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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Creadion Cinereus. — (Jack-Bird.)

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Creadion Cinereus.

  • Creadion carunculatus (var.), Dieff. Report to N.-Z. Comp. (1844).

  • Creadion carunculatus (juv.), Hombr. & Jacq. Voy. Pôle Sud, Zool. iii. p. 12, fig. 4 (1853).

  • Creadion cinereus, Buller, Essay N.-Z. Orn. p. 10 (1865).

  • Creadion carunculatus (juv.), Finsch, Journ. f. Orn. 1867, p. 343; Hutton, Cat. of B. of N. Z. 1871, p. 17; Buller, Birds of N. Z. p. 149 (1873).

Native name.—Tieke.

Ad. cinerascenti-brunneus, subtùs pallidior: scapularibus alisque umbrino lavatis: supracaudalibus et subcaudalibus lætè rufescentibus: tectricibus alarum minimis rufo maculatis.

Adult. The entire plumage dark cinereous brown, paler on the underparts, and tinged with umber-brown on the wings and scapulars; the tips of the small wing-coverts and the entire upper and lower tail-coverts bright rufous.

Young. May be distinguished by the extreme smallness of the caruncles.

Obs. Individuals vary in the general tone of the plumage, some being greyish, and others more strongly suffused with brown; the extent of the rufous markings on the wing-coverts is likewise variable, and in some examples they are entirely absent.

Mr. Potts has published* some interesting notes on six specimens in the Canterbury Museum, all in the plumage of Creadion cinereus, for the purpose of showing “how much variation may be met with in the young state of C. carunculatus.” He admits, however, that these supposed young birds were “procured at different seasons of the year,” which he accounts for on the supposition of an “extended breeding-season,” or “that the adult state is not arrived at till the second year.” It will be seen from what follows that this view is untenable.

In my ‘Essay on the Ornithology of New Zealand,’ published by command in 1865, I characterized and named what appeared to me then a new species of Creadion in the following terms:—“This species is of the size and general form of C. carunculatus, to which it bears a close affinity; but the colouring of the plumage is altogether different. The common species (the ‘Saddle-back’) is of a deep uniform black, relieved by a band of rufous brown, which occupies the whole of the back, and, forming a sharp outline across the shoulders, sweeps over the wing-coverts in a broad curve. In the present bird, however, the plumage is of a dark cinereous brown, paler on the underparts, and tinted with umber on the wings and scapularies; the upper and lower tail-coverts, and a few spots on the smaller wing-coverts, bright rufous. The wattles are of the same colour and shape as in Creadion carunculatus, but somewhat smaller.”

My new species was at once attacked by Dr. Otto Finsch, who declared his belief that it was the young of Creadion carunculatus. Subsequently, in a paper which appeared in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ (vol. v. p. 208), Dr. Finsch expressed his satisfaction that “Captain

* Out in the Open,’ pp. 202, 203,

page 22 Hutton’s examination of the types” had “shown C. cinereus to be undoubtedly the young of the above-named species.” In my reply (I. c. vol. vi. p. 116) I explained that an examination by myself of a fine series of specimens in the Canterbury Museum*, showing what appeared to be transitional changes of plumage, had forced me to this conclusion, and that I had communicated the result to Captain Hutton long before the appearance of his ‘Catalogue.’ I was careful, nevertheless, to add the following qualifying passage:—“I confess, however, that the subject is still beset with some difficulty in my own mind. Supposing the plumage of C. cinereus to be the first year’s dress of C. carunculatus, it seems to me quite inexplicable that the bird has never been met with in that state in the North Island. Captain Hutton suggests that this is due to the comparative scarcity of the species at the North. But during several years’ residence in the province of Wellington I obtained probably upwards of fifty specimens, at various times, without ever detecting any sign of this immature condition of plumage. Admitting the comparative scarcity of the species, one would naturally suppose that the younger birds would be more likely to fall into the collector’s hands than the fully adult ones. It may be suggested whether the condition of the Canterbury-Museum specimens has not possibly resulted from intercrossing; for we have not heard of any further examples of the kind being obtained. At any rate, till a specimen in the supposed immature dress has actually been taken in the North Island, the point cannot, I think, be considered finally set at rest.”

The descriptive notes which I had made will be found at page 149 of my former edition, with a statement of the conclusion arrived at. But I then added:—“Mr. Buchanan has observed the so-called C. cinereus in Otago in the summer, and Captain Hutton saw four birds in this plumage near Collingwood in the month of August; while, in the North Island, I have obtained fully-coloured specimens of C. carunculatus all the year round. It is sufficiently obvious, therefore, that the former cannot be a seasonal state of plumage.”

Strange to say, after a lapse of nearly fifteen years, the required evidence is forthcoming, and my Creadion cinereus recovers the specific rank so long denied to it.

In 1881 Mr. A. Reischek, a very careful observer, wrote to me as follows:—“About Creadion cinereus I have this to state: In December 1877, when I was on the west coast of the South Island, I shot about twenty of both kinds and of both sexes. What were supposed to be the young of C. carunculatus (your Creadion cinereus) I found on dissection to be fully adult birds, both male and female. My observations on this point were perfectly reliable. In December 1880 I stayed on the Hen (an island in the Hauraki Gulf) three weeks, and shot about thirty specimens of Creadion carunculatus, all of them being in the common saddle-back plumage. I could only determine the sex in each case by dissection, and what appeared to be the young birds differed only from the adult in having the wattles smaller and lighter in colour. I roamed over the whole island during my stay there, and never saw a bird in the plumage of your Creadion cinereus.”

In 1882, and again in the early part of 1884, this naturalist re-visited the Hen, and on both occasions remained there a considerable time exploring every part of the island and collecting its productions. During his last visit he saw probably forty or more birds, all in the plumage of C. carunculatus, and collected many specimens of both sexes and all ages. On the Little Barrier he found the species scarce, and obtained only two specimens; while on the Chickens and Island of Kawau he did not meet with the bird at all. In some which he dissected the testes were almost microscopic, the only external differences between these and the old birds being that the plumage

* This series consists of four birds, all obtained in one locality:—No. 1 is in the plumage of Creadion cinerus, as described above: No. 2 presents a few black touches on the head and neck: No. 3 has some new black feathers between the crura of the lower mandible, also on the sides of the head and along the edges of the wings; the upper wing-covorta bright ferruginous; the half-grown new secondaries and tail-feathers perfectly black, the back and rump presenting indications of change: No. 4 is in the plumage of C. carunculatus, as described at page 19.

page 25 was not so glossy, and the wattles not so large or bright. In the adult male these ornamental appendages are of a beautiful orange colour, and in the adult female a little lighter. In the young birds they are still lighter and extremely minute.

To place the matter, however, beyond all doubt, he found, on the occasion of his last visit (on the 14th February), two adult birds feeding a young one, and was successful enough to secure all three birds, which he carefully preserved and marked. He was loth to part with these specimens; but, to enable me to demonstrate the specific value of Creadion cinereus’, he handed all three birds over to me (marked respectively male, female, and young), and they are now in my collection.

In 1859 I found this species very abundant in the woods on Banks’ Peninsula; but it has long since disappeared before the advancing tide of European settlement. It is still, however, comparatively plentiful on the western and south-western portions of the South Island.

Its habits are precisely similar to those of Creadion carunculatus, already described; and its mode of reproduction is the same*.

It has become the habit to speak of this bird as the Brown Saddle-back; but this is a misnomer, inasmuch as the absence of the “saddle” is its distinguishing feature. I have accordingly adopted the name of Jack-bird, by which it is known among the settlers in the South Island. Why it should be so called I cannot say, unless this is an adaptation of the native name “Tieke,” the same word being the equivalent, in the Maori vernacular, of our “Jack.”

That the two species occasionally interbreed is, I think, sufficiently evident from the specimens in so-called transitional plumage, in the Canterbury Museum, already specially mentioned. This is known to occur pretty often with the two allied species of Fan-tailed Flycatcher (Rhipidura flabellifera and R. fuliginosa) in the South Island, and, as there is every reason to believe, likewise in the case of our two species of Oyster-catcher, in both islands.

Under the head of Sturnidæ, Mr. G. R. Gray, in his ‘List of the Birds of New Zealand, ‘published’ in 1862, included the genus Aplonis, with two species, A. zealandicus and A. obscurus. In my former edition, I omitted these birds altogether, as I had been unable to obtain any satisfactory evidence of their occurrence in New Zealand. In my ‘Manual of the Birds of New Zealand’ (published in 1882) I admitted Aplonis zealandicus on the authority of Dr. Finsch, who wrote:—“This is an excellent and typical species, which I had the pleasure of seeing in the Leiden Museum, being one of the typical specimens brought home by the ‘Astrolabe’ Expedition. Dr. Hartlaub informs me that there are three specimens in the Museum in Paris, all marked ‘Tasman’s Bay, New Zealand,’ and collected by the French travellers.” Further investigation, however, has satisfied me that it has no claim whatever to a place in the New-Zealand avifauna.

Last year I visited the Museum of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for the express purpose of examining the type specimens referred to by Dr. Finsch; and, through the courtesy of Dr. Oustalet, the officer in charge of the Ornithological department, I had an opportunity of thoroughly investigating the subject.

* “For its nesting-place a hollow or decayed tree is usually selected; sometimes the top of a tree-fern is preferred. We found a nost in a dead tree-fern not far from Lake Mapourika, Westland. This was of slight construction, built principally of fern-roots, deeply woven into rather a deep-shaped nest with thin walls; for as the structure just filled the hollow top of the tree-fern, thick walls were unnecessary. Another nest, in a small-sized decayed tree in the Okarita bush, was in a hole not more than three feet from the ground. It was roughly constructed, principally of fibros and midribs of decayed leaves of the kiekie, with a few tufts of moss, leaves of rimu, lined with moss and down of tree-ferns; and it measured across, from outside to outside of wall, 12 inches 6 lines, cavity 3 inches diameter, dopth of cavity 2 inches. The egg, measuring nearly 1 inch 4 lines through the axis with a breadth of 11½ lines, sprinkled over with faint purplish marks, towards the broad end brownish purple, almost forming one large blotch.”—Out in the Open, p. 202.

page 24

There are two specimens in the mounted collection, from the voyage of the ‘Astrolabe,’ labelled Aplonis zealandicus, Quoy & Gaim., but without any habitat being assigned to them, the words “New Zealand” on the label having been crossed out. On referring to the original entry in MM. Quoy and Gaimard’s catalogue of the ‘Astrolabe’ collection, I found the following note under the No. relating to this species—“Vani koro (New Hebrides) et New Zealand.” There seems to be no other authority than this for considering it a New-Zealand bird; and I have no doubt, in my own mind, that the true home of the species is in the New Hebrides, the addition of “New Zealand” being merely a mistake in the entry, especially as there is no locality named. It is not the kind of bird that would rapidly become extinct; and if the French travellers had met with it during their casual visit to New Zealand, it is fair to assume that the species would have been known to the inhabitants of the country. The specimen in the Leiden Museum being simply a duplicate from this collection, the same remarks apply to that also. For these reasons I again reject Aplonis zealandicus as a New-Zealand form; but as one species occurs on Norfolk Island and possibly another on Lord Howe’s Island—within what is in reality the New-Zealand zoo-geographical region, although not within the scope of the present work—and as the claims of Aplonis zealandicus may again come up for discussion, I think it may be useful to place on record a full description of the species; and as there is much confusion in the nomenclature of this and the closely allied forms from Polynesia and Australia, I will add the result of my recent examination and identification of specimens both at Paris and in the British Museum.

As to the species itself being a good and valid one, I agree with Dr. Finsch, for although closely related to the other members of this confused group, the bright rufous colouring on its upper parts makes it readily distinguishable.

According to the views propounded by Mr. A. R. Wallace in his ‘Geographical Distribution of Animals,’ and now generally accepted, Norfolk Island, Phillip Island (or the Nepean group), Lord Howe’s Island, and the Kermadec Isles represent the minimum extension to the northward of a continental area perhaps exceeding that of Australia in extent, of which New Zealand in ancient times formed a part. The existence at the present day, or till within a very recent date, of a species of Kaka Parrot (Nestor productus) on Phillip Island, of a form of Weka Rail (Ocydromus sylvestris) on Lord Howe’s Island, and of the great brevipennate Rail (Notornis alba) on Norfolk Island, if not on Lord Howe’s Island as well, indicates beyond doubt a former land connection, because it would be manifestly impossible for birds of this kind to traverse a wide extent of ocean. That the separation from each other of these distant habitats, by the submersion of the intervening land, took place at a very remote period, is sufficiently evident from the extreme specialization of the forms I have mentioned, although undoubtedly referable to the generalized New-Zealand types. From this point of view, it might be deemed advisable to include the birds inhabiting these various islands in the New-Zealand avifauna, which Mr. Wallace has already practically done by denning the boundaries of the New-Zealand “sub-region.” It will be found, however, on a closer examination, that, owing probably to accidental transportation and occasional immigration of individuals, over a long period of time, the avifaunæ of these islands have acquired features more in common with Australia than New Zealand. This very instance, indeed, of the existence in Norfolk Island of Aplonis fuscus (although not mentioned by Wallace) betrays this fortuitous relation, if I may so term it, of its ornis to that of Australia and of Central Polynesia. I have therefore decided to confine myself, in the present work, to the islands which come within the political limits or jurisdiction of New Zealand, namely, the Chatham Islands on the east, the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island, Macquarie Island, and Antipodes Island on the south and south-east; and I shall only refer incidentally to the occurrence of allied forms in the remote islands to the north in my treatment of our local species. As the number of Plates is necessarily limited, I shall figure only birds that are actually found in New Zealand, but page 25 I shall be careful to give an illustration of every endemic species. Birds that are common to other countries may or may not be figured, according to the circumstances of each particular case.

Aplonis Zealandicus.—Two examples (in Paris): no sex stated; but one is slightly larger than the other, with the colours of the plumage a little brighter, and is presumably the male.

ad. General plumage rufous-grey, darker on the upper parts and deepening to rufous-brown on the lower part of back, rump, and upper tail-coverts; from the anterior edge of the eye a dull black streak extending. to the nostrils; the primaries bright rufous on their outer webs only, being blackish brown on their inner webs; large wing-coverts and bastard quills bright rufous; tail-feathers dark rufous-brown, with a rich vinous tinge on their outer edges; underparts lighter, the feathers of the breast and abdomen having obscure, narrow, greyish margins; flanks, vent, and under tail-coverts rufous-brown, mixed with tawny yellow, the feathers becoming lighter at the tips. Bill blackish brown, with a reddish tinge on the under mandible; legs and feet pale brown; claws yellowish brown. Total length 7·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 4; tail 2·5; bill, along the ridge ·75, along the edge of lower mandible ·75; tarsus ·8; middle toe and claw ·9.

ad. Similar to the male, but with duller plumage, and of somewhat smaller size.

Obs. I am satisfied that A. rufipennis, Layard, from Vaté Island, New Hebrides, described in ‘The Ibis,’ 1881, p. 542, is this bird, and not Calornis cantoroides as suggested by Canon Tristram.

Allied Species. Aplonis tabuensis, Gmel. (=A. vitiensis, Layard, = marginatus, Gould, =marginalis, Hartl., = marginata, Cass., =cassinii, Peale).—More strongly built, and being a lighter-coloured species; only a rufous tinge on the plumage of the upper parts, with a purplish sheen on the head and neck; an obscure facial streak; the pectoral feathers with pale shaft-lines, giving a slightly streaky character to the breast. In young birds the sheen is absent and the pectoral streaks are more conspicuous. Irides red.—Hob. Tonga group, Savage Island, Friendly Islands, and Fiji. There is a slight difference observable in specimens from Tonga and Fijii, but nothing of any specific value.

Aplonis fuscus, Gould.—I do not think this form is separable from A. tabuensis. It is slightly browner on the upper parts than specimens from Tonga, but cannot be distinguished from some Fiji examples of the latter species.—Hab. Norfolk Island and Australia.

Aplonis brevirostris, Peale.—This species also seems to me scarcely separable from A. tabuensis, the only differences being in its somewhat smaller size, the darker crown, and the less streaky appearance on the underparts. In all essential respects the birds are alike. In the ‘Hand-list of Birds’ (vol. ii. p. 26) Mr. G. R. Gray makes Aplonis australis, Gould, a synonym of this species, but I have not seen this type.—Hab. Samoa.

Aplonis nigroviridis, Less. (= A. pacificus, Forst.?, =striatus, Gmel., =obscurus, Dubus, =viridigriseus, G. R. Gr.).—Slaty grey, with a darker head and neck, and a very perceptible gloss on the plumage, especially on the upper surface; the facial streak broader than in A. zealandicus. The young of this species has the entire plumage slaty grey, paler and mixed with light brown on the underparts, some specks of white on the cheeks, and the small wing-coverts narrowly margined with whitish grey; but even in the young state the facial streak is quite conspicuous, having the appearance of a dull inky stain.—Hab. New Caledonia and Lord Howe’s Island.

Aplonis caledonicus, Bp.—Entire plumage black and glossy, with green reflections in certain lights and purplish on the head and throat. The sexes are alike, except that the female has less gloss on the plumage. Prince Bonaparte’s type, marked by his own hand, is in the Museum at Paris. The British Museum contains a good number of specimens, showing very little variation, and all from New Caledonia. A specimen marked Aplonis mavornata, but without any reference, differs from A. caledonicus in having the entire plumage dingy brown, without any gloss, the feathers of the underparts narrowly margined with grey. This may prove to be the young of A. caledonicus, but no locality is given.

Aplonis atronitens, G. R. Gray.—This seems to be a good species, with a much more robust bill than any of the preceding, and having the entire plumage brownish black, with little or no gloss on the surface. The single specimen in the British Museum was obtained by Sir George Grey from the Loyalty Islands.