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The Battle of the Birds

“The cause was an eel. The river Shag had a swamp of its own; the ocean Shag lived on the water. The two Shags contended about the respective merits of their feeding-grounds. The river Shag lived on eels, the sea Shag on snapper. The river Shag said to the other, ‘Come along with me on shore and see what a fine feeding-ground I have.’ The sea Shag agreed, and they went together. The former, who was standing on a ‘negro-head’ in the swamp, called to his visitor ‘Now, dive!’ Down he went, and up he came again with an eel in his beak. ‘Now, then, swallow it!” Down went the slippery eel into the crop of its captor. ‘Now, then, throw it up again!’ cried the river Shag, and up came the slippery eel from the depths of his captor’s throat. ‘See,’ exclaimed the river Shag, ‘that is the beauty of my food; you can do what you like with it.’ ‘Well, let us go to the sea,’ said the ocean Shag, ‘and I will show you what we can do.’ Accordingly they went. ‘Now,’ said the ocean Shag, ‘let me see you dive.’ ‘Not so,’ replied the river Shag, ‘for I have come to see what food you can produce.’ So down the former went; up he came with a snapper in his bill. ‘Good!’ cried the river Shag; ‘now swallow it.’ Down it went, disappearing entirely in the stomach of the bird. ‘Now, then, throw it up again!’ He tried, but tried in vain. The sharp spines on the snapper’s back stuck fast in the Shag’s throat. The river Shag jeered at him, saying, ‘Death lurks in the food you gather;’ and so it was, for the ocean Shag struggled till it died. This was the cause of the battle; for the sea-birds had now discerned how superior was the food on shore, and were determined to make an invasion, so they collected all their forces for that purpose. When the land-birds heard that their ocean brethren were contemplating a descent upon their feeding-grounds, they, too, began to collect their forces to oppose the intruders. The Huia was the bird who called the tribes together with his cry, huia-huia! (assemble, assemble!). The one who kept the fighting-party on the alert during the night was the Pipi-warauroa, his watchword being koia-koia-whitiora-whitiora-whiti-whitiora. This was a warning-cry to keep the party wakeful. The Tui did all the talking, urging them to be brave and big-hearted. The Owl was selected to offer the challenge, and he did the pukana (staring defiantly), and that is how his eyes are so large. The one who threw the last challenge-spear was the Tiwaiwaka. Having thrown the stick, he came dancing backwards, exposing his rear, first on one side, then on the other (just as you see the bird gesticulating, with its tail erect and spread, now-a-days). When the forces from the sea approached it was seen that the Gannet was put forward to answer the challenge. And as the Gannet followed up the defiant Tiwaiwaka, the Oyster-catcher called out keria-keria-keria rawatia (follow him up to the end). And so he did follow him up, and made a thrust forward with his bill, and thought he had speared his enemy, when, lo! his spear went through to the other side, for it was all tail! The Pigeon then commenced to coo; the Kaka cried arara-arara; the Sea-Gull sounded his alarm of haro-haro. Then the two forces came into general conflict, and the tribes from the sea were defeated and driven back. That is why they still remain there, whilst the land-birds enjoy their forests and swamps.”