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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Apteryx Haasti. — (Large Grey Kiwi.)

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Apteryx Haasti.
(Large Grey Kiwi.)

  • Apteryx haasti, Potts, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. 1871, vol. iv. p. 204.

  • Apteryx maxima, Hutton, Cat. Birds of N. Z. 1871, p. 23 (nec Bp.).

Native names.

Roa or Roaroa, and Kiwi-karuai.

Ad. similis A. oweni, sed multò major, saturatior, et tergo castaneo tincto.

Adult. Head and neck dark greyish brown; the whole of the upper parts as in Apteryx oweni, but darker, the bands being almost black, and the fulvous markings strongly tinged with chestnut; underparts as in A. oweni, but decidedly darker. Irides black; bill white horn-colour; legs and feet dark brown, changing to brownish black on the posterior aspect of the metatarsi and on the soles; claws dark horn-colour. Total length 25·5 inches; bill, along the ridge 4·75, along the edge of lower mandible 5·4; tarsus 2·75; middle toe and claw 3·1; hallux or hind tarsal claw ·75.

Obs. Another example is slightly smaller and somewhat darker; and the thighs are marked by two chestnut bars, one on the hind part and the other immediately above the tarsal joint. To which sex these birds belong has not been ascertained, although they are supposed to be females. If they are males, it may be reasonably inferred that the female of this species is considerably larger than Apteryx australis.

General Remarks. This species resembles Apteryx oweni in general appearance, but is distinguished by its much larger size (equalling that of A. australis), by its darker plumage, which has a strong tinge of chestnut, and by the more robust form and darker colour of the legs and feet. Its metatarsi are armed anteriorly with large and broad scutella, approaching more nearly in this respect to those of A. australis than of the former species, in which the scales are small and rounded. The claws are large, well formed, only slightly arched, and sharp-pointed. The quill-tubes are about an inch in length; and the terminal claw, which measures ·4 of an inch, is slender, arched, and pointed. The structure of the feathers on the upper parts of the body appears to be similar to that observable in Apteryx australis, the shafts of the feathers being less produced than in A. oweni; and altogether the form appears to be an intermediate one, combining in some degree the distinguishing characters of both.

At the time of my first edition only two specimens of this fine Apteryx were known, both of which belonged to the Canterbury Museum. These were obtained on the high ranges above Okarita, on the west coast of the South Island, where, according to the resident natives, this large Grey Kiwi is tolerably common. Since that date another specimen (also from the west coast) has been received at the Museum, differing from those previously described in being somewhat darker and more strongly suffused with chestnut; indeed the coloration is almost as dark as in Apteryx mantelli, thus falsifying Dr. Finsch’s opinion that its plumage “entirely agrees with Apteryx oweni, and is by no means darker”*.

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 236.

page 331

The resident Maoris, on seeing the first examples that were brought in, said that this was the young of the Roaroa, a Kiwi said to exceed considerably in size the Tokoeka (Apteryx australis).

I am informed that Mr. Bills has obtained from the west coast and forwarded to England no less than five specimens of Apteryx haasti, some of which were larger and more handsomely marked than those in the Museum. These were probably females, although the collector was unable to state the sex.

There is no proof whatever that the bird here described is the same as that for which M. Jules Verreaux proposed the name of Apteryx maxima*; on the contrary, the evidence, so far as it goes, would seem to indicate the existence of a much larger species of Kiwi than any of the foregoing—in fact, a bird equalling in size a full-grown Turkey. For this reason I have considered it safer to retain the name bestowed upon it in compliment to the late Sir Julius von Haast, to whom the Colony is indebted for the establishment of a valuable museum of science and art at Canterbury, as well as for several important topographical and geological surveys in that district.

With closely-allied forms sharing the same habitat, it is somewhat hard to determine how far to go or where to stop in the discrimination of species. So far as we can judge at present, Apteryx haasti is readily distinguishable from A. oweni; but there would seem to be almost as much justification for our distinguishing as a new species, separable from A. bulleri, the Kiwi-kura (or “red Kiwi”) found with its young of the same colour in the Pirongia ranges (as mentioned on page 310), for in this instance there was not merely a distinction of colour, but a very manifest modification in the structure of the plumage. It is no answer to say that both forms were found inhabiting the same range of mountain, any more than it would be an objection to the already recognized species that Apteryx australis, A. oweni, and A. haasti are all found in the same district, or that, while Apteryx bulleri is abundant in the Upper Wanganui, A. oweni is known to exist on the hill-tops between that district and Wellington. The explanation is, of course, to be found in descent from a common ancestor, the differentiation having been brought about by natural causes which we have not yet been able to determine with any certainty. As we have seen in treating of Apteryx bulleri, examples from different localities in the North Island exhibit minor peculiarities that are more or less constant. Such variation can hardly be matter of surprise in the case of flightless birds whose habitat for countless generations may have been restricted to some particular range of mountains. This principle extended ought to be sufficient to account for the existence of at least four recognized species of Apteryx within so small a geographical area as New Zealand.

For obvious reasons I have endeavoured to make my account of this very remarkable group of wingless birds as full and exhaustive as possible. A part from the special interest attaching to species that are rapidly expiring, the Apterygine form is so entirely anomalous among existing birds, that every minute particular of natural economy and life-history appears to be worth recording.

It must be at once apparent that a close and patient study of the avifauna of such a country as New Zealand cannot fail to have an important bearing on the question, which claims so large a share of attention among naturalists of the present day, as to the origin of species.

It seems impossible for any one who has given even the most cursory attention to the subject to doubt that such closely allied forms as Apteryx bulleri and Apteryx australis, Ocydromus greyi and Ocydromus australis, and the other representative species inhabiting the North and South Islands respectively, have in each case sprung from a common parent, the amount of difference which is now sufficient to distinguish them specifically being the result of a long-continued and persistent modification in a given direction, and under conditions favourable to its permanence. The only admission

* Bp. Compt. Rend. Acad. Sc. xliii. p. 841 (1856, ex Verr. MS.).

page 332 required in support of such an hypothesis is, that the North and South Islands have been severed from each other for a sufficiently long period of time to allow of this complete divergence of character under the ordinary laws of natural development. And here we have the supporting testimony of Geology; for there is every indication in the structure of the two islands that their individual insulation dates back into far antiquity, and was probably coeval with that great convulsion of nature which in the remote past plunged under “the azure main” the continent of which New Zealand and her satellites are now the only existing remnants.
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