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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Diomedea Exulans. — (Wandering Albatros.)

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Diomedea Exulans.
(Wandering Albatros.)

  • Diomedea exulans, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 214 (1766).

  • Diomedea albatrus, Pall. Spic. Zool. fasc. v. p. 28 (1769).

  • Chocolate albatros, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. pt. 1, p. 309 (1785).

  • L’Albatros du Cap de Bonne Espèrance, Buff. Pl. Enl. x. pl. 237 (1786).

  • Diomedea spadicea, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 568 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Diomedea adusta, Tschudi, J. f. O. 1856, p. 157.

Native name.—Toroa.

Ad. albua: interscapulio indistinctè brunneo fasciatim vermiculato: tectricibus alarum nigris vix brunnescentibus, majoribus interioribus plus minusve albis, margine carpali albo et brunneo vario: remigibus brunnescentinigris, apicem versus pallidioribus, scapis flavicanti-albidis: scapularibus albis, ad apicem nigris: dorso postico et uropygio, supracaudalibus caudæque albis, hac nigro apicatâ, rectricibus exterioribus basaliter brunneo irregulariter transvermiculatis: subtùs purè albus, pectore indistinctè brunneo vermiculatim fasciato: rostro albido, carnoso vix tincto, ad apicem flavicanti-corneo: pedibus carneo-albicantibus: iride saturatè brunneâ: annulo ophthalmico viridi-purpurascente.

Juv. suprà fuliginoso-brunneus: alis caudâque fuliginoso-nigris, scapis flavicanti-albis, versus apicem nigris: fronte cum facie laterali et gutture purè albis: subtùs fuliginoso-brunneus, abdomine magis cinerascente: subalaribus et axillaribus albis, his versus apicem brunneo vermiculatis: rostro albicanti-corneo: pedibus albicanti-carneis: iride nigricanti-brunneâ.

Adult. General plumage pure white; the feathers of the back and those composing the mantle crossed more or less with narrow wavy lines of brown; the breast and sides of the body obscurely freckled and vermiculated with pale brown; upper surface of wings blackish brown, varied with pale brown and white along the edges, and with an extensive patch of white on the humeral flexure; primaries brownish black, with paler tips and yellowish-white shafts; secondaries brownish black, largely marked with white on their inner webs; scapulars white on their basal portion, black towards the tips; tail-feathers largely marked with black in their apical portion, and the outer ones more or less vermiculated with brown; lining of wings and under tail-coverts pure white. Irides rich dark brown; bare eyelids greenish purple; bill white, with a pinky tinge, yellowish horn-coloured at the tip; legs and feet flesh-white, sometimes with a pinky tinge. Total length 42·5 inches; wing, from carpal flexure, 24; tail 8·5; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible 7; length of lower mandible 6; depth of bill at the base 2·5; bare tibia 1·5; tarsus 5; middle toe and claw 6·5; greatest width of expanded foot 6·5.

Obs. The measurements given above are those of an ordinary-sized bird captured off the New-Zealand coast by the seamen of H.M.S. ‘Virago;’ the size, however, is variable, and much larger examples are sometimes taken. For example, I saw in the possession of the first mate of the steamboat ‘Stella’ the head and neck of one of extremely large size, with the whole plumage of the purest white, the bill of which gave the following measurements:—Length from gape to tip 6·5 inches; following curvature of upper mandible 8·5; and along edge of lower mandible 6·5.

Professor Hutton gives for this species an “average breadth across the wings of 10 feet, the smallest being 9 feet and the largest 12 feet”; another writer mentions having measured one which yielded an extreme extent, from tip to tip, of 17 feet. My largest, however, is barely 14 feet across.

page 190

It may be observed that, soon after death, the lower part of the bill, the legs, and the feet change to a delicate purplish colour from congestion of the blood in the small vessels, and ultimately become yellow or yellowish brown in the dried specimen.

Young. A narrow band across the forehead and the whole of the face, sides of the head, and throat pure white; crown of the head, nape, neck all round, and the entire body-plumage deep slate-grey, washed more or less with brown and darker on the upper surface, the feathers composing the mantle having pale brown margins; the whole of the upper surface of the wings uniform blackish brown; rump and upper tail-coverts slaty brown with darker margins; primaries and tail-feathers black, the shafts and the inner webs becoming greyish white in their concealed basal portion; lining of wings and long axillary plumes pure white, the latter with delicate vermiculations of sooty brown near the tips. Irides brownish black; bill white horn-colour; legs and feet flesh-white.

Obs. The white patch on the face is very distinct, with well-defined edges; it fills the whole region in front of the eyes, crosses the forehead along the base of the mandible, and passing well over the eyes extends beyond them almost to the ears, where it forms a sharp angle, and then, sweeping back over the cheeks, spreads downwards and expands so as to cover the whole of the throat.

Nestling. Covered with pure white down.

Progress towards maturity. As it takes a considerable time to attain the fully adult plumage, birds are to be met with in every intermediate stage, and are often very beautifully barred and freckled with dark brown, especially on the upper parts and sides of the body. In very old birds the wavy markings described above diminish considerably or entirely disappear.

I have before me a fine series (now in my collection) showing the transitions of plumage through which this bird passes before it attains to the adult livery.

No. 1 is a more advanced stage than the “young” described above. The whole of the plumage is many shades lighter; the white on the face is more extensive, the narrow frontal band expanding to the width of an inch, and the patch extending beyond the throat halfway down the neck, still, however, preserving its characteristic form with a pretty well-defined outline; the crown, hind neck, shoulders, and mantle darker brown, with very pale brown margins; rump and tail-coverts uniform slaty brown; upper surface of wings brownish black, the small coverts tipped with pale brown; primaries and tail-feathers brownish black; lower portion of fore neck, breast, and underparts generally dark chocolate-brown with, broad buffy margins, having a pretty wavy appearance on the sides of the breast, becoming lighter and more mixed on the abdomen, and darkening to blackish brown on the under tail-coverts; the whole of the inner lining of wings and the axillary plumes pure white, the latter with pretty grey vermiculations, more or less distinct, towards the tips. This bird (which is probably a female) is undergoing a change of plumage; the old, brown feathers composing the mantle have worn and abraded tips fading into buffy white; and the new feathers are of a uniform slaty grey, with only a faint indication of margin. On the sides of the body and mixed with the dull brown plumage are likewise some new feathers, which are white, thickly freckled in a wavy manner with grey. Bill uniform yellowish horn-colour, changing to bright yellow on the unguis, which has a bluish patch at the base. Bill 6·5 inches, following curvature 7·5.

No. 2 has still lighter plumage; the outline of the white paten disappears on the throat, merging into the brown plumage of the breast through a delicate shade of buff; and the ground plumage being paler, the wavy light brown markings on the breast are not so conspicuous; the feathers of the shoulders and mantle have broad margins of pale brown, many of them much abraded, and there is a strong wash of brown on the rump and tail-coverts; the plumage of the underparts is likewise much lighter, becoming almost white on the abdomen. Judging by its large size this bird is a male. Bill from gape to tip 7 inches, following curvature of upper mandible 8; wing, from first flexure, 27; tail 8·75; tarsus 4·5.

No. 3 is lighter on the underparts than No. 1, and with the white on the throat not so well defined, although forming a distinct hood over the eyes; hind neck, shoulders, and mantle much paler brown, a few scattered white feathers with rayed markings appearing among the smaller scapulars; upper surface of wings and tail blackish brown; sides of the body and under tail-coverts much vermiculated; lining of wings and axillary plumes pure white. Bill 6·25, following curvature 7·75.

page 191

No. 4 has the vertex and crown dark brown; the throat, collar, and hind neck creamy white with pale brown patches on the former; mantle dark brown, each feather paler at the extremity, but with numerous scattered white feathers distinctly vermiculated; upper surface of wings and tail uniform blackish brown; underparts of the body pale brown mixed with darker, and delicately vermiculated; under tail-coverts dark brown, with a single white feather covered with dusky rays. Bill 6·5 inches, following curvature 8.

No. 5 has the crown dark brown, fading away on the nape; back, rump, and upper tail-coverts white, beautifully barred and vermiculated with blackish brown; wings and tail brownish black; throat and entire fore neck pure white; breast and sides covered with freckles and minute vermiculate markings of grey. Bill 5·5 inches, following curvature 6·75.

No. 6 is similar to No. 4, but having more of the scattered white feathers, covered with vermiculation on the shoulders and mantle, presenting a highly variegated appearance; with a darker crown it has the hind neck very pale, and there are no white feathers among the under tail-coverts. Bill 6·25 inches, following curvature 7·75.

No. 7 (which is probably a female) has very nearly attained the adult plumage, as described above. The white of the throat extends to the breast, having only a wash, of brown on the lower fore neck; crown and nape uniform brown; the rest of the body-plumage white; mantle, back, rump, and upper tail-coverts with some plain brown feathers intermixed and closely rayed and vermiculated with brown; the breast is thickly freckled or mottled, and the sides of the body, flanks, and under tail-coverts rayed irregularly with brownish grey; on the lower breast and above the vent these markings fade away, and the abdomen is pure white. Bill 5·75 inches, following curvature 6·75.

No. 8. The brown markings have almost entirely disappeared from the neck, there being only a slight wash of brown on the nape; the crown is still brown, but not so dark as in the last. The white face is tolerably distinct, the white covering the fore neck and extending to the breast, which is crossed with delicate vermiculations and freckles, these becoming fainter towards the abdomen till they fade away altogether; under tail-coverts freckled and vermiculated in their whole extent; lining of wings and axillaries pure white, the innermost of the latter faintly marked and clouded with grey; the whole of the back, mantle, rump, and upper tail-coverts closely vermiculated and freckled with greyish brown, presenting, however, a very different appearance to the wavy zigzag lines which adorn another example to be presently described; upper surface of wings and tail brownish black. Still there is the distinguishing feature of immaturity in the upper surface of the wings and tail being brownish black. Bill yellowish horn-colour.

No. 9. Crown of the head chocolate-brown, fading away on the nape; forehead, face, sides of the head, throat, and neck all round white, but exhibiting a wash of brown on the sides and hind neck; shoulders, mantle, back, rump, and upper tail-coverts white, thickly mottled and vermiculated with greyish brown, the markings being larger and more pronounced on the upper tail-coverts; entire upper surface of wings and tail brownish black, the shafts of the primaries being yellowish white with darkened tips; underparts white, the whole of the breast thickly freckled and speckled, the sides of the body, flanks, and under tail-coverts speckled and vermiculated with greyish brown, these delicate markings fading insensibly away towards the abdomen; inner lining of wings and axillary plumes spotless white, excepting only some of the inferior plumes, which are faintly freckled and clouded with grey. Irides rich dark brown; bare eyelids greenish purple; bill white, with a pinky tinge, yellowish horn-coloured at the tips of both mandibles; legs and feet flesh-white, with a tinge of pink.

No. 10. This fine example, which furnishes the front figure in my Plate of this species, has the general plumage pure white; the vertex, nape, and the whole of the breast obscurely freckled and rayed with dark grey; sides of the body and flanks with delicate vermiculations of the same colour; shoulders, mantle, back, rump, and upper tail-coverts silky white, covered with narrow transverse zigzag bars of greyish brown, producing a very pretty effect; on the scapulary-coverts these markings become darker and more vermiculate in character; the upper surface of wings brownish black, with scattered white markings along the arm, which increase and finally become confluent at the inner flexure of the humerus, forming a broad irregular patch with barred markings and freckles of greyish brown; the primaries are brownish black with yellowish-white shafts; the lining of the wings and the long axillary plumes are pure white, the innermost of the latter clouded and freckled with grey. The tail-feathers are parti-coloured, with pure white shafts; the middle tail-feather has its basal half white with produced marginal limbs; on the three next the white progressively page 192 extends further on the inner web; on the outermost feather the black reaches only halfway down on the outer web, and on the inner is reduced to a patch in the form of a hatchet; the under tail-coverts, which extend to the end of the feathers, are pure white. Bill beautiful pinky horn-colour, the cutting-edge of the upper mandible margined with black as far as the unguis. Length 43 inches; wing, from second flexure, 24·5; tail 8; bill, from gape to tip 6, following curvature of upper mandible from the base 6·5, along the edge of lower mandible 6·6; tarsus 4; middle toe and claw 6·5; greatest width of expanded foot 6·5.

Notes. Mr. Gould, in his ‘Handbook to the Birds of Australia’ (ii. p. 433) thus disposes of the differences of plumage:—“The Wandering Albatros varies much in colour at different ages: very old birds are entirely white, with the exception of the pinions, which are black; and they are to be met with in every stage, from pure white, white freckled and barred with dark brown, to dark chocolate-brown approaching to black, the latter colouring being always accompanied by a white face, which in some specimens is washed with buff; beneath the true feathers they are abundantly supplied with a fine white down… . The young are at first clothed in a pure white down, which gives place to the dark brown colouring mentioned above.”

A fledgling, however, in the Otago Museum (obtained at Campbell Island) is entirely without the dark plumage. It has not yet completely lost the dense fluffy pure white down which forms the clothing of the nestling. The head, neck, shoulders, rump, tail, and entire under surface are of the purest white, having a fine silky gloss; the interscapular region is traversed longitudinally with club-shaped marks of greyish black, increasing downwards, the larger feathers having their apical portion completely covered; upwards, towards the shoulders, these marks diminish till they become mere arrow-heads; on the mantle there are numerous marginal bars, but there is no vermiculation. The wings are brownish black on their upper surface varied with white, all the coverts having white margins, and the quills are black. Bill yellowish horn-colour, with a bluish tinge on the upper mandible.

Shortly before leaving the colony, I saw, at Waikanae, a fresh specimen which had been cast ashore on the coast during a severe gale. It was of small size, and evidently a young bird. The whole of the plumage was pure white without any markings, excepting only the wings, which were black on their upper surface, largely dappled with white, especially towards the humeral flexure. Legs and feet flesh-grey. The skin of this bird afterwards came into the possession of Mr. S. W. Silver, of Letcomb Manor, and, with his permission, I have introduced its likeness into my Plate of this species, as the back figure standing on a rock.

We cannot suppose that the Albatros is first pure white, then dark brown, and, after passing through several intermediate states, pure white again in extreme old age. Nor would it be altogether safe, from the materials at present before us, to construct a new species. I am inclined rather to account for the differences I have mentioned on the supposition of the existence of dimorphic phases of plumage as in some other oceanic birds.

The following is a description of a perfectly mature example of this Albatros, the fresh skin of which was received at the Canterbury Museum from one of the emigrant ships, in 1874, and noticed by me in a communication to the Philosophical Institute*:—The whole of the head and neck, as well as the upper and lower parts of the body, of the purest milk-white. On each side of the nape, or upper part of the neck, there is a broad longitudinal mark, of a beautiful roseate pink, covering an area of about six inches in length by two inches in breadth, which fades soon after death, and ultimately disappears altogether in the dried skin. Another specimen obtained at the same time showed traces of this feature, but in a very diminished degree; and I conclude that it is to be met with only in very old birds, or at some particular season of the year. The only dark markings are on the wings and tail; on the latter, each feather has two subapical irregular spots of black, larger and darker on the outer webs. (It is probable that these spots ultimately disappear, leaving

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. viii. p. 189.

This feature, which appeared to me at the time quite a new fact in natural history, has since been noticed by Dr. Kidder in the following terms:—“All of the nesting Albatroses that I saw, without exception, showed a slight pinkish discoloration of the neck, as if a blood-stain had been washed out (usually on the left side), and extending downward from the region of the ear.”

I find, however, that I was not the first to record this peculiarity of coloration. Captain Hutton, in his ‘Notes on the Petrels of the Southern Ocean,’ mentions “a rose-coloured streak on each side of the neck,” and adds, “I have never seen this on either the young or very old birds; and the only one I ever captured with it was a male. I have also only seen these marks between June and August, and I am therefore disposed to believe that they distinguish the middle-aged male bird previous to the breeding-season; but I am not sure of this.”

page 193 the tail entirely white, for I observed that on some of the lateral feathers there was only a single irregular spot on the outer web.) Two of the upper tail-coverts (which otherwise are perfectly white) are crossed transversely with delicate vermiculations of dark brown; the lining of the wings and the axillary plumes pure white. At the insertion of the wings some of the upper feathers have delicate vermiculations; the inferior secondaries are broadly marked in this manner, and the longer ones have a broad terminal patch of black. Along the edge of the humerus there are spots of black, having a very pretty effect, each feather having a broad angular spot on the outer vane. At the humeral bend of the wing the white plumage predominates, the spots appearing again like irregular inky patches, and becoming thicker and larger towards the carpal flexure. The secondaries are white in their basal portion, greyish black towards the tips. The primaries are brownish black, with white shafts, fading to grey on their inner webs, and white at the base.

In the Otago Museum there is an apparently fully adult bird in which the crown is mottled and the sides of the neck, the entire mantle, and the upper tail-coverts handsomely vermiculated with brownish black on a pure white ground; the upper surface of the wings black, varied more or less with white; quills and tail-feathers brownish black; the entire under surface of the body delicately vermiculated with dark brown; bill yellow horn-colour, with a slate-coloured patch near the expansion at the tip of the lower mandible.

There is another adult specimen in the Colonial Museum, which has a perfectly white head, neck, and underparts, with very silky plumage; no markings whatever on the back, and only an indistinct vermiculation on some of the feathers composing the mantle; rump and tail white, the middle tail-feathers somewhat clouded with grey; upper surface of wings greyish black, marked along the upper edge and largely towards the humeral flexure with white; scapulars white, marked with broken bars of greyish black. Bill uniform pale yellow, the cutting-edge of upper mandible black. Legs and feet flesh-white.

There is likewise a very fine specimen in the Canterbury Museum in which there is an entire absence of freckles or vermiculate markings, the whole of the body-plumage being of the purest white; the upper surface of wings largely varied with white, the humeral flexure béing entirely white.

In another very large one which I had an opportunity of examining the entire plumage was white except on the upper surface of wings, where likewise, along the upper edge and towards the humeral flexure, the white predominated; there was no vermiculation on the upper surface, except at the ends of the scapulars, and the tail-feathers were only mottled with black at the tips. But the principal feature in this bird was in the colour of the bill, which from a whitish horn-colour deepened to rich orange-yellow on the culmen, and darkened to reddish brown towards the base.

What voyager on the high seas has not watched with wonder and admiration the sailing flight of the Albatros! It has been the theme of poets and philosophers from the earliest times; and various ingenious theories have been propounded to account for the amazing power which this bird possesses of sailing in the air for an hour at a time without the slightest movement of its expanded wings. Professor Hutton, whose observations on the birds inhabiting the Southern Ocean (‘Ibis,’ 1865) are full of suggestive information, has contributed an essay* on the flight of the Albatros; and although his mathematical treatment of the subject has been challenged, his paper shows a very clear apprehension of the mechanical principles on which the explanation rests—his main object being to show that if an Albatros started with a certain velocity it could, by slightly altering the angle at which it was flying, continue to support itself in the air without using its wings until its velocity had been reduced below a certain point.

Dr. Bennett, who has written on the same subject, remarks:—“It is pleasing to observe this superb bird sailing in the air in graceful and elegant movements, seemingly excited by some invisible power; for there is scarcely any movement of the wings seen after the first and frequent impulses are given, when, the creature elevates itself in the air, rising and falling as if some concealed power guided its various motions, without any muscular exertion of its own.” Mr. Gould adds the following testimony:—“The powers of flight of the Wandering Albatros are much greater than those of any other

* Philosophical Magazine, August 1869.

page 194 bird that has come under my observation. Although during calm or moderate weather it sometimes rests on the surface of the water, it is almost constantly on the wing, and is equally at ease while passing over the glassy surface during the stillest calm, or flying with meteor-like swiftness before the most furious gale; and the manner in which it just tops the raging billows and sweeps between the gulfy waves has a hundred times called forth my wonder and admiration. Although a vessel running before the wind frequently sails more than 200 miles in the twenty-four hours, and that for days together, still the Albatros has not the slightest difficulty in keeping up with the ship, but also performs circles of many miles in extent, returning again to hunt up the wake of the vessel for any substances thrown overboard.” It requires no great stretch of imagination to believe, with the last-named naturalist, that in the course of their peregrination they frequently make the circuit of the globe—a conclusion the more natural, as the medusæ and other marine productions on which they subsist appear to be equally abundant in every latitude.

Dr. Bree writes, in his ‘Birds of Europe’:—“The Wandering Albatros, of which but few naturalists have much personal knowledge, inhabits the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its appearance in European seas is rare and accidental; at least, but few instances of its having been seen there are recorded. Degland notices one specimen having been captured at Dieppe about 1830, the head of which is preserved by M. Hardy, the well-known naturalist of that place. Another specimen was killed near Anvers in 1833, and three more in the neighbourhood of Chaumont in November 1858. There is also a specimen in the Museum at Christiania, which Mr. Tristram informs me he has seen, which was killed off the coast of Norway. Notwithstanding these instances, however, ornithologists have been tardy in admitting this species into the European lists*. Nuttall, whose descriptions are always interesting, proceeding as they did from an accomplished naturalist, who, like Audubon, earned his reputation in the forests and the prairies, has given an excellent account of this bird. ‘Vagabond,’ he remarks,’ except in the short season of reproduction, they are seen to launch out into the widest part of the ocean, and it is probable that, according to the season, they pass from one extremity of the globe to another!’

“I cannot endorse Nuttall’s statement that it is only ‘when the flying-fish fail they have recourse to the inexhaustible supply of molluscous animals with which the milder seas abound;’ nor can the following be a true record of the natural history of the species:—‘They are nowhere more abundant than off the Cape of Good Hope, where they have been seen in April and May, sometimes soaring in the air with the gentle motion of the Kite at a stupendous height, at others nearer the water, watching the motions of the flying-fish, which they seize as they spring out of the water to shun the jaws of the larger fish which pursue them. Vast flocks are also seen around Kamtschatka and the adjacent islands, particularly the Kuriles and Bering’s Island, about the end of June. Their arrival is considered by the natives of these places as a sure presage of the presence of the shoals of fish which they have thus followed into these remotest seas.’ It is very evident that Nuttall’s observations relate to an entirely different bird; for no one ever saw the Wandering Albatros capture its food in the manner described, nor does its range extend into the region he mentions.”

I have myself never tired of watching the flight of the Albatros and of speculating on the exact nature of its guiding and impelling force. It is interesting, too, to observe the conduct of these birds when a number of them, perhaps six or seven, are following in the wake of the steamer. They are coursing around in circles that meet, and with scarcely a movement of their ample pinions, when one of them observes a piece of offal, or other object, thrown overboard and drifting astern. It suddenly arrests itself in its graceful flight, bends its body into an ungainly shape by stretching forward its straddled legs and throwing back its head, and then flops down into the water, followed first by

* Both Diomedea exulans and D. chlororhyncha, although admitted by Dr. Bree on the authority already mentioned, are omitted by Mr. Dresser from his ‘Birds of Europe.’

page 195 one and then by another of its companions in quick succession. Over the floating morsel they seem to hold a “caucus,” with all their heads together and wings partially raised, and in a few minutes are left far astern of the moving steamer, rising and falling with the rolling wave, till they are well nigh out of sight; then mounting in the air again, one after the other, after a preliminary run on the water to get the required impetus, they come sweeping up to their former position with almost incredible swiftness. They follow the coastal steamers in all weathers, seldom, however, venturing further than the entrance when a port is reached; although on several occasions I have known young birds continue in pursuit almost to the anchorage.

Perhaps no writer has more graphically described the flight of this noble bird than Froude in his ‘Oceana’ (pp. 65, 66):—

“From the Cape to Australia the distance is 6000 miles, or a quarter of the circumference of the globe. Our speed was thirteen knots an hour, and we were attended by a body-guard of Albatroses, Cape-hens, and Sea-hawks—the same birds, so the sailors said, following the ship without resting all the way. I know not whether this be so, or how the fact has been ascertained. One large Gull is very like another, and the islands in the middle of the passage are their principal breeding-places. Any way, from fifty to a hundred of them were around us at sunrise, around us when the night fell, and with us again in the morning. They are very beautiful in the great ocean solitude. One could have wished that Coleridge had seen an Albatros on the wing before he wrote the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ that the grace of the motion might have received a sufficient description. He wheels in circles round and round, and for ever round, the ship—now far behind, now sweeping past in a long rapid curve, like a perfect skater on an untouched field of ice. There is no effort; watch as closely as you will, you rarely or never see a stroke of the mighty pinion. The flight is generally near the water, often close to it. You lose sight of the bird as he disappears in the hollow between the waves, and catch him again as he rises over the crest; but how he rises and whence comes the propelling force is to the eye inexplicable; he alters merely the angle at which the wings are inclined—usually they are parallel to the water and horizontal; but when he turns to ascend or makes a change in his direction the wings then point at an angle, one to the sky, the other to the water. Given a power of resistance to the air, and the air itself will do the rest, just as a kite flies; but how, without exertion, is the resistance caused? However it be, the Albatros is a grand creature. To the other birds, and even to the ship itself, he shows a stately indifference, as if he had been simply ordered to attend its voyage as an aerial guardian, but disdained to interest himself further”*.

On my last voyage from the Antipodes, by direct steamer by way of Cape Horn, I made careful observations on the Albatroses that followed us. During the first few days from the New-Zealand coast (middle of March), and in lat. 56° S., some twenty or more of D. exulans were in daily attendance. Nearly the whole of these were in the dark plumage characteristic of the young bird, the fore neck, breast, and upper parts of the body being of various shades of chocolate-brown, and the face, throat, and abdomen pure white. In some the brown on the breast was very pale, and in one or more of them was reduced to a mere cloud of speckled markings. One bird, however, and the only one in the white body-plumage mentioned above, was conspicuous among the group. It had the head,

* “A singular incident at sea is reported by the captain of the ship ‘Gladstone,’ which arrived in Port Jackson from London on November 20. At 1 P.M. on October 22, in lat. 42° E., long. 90° E., the ship was running down her easting across the Southern Ocean when one of the hands fell overboard from the starboard gangway. Immediately on the alarm being given the ship was smartly rounded to, and the life-boat, manned by the first officer and four hands, lowered in hot haste. The boat reached the unfortunate man after a long pull, and found him supporting himself in the water by clinging desperately to a large Albatros, which, on coming to the surface after his plunge, he had succeeded in making his prize. Holding to the huge bird with all the energy of a drowning man, he had utilized him as a life-buoy until rescued by his comrades. This is probably the first case of the kind on record,”—The Colonist, Jan. 20, 1882.

page 196 neck, back, and all the underparts of the purest white; and the upper surface of the wings blackish brown, with a broad white patch at the humeral flexure. It was a bird of considerable size—larger, indeed, than any of the others—and seemed to take much wider sweeps over the ocean, and often approached so near to the stern of our ship that I could detect the pinky flesh-colour of the beak. Its tail was white, with what appeared to be a terminal band of black. In long. 126°, the weather being bitterly cold, all the Albatroses had left us. But three days later, lat. 56° 22′ S., long. 107° 9′ W., a pair of young birds (in brown plumage) came up to us about noon; and on the following day (March 21), with a stiff gale blowing, an old one appeared in the midst of a flock of Petrels, but did not remain very long. The last appearance of this species was on March 22nd, lat. 56°, long. 88°, when two birds (one of them in the young plumage) joined us about noon and followed our ship till dark. At this time we were steaming before the wind at a great rate, our log having registered a run of 320 miles for the previous twenty-four hours.

About 5 P.M. the next day, lat. 56°, long. 83°, an Albatros of another species, probably D. brachyura, appeared in sight. It kept at a long distance from the steamer, made one wide sweep over the sea, and then vanished; and two days later, having rounded Cape Horn and got into a placid ocean, six more of them appeared at one time, sailing close to the water, and then rising high in the air (with a movement like a Sea-Gull’s), then sweeping down again in a wide circle and skimming the surface as before—coursing far away to leeward, keeping company, as it were, with the ship, but never following in our wake after the manner of the South Pacific bird.

Although the Wandering Albatros is very common in the seas round New Zealand, I have never heard of its breeding on any of the outlying rocks, except those in the vicinity of the Chatham Islands. Campbell and the Auckland Islands are enumerated among its known breeding-stations*. Dr. McCormick, surgeon of H.M.S. ‘Erebus,’ who found it nesting on the latter in the months of November and December, writes:—“The grass-covered declivities of the hills above the thickets of wood are the spots selected by the Albatros for constructing its nest, which consists of a mound of earth, intermingled with withered grass and leaves matted together, 18 inches in height, 6 feet in circumference at the base, and 27 inches in diameter at the top, in which only one egg is usually deposited. The eggs I had an opportunity of weighing varied in weight from 14½ to 19 oz., thirty specimens giving an average of 17 oz.; colour white [measuring 4·75 inches in length by 3·25 in breadth]. The Albatros during the period of incubation is frequently found asleep, with its head under its wing; its beautiful white head and neck, appearing above the grass, betray its situation at a considerable distance off. On the approach of an intruder it resolutely defends its eggs, refusing to quit the nest until forced off, when it slowly waddles away in an awkward manner to a short distance without attempting to take wing. Its greatest enemy is a fierce species of Lestris, always on the watch for the Albatros quitting its nest, when the rapacious pirate instantly pounces down and devours

* Mr. J. D. Enye writes to me that it likewise breeds on some rocks north of the Chatham Islands; and Mr. Hood, a Wharekauri settler, informs me that the Chatham Island natives periodically visit two groups of small islands (the Sisters and the Forty) for the purpose of collecting young birds. In August 1883 he saw the boats return with seven hundred young Albatroses. The natives had caught them on the nest and wrung their necks. After this they were tried down in their own fat and potted in calabashes for future use. He has several times joined himself in this annual excursion and assisted in the capture of the young birds; and on one occasion, the natives having chartered his schooner for the purpose, they collected as many as two thousand young birds off these islands. This was in the month of September, and the young were fully fledged and well grown. From the Pyramid Rock, lying off Pitt’s Island, they obtained several hundred more. Mr. Hood states that on these small islands the birds breed on the high rocks, forming very rude nests of drift and seaweed, and that each of these contains a single young one. Whilst the nests are being plundered in the wholesale manner described above, the old birds generally sweep in wide circles “overhead, but never utter a sound. A few braver ones remain near their offspring, but they offer no resistance. The young, on the contrary, are very vicious with their beaks, and have to be despatched with clubs. Mr. Hood further states that the young birds are pure white with black wings.

page 197 the egg. So well is the poor bird aware of the propensity of its foe, that it snaps the mandibles of its beak violently together whenever it observes the Lestris flying overhead.”

Professor Scott found this species breeding on Campbell Island in the month of November; and, strange to say, as late as March 16th, as Sir James Hector has informed me by letter, “Captain Fairchild found it nesting in large numbers on Antipodes Island. The nests were placed among the tussock-grass and moss, on a plateau 25 acres in extent and 1320 feet above the sea. Each nest contained a single egg. He examined hundreds of nests, but never found one with two eggs in it*. The ‘Hinemoa’ proceeded from Antipodes to the Bounty Islands: Diomedea exulans was not breeding there, but there were lots of D. melanophrys, and the young were quite large.”

The fledgling in the Otago Museum, described above, is stated to be about ten months old; and to account for this long babyhood I cannot do better than quote the following account of the very curious domestic economy of this bird:—“At a certain time of the year, between February and June, Mr. Harris cannot exactly say when, the old birds leave their young and go to sea, and do not return until the next October, when they arrive in large numbers. Each pair goes at once to its old nest; and after a little fondling of the young one, which has remained in or near the nest the whole time, they turn it out and prepare the nest for the next brood. The deserted young ones are in good condition and very lively, frequently being seen off their nests exercising their wings. When the old birds return and take possession of their nest, the young one often remains outside, and nibbles at the head of the old one until the feathers between the beak and the eye are removed and the skin made quite sore. The young birds do not go far from land until the following year, when they accompany the old ones to sea.”

There can be no reasonable doubt as to the truth of this account, wonderful as it may appear. The Maoris, who are good natural observers, confirm the story, and state that when the young birds are left they are so immensely fat that they can subsist for months without food of any kind. Professor Hutton expressed a belief that the young birds are nocturnal (although the old ones are strictly diurnal) and “go down to the sea at night, returning to their nests in the morning;” but Mr. Harris rejects this theory, stating that they are incapable of flight, and that the situations occupied by many of them made it impossible to get to the water except by that means.

What is that divinely-implanted faculty which enables this bird, after wanderings that defy calculation and perhaps encircle the globe, to find her way back at the right moment, across the pathless deep, to that little speck of rock in mid-ocean where she had cradled her young the season before? Doubtless the same mysterious unerring instinct that guides the Swallow in its annual pilgrimage—that leads the Pipit, without landmark of any kind, straight to her little nest in the grass amidst miles of waving tussock—that enables the nesting sea-bird, when she comes back from fishing, to pick out her two painted eggs from amongst the thousands that lie upon the barren rock.

An egg of this species in the Canterbury Museum is ovoid or slightly ovoido-elliptical in form, yellowish white, with a roughly granulate shell, wholly devoid of gloss or polish, but without any excrescences. It measures on its axis 4·8 inches in length by 3·3 in width. Its longest circumference is 12·6 inches, and its widest 10 inches. An egg obtained at Campbell Island, at the same time as the nestling described above (in the month of November), is ovoido-elliptical in form, measuring 5 inches in length by 3 in breadth, and is perfectly white, with a slightly granulate surface. There is another egg in the Otago Museum (without any locality assigned to it) which is somewhat larger, measuring 5·5 inches in length by 3·2 in breadth, of a creamy colour and much soiled by external contact, especially at the larger end. An egg in my son’s collection is ovoido-elliptical, being slightly larger at one end, and measures 4·85 inches in length by 3·15 in breadth; it is of a uniform yellowish white with a finely granulate surface, without the slightest gloss.

* Sir George Grey informs me that on the Auckland Islands he found hundreds of Albatroses breeding together. The nests, according to his account, were of the shape of a Chilton cheese, and each one contained a single egg. Hence the Maori saying, “Kaingatahi.”

“Notes on Birds inhabiting the Southern Ocean,” by F. W. Hutton (‘The Ibis,’ 1865, p. 279).