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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Myiomira Macrocephala, — (South-Island Tomtit.)

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Myiomira Macrocephala,
(South-Island Tomtit.)

  • Great-headed Titmouse, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 557, pl. lv. (1783).

  • Parus macrocephalus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 1013 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Pachycephalus? macrocephalus, Steph. Gen. Zool. xiii. p. 267 (1826).

  • Rhipidura macrocephala, Gray, in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 190 (1843).

  • Miro forsterorum, Gray, op. cit. ii. p. 191 (1843).

  • Miro dieffenbachii, Gray, op. cit. ii. p. 191 (1843).

  • Petroica macrocephala, Gray, Voy. Ereb. and Terror, Birds, p. 6 (1844).

  • Petroica dieffenbachii, id. op. cit. p. 6, pi. 6. fig. 1 (1844).

  • Turdus minutus, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 83 (1844).

  • Miro macrocephala, Bonap. Consp. Gen. Av. i. p. 299 (1850).

  • Muscicapa macrocephala, Ellman, Zool. 1861, p. 7465.

  • Muscicapa minuta, Ellman, tom. cit. p. 7465.

  • Myiomoira dieffenbachii, Gray, Hand-1. of B. i. p. 229 (1869).

  • Myiomoira macrocephala, id. op. cit. p. 229 (1869).

Native names.

The same as those applied to the preceding species.

♂ similis M. toitoi, sed maculâ frontali albâ minore et pectore flavido distinguendus.

♀ similis feminæ M. toitoi, sed pectore flavido lavato.

Adult male. Similar to M. toitoi, except in the colour of the under surface, which is pale lemon-yellow instead of being white, deepening to orange where it meets the black of the fore neck, and fading away into yellowish white on the vent and under tail-coverts; the white frontal spot, moreover, is somewhat less distinct than in the former bird. Irides lustrous black. Legs and feet blackish brown, the under surface and sides of the toes orange-yellow. Total length 5·4 inches; extent of wings 8·5; wing, from flexure, 3·2; tail 2·2; bill, along the ridge ·35, along the edge of lower mandible ·55; tarsus ·7; middle toe and claw ·8; hind toe and claw ·7.

Female. Similar to the female of M. toitoi, but having the breast and abdomen washed with very pale lemonyellow, and the wing-bar tinged with fulvous.

Young. In the young of both sexes the yellow is reduced to a scarcely perceptible tinge, and in some examples is altogether wanting. In the young male the breast is obscurely mottled with dusky black, and in the young female these markings are brown and extend to the flanks.

Varieties. A very pretty albino specimen, received from Otago, has nearly the whole of the body white, with a wash of bright yellow on the head, breast, and abdomen; on the fore part of the breast there is a broad mark of velvety black, and on the upper surface there are a few scattered feathers of the same; some of the wing-feathers are pure white, the rest are black; the two middle tail-feathers are white, the outer ones black, obliquely crossed with a bar of white; bill and legs as in ordinary specimens.

Another albino, in the Otago Museum, has the general plumage white, with a faint tinge of brown on the page 43 head and of yellow on the body, there being a bright wash of canary-yellow on the breast. Wings and tail parti-coloured, several of the tail-feathers being entirely black; bill and feet white.

Obs, Individuals vary much both in size and in the tone of their colouring, some males having the underparts of a uniform pale lemon-yellow, others rich canary-yellow, deepening into orange on the breast. The one figured is a highly coloured specimen in my own collection. A specimen in the Canterbury Museum measures only 4·75 inches in length, corresponding, both in size and plumage, with the type of Mr. G. R. Gray’s M. dieffenbachii; and I have received equally small examples from the Chatham Islands; but, after a very careful comparison, I am unable to admit the validity of the supposed new species*.

This Tomtit is the South-Island representative of the preceding species, which is only found north of Cook’s Strait. It appears, however, to enjoy a wider geographical range; for I obtained specimens at the Chatham Islands, and the Antarctic Expedition brought some from the Auckland Islands.

The stomachs of all those I opened were crammed with small diptera, coleoptera, and caterpillars, showing the strictly insectivorous character of this species.

The habits of this bird are similar to those of its northern ally (M. toitoi), except that it appears to be less recluse in its nidification; for it is a common thing to find its somewhat elaborate nest, and often in exposed situations, a favourite location being under the head of the ti (Cordyline australis).

There is much variation in nests from different localities, but a very typical example in my collection is of a rounded basket-shape, with a thick foundation, measuring four inches across the top, with a maximum depth of a little over three inches. It is composed of moss, dry leaves, roots of umbelliferous plants, minute fragments of bark and other vegetable substances, compactly bound together; and the cup, which is fully an inch and a half in depth, is thickly lined with soft tree-moss. Mixed with the building-materials I have enumerated are some small tufts of sheep’s wool; and passing right through the wall of the nest, apparently to serve as a support, there is a bent fern-stalk nearly six inches long .

The eggs, which are generally three in number, but occasionally four, are ovoido-conical, measuring ·75 inch in length by ·6 in breadth; they are white, with a broad freckled zone of purplish brown at the larger end, and with the whole surface dusted or minutely freckled with paler brown; sometimes without the zone, and beautifully speckled all over with various shades of brown.

* Professor Hutton, I believe, still recognizes two species, both of them found in the South Island. In the critical notes appended to his ‘Catalogue’(1871) he remarked:–“Mr. G. R. Gray describes Petroica dieffenbachii as being smaller than P. macrocephala, and with the yellow on the chest darker; but of the two species that aro found in the South Island it is the larger one that has the darker colour on the chest. It is therefore doubtful which of the two is the true maorocephala.” The answer to the above is that I have in my possession a series of speoimens showing every gradation of colour between the two extremes, and that the darkest is likewise the smallest of them all.

Mr. W. W. Smith sends me the following note:– I have found the nest many times under the head of the cabbage-tree, and occasionally in a suspended clump of roots on a clay bank. I have also met with it in thick masses of ‘bush lawyer.’ In 1880 I discovered one in a matipo tree fully nine feet from the ground. I have observed considerable difference in the size and shape of the nests, some being large and very roughly constructed, others small and highly finished.” Mr. Potts writes:–“Two nests which we presented to the Canterbury Museum were of remarkable shape: one, a firm compact structure, placed in the forked head of a ti tree, resembled a very neat moss basket with a handle across the top; the second, also from a ti tree, owing, perhaps, to the foundation slipping between the leaves, was built up till it reached the great height of sixteen inches. We have found others placed on a rock: and one, now in the Colonial Museum, was built between the brace and shingles in the roof of an empty cottage” (Trans. New-Zealand Inst. 1869, vol. ii. p. 59). In a letter to myself, he adds the following interesting particoulars of two other nests found by him:–“No. 1 was built chiefly of sprays of climbing plants, strengthened with grass-bents and a few pieces of split ti-palm leaf, lined with moss, as usual. The whole fabric appeared much rougher and more loosely put together than is usually the case with the nest of this bird. It was placed in a ti-palm, and contained two well-fledged young birds and three bad eggs. No. 2: this nest was composed almost entirely of moss, with a few slender strips of bark fixed to the outside, and ornamented inside with a few Parrakeet-feathers; it was placed on a ledge in a mossy recess among the rocks in dense bush, and contained four eggs.”