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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Cypselus Pacificus. — (Australian Swift.)

Cypselus Pacificus.
(Australian Swift.)

  • Hirundo pacifica, Lath. Ind. Orn. Suppl. ii. p. lviii (1801).

  • New-Holland Swallow, Lath. Syn. Suppl. ii. p. 259 (1801).

  • Cypselus pacificus, Steph. Cont. of Shaw’s Gen. Zool. vol. x. p. 132 (1817).

  • Hirundo apus, var. β, Pall. Zool. Ross.-Asiat. tom. i. p. 540 (1831).

  • Cypselus australis, Gould in Proc. Zool. Soc. part vii. 1839, p. 141.

  • Cypselus vittata, Jard. Ill. Orn. ser. 2, pl. 39 (1840).

  • Micropus australis, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 165.

  • Micropus vittata, id. tom. cit.

  • Cypselus australis, Gould, Birds of Austr. fol. vol. ii. pl. xi. (1848).

  • Cypselus pacificus, Gould, Handb. Birds of Austr. vol. i. p. 105 (1865).

Descr. exempl. ex N. Z. Suprà nigricanti-brunneus: dorso metallicè nitente: uropygio albo: subtùs intensè fusco: gutture cinerascenti-albo: plumis pectoris abdominisque angustè albo marginatis: remigibus caudâque nigricantibus: rostro nigro: pedibus nigris.

New-Zealand example. Crown of the head and general upper surface blackish brown, with a metallic lustre on the back and upper surface of wings and tail; rump pure white; throat and upper part of fore neck greyish white; the rest of the under surface blackish brown, but paler on the lower fore neck and under tail-coverts; the feathers of the breast and abdomen narrowly tipped with white; quills and tail-feathers brownish black, the shafts greyish towards the base on their under aspect; the inferior primaries, the whole of the secondaries, and the inner lining of the wings minutely margined with greyish white. Bill and feet black. Total length 7·75 inches; wing, from flexure, 7·2; tail 3; bill, along the ridge ·3, along the edge of lower mandible ·8; tarsus ·5; middle toe and claw ·55.

Young (Australian specimen in British Museum). Has the plumage of the head, shoulders, and back very narrowly margined with paler brown; in front of each eye an angular spot of black and above that a line of greyish white; throat greyish white, with indistinct shaft-lines of brown; the plumage of the under-parts conspicuously marked in crescents, each feather becoming black in its apical portion and then broadly tipped with greyish white; the lining of wings uniform dark brown; the whole of the rump white with fine black shaft-lines; under tail-coverts broadly tipped with white.

Obs. The only sexual difference is that the female has somewhat duller plumage than the male. The amount of white on the throat is very variable, being reduced in some specimens to a mere wash of fulvous-white. The extent of white also on the uropygium varies much in individual examples, sometimes spreading down to the thighs.

One of the most recent cases, and perhaps the most interesting, of the occurrence of common Australian forms in New Zealand is that of the Swift, which made its appearance for the first time, so far as we know, in the history of the colony, in December 1884.

On seeing the newspaper accounts of the flight which had visited the White Cliffs (near the town of New Plymouth) I naturally concluded that this was another instance of the Tree-Swallow visitant from Australia, with which we had already become familiar.

page 117

Fortunately, however, one of the birds had been shot, and the skin having been forwarded to me in a fresh condition, I saw at a glance that we had now to add another bird to our list of species.

Major W. B. Messenger, to whom I am indebted for this unique specimen, sent me also the following notes:—

“Respecting the Swift I shot here, I am glad to be able to furnish you with particulars. One evening, at about 6 P.M., four strange birds were flying about the camp, evidently in pursuit of insects. Their flight so reminded me of that of the Swift, that to make sure I shot one and took it to the office of the ‘Taranaki Herald.’ I believed it to be an English Swift, but from what I have since heard, I conclude that it is an Australian bird. I did not know until I received your letter that Swallows had ever been seen in New Zealand.”

In bringing this Australian bird before the Zoological Society in October 1839, Mr. Gould wrote:—“This species is about the size of Cypselus murarius. I first met with it on the 8th March, 1839. They were in considerable abundance, but flying very high. I succeeded in killing one, which was immediately pronounced by Mr. Coxen to be new to the colony. On the 22nd I again saw a number of these birds hawking over a piece of cleared land at Yarrondi, on the Upper Hunter; upon this occasion I obtained six specimens, but have not met with it since.”

In his account of the species in his ‘Birds of Australia’ he adds:—“Those I then observed were flying high in the air, and performing immense sweeps and circles, while engaged in the capture of insects. I succeeded in killing six or eight individuals, among which were adult examples of both sexes; but I was unable to obtain any particulars as to their habits and economy. It would be highly interesting to know whether this bird, like the Swallow, returns annually to spend the months of summer in Australia. I think it likely that this may be the case, and that it may have been frequently confounded with Acanthylis caudacuta, as I have more than once seen the two species united in flocks, hawking together in the cloudless skies, like the Martins and Swallows of England. It is considered by some ornithologists that this bird and the Swift with crescentic markings of white on the breast, which inhabits China and Amoorland, are the same. If this supposition be correct, this species ranges very widely over the surface of the globe.”

The British-Museum collection contains specimens from N. S. Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Cape York, Formosa, Penang, Tenasserim, Assam, Japan, China, and Siberia.

I have carefully examined all these examples and can find nothing whatever to justify specific separation, although as a rule the birds from India and China have a larger and therefore more conspicuous patch of white on the throat.

The specimen from Japan differs from typical examples in having black shaft-lines on the throat; but there is an exactly similar one from Cape York obtained during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘Rattle-snake.’

There is, however, a bird in immature plumage from the Hume Collection, marked “Cypselus pacificus, ♂, Bankasoon,” which may prove to be distinct. It is of appreciably smaller size, the wing from the flexure being fully half an inch shorter; the throat-patch is covered with linear brown markings, and the whole of the uropygium is greyish white with dark shaft-lines.