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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Acanthidositta * Chloris. — (Rifleman.)

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Acanthidositta * Chloris.

  • Citrine Warbler, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 464 (1783).

  • Sitta chloris, Sparrm. Mus. Carls. pl. 33 (1787).

  • Motacilla citrina, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 979 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Sylvia citrina, Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 529 (1790).

  • Sitta punctata, Quoy et Gaim. Voy. de l’Astrol. i. p. 221, pl. 18. fig. 1 (1830).

  • Acanthiza tenuirostris, Lafr. Rev. Zool. 1841, p. 242.

  • Acanthisitta tenuirostris, Lafr. Mag. de Zool. 1842, pl. 27.

  • Motacilla citrinella, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 89 (1844).

  • Acanthisitta tenuirostris, Ellman, Zoologist, 1861, p. 7466.

  • Acanthisitta punctata, Ellman, tom. cit. p. 7466.

Native names.

Tititipounamu, Kikimutu, Kikirimutu, Pihipihi, Piripiri, Tokepiripiri, and Moutuutu.

ad. suprà, viridis, uropygio lætiore, pileo brunneo lavato: tectricibus alarum nigris, extùs viridi lavatis: alâ spuriâ nigrâ, extùs albicante: remigibus nigricanti-brunneis, extùs viridi (ad basin pennarum lætiore) lim-batis, secundariis dorsalibus pogonio externo albo conspicuè maculatis: caudâ nigrâ, ad apicem albo viridi lavato maculatâ: loris, supercilio et facie laterali albidis, strigâ per oculum eunte fuscâ: subtùs albus, vix fulvo tinctus, corporis lateribus flavo lavatis: rostro saturatè brunneo: pedibus pallidè brunneis: iride saturatè brunneâ.

♀ mari omninò similis, sed saturatior: pileo magis brunnescente.

Juv. suprà cinerascenti-brunneus, plumis utrinque nigro marginatis, uropygio olivascente: alâ ut in adultis coloratâ, sed extùs ad basin secundariorum conspicuè flavâ: facie laterali cinerascente, nigricante variâ: subtùs albescens, hypochondriis flavicantibus, gutture et pectore superiore maculis triquetris nigricantibus notatis.

Male. Upper parts dull green, tinged with yellow on the wings and rump; throat, breast, and underparts generally fulvous white, with a tinge of yellow on the sides of the body and abdomen; a streak over and beyond the eyes and a lower-eyelid fringe of fulvous white; wing-feathers black, edged on their outer webs with green, and crossed with a band of dull yellow immediately below the coverts, which are black; the first tertial white on its outer web; tail-feathers black, tipped with fuscous. Irides and bill dark brown; legs and feet paler brown, changing to yellow on the under surface of the toes. Total length 3 inches; extent of wings 5·25; wing, from flexure, 1·5; tail ·25; bill, along the ridge ·4, along the edge of lower mandible ·55; tarsus ·75; middle toe and claw ·6; hind toe and claw ·55.

Female. Crown, hind neck, and upper part of back olivaceous yellow, each feather margined with brown; lower part of back and rump olivaceous yellow, tinged with green; tail-coverts dull green; underparts buffy

* This has hitherto been written Acanthisitta; but Professor Newton has drawn my attention to the fact of its being erroneous. I have therefore adopted the more classic form of Acanthidositta, the etymology of which is ακανθτδ- (acanthid-), crude form of ακανθτs=Carduleis, and sτττα=sitta.

page 114 white, washed on the sides with yellow; wing-feathers dusky, margined on the outer web and marked at the base with olivaceous yellow; superior wing-coverts black; outer tertials margined with white; innermost secondary with an oblong spot of yellowish white on the outer vane; tail-feathers black, tipped with fulvous.

Young. Plumage generally duller and suffused with yellowish brown; marked on the breast with numerous small longitudinal spots of brown.

Obs. As will be seen above, the plumage of A. chloris differs in the male, female, and young. Examples vary in the tone of their colouring; and a specimen in my collection (received from the South Island) has the rump and upper tail-coverts almost orange-coloured, without any mixture of green. I do not believe in the existence of Acanthidositta citrina, Gmelin, although recognized as a distinct species by Dr. Finsch*.

The Rifleman is the smallest of our New-Zealand birds. It is very generally distributed over the middle and southern portions of the North Island, in all suitable localities, and throughout the whole extent of the South Island. It is to be met with generally on the sides and summits of the wooded ranges, seldom or never in the low gullies. Professor Hutton found it on the Great Barrier, and was assured by the native residents of that island that it was a migratory bird, coming and going with the Cuckoo! Mr. Reischek met with it also on the Little Barrier, but not on the other islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

In the hilly pine-forests at the head of the Wairarapa valley I found this bird comparatively plentiful in the summer of 1883. This was the more noticeable on account of the general absence of bird-life in these dark woods at all seasons of the year. On the outskirts small flocks of Zosterops consort together in the underwood, and a few Flycatchers and White-heads share the solitude with the sober Tomtit; but as we enter the woods the stillness becomes oppressive, unbroken even by the chirp of a cricket or the drumming of a locust, and, apart from the active little Rifleman, which seems perfectly at home under all conditions, the only sign of animation is an occasional night-moth lazily flapping its wings in the gloomy shade of the forest.

In its habits it is lively and active, being incessantly on the move, uttering a low feeble cheep (like the cry of a young bird), accompanied by a constant quivering of the wings. I have noticed that this cry becomes louder and more continuous towards evening. It is generally to be seen running up the boles of the larger trees, often ascending spirally, prying into every chink and crevice, and moving about with such celerity that it is rather difficult for the collector to obtain a shot. Its powers of flight are very feeble, and it simply uses its wings for short passages from one tree to another. Its tail is extremely short, and is hardly visible when the bird is in motion.

The stomachs of all that I have opened contained numerous remains of minute Coleptera and other insects, sometimes mixed with finely comminuted vegetable matter.

It is naturally a shy bird, but of so excitable a nature that, during the breeding-season, it may be decoyed into the open hand by rapidly twirling a leaf, so as to simulate the fluttering of a bird, accompanied by an imitation of its simple note.

A bird-collector at Wellington showed me a brood of three young ones which he had taken from a nest in the cavity of a hinau, at an elevation of 20 feet or more from the ground. Finding the aperture too small to admit his hand, he cut into the tree about a foot below it, and thus disclosed the nest, which he described as being composed entirely of fern-hair, about 10 inches in length, and bottle-shaped, with a long vertical tube forming the entrance to it. In the Canterbury Museum there is a nest of this species, which appears to have been torn out of some natural cavity. It is pear-shaped, with the entrance on the side and near the bottom, and is very loosely constructed, the

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. 1874, vol. vii. p. 227.

page 115 materials composing it being the skeletons of decayed leaves, the wiry stems of plants, rootlets, and a few feathers.

Captain Mair discovered a nest under the thatched eaves of a Maori hut; and Mr. E. Pharazyn sent me an egg taken from another nest found concealed among the dry roots of a fallen tree. Mr. Potts has found the nest “very cleverly built, in a roll of bark that hung suspended in a thicket of climbing convolvulus,” and, at another time, in a small hole in the trunk of a black birch. More than once he has known the bird to occupy the mortice-hole of a stock-yard post; also to utilize the skull of a horse, and to build between the slabs of a bush hut, adapting the form of its nest to the immediate surroundings.

The Rifleman has been found breeding as early in the year as the month of August; and in a specimen which I killed in the Ruahine ranges on the 23rd of December the ovary contained an undeveloped egg of the size of buck-shot, while the bareness of the underparts bore indication that the bird had already been sitting. From these facts we may, I think, reasonably infer that this species produces two broods in the season. The companion male bird on this occasion also had the abdomen bare, thus affording presumptive evidence that the sexes share the labour of incubation. The eggs vary in number from three to five; they are very fragile, broadly ovoid, or inclined to a spherical form, measuring ·6 of an inch in length by ·5 in breadth, and perfectly white, with a slightly glossy surface.

Before leaving the great Order of Passeres and passing on to the next, the Picariæ, it may be useful to note that most of the Passerine genera found in New Zealand are strictly endemic or peculiar to the country. Without of course taking into account the undoubted stragglers from abroad, the only exceptions to this rule are Sphenœacus, which occurs also in Australia; Gerygone and Rhipidura, of which there are representatives in Australia, Tasmania, Norfolk Island, New Guinea, and many of the Indo-Malayan Islands; Zosterops, whose range extends over the entire southern hemisphere; and Anthus, which occurs in most parts of the world.

I have already explained in my account of Xenicus why it became necessary to remove that form and Acanthidositta from their old position among the Certhiidæ and to place them in a new family at the end of the Passeres. Both these forms are, in fact, dwarf Pittas of a degenerate type. They have no relations in New Zealand, and their nearest allies in Australia are the true Pittidæ, a highly specialized group extending to New Guinea and, through the entire Malay Archipelago, to India and China. One species occurs in West Africa; but in all the other zoological regions of the earth, so far as we at present know, this type is absent.