is killed it is advisable to hang it up by the bill, not the legs, otherwise the extremely fine network of blood-vessels towards the nostrils become surcharged, and the bill, losing its whitish horn-colour, becomes first rosy and then dark brown. It is undesirable also to kill the bird by compression, as the same result is apt to follow. I found a drop of prussic acid placed in the gullet the safest and most expeditious mode of treatment.
Not far from our camp there was an ancient rata tree—its age extending to many hundreds of years—its hollow trunk bound round with huge cables of aka, and holding in its hoary arms tons of Astelia and other parasitic plants. One of our natives set fire to this tree near the base. The accumulation of dry vegetable substances soon ignited, and the flames ascended the hollow trunk with a roar like that from a steamer’s boiler. All day long this monarch of the forest burned fiercely, sending up a column of smoke visible many miles away on the Waikato plains. During the night we were all startled from our sleep by the fall of this burning tree, which came down with a terrific crash carrying everything before it. We had just time to turn out of our blankets and witness a “display of fireworks” compared with which the Crystal Palace exhibition is mere child’s play!
In the early part of the night we heard the shrill cry of a Kiwi—a prolonged whistle slightly ascending and descending (whence the native name)—and when it was sufficiently light our natives went out with the dogs and brought in an adult female and two young ones. These were found together in one hole. The mate was no doubt one of those obtained in the same locality on the previous day.
Early next morning, accompanied by a native, I climbed to the summit of Pirongia proper and had a magnificent view of the Upper Waikato, the day being beautifully clear and cloudless. The ascent is somewhat laborious owing to its steepness and the absence in many places of anything like a bush-track. Almost to the very summit of the peak we met with traces of the Kiwi in earth-borings of the kind already described; but although we had one of the dogs with us, we did not find any birds in our track. My native companion was no doubt right in his statement that the Kiwi at night roams over these feeding-grounds, and returns on the approach of day to the shade of the gullies, where the light penetrates more feebly. All along this mountain-track and on the summit I found in great abundance the katoutou shrub with its bright green foliage and pretty tassels of crimson flower. The afternoon yielded two more adult males and two young ones, besides an egg just ready to be hatched. The succeeding morning was showery, and although the men made an early start they brought in about noon only two more adult birds (male and female) taken at different places, and two more young ones, the effect of the rain being to obliterate the scent and spoil the hunt. The weather having now set in very wet and tempestuous we had to discontinue Kiwi-hunting and see to making our temporary shelter more secure, by an extra layer of kiekie thatch. The rain came down in torrents towards evening, but on the whole we found ourselves very comfortably housed.
Our expedition lasted a week, with varying success each day according to the weather, the total result being forty Kiwis of all ages and nine eggs.
We partook of the flesh of one of the Kiwis which the natives had boiled. It had the dark appearance of, and tasted very much like, tender beef.
The first two birds (both females) killed by the dogs I dissected with the following result:—The stomach of one contained three wetas (Deinacrida thoracica), ten huhu grubs, mostly of large size, several earthworms, and a small brown beetle which my son Percy afterwards identified as Coptomma page 319 acutipenne; also some berries of the mairi and taiko (well-known forest trees) and a round object, nearly as large as an ordinary marble, which proved to be the egg of the great earthworm toke-tipa. Before we had made out the last-named thing I handed it for examination to my companion, who pressed it between his finger and thumb, when it burst, sending a jet of milky fluid into my eye, causing much smarting and subsequent irritation. The stomach of the other bird contained, besides insect-remains, a large number of the hard kernels of the taiko berry; and it seems to me that these are swallowed by the Kiwi (in lieu of quartz pebbles, which are not to be found in every locality) to assist the process of digestion. I have found similar kernels in the stomachs of Kiwis received from the Upper Wanganui. Among the comminuted matter I was able to detect some very minute land-shells. In the stomach of another which I opened afterwards I found a number of angular pieces of pebble; and others contained the hard kernels of pokaka, miro, mairi, and hinau berries.
The adult birds when taken from their holes were perfectly mute, but endeavoured to wound with their sharply-armed feet and made a snapping noise with their bills. I soon found that the safest mode of holding them was suspended by the bill. They then only struggle vainly and strike the air with their feet; but if their rumps are allowed to touch the ground, so as to give them leverage, then they strike with effect, as I was not long in discovering. A strong adult bird is capable of inflicting a nasty scratch with its sharp claws by a downward stroke; and one of our natives showed me some skin-wounds, long ugly scratches on his arms and legs, inflicted on the previous day by a large Kiwi which he had followed into a sort of cavern at the edge of a stream and captured with his hands.
Judging by analogy and the form of the bird, I felt persuaded that the Kiwi was a burrower, but our native attendants all denied it. We had undoubted proof of it, however, before we had finished. For the safe custody of our captive birds we had constructed a commodious cage, consisting of kareao-vines well arched over, with both ends driven firmly into the ground, then laced together with native flax and covered over with fern-fronds to keep out the daylight. The birds seemed perfectly at home at once and commenced to eat the minced-up fresh meat supplied to them. The old birds continued silent, but the young ones emitted now and then, and especially at night, a low sound not unlike the whimpering of a new-born kitten. The cage contained seven fine adult birds, four females and three males. To our dismay in the morning we discovered that all the former had made their escape during the night through a burrow which undermined the kareao-vines and passed right under an adjacent log, a distance of some eighteen inches. The three male birds were still in the cage. It is evident that the females alone perform the work of digging and preparing the “rua,” although, as will presently appear, they take no part whatever in the incubation of the eggs. All the specimens of this sex collected by us at this season had the plumage of the back and rump so abraded and worn as to be quite valueless as skins, and were accordingly reserved for skeletons. The males, on the other hand, while having, in every instance, the abdomen denuded of feathers by constant sitting, generally presented a smooth and undamaged plumage. In further proof of this the adult females invariably had their claws blunted, as the result of their scraping or digging operations, whereas the other sex (except very old birds) had these weapons perfectly sharp.
I have already described how some of our captives effected their escape on the mountain by tunnelling under their cage. We had further evidence, after our return to Cambridge, of their engineering skill. One of my birds—not a Pirongia captive, but one caught by the natives in the Kawhia district and the largest specimen of Apteryx bulleri I had ever seen—was placed with the rest in a vacant stable which had been previously secured all around the sides to prevent burrowing. To my astonishment, however, in the morning, I found that “Madam Jumbo” (as we had christened this large Kiwi) had, during the night, forced aside a heavy packing-case, removed a loose scantling stud, deliberately tunnelled a passage through the hard clay foundation, and escaped from her place page 320 of confinement, taking one of her companions with her. They had disappeared in a deep fern-gully and we naturally thought we had seen the last of them. But the birds had been liberally fed during their imprisonment and this taste of civilization was sufficient, after a day’s absence, to bring them back again into the township. The following morning the male bird was found in the back-yard of a chemist’s shop, where he was causing consternation among the fowls, whilst Madam Jumbo deliberately marched up the hill into the Constabulary Barracks and made for the officers’ quarters, where she was overheard, at daybreak, patrolling the Captain’s verandah (tapping the boards gently with her bill), and was immediately “put under arrest.”
We kept some of these birds in confinement for a period of six months or more for the purpose of studying more closely their habits and peculiarities of character. Individuals were found to vary much in disposition. Some adapted themselves at once to their new surroundings and became perfectly tame and familiar; others continued, to the last, wild and shy. One male in particular manifested a sulky temper: instead of running off with the rest to hide in a dark corner it would poise its body on its bill and feet and remain perfectly motionless till approached, when it would bristle up its feathers, stretch up its body, and strike forward with its feet, at the same time snapping audibly with its mandibles and uttering a low growling note. The conduct of these birds was appreciably affected by their condition of health: a sickly bird was always restless during the day, and walked about in the sunlight in a desultory fashion; whereas the healthy ones, on being brought to the light, would dart off to the nearest dark corner and endeavour to secrete themselves. The state of the weather seemed likewise to affect their spirits: on dark and wet nights they were particularly active and noisy; on moonlight nights they were generally silent. The cry consists of a short, shrill whistle, not so prolonged as that of the Woodhen, nor so sharp and clear. Usually the sexes cry in response, the male leading off with his shrill ki-i-wi-i, and his mate replying in a peculiar half whistle, half scream; this is repeated four or five times in succession between the hours of 9 and 10, and the birds, as a rule, are silent for the rest of the night. Occasionally, and apparently when under excitement, they keep up these responsive calls for fifteen or twenty minutes without cessation. The young or half-grown birds also call to each other, the male in a thinner whistle and the female in a thick husky way. These captive birds ate fresh meat, soaked bread, and boiled potato with avidity, and several of the young ones died of sheer obesity.
My investigations on the spot enabled me to determine one important fact with certainty, namely, that, as with the Mooruk, the Cassowary, the Emu, and the Rhea (all of which have bred in the Zoological Society’s Gardens), the male bird alone performs the labour of incubation, and takes upon himself the entire charge of the young till they are old enough to shift for themselves. There is indeed an equitable division of labour after the pairing has commenced. The female, without any assistance from her mate, digs or scoops out a nesting-place, usually adapting to her requirements an existing hole or cavity in the ground, forms a rude nest and deposits her two eggs. Having done this she walks off and disclaims all further responsibility, abandoning her mate to his share of the parental duty, and (so the natives allege) immediately pairing with another male and forming a new nest elsewhere.
The breeding-season evidently extends over a considerable period. Of the ten eggs collected by our party during the first week of November, nine contained well-developed chicks, some of them just ready for exclusion, and the tenth was perfectly fresh. The very young bird figured on page 326 and the egg purchased from the natives were taken from one hole, and the male bird was still sitting. From the condition of the chick, I judged that if undisturbed it would have been hatched out in another day or two; it was alive and active when the shell was opened, although the egg had been out of the nest for several days. Some of the young birds taken by us were apparently about two months old. I think it probable that there are two broods in the season, inasmuch as one of our page 321 adult birds contained in its ovary a large bunch of undeveloped eggs, up to the size of buck-shot, whilst, as stated on page 314, a recently captured bird which I had, many years ago, at Wanganui, produced a fully matured egg on the 22nd March.
One of the nests found by us contained a young bird and an egg (an unusually large one, and from its white appearance evidently newly laid), another contained a single young bird, and two others contained each two young ones. All of them, with a solitary exception, were active and strong, snapping angrily with their little bills and attempting to strike with their feet. The exception referred to could not have been hatched out very long because it was too weak to run, and, after the manner of young nestlings, had an abnormally large stomach. It is evident that the bird usually lays two eggs; occasionally, however, there is only one, and Mr. Cheeseman informs me of two well-authenticated instances of three eggs in the nest, one in the Waitakerei Ranges and the other at Raglan. In both cases the eggs were brought to the Auckland Museum and the fact vouched for to his satisfaction.
The natives state that the Kiwi begins to lay in August, which is quite likely to be true, as the eggs must take a long period to incubate. It will be remembered that Mr. Bartlett’s bird (mentioned on page 314) sat on perseveringly from the beginning of January to the 25th of April. In further support of this view. I may mention the following circumstance. Among the live birds brought from Pirongia was a female which appeared to be carrying a well-developed egg in the oviduct, inasmuch as it moved about with awkwardness and habitually rested on the tarsus horizontally as described at page 314. She was more untractable than the other birds, attacking the hand when approached, striking savagely forward with her feet, and uttering at the same time a low growl. This bird was killed by an accident about the middle of February following; and on dissection I found a membranous egg, about two thirds the full size, the shell not having yet formed. In the ordinary course a fortnight would probably have elapsed before the exclusion of the egg for incubation. Again, among the birds captured by my party there were three young birds of the year; that is to say, of such a size as to make it probable they had been hatched out about April or May. If the conclusion thus pointed to is the true one, the nesting-operations of the Kiwi must extend over a great portion of the year; in which case its reproduction is not the least interesting feature in the natural history of this anomalous bird. In all the eggs I opened (save one freshly laid) there was enclosed with the well-developed feathered chick a tough membranous sac, connected with the embryo and containing several ounces of yellow fatty substance (vitellus). When all this adipose matter has been absorbed into its system, the chick, having in the meantime expanded to its full size, cracks its tabernacle and comes out into the world ready for active service. It is very soon able to forage for itself and increases rapidly in size, inasmuch as the young which I attempted to rear had more than doubled their size in six months.
The eggs, which are broadly elliptical in form, vary somewhat in size. The largest of those collected by us measured 5·30 inches in length by 3·30 in breadth; and the smallest 4·5 by 2·7. The latter weighed exactly 11½ ounces, being just four ounces less than the weight of our largest. Two other eggs of full size weighed respectively 14 oz, and 15½ oz. They vary likewise in form, some being more elliptical than others, whilst one in my possession is perfectly oval. Some are pure white when laid, others have a greenish-grey tint; but owing to the long period of incubation they get much soiled by contact with the bird, and more especially its feet, the shell becoming a dirty yellowish-brown colour. This is easily washed off, by the application of a brush, in soap and cold water; but I think it is necessary to do this whilst the egg is fresh, for there is a greasy matter on the surface which would no doubt make the discoloration permanent if allowed to become perfectly dry. The fresh egg on being emptied of its contents exhibited a delicate pink tint on the inner surface of the shell; but this was absent in those containing chicks.