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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Chrysococcyx Lucidus. — (Shining Cuckoo.)

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Chrysococcyx Lucidus.
(Shining Cuckoo.)

  • Shining Cuckoo, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. p. 528, pl. xxiii. (1782).

  • Cuculus lucidus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 421 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Variable Warbler, Lath. Gen. Syn. Suppl. ii. p. 250 (1801).

  • Sylvia versicolora, Lath. Ind. Orn. Suppl. ii. p. 250 (1801).

  • Chalcites lucidus, Less. Traité d’Orn. p. 153 (1831).

  • Cuculus nitens, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 151 (1844).

  • Cuculus versicolor, Gray, Gen. of B. ii. p. 463 (1847).

  • Chrysococcyx lucidus, Gould, B. of Austr. iv. pl. 89 (1848).

  • Cuculus chalcites, Illiger, MS. in Mus. Berol., undè

  • Chrysococcyx chalcites, Licht. Nomencl. Av. p. 78 (1854).

  • Lamprococcyx lucidus, Cab. & Heine, Mus. Hein. Th. iv. p. 14 (1862).

Chrysococcyx plagosus, Hutton (nec Lath.), Trans. N.-Z. Inst. (1872), vol. v. p. 223*

Native names.

Warauroa, Pipiauroa, and Pipiwarauroa.

Ad. suprà metallicè viridis, æneo et cupreo nitens, supracaudalibus lateralibus latè albo semifasciatis: fronte, supercilio distincto et facie lateral albo maculatis, viridi transfasciatis: loris mentoque albidis haud viridi notatis: tectricibus alarum dorso concoloribus: remigibus brunneis, ad basin pogonii interni albidis, primariis extùs æneo nitentibus, secundariis magis conspicuè lavatis et pennis dorsalibus omninò dorso concoloribus: caudâ brunneâ, æneo-viridi nitente, fasciâ anteapicali nigricante, rectricibus tribus exterioribus ad apicem pogonii interni albo maculatis, pennâ extimâ albo conspicuê fasciatâ, penultimâ in medio vix rufescente tinctâ: pectore et subalaribus albicantibus transversim æneo-viridi fasciatis: abdomine puriùs albo, hypochondriis subcaudalibusque conspicuè æneo-viridi transfasciatis: rostro nigro: pedibus brunnescenti-nigris, plantis pedum flavicantibus: iride nigrâ.

Juv. obscurior et sordidior, minùs metallicus: tectricibus alarum brunneo marginatis: caudâ nusquam rufescente: gutture et pectore superiore fulvescenti-albis, fuscescenti-brunneo variis, vix viridi lavatis: corpore reliquo subtùs fulvescenti-albo, hypochondriis et corporis lateribus fasciis interruptis metallicè viridibus notatis: subcaudalibus maculis viridibus triuetris transnotatis.

Adult male. Upper parts bright golden green, changing to coppery purple in certain lights; frontal feathers tipped more or less with white; superciliary streak formed of irregular whitish spots; throat, sides of head, and fore prat of neck white, with narrow broken bars of coppery green; breast and underparts generally white, with transverse bands of changing golden green, coppery brown in certain aspects; on the sides, flanks, and under tail-coverts these bands are very regular and conspicuous, each, feather being crossed by

* “Captain Hutton says that the Chatham-Island Bronze Cuckoo is not the same as the New-Zealand one, but is C. plagosus of Australia, in which opinion I do not agree, after having compared a specimen from the Chatham Islands lent me by the New-Zealand Institute. The underparts show a little broader gold-green crossbands, and the second tail-feathers, instead of two welldefined rusty bands, have only indications of them; but there is no other difference, and I see no reason to separate the Chatham Island bird from the New-Zealand C. lucidus.” (Finsch, Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 227.)

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page breakpage 133 two broad, equidistant bars; the lower part of the abdomen pure white; quills dark brown, glossed with coppery brown, changing to bright golden green on the secondaries; with the exception of the three outer primaries, all the quills are yellowish white in the basal portion of the inner webs, forming a broad oblique bar on the under face of the wing; under wing-coverts and axillary plumes indistinctly barred with coppery brown’; tail, when closed, bronzy green, with a broad subterminal band of purplish brown; upper tail-coverts bright golden green, the lateral ones largely marked with white on their outer webs. On spreading the tail the outermost feather on each side is found to be blackish brown, with five broad white bars on the inner web, the fifth one being terminal, and with five irregular spots of white on the basal portion of the outer web; the next feather blackish brown, slightly glossed with green, marked on the inner web with two obscure spots of rufous, darker brown towards the tip, and terminated by a round spot of white; the succeeding one similar, but without the rufous markings, and with the terminal spot on the inner web much smaller; and the median feathers coppery brown, glossed with green, and crossed by a darker subterminal bar. Irides and bill black; tarsi and toes brownish black; soles of feet yellowish. Total length 7 inches; extent of wings 11·75; wing, from flexure, 4; tail 2·75; bill, along the ridge ·5, along the edge of lower mandible ·75; tarsus ·5; longer fore toe and claw ·8, longer hind toe and claw ·65.

Young. Metallic tints of the upper parts duller; upper wing-coverts edged with brown; tail-feathers as in the adult, but with the rufous markings obsolete; throat and fore part of neck yellowish white, clouded and mottled with dusky brown, faintly glossed with green; underparts generally yellowish white, marked on the sides and flanks with fragmentary or interrupted bands of dull shining green; the under tail-coverts crossed by broad triangular spots of the same.

There is nothing more delightful, on a sultry summer’s day, than to recline in some cool shade and inhale the sweet fragrance of the native woods. All is still and quiet save the hum of bees in the air and the loud drumming of the tarakihi as it clings to the bark overhead. Then there falls upon the ear the well-known cry of the Koheperoa—not the vociferous scream of the early morning, but a low sleepy cry—issuing from some lofty tree-top where the bird is resting during the heat of the day. From a neighbouring tree comes the full rich note of the Tui, uttered at short intervals like the slow tolling of a silver bell; then the low whistle of a Kaka calling to its mate to come and seek repose while the sun is at the meridian; then all is still again, and nothing is heard but the soft murmur of insects in the air and the languid cry of a solitary Fantail as it flits around with full-spread wings and tail, dancing from side to side, or the sweet trill of the Ngirungiru, full of pleasant associations. But while we are still listening, a new sound arrests the attention—a peculiar whistling cry, different from that of any other bird. This announces the arrival in our country of the Shining Cuckoo, an inhabitant of Australia, and probably New Guinea*, which appears in New Zealand (also in Norfolk Island) only as a summer migrant. Its cry is always welcomed by the colonists as the harbinger of spring; and during its short stay with us its sweet but plaintive notes may be heard in every grove throughout the long summer days. It makes its appearance, year after year, with surprising punctuality, arriving first in the extreme north, and about a fortnight later spreading all over the country. A correspondent informs me that for three successive years, at Whangarei (north of Auckland), he first heard its familiar note on the 21st September, and that on one occasion he noticed it as early as the 3rd of that month. Another correspondent, in the same locality, informs me, as the result of twelve years’ careful observation, that this migrant invariably appears between the 17th and 21st of September. For a period of ten years I kept a register of its periodical arrival at Wellington, and noted its regular occurrence between the 5th and 10th of October. Mr. Potts writes to me from Canterbury that it generally arrives there on or about the 8th of October, although in one year (1855) it visited that part of the country as early as the 27th September. It usually departs about the first or second week in January: but in the far north it sometimes lingers

* Cf. Ramsay, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. vol. iii. p. 256.

page 134 till the end of that month. As is always the case with migratory birds, there are occasionally stragglers arriving before the appointed time or lagging behind the departing flights. For example, I have a record of their occurrence in Auckland as early as August 17th, and I have met with a solitary bird in the south as late as April.

This is undoubtedly the most tropical-looking of our birds. The glancing of the sunlight on its burnished plumage is very effective, especially, too, when the bird is seen resting on the bare stems of the quasi-tropical Cordyline, or feeding on the green-and-gold cicada, which is so abundant there*.

* In New-Zealand scenery there is much to remind one of a tropical country. The scattered clumps of “cabbage-trees” in the open and the nikau-palms in the deep wooded gullies have quite a tropical aspect, and the wild luxuriance of the evergreen bush brings vividly to mind the rank prodigality of a Brazilian forest. To show that this is not a mere play of fancy, I will give here a leaf from my own diary containing an account of a day at Rio do Janeiro:—

“We landed from the S.S. ‘Tongariro’ at 9 A.M. on the 1st April, and came on board again before midnight, having spent a very pleasant day on shore. On landing, we walked through the market-place, which was interesting, then up the principal street, through which no wheeled vehicles are permitted to pass. The passage is narrow and the balconies are overhanging, giving it the appearance of a street in Constantinople. Many of the shops are most attractive in their multifarious exhibits—feather-plumes, rare butterflies, and brilliant beetles being not the least interesting objects. At the street corner we took a tramcar, and, after one or two changes, proceeded to the railway station, passing on our way some fine public and private buildings, notably a marble palace, the property of a rich coffee-planter. Many of the gardens are very beautiful, being brilliant with tropical flowers of every hue. After a short delay at the station, we entered the railway carriage and started up the Corco Vardo line. From the commencement to the finish at the peak the trip was one of unmitigated enjoyment. The day was clear as crystal, with the sun hot and bright; and the scenery was enchanting. The railway line, which ascends spirally at a gradient of 1 in 3, is something quite unique. Looking down into the deep gullies, I was often reminded of our beautiful New-Zealand bush in the tangled richness of the vegetation. There was the same character of forest-growth, the same crowding together of the tree-tops, the same wealth of lianas, vines, and epiphytes, but all on a more luxuriant scale. In place of our Astelia cunninghamii, with its narrow flag leaves, the trees were laden with large clumps of some tropical species with leaves six inches in width; in place of our tiny-flowered orchids there were magnificent tropical species with gorgeous blossoms. There was along the wayside a dense undergrowth in every shade of green, but the leaves were larger and the foliage richer than in the New-Zealand woods, whilst in the places exposed to the sun beautiful flowers of brilliant hues added the charm of high colour to this sylvan picture. The ground below the forest trees was covered with vigorous young plants of many kinds; but the eye sought in vain for that ever-present charm of the New-Zealand bush, the carpet of spreading ferns and mosses. Here and there could be seen a tuft of maiden-hair or a clump of Pteris struggling to assert itself, but nothing to remind the observer of the glorious beds of Lomaria, the fields of Asplenium bulbiferum, and the other beautiful forms so familiar to the wanderer in our native woods. As our train moved slowly up the side of the mountain, the eye seemed never tired of gazing on this view of tropical growth, rendered the more conspicuous by clumps of banana-trees and groups of beautiful palms, lifting their tops proudly above the forest vegetation, whilst huge masses of crimson and purple flowers lightened up the rolling landscape of living green.

“Then all along the line brilliant butterflies of every size and colour fluttered in the warm sunlight; glorious morphos, with a spread of six inches and of the richest metallic blue, hovered, hawk-like, among the trees; large black-and-grey ‘swallow-tails’ winged their way like Swifts among the lower vegetation; crimson Danaidæ and smaller forms of different kinds-scarlet, golden-yellow, green, or spotted—rested on the leaves or hovered over the flowers, almost within reach of our delighted party, some being actually caught by the hand from the carriage windows. Then here and there a tiny humming-bird, sparkling like a ruby under the rays of the midday sun, might be seen suspended before an open flower or spinning like a moth through the air in search of its absent mate. Such were the sights of tropical loveliness through which we passed on our way to the summit of the Corco Vardo. The view from this point, which is just 2200 feet above to sea-level, baffles description. The far-reaching panorama of sea and land, the wondrous archipolago in front and the glorious amphitheatre of mountains behind—on the one hand the boundless Atlantic, on the other the towering peak of Techuka, 3300 feet high, rising out of deep valleys filled with tropical forests; then, contracting the scope of vision to the left, the city of Rio in all its quaint oriental beauty lying before you far down in the plains, its suburbs of villas and gardens spreading away for miles and far as the eye can reach, whilst to the right, nestling as it were in an illimitable expanse of ornamental shrubbery, are the Botanical Gardens, with their double row of Imperial palms in perfect symmetry, their feathery tops reared nearly a hundred feet above the ground, presenting a picture of unparallelled beauty; then, still further contracting the scope of vision, the sides of the Corco Vardo and the deep ravine below, clothed and filled with a perfect tangle of tropical vegetation, wildly exuberant in its growth, presenting every hue of green, and enlivened with spreading floral masses of purple and white. The view which burst upon us when we took our stand on the topmost peak of the Corco Vardo was, in short, one which no human artist could depict and no words describe: a view to be gazed on once and then remembered all through life!”

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During its sojourn with us it subsists almost exclusively on caterpillars, and the black leech which attacks our fruit-trees. It is therefore entitled to a place among the really useful species.

In disposition it is very gentle. On one occasion I was watching this bird from the window of my hotel, foraging in the garden below for caterpillars, while a brood of young Sparrows were doing the same. Whilst the Cuckoo rested for a moment on a slanting stick, the Cock Sparrow dropped down till it almost touched him, as if to inspect his shining coat. The object of these attentions never left his perch, but simply swerved his body and spread his outer wing, without uttering a sound. I noticed that the young Sparrows were far more active in catching caterpillars than the Cuckoo, although both birds adopted the same plan of search, darting right into the shrub-tops and bringing out their victims to batter and kill them before swallowing.

Its general attitude is that depicted in the Plate, with its tail half-spread and its wings drooping, my artist having utilized a pencil-sketch which I made of a captive bird as it rested quietly on the paper-basket in my study.

Its cry is a remarkable one, as the bird appears to be endowed with a peculiar kind of ventriloquism. It consists of eight or ten long silvery notes quickly repeated. The first of these appears to come from a considerable distance; each successive one brings the voice nearer, till it issues from the spot where the performer is actually perched, perhaps only a few yards off. It generally winds up with a confused strain of joyous notes, accompanied by a stretching and quivering of the wings, expressive, it would seem, of the highest ecstasy. The cry of the young birds is easily distinguished, being very weak and plaintive*.

I had a young bird brought to me as late as the 15th February. It appeared to be in vigorous health, with the membrane at the angles of the mouth still visible; and on being approached by any one would open its mouth in an imploring sort of way, but without making any sound.

Like the Long-tailed Cuckoo already described, this species is parasitic in its breeding-habits, and entrusts to a stranger both the hatching and the rearing of its young.

The little Grey Warbler (Gerygone flaviventris) is the customary victim; but exceptional cases have been recorded where the duty was entrusted to the South-Island Tomtit (Myiomoira macrocephala); and Captain Mair assures me that he once saw the young of this species attended and fed by a Korimako (Anthornis melanura). Dr. Bennett, writing of the same bird in Australia, states that the egg of the Shining Cuckoo has been found in the nest of Acanthiza chrysorhina, and that he has seen a nest of this bird with five eggs, that of the Cuckoo being deposited in the centre of the group, so as to ensure its receiving the warmth imparted by the sitting bird, and thus less likely to be addled. He also narrates the following circumstance:—“A White-shafted Flycatcher (Rhipidura albiscapa) was shot at Ryde, near Sydney, in the act of feeding a solitary young bird in its nest, which, when examined, was found to be the chick of the Bronze Cuckoo of the colonists…… It was ludicrous to observe this large and apparently well-fed bird filling up with its corpulent body the entire nest, receiving daily the sustenance intended for several young Flycatchers.”

Mr. G. M. Thomson records in the ‘Journal of Science’ (vol. ii. p. 576) that an egg of this Cuckoo was found on November 5th in a House-Sparrow’s nest which had been built in a large bramble-bush and which contained besides three legitimate eggs. He describes it as being “10 lines long, of very thin texture, and much paler than usual, being of a pale greenish white feebly marked with pale brown spots and markings”

* Captain Mair writes to me:—“Speaking from ten years’ observation of this bird in the Tauranga district, I may state that it never sings after the middle of February and seldom after the beginning of that month. As lite as the end of March or beginning of April, during several successive years, I have met with these birds in the Mangorewa forest between Tauranga and Rotorua, but never heard them utter a note at this season. I have seen numbers of them perched in silence on the branches of the poporo (Solanum nigrum), always in full feather, but absolutely songless. This I regard as a very curious fact.”

Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia, p. 207.

Mr. Thompson states, further, that in Otago, Gerygone flaviventris, Myiomoira macrocephala, and Zosterops cœrulescens. are the usual foster-parents. Mr. Gould records that, in Australia, the task of incubation is often delegated to the Yellow-tailed Acanthiza, and adds, “I have several times taken the egg of the Cuckoo from the nest of this bird, and also the young, in which latter case the parasitical bird was the sole occupant.” Mr. Potts reports (Journ. of Science, ii. p. 477) that at Ohinitahi he found an egg of this species in the nest of Zosterops cœrulescens, together with three eggs of the dupe. He enumerates sixteen instances, between Oct. 28 and Jan. 6, of its being found in the nest of Gerygone flaviventris. Generally there were from one to three eggs of the dupe in the nest; in two cases (Dec. 18 and Jan. 6) the Cuckoo egg only; and in three other cases (Dec. 17, Dec. 23, and Jan. 1) the young Cuckoo only. He states further that he has in his possession an egg of this bird taken from the nest of Gerygone albofrontata at the Chatham Islands.

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As it is usual to find the Cuckoo’s egg associated with those of the Grey Warbler, we may reasonably infer that the visitor simply deposits its egg for incubation without displacing the existing ones. But the young Cuckoo is generally found to be the sole tenant of the nest; and the following circumstance, related to me by the Rev. R. Taylor, sufficiently proves that the intruder ejects the rightful occupants and takes entire possession. He discovered the nest of a Grey Warbler in his garden-shrubbery containing several eggs, and among them a larger one, which he correctly assigned to the Shining Cuckoo. In due time all the eggs were hatched; but after the lapse of a day or two the young Cuckoo was the sole tenant of the nest, and the dead bodies of the others were found lying on the ground below. At length the usurper left the nest, and for many days after both of the foster-parents were incessantly on the wing, from morning till night, catering for the inordinate appetite of their charge, whose constant piping cry served only to stimulate their activity.

Since the above was written, I have had an opportunity of examining a young Cuckoo in possession, and it exhibits a droll phase of bird-life, the intruder occupying the entire cavity of the nest, with its head protruding from the opening.

I have received from Mr. W. W. Smith, of Oamaru, some interesting notes from his diary*, showing how inevitably the young Warblers, in the struggle for existence, must succumb to the more vigorous intruder.

The egg of the Shining Cuckoo is of a broad ovato-elliptical form, generally of a greenish-white or very pale olive colour, often clouded or stained with brownish grey, and measuring ·8 of an inch in length by ·5 in breadth. One taken by myself, many years ago, from the nest of a Grey Warbler, in the manuka scrub, on what is now the site of a flourishing city, was of a pale creamy colour; and another, which was laid by a captive bird in my possession, is pure white. A specimen in the Otago Museum is broadly elliptical in form, measures ·7 of an inch in length by ·5 in breadth, and is of a uniform dull olivaceous grey inclining to brown. Of two specimens in my son’s collection one is rather more elliptical in form and of a uniform olivaceous brown, somewhat paler at the smaller end; the other (which came from the Chatham Islands) is pale olivaceous grey, perceptibly darker at the larger end, and very minutely granulated with brown over the entire surface.

* “Oct. 7th. Found a nest of Gerygone flaviventris, with four small eggs and one much larger. The latter I take to be the egg of the Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus). Left the nest, intending to return in a few days. 11th. Visited place again. The Grey Warbler flew out when I approached. Five eggs still all right. 21st. Still unhatched. 24th. Two young ones hatched; one egg lying on the ground outside the nest, containing chick quite could and dead. 25th. Three young ones in nest; large egg unhatched. 26th. Large egg hatched—a chick of the Shining Cuckoo; very clumsy in nest, lying on top of the three young Warblers. 30th. Found one dead chick lying on the ground; two young Warblers still alive; young Cuckoo growing rapidly, being now nearly large enough to fill the nest itself; beak and legs fairly well developed. Nov. 2nd. One of the young Warblers lying dead in nest, the other alive. Young Cuckoo has now its eyes open; signs of feathers on the neck and wings, but underparts of the body perfectly bare. 5th. Visited nest again. Young Cuckoo thrust out its head to receive food when I approached. Lifted the surviving young Warbler out of the nest, and found it very feeble. 6th. Young Cuckoo lying with its head at opening of nest, having taken full possession. Its lifeless companion was lying underneath, having apparently died from starvation. 8th. Found young Cuckoo almost ready to leave its cradle. Brought both nest and bird home with me. 10th. Thriving well, being fed on small worms, grubs, flies, spiders, and very small pieces of lean meat. 15th. Has now come out of nest; eats largely three times a day, but does not care for meat; increasing rapidly in size. 20th. Nearly feathered. Placed it in a cage, but it looks sickly. 21st. Young Cuckoo died. Proved, on skinning, to be a male bird.”