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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Nestor Meeidionalis. — (Kaka Parrot.)

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Nestor Meeidionalis.
(Kaka Parrot.)

  • Southern Brown Parrot, Lath. Gen. Syn. i. p. 264 (1781).

  • Psittacus meridionalis, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 333 (1788).

  • Psittacus nestor, Lath. Ind. Orn. i. p. 110 (1790).

  • Psittacus australis, Shaw, Mus. Lever, p. 87 (1792).

  • Nestor novæ zealandiæ, Less. Tr. d’Orn. p. 191 (1831).

  • Centrourus australis, Sw. Classif. of B. ii. p. 303 (1837).

  • Nestor meridionalis, Gray, in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 193 (1843).

  • Pgittacus hypopolius, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 72 (1844).

  • Nestor australis, Gray, Gen. of B. ii. p. 426 (1846).

  • Nestor hypopolius, Bonap. Rev. et Mag. de Zodl. 1854, p. 155.

Nestor occidentalis, Buller, Ibis, 1869, p. 40; Hutton, Cat. of N. Z. Birds, p. 20 (1871); Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 50 (1873).

Native names.

Kaka; varieties distinguished as Kaka-kura, Kaka-kereru, Kaka-pipiwarauroa, Kaka-reko, and Kaka-korako.

Ad. pileo albicanti-cinereo, plumis nuchae brunneo marginatis: torque collari aurantiaco et coccineo mixtâ: facie laterali fusco-runneâ, regione auriculari aurantiacâ et genis anticis sordidè coccineo notatis: dorso supe-riore olivascenti-brunneo, interdum olivaceo-viridi nitente, plumis omnibus nigro marginatis: uropygio et supracaudalibus sordidè coccineis, plumis Iaetiore coccineo fasciatis et nigro terminates: tectricibus alarum pallidè brunneis, nigro raarginatis: remigibus pallidè brunneiâ, pogonio interne dilutè coccineo transfasciatis: caudâ pallidè brunneâ, suprà vix distinctè olivaceo vel rubro tinctâ, sed subtùs hôc colore lavatâ et ad basin coccineo irregulariter fasciatâ: pectore toto cinereo-fusco, plumis nigro terminatis: abdomine toto cum hypochondriis et subcaudalibus pallidè brunneis, plumis omnibus coccineo et ad apicem-nigro transfasciatis: subalaribus et axillaribus coccineis, plus minusve aurantiaco tinctis, et minimis brunneo transfasciatis: rostro cyanescenti-cinereo, mandibulâ versus basin fulvescenti-brunneâ: pedibus cyanescenti-cinereis, plantis pedum flavicanti-brunneis: iride saturatè brunneâ.

Juv. torque nuchali indistinctiore: alâ subtus fusco transfasciatâ.

Adult. General plumage olivaceous brown, each feather margined with darker brown, flushed on the lower parts of the body with dark red, the plumage of the upper parts sometimes with a metallic green tinge; crown and sides of the head grey, margined with dusky brown; ear-coverts orpiment-orange, margined with brown; feathers projecting over the lower mandible dark vinous red, with black hair-like filaments; on the nape the feathers are dingy red, margined with yellow and black, and forming a broad collar with blending edges; feathers of the lower part of the back, rump, sides, abdomen, upper and lower tail-coverts, in their outer portion, dark blood-red, of varying shades, and more or less tinged with yellow in different examples; on the underparts these feathers are narrowly margined with black, on the upper they are banded alternately with black and a lighter shade of red; quills light olivaceous brown, toothed on the inner web with pale yellowish red, and the secondaries washed, on their inner surface, with pale red; lining of the wings, as well as the aiillaries, brilliantly coloured with scarlet and yellow, varying in shade in almost every specimen, and differing in their markings according to age. In the fully mature bird all these soft feathers, excepting page break


page breakpage 151 the longer ones underlying the primaries, are of a bright scarlet, variegated more or less with yellow, especially towards the outer edge of the wing, where the ground-colour changes to olivaceous; in some specimens the yellow tint predominates, while in rare instances the whole of this plumage is of a uniform bright canary-yellow, the axillaries alone being tinged with scarlet, and the toothed markings on the quills almost white, or only tinged with orange. The long axillary plumes are always bright scarlet, barred with olivaceous brown, and sometimes tipped with yellow; tail-feathers light olivaceous brown on their upper surface, with a broad transverse band of dark brown near the tips, obscure vinous red on the under surface, with toothed markings of brighter red on their inner webs, and with the subterminal band very distinct. Irides dark brown; eyelid dull yellow; bill dark bluish grey, the lower mandible sometimes yellowish brown towards the base; legs bluish grey; soles of feet yellowish brown. Total length 18·5 inches; extent of wings 32; wing, from flexure, 11; tail 7; bill, along the ridge 2·25, along the edge of lower mandible 1; tarsus 1·25; longer fore toe and claw 2·5; longer hind toe and claw 2·25.

Young. In the younger birds the scarlet lining on the under surface of the wings is marked by numerous transverse bars of dusky brown; and towards the carpal edges the feathers are olivaceous brown, barred and margined with orpiment-orange; the long soft feathers underlying the secondaries are dusky grey, with faint bars of scarlet, In some examples the nuchal collar is very indistinct, being simply indicated by a tinge of yellow, while in others it is fully as conspicuous as in the adult.

Nestling. The newly hatched nestling is covered with soft white down, thinly distributed, and very short on the underparts; abdomen entirely bare; bill whitish grey, the upper mandible armed near the tip with a white horny point; cere pale flesh-colour; rictal membrane greatly developed and of a pale yllow colour; legs dull cinereous. The bill and feet seem disproportionately large, giving the nestling a very ungainly appearance. The fledgling (Feb. 5) has the membrane at the angle of the mouth and the rim encircling the eyes yellow.

Obs. In this species of Nestor the cere is very prominent, and towards the head generally has an abraded appearance, as if the feathers had been rubbed off. The two mandibles are connected at the base by a tough elastic membrane, capable of much expansion, the mandibles being more than an inch apart when fully extended. The tongue, which, like the beak, is bluish grey, is hard and smooth on the under surface, having the appearance of a human finger-nail much produced, along the terminal edge of which there is a fine brush-like development. The upper surface of the tongue is soft, rounded on the edges, with a broad central groove. In adult birds the denuded shaft of the tail-feathers is produced to a fine point a quarter of an inch or more beyond the web. Freshly killed birds have a peculiar woody odour, which is sometimes very strong. During the season that the rata is in bloom the long feathers of the cheeks and the light parts of the lower mandible, as well as the bare membrane at its base, are stained a rich orange-colour by contact with the juice of these flowers, which evidently contain strong colouring-matter.

Apart from the strongly marked varieties to be presently noticed, individual specimens exhibit a considerable amount of variation in the details of their colouring. The nuchal collar varies not only in extent, but in colour, from pale orpiment-orange to a dark wine-red margined with yellow; and there is much difference in the colour of the ear-coverts and of the filamentous feathers overlapping the under mandible. Examples also vary in size, a small one in my possession measuring only 16·5 inches in length; wing, from flexure, 10; tail 6.

Varieties. The members of the genus Nestor show a great tendency to individual variation, examples even of Nestor productus (which is confined in its range to a single rocky island) presenting such differences of plumage as almost to induce a belief in the existence of more than one species. But this variability of character is developed to the highest degree in Nestor meridionalis. Although it may be necessary, or convenient, to recognize a larger and a smaller race, the former confined to the South Island, and the latter having a wider dispersion, I have come to the conclusion that the following are merely aberrant varieties of the typical form, and, although sometimes recurrent in different localities, are not entitled to recognition as distinct species.

Var. a. Nestor superbus, Buller, Essay on New-Zealand Ornithology, p. 11.

This is one of the most beautiful of the many varieties to be noticed. Owing to the discovery, at the same time page 152 and in the same locality, of several examples, all in the same brilliant plumage, I felt no hesitation in characterizing the species as new, under the above designation. Several connecting forms, however, have since been found, and I now feel bound to sink N. superbus as a species. The following description of this supposed species appeared in my ‘Essay’ (l. c.) :—“Crown, hind neck, breast, scapulars, and upper wing-coverts canary-yellow of different shades, and tinged with scarlet; upper surface of wings whitish yellow, the primaries inclining to pale ash; upper surface of tail, when closed, pale ashy yellow, the sides being bright canary-yellow with a scarlet tinge; sides, abdomen, lower tail-coverts, axillaries, lining of wings, lower part of back, and upper tail-coverts bright scarlet, varied on the underparts, and minutely edged on the upper tail-coverts with canary-yellow; cheeks, throat, earcoverts, and a broad nuchal collar paler scarlet, largely mixed on the ear-coverts and collar with bright yellow. The under wing-coverts are beautifully marked with alternate bands of scarlet and yellow; the primaries, on their under surface, are ashy, marked on their inner vane with triangular spots of scarlet and yellow; under surface of tail-feathers pale scarlet for two thirds of their extent, and banded on their inner vane with brighter, ashy beyond, and yellowish towards the tip. Bill and legs dark bluish grey.”

There are two specimens (said to be ♂ and ♀) in the Canterbury Museum. They differ slightly in the details of their colouring. In one the nuchal collar of scarlet and yellow is much broader and brighter than in the other, while the crown of the head is paler, being of a dull yellowish white. The lower part of the back is equally brilliant in both; and the peculiar ashy white, which is characteristic of albinism, is very strongly apparent in the primaries and tail-feathers, although tinged on the latter with yellow. One has the bill considerably larger and stronger than the other, while in both the tail-feathers have denuded tips, or, more properly, the shaft is produced half an inch beyond the webs.

An example in my collection, obtained on Banks Peninsula (Canterbury), corresponds exactly with the supposed male above described.

There is another specimen (obtained in the Tararua ranges) in the possession of Wi Parata at Waikanae. It is well mounted in a glass case, and exhibited with other novelties in his elegant Whare-puni. The general plumage is white, with a wash of canary-yellow, shading into crimson on the cheeks and feathers overlapping the lower mandible; a narrow. nuchal collar of crimson and golden yellow intermixed; the feathers of the breast and the small wing-coverts tipped with bright yellow; the whole of the abdomen, flanks, and under tail-coverts bright crimson, and the under surface of tail-feathers flushed with the same. Bill white; legs and feet grey.

Var. β. Nestor esslingii, Souancé, Rev. et Mag. de Zool. 1856, p. 223.

M. de Souancé, the original describer of the supposed species, says:—“Le Nestor dont nous allons donner la description est, sans contredit, l’oiseau le plus remarquable de la collection Massé’na. Intermédiaire entre le N. hypopolius et le N. productus, ce magnifique Perroquet réunit, dans son plumage, des détails caractéristiques de ces deux espéces. Coloration générale semblable à celle du N. hypopolius.

Mr. Gould, in the Supplement to his ‘Handbook to the Birds of Australia,’ says of it:—“A single specimen only of this magnificent Parrot has come under my notice; and this example is perhaps the only one that has yet been sent to Europe. It formerly formed part of the collection of the Prince D’Essling, of Paris, but now graces the National Museum of Great Britain. It is in a most perfect state of preservation, and is, without exception, one of the finest species, not only of its genus, but of the great family of Parrots. The native country of this species is supposed to be New Zealand; but I, as well as M. de Souancé; have failed to learn any thing definite on this point. In size it even exceeds the great Kaka (Nestor hypopolius), which it resembles in the form of its beak, while in its general colouring it closely assimilates to Nestor productus.”

Dr. Finsch, on the other hand, states, in his Mouograph, that Nestor esslingii, De Souancé (of which the type is in the British Museum), is in size and general colour the same as Nestor meridionalis, but has the breast ashgrey, with brown terminal margins and a broad yellowish-white transverse band straight across the belly. He adds that he was not able to make such an examination of it as he wished, owing to its being in an hermetically closed glass case, but quotes Souancé to the effect that the red marks on the inner vane of the quills and tail-feathers are precisely as in Nestor meridionalis; whereas Mr. Gould distinctly says that while the tail-feathers in N. meridionalis and N. productus are strongly toothed on the under surface with red, “in Nestor esslingii no such marks occur, the toothing on the inner webs of the primaries is not so clear and well-defined, and the light-coloured interspaces are more freckled with brown.”

Referring to these several accounts, I expressed the following opinion, in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ (vol. iii. 1870, p. 51) :— “Assuming Dr. Finsch’s description to be strictly correct—that it most page 153 nearly resembles Nestor meridionalis, from which it is only distinguishable by the broad yellowish-white band across the underparts of the body—and considering the extreme tendency in that species to variability of colour, I should be inclined to regard the British-Museum bird as an accidental variety of the common Kaka. Among the numerous abnormally coloured examples which I have seen, from time to time, varying from an almost pure albino to a rich variegated scarlet, I remember one which, although like the common bird in its general plumage, had a broad longitudinal band of yellowish white on the abdomen. The specific identity of this specimen with Nestor meridionalis was unmistakable.”

It only remains for me to add that the examination which I have since made of the type specimen in the British Museum has entirely verified this conclusion. It may be mentioned that this bird furnished Mr. Gould with a subject for a beautiful picture in the Supplement to his ‘Birds of Australia.’

My son saw one at Owhaoko with a white tail, the rest of the plumage being dingy brown. He endeavoured in vain to shoot it.

Var. γ. Nestor montanus, Haast.

This is a larger race than the common Kaka, and is generally much brighter in colour. It appears to be confined to the South Island, whence all the examples that have come under my notice have been obtained. No doubt some naturalists will be disposed to regard this larger race as a distinct bird; and for a considerable time my own inclinations were in that direction; but, looking to the extreme tendency to variation in this species, and to the difficulty of drawing a clear line between the larger and smaller races, in consequence of the occasional intermediate or connecting forms, I feel that I am taking a safe course, concurrently with Dr. Finsch, in refusing, for the present at least, to separate these birds*

* While adhering to the view expressed above, I think it only right to quote the following opinions as to its claims to take rank as a distinct species:—.

Sir Julius von Haast in forwarding me a specimen wrote:—

“I send you another skin of our Alpine Parrot. Even judging from its habits alone, it is quite distinct from the common Kaka. It is never found in the Fagus forest, whilst the other never goes above it into the sub-alpine vegetation. Near the glacier sources of the Waimakariri, where I was in the latter part of March, I saw them frequently in the alpine meadows—4000 to 5000 feet high—feeding on the large red berries of Coprosma pumila and nivalis, two dwarf plants lying close to the ground. We found these berries in the gullets of those we opened. They evidently had their nests with young ones among the crags of the nearly perpendicular rocky walls (about 6000 feet above the sea), and I repeatedly observed them flying backwards and forwards, as if feeding their young. After the first day’s shooting they got exceedingly shy, and could, not be approached within gun-shot.”

Sir James Hector informs me that it was to this bird (and not to the so-called Nestor occidentalis as previously quoted) that he intended the following note to refer:—

“I never met with it in the forests of the low lands. It is more active in its habits and more hawk-like in its flight than the common Nestor. It often sweeps suddenly to the ground; and its cry differs from that of the common Kaka in being more shrill and wild.”

Mr. Fuller (taxidermist to the Canterbury Museum) also stated, as the result of very careful observation, that “the manner of flight is quite different from that of the common Kaka, for they soar after the manner of the Kea (Nestor notabilis).”

Mr. Reischek, to whom I am indebted for some fine specimens, of all ages, obtained at Dusky Sound, is strongly of opinion that this is a distinct species. He says (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xvii. p. 194):—

“This bird represents Nestor meridionali in the sounds, but it is not very plentiful. I have found them alone or in pairs or with their young, from two to four. They breed in hollow trees. The nest consists of a deepening lined with wood-dust and feathers out of the parent birds. They lay their eggs from the beginning of March till April. Male and female hatch and rear the young birds together; in August the young are full-grown. This bird is not so gregarious as its ally meridionalis, also different in plumage and construction of the skeleton [?] and habits. The cry and whistle is shriller; the male is flery red under the wings, the female golden yellow and a little smaller. These birds are very bold. On the 13th April, 1884, I found in a hollow tree a female with one egg and three young birds, which she pluckily defended by biting and scratching. At the cry of the female the male came swooping several times past my head. This species is the finest of the three existing species of Nestor.”

Among the specimens received from Mr. Reischek is a nestling covered with grey down; but it differs in no respect from that of the common Kaka, except perhaps that the downy covering is a shade darker. An egg which he submitted to me differs, however, slightly from that of Nestor meridionalis; it is creamy white, the surface covered with extremely fine punetae, making it almost granulate, of a regular ovoid form, and measuring 1·5 inch in length by 1·26 in breadth.

page 154

There are some beautiful examples of this larger form in the Canterbury Museum. One of these has the crown silvery grey; the sides of the head and neck washed with sea-green; the ear-coverts glossy golden yellow; the feathers overlapping the lower mandible, and the whole of the throat and fore neck, rich vinous red with paler centres; the nuchal collar very broad, and composed of various shades of scarlet and yellow beautifully blended; the breast and sides varied with crimson and yellowish olive, blending on each feather, and across the former an indistinct pectoral band of yellowish grey; the rump, flanks, abdomen, upper and lower tail-coverts as in ordinary specimens, but brighter in colour. In another example the small wing-coverts are pale orange-red, terminally margined with black; while in a third the abdomen has a conspicuous, irregular patch of canary-yellow. An unusually fine specimen forwarded to me by Sir Julius von Haast for examination had the forehead of a rufous-orange colour; but this proved to be entirely the result of flower-stains, as I had no difficulty in demonstrating. This bird measured 20 inches in length, wing from flexure 12, tail 7·5, culmen 2·75, tarsus 1·5. The plumage of the upper parts was faded and snow-beaten, the ends of the primaries and tail-feathers being much worn and jagged. Crown and sides of the head grey tinged with dull metallic green; ear-coverts bright golden yellow with darker edges; breast and sides olivaceous brown, with a reddish hue; feathers composing the nuchal collar dull red, with golden tips; those covering the shoulders marked in the centre with a large irregular spot of red, and stained with golden yellow; rump and upper tail-coverts dull arterial red, each feather with a narrow terminal margin of black; under surface as in ordinary specimens, but more largely suffused with yellow.

In another example of the southern bird (in my own collection, which contains a good series) the crown and hind part of the head are light grey edged with darker grey; the feathers composing the nuchal collar are rich orange-red, narrowly barred with yellow and black; ear-coverts bright orpiment-orange, changing into deep vinous red on the cheeks; the feathers overlapping the lower mandible edged with black; the fore neck, breast, shoulders, and upper wing-coverts olivaceous brown margined with darker brown, and having, more or less, a green metallic lustre; sides, abdomen, rump, and upper tail-coverts dark red, banded with bright arterial red and dusky brown; under tail-coverts dull red, tipped with brighter red, olivaceous brown at the base; quills olivaceous brown, lighter on the outer web, largely toothed on the inner one with pale orange-red; lining of wings and axillary plumes bright scarlet tipped with yellow, and banded, more or less distinctly, with brown; tail-feathers olivaceous brown, darker in their apical portion, washed on their under surface with dull vinous red, and toothed with pale scarlet. Bill uniform bluish grey; tarsi and toes dark bluish grey.

In another specimen the general colours are altogether duller; but there is more of the metallic lustre on the wings; the arterial-red bands on the rump and abdomen are wanting, the plumage of these parts being dark red edged with dusky brown or black; the lining of the wings is less brilliant; the toothed markings are paler on the quills, and far less distinct on the tail-feathers.

A beautiful specimen in Mr. Reischek’s collection (♀) has the light feathers of the crown tipped with yellow, the feathers of the nape deeply margined with oil-green, the nuchal collar broad and very richly coloured, the whole of the chin, fore neck, and breast flushed with crimson; abdomen, sides of the body, and under tail-coverts flaming crimson with transverse bands of a lighter colour; small wing-coverts metallic green, flushed in their apical portion with crimson and terminally margined with a narrow band of black; rump and upper tail-coverts same as abdomen and crissum, but darker.

Var. δ.

The following brilliantly coloured variety of N. meridionalis was obtained more than twenty years ago in the Wanganui district, and is now in the author’s collection, in the Colonial Museum, ‘at Wellington. General plumage bright scarlet-red, deepest on the lower part of back, sides, and abdomen, and variegated with orpiment-yellow on the nape, sides of the neck, and breast. Crown greenish yellow, with a metallic gloss, each feather centred with brown; feathers overlapping the under mandible, and a broad patch on the throat, dark reddish brown, as in ordinary examples. The feathers of the breast are stained in the centre with dull ashy brown, and, as well as those of the upper parts, are narrowly bordered with black. Primaries dark olivaceous brown, largely marked in their basal portion with yellowish white; secondaries and their coverts pale scarlet, variegated with yellow, olivaceous brown in their apical portion; all the quills on their under surface pale orange in their basal portion, but without the toothed markings; lining of wings vivid scarlet, varied with yellow. Tail-feathers pale scarlet with a broad terminal band of olivaceous brown; under tail-coverts darker scarlet. On the bright upper surface of the tailfeathers there are obsolete bars, and on the under surface there is a broad olivaceous margin; but the “toothed” character peculiar to the species is entirely wanting. Bill bluish grey; feet dark grey, paler on the soles; claws black.

page 155

A specimen in the possession of Mr. W. Luxford, at Wellington, has the prevailing colour a bright scarlet; but on the back and wings each feather has a narrow terminal band of blackish brown; head and throat rusty brown; breast darker rust-colour, each feather broadly margined with yellow. Primaries canary-yellow on the outer web for one third of their length, then brown; upper wing-coverts brown margined with scarlet. About two thirds of the tail pale scarlet; there are then a few interrupted bands of brown, and the terminal portion is of that colour. This bird was shot in the hills near the town of Wellington in the early days of the colony, and before the requirements of the settlers had led to the destruction of the surrounding woods.

Under this section may be placed a gorgeous example obtained in the Hawke’s Bay district, and sent by Mr. J. Baker to the recent Colonial and Indian Exhibition at South Kensington. It is somewhat similar to my Wanganui bird, but is more brilliant. Feathers of the vertex and crown orpiment-orange centred and narrowly margined with brown; throat, cheeks, and many of the upper wing-coverts much as in ordinary specimens, being olivaceous brown, the normally coloured feathers irregularly marked and margined with pale scarlet; shoulders and interscapulars olive-brown washed with crimson, banded with golden yellow, and narrowly margined with brown; on the head and neck the brown centres almost disappear, whilst the feathers composing the nuchal collar are entirely scarlet, with broad golden-yellow margins; the whole of the rump, abdomen, and lower sides of the body, with the upper and under tail-coverts, fiery scarlet, very narrowly and sparsely tipped with dusky black; the breast is a mixture of dark brown, scarlet, and orpiment-orange, the latter predominating; primaries and tertials dark olivaceous brown, the outer vanes pale canary-yellow towards the base; secondaries pale scarlet for two thirds of their length, then olivaceous brown; tail-feathers with a similar extent of pale scarlet, then blackish brown with olivaceous tips; but the colouring gets paler on the lateral feathers, fading to canary-yellow on the outermost vane and presenting only a tinge of scarlet on the succeeding one. Bill and feet as in ordinary examples.

The tail-feathers in the Canterbury Museum found near Cass river (mentioned in Trans. N.-Z. Instit. vol. iv. p. 148) are exactly similar to those here described.

Var. ∊.

The following is the description of a very light-coloured variety obtained by the natives near the burning mountain of Tongariro, and presented to me by Mr. R. W. Woon, R.M.:—

General plumage pale canary-yellow; the crown tinged with grey; ear-coverts bright orange-yellow; feathers of the throat, hind part of the neck, and some of the upper wing-coverts margined with the same; feathers on the lower part of the cheek, and those overlapping the lower mandible, yellowish red, with paler shafts; sides, abdomen, rump, upper and lower tail-coverts vivid scarlet, the feathers of the underparts narrowly margined with yellow; lining of wings bright yellow tinged with scarlet; axillary plumes, and the soft feathers underlying the secondaries, bright scarlet, tipped with yellow; quills pale canary-yellow on their upper surface, ashy on their under surface, with broad toothed markings of pale red, obsolete on the outer remiges, and diminishing on the secondaries; tail-feathers ashy yellow, with brighter margins, tinged with orange in the centre and along the tips, changing on their under surface to orange-yellow, in their basal portion with narrow toothed markings of scarlet. Bill white horn-colour. Irides dark brown. Tarsi and toes pale brown or flesh-coloured; claws white horn-colour.

The late Rev. R. Taylor, who resided more than twenty years on the Wanganui river, and who published many interesting notes on the natural history of the country, informed me that he had seen several examples of this beautiful variety from the same locality as the one noticed above. The natives assured him that they always pair together, nesting in the crevices of the rocks.

Var. ζ.

I am indebted to Sir Julius von Haast for a specimen showing a very decided tendency to albinism, although still exhibiting the bright scarlet facings which adorn the others. In this bird the crown is greyish white, with pale yellow margins; the nape dull crimson, with yellowish tips, forming a broad nuchal collar; ear-coverts bright orpiment-orange stained with red; feathers overlapping the lower mandible, and those covering the throat, pale vinous red; fore neck and upper part of breast smoky grey, washed with red, and each feather tipped with dull yellow; back and upper surface of wings smoky yellow tinged with gamboge; lining of wings and axillary plumes bright scarlet-red; quills dark yellowish grey, obscurely toothed, and washed at the base with pale scarlet; sides, flanks, and abdomen scarlet-red, tipped more or less with dusky and yellow; tail-feathers yellowish brown, with paler edges, washed on the under surface with scarlet, marked with dusky freckles, but not toothed; upper and page 156 lower tail-coverts bright gamboge, crossed near the tip by a band of bright red. Bill very narrow and fine; yellowish grey in colour, bluish at the tip. Tarsi and toes dark grey; claws bluish horn-colour.

Under this head may be placed the creamy-white Kaka with scarlet rump and abdomen, and a narrow nuchal collar of canary-yellow, which was shot in the Makereru ranges near Waipawa, and sent by Mr. J. Baker to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.

Var. η.

A specimen obtained by Mr. Henry Travers in the Provincial district of Marlborough is remarkably small, as compared with ordinary examples from the same locality, and is differently coloured.

Crown of the head hoary grey; fringed behind the eyes and on the occiput with pale sea-green; ear-coverts golden yellow tinged with red; mantle, scapulars, and wing-coverts dull olivaceous green, margined with black; nuchal collar dull vinous red, with lighter tips; neck above dark olivaceous brown; cheeks, throat, front and sides of the neck dark brown, strongly tinged with red; breast, sides, abdomen, and under tail-coverts of different shades of arterial red shaded with brown; lower part of the back, rump, upper tail-coverts, and thighs dark arterial red banded with lighter red, and tipped with black; lining of wings and axillary plumes beautiful scarlet, transversely barred with dusky black. Quills and tail-feathers olivaceous brown, with paler edges, toothed on their inner webs with pale orange-red.

Var. θ. “Kaka-kereru” of the natives.

The following description is taken from a specimen in my collection, which was obtained in the vicinity of Wellington, in 1856:—

Upper parts generally tinged with oil-green, and each feather narrowly margined with black; crown light grey, with darker shades, varied with deep sea-green over the eyes and on the hinder part of the head; nape sea-green, mixed with brown and yellow; nuchal collar, which is nearly two inches broad, dark crimson, each feather faintly margined with yellow and black. Upper wing-coverts and upper portion of the tail-feathers tinged with olivaceous. The ear-coverts are orpiment-orange varying in shade; while the cheeks and throat are dark vinous red, each feather having a bright centre; feathers of the neck and breast dark brown, with a marginal tinge of crimson; rump, upper and lower tail-coverts, thighs, and abdomen deep crimson, with lighter crescentic bands and narrow terminal margins of black. This bird was shot with a flock of twelve others (all bagged), and was the only one presenting this character of plumage.

In another example, obtained at Otaki in September 1862, all the tints of the plumage are very rich, and the red of the underparts extends to the breast, each feather having two bright crescentic bands of arterial red and a terminal margin of dusky black; the ear-coverts are gallstone-yellow, and the nuchal collar, which is much extended, is of the same colour intermixed with red; the secondaries and lesser wing-coverts are pale metallic green, narrowly edged with black; and the whole of the dark upper plumage is tinged with the same colour.

Var. τ.

In June, 1870, I received from Manawatu a very beautiful specimen of the variety known among the natives as “Kaka-pipiwarauroa.” The whole of the plumage was most handsomely variegated, each feather having a brownish-black centre, and the margins broadly edged with orange-red and yellow. These bright markings were most conspicuous on the nape and upper surface of the wings. The sides of the face and the ear-coverts were of a bright golden yellow, changing to red on the long feathers overlapping the lower mandible; the sides, thighs, and lower part of the abdomen arterial red, with lighter bands; the lining of the wings brilliant scarlet, banded with yellow and black. The natives had this beautiful bird in their possession for many months; and the delighted settler who wrote apprising me of it described it as “a bird with all the colours of the rainbow.” I ultimately induced the owner to part with it, giving him in return a block of the much-prized greenstone, weighing more than 20 lb. I designed this rara avis for the Zoological Society of London, and shipped it accordingly with every care; but it appeared to suffer from the extreme cold, and, unfortunately, perished before it was out of sight of the New-Zealand coast.

Var. κ.

In the Otago Museum there is a remarkable specimen, obtained in the south, in August 1874, and presented by Mr. J. Coulan. This bird (which is a male) has the plumage of the upper parts smoky yellowish brown, and, except on the crown, each feather has a dusky margin; the feathers of the crown, wings, and tail pale yellowish page 157 brown, the latter flushed with scarlet, and the outer ones edged with yellow; underparts generally of a darker hue, shaded with brown and flushed with crimson; the sides of the face, nuchal collar, rump, upper and lower tail-coverts, abdomen, flanks, and inner lining of wings all very highly coloured, the crimson feathers forming the collar being prettily rayed with orpiment-orange; bill and claws white horn-colour.

Var. λ.

A fine bird received from Catlin river (likewise preserved in the Otago Museum) has the hind part of the crown and the whole of the nape and hind neck rich canary-yellow of varying shades, the normal nuchal collar only appearing at the outer edge of this gorgeous hood. The ear-coverts are bright orpiment-orange; and the filamentous feathers overlapping the mandibles are crimson with light shafts; so also are the chin-feathers, under which there is a band of rich canary-yellow suffused with crimson, spreading over the throat and connecting the two sides of the head. On the breast and underparts of the body there are numerous canary-yellow feathers interspersed irregularly with the ordinary plumage. The upper surface is in the plumage of the “Kaka-kereru” (var. θ), being highly flushed or burnished with metallic green.

Var. μ. Nestor occidentalis, Buller, Birds of N. Z. 1st ed. p. 50.

To the above numerous varieties I feel bound now to add the form which, with some hesitation, I kept distinct under the above name in my former edition. As stated in the text, my reason for then rejecting the supposition of its being a mere aberrant variety of the common species was the account of its habits and peculiar cry furnished by Sir James Hector, who found it “frequenting the precipitous wooded cliffs in the neighbourhood of George Sound and thence along the coast to Milford Sound.” As however, during the last fifteen years, no further examples have been obtained, and no additional evidence to support its recognition as a species, it will be safer to treat this as another instance of congenital variation. For its more exact definition I will quote here my original description when proposing to differentiate the species:-

“Upper surface dark olivaceous brown, tinged with yellow on the wing-coverts, each feather margined with dusky black; feathers of the nape dull red, margined with yellow and black, and forming a narrow nuchal collar; rump, tail-coverts, and abdomen dark arterial red, the feathers of the latter banded with a brighter tint; ear-coverts pale orpiment-orange; feathers projecting over the lower mandible tinged with red; throat, neck, and breast dark olivaceous brown; lining of wings and axillary plumes bright scarlet, obscurely barred with black, and tipped with golden yellow; quills and tail-feathers russet-brown, the former toothed with yellow on the inner web; bill and feet dark olivaceous grey. Length 16·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 10·5; tail 6; tarsus 1; longer fore toe and claw 2·25; longer hind toe and claw 2·1; bill, following curvature 2·25, along edge of lower mandible 1·5.

“Apart from the difference of plumage this species is appreciably smaller than the common one, while the bill is more slender and has the upper mandible produced to a finer point. The two specimens obtained by Dr. Hector on the west coast of the South Island differ very slightly in the details of their colouring, and there is scarcely any perceptible difference in their size.”

Note. To illustrate the brilliancy and beauty of some of these accidental forms, I have given a portrait of the brighter of the two specimens sent by Mr. Baker to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, both of which are now in my collection.

General Remarks. To MM. Blanchard and Pelzeln belong the credit of having first determined the true affinities of the genus Nestor. It bears a close relation to the Australian Lories; and the New-Guinea form known as Pecquet’s Parrot (Dasyptilus pecqueti) appears to exhibit the transitional or connecting link between these two well-marked groups.

In habits and structure the members of the genus Nestor are true flower-suckers, the tongue being furnished at its extremity with a fine brush-like development for that special purpose. The common Kaka of New Zealand is the type of the genus.

Modern systematists, as a rule, have placed it in the subfamily Trichoglossinæ; but I accept Prof. Garrod’s view that its proper station is among the typical Parrots*. Its decidedly aberrant characters, however, cannot be denied; and I have thought it the safest course to place the genus in a separate family under the name of Nestoridæ.

* Proc. Zool. Soc. 1872, pp. 787–789.

page 158

Sprightly’in its actions, eminently social, and more noisy than any other inhabitant of the woods, the Kaka holds a prominent place among our native birds. Being semi-nocturnal in its habits, it generally remains quiet and concealed during the heat of the day. If, however, the sportsman should happen to find a stray one, and to wound instead of killing it, its cries of distress will immediately rouse the whole fraternity from their slumbers, and all the Kakas within hearing will come to the rescue, and make the forest echo with their discordant screams. Unless, however, disturbed by some exciting cause of this sort, they remain in close cover till the approach of the cooler hours: then they come forth with noisy clamour, and may be seen, far above the tree-tops, winging their way to some favourite feeding-place; or they may be observed climbing up the rough vine-clad boles of the trees, freely using their powerful mandibles, and assuming every variety of attitude, or diligently tearing open the dead roots of the close epiphytic vegetation in their eager search for insects and their larvæ. In the spring and summer, when the woods are full of wild blossom and berry, these birds have a prodigality of food, and may be seen alternately filling their crops with a variety of juicy berries, or sucking nectar from the crimson flowers of the rata (Metrosideros robusta—a flowering branch of which is depicted in the Plate) by means of their brush-fringed tongues.

With the earliest streaks of dawn, and while the underwoods are still wrapped in darkness, the wild cry of this bird breaks upon the ear with a strange effect. It is the sound that wakes the weary traveller encamped in the bush; and the announcement of his ever active Maori attendant, “Kua tangi te Kaka,” is an intimation that it is time to be astir. But although habitually recluse during the day, it is not always so. During gloomy weather it is often very active; and, sometimes, even in the bright sunshine a score of them may be seen together, flying and circling about, high above the trees, uttering their loud screams and apparently bent on convivial amusement. When the shades of evening bring a deeper gloom into the depths of the forest, and all sounds are hushed, save the low hoot of the waking Morepork, or the occasional cheep-cheep of the startled Robin, the Kaka becomes more animated. It may then be heard calling to its fellows in a harsh rasping note, something like the syllables “t-chrut, t-chrut,” or indulging in a clear musical whistle with a short refrain.

It is strictly arboreal in its habits, and subsists to a large extent on insects and their larvæ, so that it is probably one of our most useful species. Where they exist in large numbers, they must act very beneficially on the timber-forests; for in the domain of nature important results are often produced by apparently trivial agencies. Like all the honey-eaters, while supplying their own wants, they do good service with their brush-tongues, by fertilizing the blossoms of various trees, and thus assisting in their propagation; while, on the other hand, the diligent search they prosecute for insects and grubs, and the countless numbers daily consumed by each individual, must materially affect the economy of the native woods.

I am aware that in some parts of the country there is a prejudice against the Kaka on account of its alleged injury to forest trees by barking them; but this animus is quite undeserved*. On the

* Against this unmerited charge the Kaka is well defended by Mr. Potts, who writes:—“Although so often accused of injuring trees by stripping down the bark, from careful observation we do not believe a flourishing tree is ever damaged by its beak. It is the apparently vigorous, but really unsound tree that is attacked, already doomed by the presence of countless multitudes of insects, of many varieties, of which it is at once the food and refuge, either in their perfect or larval state. In the persevering and laborious pursuit of this favourite food, the Kaka, doubtless, lends his assistance in hastening the fall of decaying trees; the loosened strips of bark dissevered admit to the exposed wood rain and moisture collected from dews and mists, to be dried by evaporation by the heat of the sun, by the desiccating winds, only to become saturated again. Under this alternation the insidious fungi take root, decay rapidly sets in, the close-grained timber gives place to a soft spongy texture, branches drop off, and gradually the once noble-looking tree succumbs to its fate: but its gradual decay and fall, the work of years, has proved beneficial to the surrounding plants; the dropping of the branches admits light and air to the aspiring saplings, assists in checking the undue spread of lichens and epiphytes; and when the old stem falls, tottering down from its very rotten-ness, its place is supplied by vigorous successors.”

page 159 contrary, the bird does good service in this respect, for its vigilant eye is the first to detect the insidious attacks of the small longicorn beetles and other borers, and it is to search out and devour these enemies to forest conservation that it takes the trouble to break the bark at all. I have seen a vigorous limb cut to a depth of two inches or more by the Kaka’s beak, for that purpose only, the cutting or rasping being effected by means of the under mandible, the hook of the upper giving the necessary leverage. Such a wound in a healthy tree rapidly heals over and thus the limb is saved through the intervention of the bird at the right moment.

This is one of our highly characteristic forms and is met with, more or less, in every part of the country. Far away in the depths of the forest—where the trees are clad with rich mosses, cryptogams, and lycopods to their very tops—where, as if to hide the mouldering decay of nature, huge masses of green vines and creeping plants cover the aged trunks and bind the bush together—where the sunlight, struggling through the leafy tops, discloses here and there a feathery tassel of Asplenium flaccidum hanging from the branches or a clump of the scarlet-flowered mistletoe—there the Kaka is at home and may be studied to advantage. So long as he does not know he is watched, he may be seen twisting and turning among the sprays, hopping Cockatoo-fashion along a branch, then climbing higher, with graceful agility; resting for a moment to whistle for his mate and, when she has joined him, expressing his pleasure in a sharp chuckling note, like the striking together of two quartz pebbles; then, as if suspecting some treachery below, he suddenly takes wing with loud cries of ka-ka and glides smoothly through the leafy maze, closely followed by his spouse. On a near view the brilliant plumage under the wings is very conspicuous when the bird is flying; but when the bird is climbing or hopping, in the manner habitual to it, the wings are kept closed. Then on the outskirts of the forest you meet with him again—more generally in the early morning—hunting diligently for his insect food or regaling himself on ripe berries of various kinds in the thick underwood; and towards evening three or more of them may be seen in company, flying high above the forest level; then alighting on the withered, naked top of some lofty kahikatea or kauri tree—always perching on the highest points—resting a few moments, and taking wing again till they are fairly out of sight. In the early watches of the night, too, especially during the breeding-season, and just before the break of dawn, its peculiar cry betrays its wakeful restlessness.

In the dark Fagus-forests, both north and south, it shares the domain with the stealthy Woodhen, descending often to the ground to hunt for grubs and insects among the moss-covered roots and decaying wood. In the low-lying woods, where the climbing kiekie (Freycinetia banksii) attaches its rooted stems to the larger trunks and, spreading upwards its tufted coils, wraps the whole tree in a flowing mantle of brilliant green, there too at flowering-time the Kaka will be found, feasting on the sugary bracteæ and fleshy-white spadices of this remarkable plant. He fills his crop with this delicious food, and then betakes himself to some leafy shade to avoid the heat of the noonday sun. In more open places, on the outskirts of the bush, where huge clumps of Astelia fasten themselves to the dead or withering branches, the Kaka may sometimes be seen eagerly tearing open the matted roots of this parasite, in quest of the worms and beetles which find an abode there, attracted by the moisture.

In the South Island, during certain seasons, it frequents the open land, alternately perching on the rough blocks of trachyte and feeding among the grass and other stunted vegetation. I remember on one occasion, some years ago, counting upwards of twenty at a time on the Port hills which divide Lyttelton from Christchurch.

On its feeding-habits Captain Mair writes to me:— “In June 1875 I was at Tuhua in the upper Wanganui. I found the Kakas there so fat that they could not fly. I actually caught fifteen of them on the ground, as they were unable to take wing.”

Mr. Buchanan informs me that he has seen the Kaka stripping off the bark from a green tree page 160 (Panax colensoi), and sucking up with its tongue the gummy matter underneath, in the same manner that it extracts the honey from the flowers of the Phormium tenax; and Mr. Potts has observed it luxuriating on the viscid nectar which fills the blossoms of this tree in spring time, till sated at last it cleanses its beak against a neighbouring bough, and then, with grateful clatter, glides off to join its fellows.

It is said also to feed on the sweet honey-like substance which exudes copiously from the bark of the Fagus when it is attacked by the fatal grub.

When migrating from one part of the country to another, the Kakas travel in parties of three or more, and generally at a considerable height, their flight being slow and measured and their course a direct one. They occasionally alight, as if for the purpose of resting, and in a few minutes resume their laboured flight again. On these occasions the bleached and bare limbs of a dry tree are always selected, when one of the requisite elevation is within reach, as affording most fully that which they appear to delight in, an unobstructed prospect.

A curious circumstance in the natural history of the Kaka was mentioned by me, on the authority of an eye-witness, in a communication to the Wellington Philosophical Society*. At a certain season of the year, when this bird is excessively fat, large numbers of them are found washed ashore in Golden Bay, or on the Spit which runs out from it. They are generally dead, but if not, are so exhausted as to be unable to take wing. The apparent explanation is that the Kakas in their migration across Cook Strait, which is widest at this part, are unable to maintain the long flight, owing to their fat and heavy condition, and fall into the sea. The set of the current being towards Cape Farewell, the bodies of the perishing birds are swept in that direction and finally cast ashore.

It is surprising how seldom one meets with dying birds in their natural or wild state. Like Macgillivray’s wounded Gull, seeking some quiet retreat in order to “pass the time of its anguish in forgetfulness of the outer world,” birds in general, and indeed all wild animals, have the faculty of hiding themselves away when the time of their dissolution approaches. During the many months I have spent in the New-Zealand woods I never but once picked up a bird that had died from natural causes, and this was a little Riroriro at the base of a kauri tree, as mentioned on page 45. On one occasion, however, at Omahu, about the end of July, a native brought in a Kaka which he had caught by the hand at the roadside. It seemed sickly, drooping its wings and uttering its “kete-kete” when touched. My friend, Renata Kawepo, put it on a parrot-perch as a mokai, but it died that night.

On the ground it generally moves by a succession of hops, after the manner of the Corvidæ, and not with the awkward waddling gait peculiar to most Parrots. In the trees, where it is more at home, it is perpetually on the move, often walking deliberately along a branch, and then climbing to another by a dexterous use of both beak and feet, or silently winging its way to a station in a neighbouring tree. Its alarm-cry resembles that of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo of Australia. During the pairing-season the two sexes are always together, and when on the wing keep side by side, both calling as they go. In the neighbourhood of their nests they have a low call-note, like ki-i-to, ki-i-to, and a very soft whistling cry.

Possessing excellent powers of mimicry, and useful to the natives as a decoy-bird, the Kaka is much sought after, and almost every native village has its “mokai.” Like most Parrots, it is a long-lived bird; and one which had been in the possession of the Upper Wanganui tribes for nearly twenty years presented the curious feature of its overgrown mandibles completely crossing each other. This was no doubt attributable to the fact of its having been constantly fed with soft food, thereby depriving the bill of the wear and tear incident to a state of nature. It is not so easy, however, to

* Trans. N.-Z. Instit. 1878, vol. xi. p. 369.

page 161 account for this abnormal growth in a wild specimen, obtained by Mr. Lambert at Akaroa, which presents the same feature, and in an exaggerated degree, both mandibles being quite deformed.

It would seem that in this species there is a natural tendency to a deformity of growth in this respect. This will be manifest from the drawings of two remarkable examples which I gave in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ for 1876 (vol. ix. page 340).

One of these represents a specimen in the Canterbury Museum; and the other a case of natural deformity in the British Museum, which was brought under my notice by Dr. Günther.

The tame Kaka is very susceptible to kindness, and forms strong attachments. It soon learns to distinguish its keeper’s voice, and will respond to his call. It often, however, proves a mischievous pet, especially if it gets access to the orchard, where I have known it, in a single day, nip off thousands of blossoms from a promising pear-tree. I have seen it treat a favourite vine in a similar manner and apparently from a sheer love of mischief.

If it be allowed the freedom of the house, it will destroy the furniture in the most wanton manner with its powerful beak and proclaim itself a nuisance in a variety of ways*.

When the korari-flower (Phormium tenax) is in season, the Kakas repair in flocks to the flax-fields to feast on the flower-honey; and on these occasions numbers of them are speared by the natives as an article of food. In the woods also at certain periods they are captured in abundance by means of an ingenious snare called a “tutu” worked by a decoy-bird.

I have seen it climbing among the crimson flower-stalks of the tree-honeysuckle (Knightia excelsa), gathering the honey most carefully with its long brush-fringed tongue. At another season it feeds on the pollen of the kowai (Sophora grandiflora), when the feathers of its head become stained with the yellow juice.

The tame village Kaka is not the useless pet that Parrots generally are. It may amuse the young people by its wonderful articulation of Maori words and phrases, and by its whistling powers, but it has far more substantial attractions for the owner. It is a source of profit and subsistence to him; and as it requires the experience of several seasons to give it a proficiency as a decoy-bird, it acquires a specific value according to its age and training. I have known a native refuse an offer of ·10 for a well-trained “mokai,” although an aged bird and in a very ragged condition of plumage.

* Mr. W. T. L. Travers writes:—“The habits of the Kaka are in many respects remarkable. In its absolutely wild state it is fearless and inquisitive. I have often, whilst resting on the banks of a stream which falls into the lake [Guyon], and runs through forest frequented by these birds, seen several of them gravely take post upon some trees close to me, eyeing me with the utmost apparent curiosity, and chattering to themselves as if discussing the character and intentions of the intruder. After the lapse of a few minutes they have darted away, uttering loud cries, as if proclaiming to the rest of the forest the presence of a stranger, who was either to be avoided or not, as the case might be. During the winter season the wild birds often unhesitatingly enter the house for food, making themselves thoroughly at home, and even roosting on the cross-beams in the kitchen on specially inclement nights. Two of these in particular soon learnt how to open the door of the dairy, which they were fond of getting into, in order to regale themselves on cream and butter, both of which they appeared to like excessively. I have had several of these wild birds billing on the eaves of the house in the evening, waiting to be fed, and coming readily to receive from the hand pieces of bread spread thickly with butter, and strewed with sugar. But they rarely eat any of the bread itself, dropping it as soon as they had cleared off the butter and sugar. If one bird happened to have finished his portion before the others, he unhesitatingly helped himself to a share of some neighbour’s goods, which was always yielded without the slightest demur. They are fond of raw flesh, and I have seen them hovering in front of a sheep’s pluck hung on a tree, precisely as a Humming-bird hovers in front of a flower, eating fragments which they tore off, giving the preference to the lungs. When anxious to get into the house, they take post on the window-sills and beat at the window with their beaks until admitted. They are very mischievous, however, invariably cutting off all the buttons from any article of clothing which may happen to be left within their reach. I regret to say, indeed, that in some instances their familiarity degenerated into such gross impudence, that my manager was obliged to kill them, in order to prevent their constant mischief.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. 1871, vol. iv. pp. 209, 210.)

page 162

These pets are never caged, but are secured to a perch by means of a “poria” made of bone, in the form shown in the accompanying woodcut, the bird’s foot being squeezed through the ring, so as to make the latter encircle the tarsus, and a thong of plaited flax-fibre, of convenient length, being then attached to the outer process and tied to the perch*.

As will be seen by the full descriptive notes given above, very beautiful varieties of the Kaka are met with. I have never seen a pure albino; but I am assured by the natives that they are occasionally found, and Major Messenger of Taranaki has the skin of one which he has kindly promised to send me. I am informed that a bird very nearly approaching that condition was shot at Whauwhau (in the county of Marsden) in the summer of 1863. The value set on these rare varieties by the natives may be inferred from the following circumstance:—A “kaka-korako” was seen by a party of Rangitane in the Upper Manawatu, and followed through the woods as far as the Oroua river, every effort being made to take it alive. The Oroua people (of another tribe) then took up the chase, and followed the bird to the foot of the Ruahine range; and although carrying guns, to their credit they allowed it to escape rather than shoot it, in the remote hope that it might hereafter reappear in their district. Nor were they disappointed. Two seasons later the bird came back to the Oroua woods, and was taken alive by a native trapper. It was forwarded to Wellington by Mr. Alexander MacDonald, and, after passing through several hands, was ultimately sent to Europe. Finally it came into the possession of the late Mr. Dawson Rowley of Brighton, and formed the subject of the beautiful plate which faces page 27 of his ‘Ornithological Miscellany,’ part i.

From some unaccountable cause the Kaka has always been a comparatively scarce bird in the forests north of Auckland, although there is no lack of its ordinary food supply. In some other districts it is less common than it formerly was; but it still exists, in very considerable numbers, in various parts of the country. In the months of December and January when the rata is in flower, thousands of these birds are trapped by the natives, in the manner already indicated, and which I will presently describe more fully. Partly owing to this cause and partly to the extension of settlement in some districts, where, in former years, they were excessively abundant, their cry is now seldom or never heard; but in the wooded parts of the interior they are as plentiful as ever. Certain wooded ranges are noted as Kaka-preserves, and are very jealously protected by the native tribes owning them, who annually resort to them for the purpose of trapping these birds as an article of food. Nor is this its only practical value. Some half-dozen of the pillows in my house are filled with the feathers of the Kaka; and they are so delightfully soft and elastic that it is a positive luxury to sleep on them. These feathers were obtained at Raukawa, in the Upper Manawatu, some twenty years ago, when Kakas were far more plentiful in that part of the country than they are now. With the march of settlement, roads have been made, townships have sprung up, and a railway-line is being laid down within a mile or two of Raukawa, thus altering the whole face of the country. At the time to which I refer this place could be only reached by a canoe journey of some eighty or ninety miles from Foxton, or by a rude bush-track—one of the Maori war-paths of former times. The Manawatu gorge, lying just above, has now become a highway of busy traffic; the telegraph-wire already connects it with the commercial centres, and so, indirectly, with every

* The Rev. W. Colenso, F.R.S., remarks:—“The poor prisoners had not the common chance allowed them of biting and tearing their perch, or any wood (and this from mere thoughtlessness and carelessness, or long-continued custom, on the part of their Maori owners), for they were invariably kept fastened by a bone ring or carved circlet around one leg, and thus tied securely, but loosely, with a strong, short cord to a slender, polished, cylindrical hard-wood spear, up and down which, for the space of 2 or 3 feet, the poor bird ran and danced and flapped his wings, always without water, and frequently in the hot burning sun, without any shade.”

page 163 part of the civilized world; steamboats are on the river, and the forest solitudes have exchanged the Kaka’s scream for the whir of the saw-mill and the sound of the woodman’s axe. This is, of course, the inevitable result of progress all over the country. What the condition of our avifauna will be in another twenty years it is not very hard to predict, especially when we reflect that, in addition to this legitimate pressure from without, the Government is threatening to bring about the extinction of all the terrestrial native species by the wholesale introduction of stoats and ferrets.

The Kaka is particularly abundant in the Urewera country, and during the short season the rata is in bloom the whole Maori population, old and young, are out Kaka-hunting. An expert bird-catcher will sometimes bag as many as 300 in the course of a day; and at Ruatahuna and Mangapohatu alone it is said that from 10,000 to 12,000 of these birds are killed during a good rata season, which occurs about every three years*.

There are several modes adopted for catching the Kaka, but the commonest and most successful is by means of a trained mokai or tame decoy, the wild birds being attracted to artificial perches, skilfully arranged around the concealed trapper, who has simply to pull a string and the screaming Kaka is secured by the leg, as many as three or four being often taken at the same moment. At the close of each day the dead birds are buried, and when a sufficient number have been collected they are unearthed, stripped of their feathers, fried in their own fat, and potted in calabashes for winter use, or for presents to neighbouring tribes. The perches used for Kaka-trapping are often elaborately carved and illuminated with paua shell.

It may be mentioned that the birds manifest extreme fastidiousness in the matter of these perches (or tutu-kaka as they are called), alighting very readily on some, and avoiding others in the most careful manner.

They commence breeding in the early part of November; and at Christmas the young birds are old enough to be taken from the nest, although, if unmolested, they probably do not leave it before the second week of January, or even later. The place usually selected for depositing their eggs is the deep hollow of a tree the heart of which is completely decayed. There is very little attempt at forming a nest, the eggs being placed on the dry pulverized wood which these cavities usually contain.

Mr. James Edwards of Kihi-kihi assures me that on more than one occasion, when taking wild honey from old Kaka holes, he has found the skeletons of the young birds underneath the honeycomb, showing that the bees had dispossessed the birds and appropriated the nest as a natural hive. I have heard similar accounts from Maoris in various parts of the country, and have no reason to doubt the fact.

The eggs are generally four in number (sometimes, according to the natives, six), broadly ovoid, measuring 1·6 inch in length by 1·2 in breadth, with a slightly glossy surface, and pure white in colour till they become soiled and stained in the process of incubation. Much care, and even some degree of fastidiousness, is displayed in the choice of a suitable tree; and once decided on, it is often resorted to by the same birds for many seasons in succession. On this account the natives set a high value on their “rua Kaka.” The mere robbing of the nest, if accomplished with caution, does not cause the birds to abandon it; but the natives consider it of importance not to breathe into the cavity or to touch any part of it with their hands, for fear of “polluting” the nesting-place and causing its desertion. A nest which I discovered in the Otairi range, on my journey to Taupo, on the 23rd December, contained two young ones, apparently about ten days old. In a large maire tree with a decayed heart, about three feet from the ground there was a long narrow opening (measuring 2 feet in length by only 14 inches in width) leading into an inner chamber more than a foot in diameter. The walls of this chamber were smooth; and on the floor there was a deep layer of decayed wood,

* “Barangi tahi” is the Maori proverb in allusion to this periodio recurrence of the Kaka season.

page 164 mixed with fragments of dry rata-bark, evidently collected by the birds and brought into the cavity. The natives state that two females, attended by one male bird, sometimes breed in the same cavity, their nests being placed side by side. The fact that during the breeding-season three birds are frequently seen in company, appears to give some colour of truth to this statement.

Mr. Enys informs me that, on Sir Charles Clifford’s station at Stonyhurst, he found two nests of the Kaka, one of them situated in the crevice of a rock in a low mountain-gully, and the other in a deep cavity under the roots of a tree. This was on the 24th of December; and both nests contained young birds.

An egg of this species received from Reischek is much soiled on the surface, being more or less of a dark brown colour, as if stained by contact with decayed wood or some other colouring-matter. It was taken (late in December) from a hollow pukatea tree in the central part of the Little Barrier, just below the high pinnacle of rocks so distinctly visible at sea. The nest contained four eggs, all of which, as my correspondent assures me, were stained in a similar manner.

An egg from Dusky Sound yields somewhat larger measurements than those given above, is creamy white in colour, and marked with extremely fine points, making the surface almost granulate; but these may be regarded as mere individual variations. It was taken on the 13th April, from a tree-hole, in which a soft nest had been formed by means of pulverized rotten wood and feathers, apparently plucked from the bird’s own breast. Besides this egg there were three young birds in the nest, and the mother, who remained in possession, defended her offspring in a very plucky manner.

A nest of four eggs in my son’s collection presents this difference, that all of them are slightly larger than ordinary examples, measuring 1·7 inch in length by 1·25 in breadth. They were evidently freshly laid when taken, the surface being beautifully white.

Besides Nestor meridionalis, there is another very distinct species (N. notabilis) inhabiting New Zealand, a full account of which will follow next in order. But, in addition to these, there recently existed on Phillip Island a closely allied form (Nestor productus) which is now extinct, although many specimens of it are preserved in public and private museums in this country. Another (N. norfolcensis), formerly inhabiting Norfolk Island, although recognized by Dr. Finsch as a distinct species*, was probably only a local variety of this highly variable form. These are the only known representatives of the genus Nestor.

“Mr. Gould, in his ‘Birds of Australia’ (vol. v. pl. vi.), partly describes the tongue of this bird, and shows that it is not that of a Lory; but he has omitted to notice its chief peculiarity.

“Dr. Buller, in the recently published 1st part of his ‘Birds of New Zealand’ [1st edit.], has also described the tongue quite correctly, though not much in detail—but nevertheless places Nestor close to, the Lories, mentioning that this affinity was first shown by MM. Blanchard and Pelzeln. As, however, the tongue of Nestor does not in reality resemble that of the Trichoglossi at all, it may be of interest to describe it more fully.

“As far as I have had opportunity of observing, in all Parrots the fleshy tongue ends anteriorly by a dilated portion, supported on a narrower neck. This tip is much like the end of a human finger, as mentioned by most observers: and its function is similar also; for it is employed by the bird as a third prehensile organ in connexion with the upper and lower beak, any solid substance being held by the tongue and upper beak, while the mandible is freed to give another bite. Continuing the

* N. producto similis; at pileo et cervice viridibus; dorso ac tectricibus alarum olivaceo-viridibus, horum maculis apicalibus nigris triangulis; genis flavis; pectore abdomineque superiore ochraceis, unicoloribus; rostro insigniter longo, introrsum curvato.

The following “Note on the Tongue of the Psittacine genus Nestor” was communicated to the Zoological Society by the late Prof. Garrod, F.R.S.:–“On the death of a specimen of Nestor hypopolius in the Society’s Gardens, a short time ago, Mr. Sclater kindly directed my attention to the peculiarity of its tongue, and referred me to Dr. Finsch’s work on the Parrots, where Nestor is placed among the Trichoglossinœ, though the author states that he is not possessed of any very precise information on the subject.

page 165 simile of the finger, the tip is directed forwards with the nail-like portion downwards, the part corresponding to the free edge of the nail appearing along the lower margin of the anterior rounded surface. This unguis, or nail-like portion, appears to me further to resemble a nail in that its anterior edge is not quite regular and is free, while the posterior margin is continuous with the neighbouring epithelium, which is almost enough to show that it grows forwards, and is worn down, as is a nail, by constant contact with foreign substances. In the typical Parrots this unguis of the tongue is broader than long, horny in texture, semicylindroid, with its lateral margins extending up the sides of the organ and encroaching on the borders of the superior surface for a short distance; not imbedded at the sides as is a nail. Its anterior border is nearly straight.

“In the Trichoglossi this horny plate is also present, and is similarly constructed; but on the superior surface of the tongue, between the lateral edges of the unguis, in the part which in others is covered by a smooth longitudinally plicated epithelium, there is an arrangement of retroverted papillæ forming a spinous covering; and their mechanism is such that when the tongue is protruded beyond the mouth to grasp any object, the papillæ stand upright or are even directed somewhat forward.

“In Nestor there are no papillæ of this description, but the tongue is here, as Dr. Buller says, ‘soft, rounded on the edges, with a broad central groove,’ and it is as smooth as in other Parrots. Therefore the Kaka Parrot cannot in this point be said to approach the Trichoglossi (badly so called).

“The peculiarity of the tongue of Nestor consists in the fact that the anterior edge of the unguis, always free (though for a very short distance) and jagged, as mentioned above, in the other birds of the class, is here prolonged forwards, beyond the tip of the tongue, for about 1/10 inch as a delicate fringe of hairs, with a crescentic contour. This fringe seems to result from the breaking up into fibres of the forward-growing plate, which is always marked by longitudinal striations, clearest anteriorly, the result of unequal density and translucency of the tissue composing it, though on making a cross section I was not able to find any of the longitudinal papillary ridges which are present in the human nail and which the striation led me to expect. The unguis is also longer than broad, and very narrow considering the size of the bird, as is also the whole tongue, though the length is greater than in others of the class. In the living bird the mouth is moist, as in the Lories, and not, as in the Cockatoos and others, dry and scaly.

“From these considerations, and a comparison of the tongues of Stringops, Nestor, and Trickoglossus, it is evident that the structure of this organ would lead to the placing of Nestor among the typical Parrots, though an aberrant one, and not with the Trichoglossinœ; and other points in its anatomy favour this conclusion.” (P. Z. S. 1872, pp. 787–789.)

Nestlings of Nestor notabilis. (See page 174.)

Nestlings of Nestor notabilis. (See page 174.)