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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Sceloglaux Albifacies*. — (Laughing-Owl.)

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Sceloglaux Albifacies*.

  • Athene albifacies, Gray, Voy. Ereb. & Terror, p. 2 (1844).

  • Sceloglaux albifacies, Kaup, Isis, 1848, p. 768.

  • Ieraglaux albifacies, Kaup, Tr. Zool. Soc. iv. p. 219 (1852).

  • Athene ejulans, Potts, Trans. New-Zeal. Inst. vol. iii. p. 63 (1870).

Native names.

Whekau, Ruru-whekau, and Kakaha; “Laughing-Jackass” of the colonists.

Ad. suprà lætè fulvescens, plumis omnibus medialiter latè nigro striatis: uropygio lætiùs fulvo: scapularibus et dorso postico brunnescentioribus, latè albido marmoratis: tectricibus alarum magis ferrugineo tinctis, fulvo marmoratis: remigibus brunneis, extùs ferrugineo lavatis et fulvo maculatis: caudâ brunneâ, fasciis fulvis conspicuè transnotatâ: fronte, superciliis, gulâ cum collo laterali grisco-albidis, angustè nigro striatis: regione oculari et auriculari brunnescentibus: corpore reliquo subtùs lætè aurantiaco-fulvo, plumis media-liter brunneo striatis: tarso plumulis albidis induto: rostro nigro, versus apicem corneo: pedibus corneo-brunneis, setis fulvescentibus ornatis, unguibus nigricantibus: iride rufescenti-brunneâ.

Adult. Forehead, throat, ear-coverts, and sides of the head greyish white, with black shafts and hair-like filaments; sides of the neck white, each feather having a narrow central streak of black; upper parts dark brown, the feathers of the crown and nape broadly margined with yellowish brown towards the tip; those of the lower part of the back streaked, spotted, and barred with fulvous and white; lower part of the fore neck and the whole of the breast dark brown, each feather narrowly margined with bright fulvous or yellowish brown; on the abdomen, sides of the body, and under tail-coverts the latter colour predominates, the centre of each feather being dark brown; the soft ventral feathers and the short plumage covering the thighs and tarsi light fulvous, without any dark markings; primaries dark brown, marked on the outer web with equidistant angular spots of white, and on the inner web with obsolete bands; secondaries dark brown, with broad transverse bands of white, and clouded in the centre; scapulars dark brown, handsomely variegated with ocellated spots of white. The feathers forming the mantle are all differently marked, some having two broad approximate lateral bars of white, others a double series of spots on each web, while others again have a narrow lateral bar of white on one side of the shaft, and broad angular spots on the other; a few of them are transversely barred and margined with a narrow terminal crescent; upper wing-coverts dark brown, with numerous oval spots of fulvous white more or less distinct; tail-feathers dark brown, with five equidistant transverse bands and a terminal margin of fulvous white. Irides dark reddish brown; toes fleshy brown, and covered with coarse yellow hairs; bill black, horn-colour towards the tip; claws black. Extreme length 19 inches; wing, from flexure, 11; tail 6·5; bill, along the curvature to anterior edge of cere, 2·75; cere 25; middle toe and claw 1·6; hind toe and claw ·75.

Obs. The above description is taken from one of the specimens in the Colonial Museum. In the British-Museum example, figured in my former edition, there is less of the spotted character on the upper surface, and the plumage is stained with ferruginous. The accompanying drawing is from a fine specimen, in my own collection, obtained near Timaru in 1874.

* Inadvertently named Sceloglaux novæ zealandiæ on the accompanying Plate.

page 199

Nestling. When freshly hatched the young bird is sparsely covered with coarse yellowish-white down, the abdomen being bare.

Varieties. Examples differ from each other in the minute details of their colouring. The two specimens in the Canterbury Museum have less white about the face; the soft feathers forming the facial disk are tawny white, with black shaft-lines and hair-like filaments; and along the exterior edge of the disk there is a narrow crescent of pure white, each feather marked with a narrow brownish streak down the centre. In one of these examples the lengthened spots or fusiform markings on the upper surface are less distinct, while in the other they are wholly wanting; but in the latter the fulvous-white bars on the primaries are very conspicuous, and add much to the beauty of the plumage. In this specimen the feathers of the upper surface are blackish brown, with a broad tawny margin, those forming the mantle, scapulars, and upper wing-coverts having, on each web, a broad oblique oar of fulvous white. A specimen more lately received at the Canterbury Museum, and forwarded to Europe, and another in my own collection are sufficiently white about the face to justify the specific name bestowed by Mr. G. R. Gray. In ordinary examples, however, this is quite a subordinate feature. One of those figured in Mr. Dawson Rowley’s ‘Ornithological Miscellany’ has an entirely white face; the other exhibits a strong wash of rufous. The North-Island bird (in the Colonial Museum) is several shades darker than those from the South Island, the whole of the plumage being deeply stained with ferruginous. The feathers at the base of the upper mandible, and those immediately above the eyes, are white, with black shaft-lines; but the facial disk is washed with fulvous. There is an entire absence of the white markings on the upper surface; underparts rich tawny fulvous, with a dark brown stripe down the centre of each feather; tail dark brown, crossed by five broad V-shaped bands of tawny fulvous.

A specimen obtained from the Albury Rocks is inclined to albinism, there being a number of white feathers on the head, shoulders, and mantle, giving the bird a very pretty appearance.

This bird was originally described by Mr. G. R. Gray, in the ‘Voyage of the Erebus and Terror,’ under the name of Athene albifacies; and Dr. Kaup afterwards made it the type of his genus Sceloglaux, of which it still remains the sole representative. Mr. Gould, in treating of this singular form, has already pointed out that its prominent bill, swollen nostrils, and small head are characters as much Accipitrine as Strigine, and that its short and feeble wings indicate that its powers of flight are limited, while its lengthened tarsi and shortened toes would appear to have been given to afford it a compensating increase of progression over the ground; and it does, at first sight, appear strange that a bird specially formed by nature for preying on small quadrupeds should exist in a country which does not possess any. It must be remembered, however, that when the Laughing-Owl was more plentiful than it now is, New Zealand was inhabited or, rather, overrun by a species of frugivorous rat, which is now almost, if not quite, extinct. The kiore maori, which has been exterminated and replaced by the introduced Norway rat (Mus decumanus), formerly abounded to such an extent in the wooded parts of the country that it constituted the principal animal food of the Maori tribes of that period. It was a ground-feeder, subsisting almost entirely on the fallen mast of the tawa, hinau, towai, and other forest-trees; and it would therefore fall an easy prey to the Sceloglaux. The fact that the extinction of the native rat has been followed by the almost total disappearance of this singular bird appears to warrant the conclusion that the one constituted the principal support of the other*. Be that as it may, the Laughing-Owl, as it has been termed, in allusion to its cry, is at the

* On this point Mr. Smith writes to the ‘Journal of Science,’ vol. ii. pp. 86, 87:—

“The suggestion of Dr. Buller that the kiore maori (native rat), before its extermination, may have constituted the principal food of this Owl, is an important one; and my researches among the rocks at Albury, and experiments with the living birds in captivity, are greatly in support of this. In several of the crevices where I captured them, I found an ancient conglomerate of exuviæ ranging from three to twelve inches thick. From the under surface, and through the mass to nearly the upper surface, this conglomerate is thickly studded with Owl’s castings, composed entirely of light brown hair (which is unquestionably that of the kiore maori) and small bones. The castings more recently deposited among the rocks are composed of elytra and legs of beetles.”

page 200 present day one of our rarest species. There are three specimens in the British Museum, and one in the fine collection of raptorial birds formed by Mr. J. H. Gurney, and presented by him to the Norwich Museum. The Colonial Museum at Wellington and the Canterbury Museum* contain two specimens each; and there is a fifth in the local Museum at Dunedin. There are three fine specimens in the late Mr. Dawson Rowley’s private museum at Brighton, and a still finer series in my own collection. All these examples, but one, were obtained in the South Island—the exceptional one having come from Wairarapa, in the provincial district of Wellington.

My first acquaintance with this Owl in the live state was made in the Acclimatization Society’s Gardens at Christchurch. Unfortunately this Owl, which had lived in the Gardens for upwards of two years, was stone-blind, and its large eyes had a dead, glassy appearance; but I saw quite enough to satisfy me that, in its natural state, it is strictly a ground-feeder. Its appearance was very full and rounded, the feathers of the head and neck being puffed out to a considerable extent. Although it had the freedom of a commodious shed, I observed that it remained constantly on the ground, standing high on its feet, the strong, feathered tarsi being vrey conspicuous. It manifested much impatience or, rather, restlessness, striding with rapidity along the ground, or sometimes moving by a succession of hops, and generally in a rotatory manner, which may have been due to its blindness. The keeper informed me that this bird was a very poor eater, refusing fresh meat, and taking nothing but newly killed birds and live mice. A young mouse, quite paralyzed with fear, was crouching near the ground awaiting its fate, but the Owl took no heed of it; and in another part of its shed there was lying the half-devoured body of a hen Pheasant. I remarked of this bird that the feathered tarsi were much broader and stronger than they appear to be in the dried specimens. It walks quickly and with long strides, the body being held very erect; and when its speed is increased, the wings are raised with a quivering motion. During the whole time of its confinement, the keeper had never heard it utter a sound, except once, when it startled him with its loud mocking cry.

It should be mentioned that this bird, which was obtained near the source of the Cass River, in the county of Westland, was much darker in plumage than the specimens in the Canterbury Museum, and more nearly resembled the North-Island example mentioned above. As the colours underwent no change during its long confinement, it is sufficiently clear that the dark plumage is not a condition of immaturity.

The late Sir J. von Haast believed latterly that the large Owl captured by his dog amongst the rocky precipices in a creek near the Lindis Pass, and noticed by me, on his authority, under the provisional name of Strix haasti , was in reality a bird of the present species. Professor Hutton wrote informing me that this was the Owl referred to in the following passage, in his account of the Birds of the Little Barrier Island †:— “Another bird also lives on the island, apparently in the cliffs, and comes out

* Of the examples in the Canterbury Museum, one was procured from the Kakahu Bush, near Arowhenua; and the other, killed at the Levels Station, near Timaru, was presented to the Museum by Mr. Donald McLean. Mr. Potts writes:—“In May 1857, while living in a tent on the Upper Ashburton, we were constantly disturbed at night by their doleful yells amongst the rocky mountain-gullies. When disturbed on the ground, it bursts forth its weird-like cry immediately after taking wing. Its robust form, thickly clothed with soft feathers, is admirably adapted for encountering the severities of climate to which it must be frequently exposed whilst scouring its wild hunting-grounds. Far less arboreal than its smaller congener, it roams over the bleakest tracts of country in many districts where bush of any extent is rarely to be met with, finding shelter among the numerous crevices in the rocks of rugged mountain-gullics. Being strictly nocturnal in its habits in pursuit of its prey, it must brave the icy blast of the alpine snowstorm at the lowest temperature. The severity of the climate in these elevated regions would scarcely be credited by those who have only known the mildness of the coast-line. As may be inferred, the real home of this hardy raptorial bird is amongst the fastnesses of the Southern Alps, from whence it makes casual excursions by the numerous river-beds to the lower-lying grounds, these occasional visits extending as far as the plains. Although well known from its cry, not many specimens have been obtained.”

Essay on New-Zealand Ornithology, 1867.

Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute, vol. i. p. 162 (1868).

page 201 only in the evenings. Its cry is a peculiar kind of laugh in a descending scale, and is very ridiculous to hear. I saw it twice by the light of the fire.” But he afterwards found reason to modify this opinion (Ibis, 1874, p. 35). My own belief is that there has been some misconception on this point, and that the “series of dismal shrieks, frequently repeated, waking the tired sleeper with almost a shudder,” as described by one writer on the subject, are not due to this Owl, but probably to a nocturnal species of Petrel (Procellaria affinis); for during the very long periods that captive birds were kept by Mr. Smith and myself, although habitually noisy, they were never guilty of this “convulsive shout of insanity.” That they do, however, when on the wing produce a sound not unlike laughter, is beyond question; and when several of them are hunting together they seem to laugh in unison. This is specially noticeable on very dark nights.

Mr. Enys informs me that it has been seen at the Bealey Police Station (in the Southern Alps), and that it sometimes utters a note “something like that of the Morepork, but just as if he had his mouth full.”

Mr. W. W. Smith, formerly residing on the Albury estate near Timaru, and now settled at the Ashburton, has sent me from time to time very interesting notes on this rare Owl. He has not only been exceptionally fortunate in getting specimens, but he has likewise been successful in his endeavours to make them breed in captivity. The following extracts from one of his earliest communications on the subject (already published by me in the Trans. N.-Z. Instit. vol. xvi. pp. 308–311) will show what a good observer Mr. Smith is, and how keen his love of natural history. I have received many letters from him since, all replete with interesting facts, chiefly relating to this species; and I am also indebted to him for several fine specimens of the bird, together with the eggs and a newly-hatched chick:-

“February 8, 1882. In compliance with your request I have much pleasure in writing a short account of my experience in trying to breed the Laughing-Owl. The drawing of the bird made a great impression on me when I saw it for the first time in your ‘Birds of New Zealand,’ and since then I had been searching for over five years, trying to procure a specimen; but I was never successful until April of last year, when I succeeded in finding a very handsome one. In June I found another pair; and again in September I found two more. They have been a great source of pleasure and instruction to me. I found the birds in fissures of the limestone rocks at this place (Albury), but they are certainly very difficult to find. I first discovered that they were about the rocks by finding several fresh pellets, and being anxious to secure a specimen, I procured long wires and felt in the crevices, but with no good results. I, however, discovered a plan which proved successful. I collected a quantity of dry tussock grass and burned it in the crevices, filling them with smoke. After trying a few crannies, I found the hiding-place of one, and, after starting the grass, I soon heard him sniffing. I withdrew the burning grass, and when the smoke had partly cleared away, he walked quietly out, and I secured him. I obtained four birds by this means. I explained in a former letter how very tame they became in a short while after being captured. I also mentioned their call, which varies considerably during the year. When I captured the second pair (male and female) their call for a long time, in waking up in the evening, was, as formerly stated, precisely the same as two men ‘cooeying’ to each other from a distance. The voice of the male is much harsher and stronger than that of the female, and he is also a much larger and stronger bird. During the period of hatching he is very attentive in supplying his mate with food, as no sooner had the food been put into the large apartment of their house, than he would regularly carry every morsel into the dark recess; when feeding her she would utter a low peevish twitter and rise off her eggs. I may here correct a mistake which I made in writing to you on a former occasion. I stated that ‘the male sits by day, the female by night.’ I only saw the male twice on the eggs, and it was at this time I wrote the letter; but I certainly was mistaken, as the female performs most of the duty of hatching. I also page 202 ascertained the difference of the sexes by separating them at night until the second egg was laid. The females are much shier and more timid than the males, as they hide themselves on hearing the least noise. After sitting nine days on her first egg, the female forsook them, and all efforts to induce her to sit again were unavailing. She laid two more eggs a month afterwards, and had sat seven days, when, I regret to say, I had to leave home for medical treatment at Timaru. When I returned, eight days afterwards, she was still sitting and continued to sit until the 17th November, when she left the eggs without bringing out the young. The eggs must have been allowed to get cold when eight or nine days sat-on, as when I tried to blow them I found they contained embryo chicks. I am glad, however, that I succeeded in getting the eggs; another season I may succeed in getting young birds. I supplied them with many different articles of food, such as beetles, lizards, mice, rats, rabbits, and mutton, of all of which they partook freely; but they have the greatest preference for young or half-grown rats. They are a little slow and clumsy in capturing living prey, but their want of proper exercise and freedom may account for this; it may be otherwise in their wild state. After what I have pointed out, there can be no doubt that the Sceloglaux inhabits the dry warm crevices of rocks. All the birds I captured I found in such places, generally five or six yards from the entrance, perfectly dry, and where no wet could possibly enter. One thing surprised me much- the very narrowness of the entrance to their cranny. In some instances the birds must have forced themselves in. I noticed, however, that the crevices widened as they extended into the rock. The bottoms are covered with soft sand crumbled down from the sides, and affording comfortable resting places.

“Regarding the nidification of this bird, I am no longer surprised that so little is known, and likewise of its natural habits, considering that it conceals itself in such inaccessible places, and where few would think of searching for it. As a rule they could lay their eggs and hatch their young unseen and unmolested.

“The breeding-season may be said to extend over September and October. I found the bird mentioned in my last letter sitting on an egg on the 25th September; but it must have been laid about the beginning of the month, as it contained the chick I sent you. I discovered the bird by reaching a long stick with a lighted taper into the crevice. My captives laid on the 23rd, 27th, and 29th September, and again on the 20th and 22nd October *. The birds were very restless and noisy for a fortnight before nesting. They began to moult in December, and are not yet (Feb. 8) in full plumage. When casting their feathers they have a very curious appearance, as they become almost naked. At this stage two of my birds were stung to death, a month ago, by a swarm of bees passing through the fine wire netting and taking up their quarters on the roof of their dark recess. I was very sorry to lose them, as I cannot now send you a living pair. I have one very fine male I will send you in April. I am going to Lyttelton at that time, and I will forward it by the first steamer bound for Wellington. I will likewise send you another Owl’s egg, but hardly such a fine specimen as either of the two I sent before. I intend to search the rocks carefully for more birds, and, if I succeed in finding more, I will not fail to send you a pair. You may, however, rely on getting a second specimen from me. I should mention that I have collected a quantity of pellets at different times, composed of the hair of rats and mice and the elytra of beetles. Three large species of the latter swarm among the débris beneath the main rock, and certainly constitute part of the bird’s food.”

From Mr. Smith’s further notes I have extracted the following account, merely modifying it for convenience of narrative:-

* “There is an error in the account given by Mr. Potts in his article ‘On Oology’ published in ‘Nature’ in regard to this species. He describes an egg in the possession of Master C. Richardson as having been ‘laid early in January.’ As I procured the specimen I may state that it was laid on the 4th of October. The writer of the above-mentioned article was evidently misinformed.-W. W. S.”

page 203

“I first heard the Laughing-Owl on a very dark, damp night; and I frequently afterwards found its castings before I was able to discover the bird. After repeated searches I was at length fortunate enough to capture a very handsome one. He had secreted himself in a deep fissure in the rocks, from which I dislodged him by burning some tussock grass at the entrance-in fact I smoked him out. I think I was never so pleased at capturing any bird. I brought it home and put it in a comfortable cage, where its demeanour was very quiet. It was in beautiful plumage, with the facial disk grey, shading off to white on the outer edges. I remarked that the eyes were conspicuously large, and the iris bright hazel. From the blunted condition of its claws it was evidently a fully matured bird, and to all appearances a male. During the first night of his incarceration he remained perfectly quiet, and refused to take any food. On the following night he moved restlessly about his cage, and once in the evening uttered a loud hailing call, as if wishing to communicate with an absent mate. By this time hunger had overcome his scruples, and before morning he had devoured two live mice which I placed in his cage, besides several pieces of mutton. After a few days’ confinement he appeared to become more reconciled to the restraint, ceased to run about when approached with food, and indulged in a loud calling note when waking up in the evening. On one occasion I placed four live mice in the cage, and cautiously watched the result. After intently looking at the mice for a time, the Owl seized one of them, and, after bruising its head, tore it from the body, and swallowed it, and then devoured the other parts, tearing them to pieces before swallowing. After a pause of a few minutes he repeated the same operation on another mouse; but, although quick in despatching its prey, it is not so active as the nimble little Morepork. The latter species, instead of tearing a mouse to pieces, will reduce its head to a soft state and then swallow the animal whole. I tried my captive with some large lizards, which he immediately began to consume. I then offered him some beetles. After a long pause he commenced to eat them, with a quick snap of the bill. It was interesting to observe the rapidity with which he caught and swallowed them in succession, the elytra flying from the bird’s mandibles like sparks from a blacksmith’s forge. Eleven days afterwards I picked up in the cage a hard pellet composed of mouse-hair and the wings and legs of beetles: the rejectum of this savoury feast. On a subsequent occasion I gave the Owl three live mice: he treated two of them in the manner described above, and swallowed the other whole. I tried my bird with a live rat, but he failed to kill it after many attempts. I then despatched the rat and cut it up into small pieces, which the Owl readily devoured. At the end of a fortnight he had become quite tame, would watch all my movements very attentively, and with every appearance of confidence.

“On the 19th April I was lucky enough to capture two more birds. These were together, in one fissure of the rock, and were undoubtedly male and female. I had considerable trouble in dislodging them from their hiding-place. When I caught the female bird (the smaller of the two) she uttered a peevish twitter, and bit my hands severely. I placed them in a roomy cage, with a good supply of beetles and lizards. On the following morning I found that they had consumed all the food, and that they had already settled down to their new quarters in a spirit of contentment. I then gave them some pieces of mutton, two live mice, and a lizard, all of which they disposed of during the night.

“I placed all three Owls together, and although for a few days they appeared to agree very well, they afterwards commenced fighting; so I removed my first captive to a separate house, and left the pair together. The latter seemed perfectly happy in each other’s company, and on waking up every evening, both of them joined in the peculiar hailing-call already mentioned.

“On the 26th July I made a fresh excursion among the rocks, in the evening, in the hope of seeing this Owl in its native haunts, but without success. Later in the night I heard the laughing call from several birds simultaneously. They evidently fly a considerable distance from the rocks, as page 204 I heard them several miles down the river. A few days later I heard one ‘laugh’ while passing on the wing close over my Owl-house, possibly attracted thither by the call-note of my captives. They appear to fly very high, and to laugh every few minutes, particularly on dark and drizzly nights.

“On the evening of August 23rd, when I went as usual to attend to my captives, I noticed that one of them did not come out to be fed, and on looking into their dark recess I found the female sitting on an egg. On the next evening when I dropped the food into the cage the larger bird was alone; and picking up a piece of the meat, he walked into the dark recess with it, uttering all the while a low, hoarse, croaking sound. I gently looked in and saw that as he approached the sitting female she rose from the nest with a very peevish twitter, and taking the meat from his bill dropped it at her side. This operation was repeated over and over again, till all the pieces of meat were strewed around the nest. On the 27th I found a second egg in the nest, scarcely equal in dimensions to the first one laid, and more oblong in form*. I particularly observed that during the breeding-time both birds were habitually silent, scarcely ever uttering a sound of any kind, except when the male was feeding his mate in the manner described. This touch of nature was very pleasant to witness, and the gentleness and caution he displayed at this time were remarkable. At the slightest noise the female would utter her peevish scream, and would sometimes rise from the eggs. When all was quiet again, she would settle down, and the male bird would then retire to the outer house, and would remain there, apparently keeping watch over his mate.”

On the 22nd September Mr. Smith found a nest containing one egg in a deep natural fissure near Rocky Peninsula. The parent bird was in the nest, and he left it in the hope of getting a chick, as the Owl was incubating. He continued, at frequent intervals, to visit the nest till the 17th of the following month, when, for some unaccountable reason, the bird had abandoned it.

A fine male bird received from him lived for a considerable time in my aviary, and afforded me much interest. During the spring months it was accustomed to make a peculiar barking noise all through the night, just like the yelping of a young dog. At times the cry changed, resembling that of a Turkey calling in the peculiar key that denotes it is about to roost. It was a melancholy cry, and is perhaps aptly described as that of a “disconsolate Owl seeking a mate.” But it ceased altogether at the end of December.

Subsequently two more examples (male and female) were received from Mr. Smith, and were placed in the aviary with the previous occupant, who manifested his pleasure, but not in a very demonstrative way, at seeing old faces once more.

They seemed in perfect health, and partook readily of all the food offered to them. I contemplated, with some degree of certainty, being able to forward them to the Zoological Society of London, but my hopes were destroyed. Through an unfortunate accident to the temporary cage in which these birds were being removed to my new residence on Wellington Terrace, they both escaped one

* The following further observations on this case are from Mr. Smith’s diary:-“Sept. 28. Bird sitting closely on the eggs. To-night I found the female in the outer house, and the male in the recess, standing over the eggs. I retired for an hour, and on my return I found, to my surprise, that the male was sitting on the nest. 29th. To-night I found in the nest a third egg, which I removed. Again the male bird relieved the female in the task of sitting. 30th. The female resumed her duty on the nest, and the male bird carried every piece of meat into the dark recess, his mate responding with a weak call, and, taking the meat from him, dropped it again on the stones close to the nest, but did not leave the eggs. Oct. 7. To-night both birds were in the outhouse, and on looking into the recess I found the two eggs forsaken and perfectly cold. I attribute this to the intense inclemency of the weather on the previous night. Oct. 8. I confined the female to the dark recess in the hope of inducing her to sit, but to no purpose. Oct. 9. Eggs still cold, and I accordingly removed them. Oct. 20. On feeding the birds to-night I observed the male acting precisely as he did a month ago, and on opening the lid of the recess I found that the female had laid another egg. Oct. 21. Female sitting closely, and male carried every morsel of food to her. Oct. 22. Examined nest, and to my delight found a second egg. Oct. 23. Owl still sitting on eggs, but becoming exceedingly timid. Oct. 28. Nest abandoned, and on removing the chilled eggs, found that they contained well-developed embryos.”

page 205 stormy night, and were never seen again. Active search was made in the vicinity, day and night, for several weeks, but without any satisfactory result. Many persons declared having heard them, from time to time, on the neighbouring hills, and guided by these reports the fugitives were traced through Sir James Prendergast’s grounds to the Episcopalian Cemetery, where the scent was hopelessly lost, although the old sexton solemnly averred he had heard “most all kinds o’ noises among them graves”

Owing to my absence from home when the last-mentioned pair arrived, I never had an opportunity of studying them; but my son has furnished me with the following interesting note:-

“The three birds agreed very well together from the first; but after the first few days I noticed that our old bird was scarcely considerate enough to the lady, ‘wolfing’ all the meat and leaving her to take her chance. So I separated them, placing the new couple in the adjoining compartment, with only wire netting between. It was interesting to see them come out of their boxes towards dusk, which appears to be their favourite feeding-time, and take up their station on their respective rocks. On a piece of meat being thrown to one of them, it will stoop down and gaze very reflectively at it for a minute or more, and then march off to its perch to devour it. I have noticed that they frequently make a whistling noise, and sometimes a note very much like a Turkey chuckling. Another sound they produce is exactly like the mewing of a cat. Solemn as they are, they seem to be inquisitive birds. If you make a whispering noise, all three of them will turn round and gaze steadfastly at you, remaining as motionless as a statue, until the whispering has ceased, when they immediately relax. During the day they remain concealed in the boxes, but they appear to keep up a constant low chatter with each other. Altogether they are very amusing birds in an aviary.”

There are two specimens of the egg in my son’s collection. One of these is almost spherical, measuring 1·70 inch in length by 1·55 in breadth; the other is broadly oval, measuring 1·9 by 1·5. They are perfectly white, and the spherical one has some minute granular papillæ on its surface. I have examined several other specimens, and the former seems to be the more typical one.

The two forms of Strigidæ described above are the only ones inhabiting New Zealand of which we have, as yet, any positive knowledge* But the natives are acquainted with another species, which they describe as being very diminutive in size, and strictly arboreal in its habits. This is, no doubt, the bird indicated by Mr. Ellman as Strix parvissima (‘Zoologist,’ 1861). Mr. J. D. Enys informed me that he once captured an Owl “standing only five inches high,” and that it was perfectly tame and gentle. Mr. Potts records, on hearsay evidence, several instances of the occurrence in the provincial district of Canterbury of an Owl “about the size of a Kingfisher”; and the accounts which he has received appear to confirm one another in all material points, the gentleness of this Owl when captured being in singular contrast to the habitual fierceness of Spiloglaux novæ zealandiæ.

In the British Museum Catalogue (Birds, vol. ii. p. 43) Mr. Sharpe refers Strix parvissima, Ellman, to Scops novæ zealandiæ, Bonaparte; but I can find no evidence that the unique specimen of the latter in the Leiden Museum ever came from New Zealand, the only authority for this being a label in Temminck’s handwriting, “Nouvelle Zélande,” but without locality.

* Dr. Finsch says:—“Mr. Sharpe includes Strix delicatula, Gould, in the avifauna of New Zealand (‘Erebus and Terror,’ 2nd edition, p. 23) on account of my statement (Journ. für Ornith. 1867, p. 318). But I long ago stated (Journ. für Ornith. 1870, p. 245) that I had made a mistake on this point.”

“Amongst the desiderata of our public collections, a very small Owl (Athene parvissima) has for some time held a place. Many doubt its existence, few have seen it, fewer still have formed any note or observation concerning it. From the information that has been gleaned about this rare bird, it would appear that one of its habitats used to be the woods about the Rangitata river. One was captured with the hand on the bank of a creek, at no great distance from Mount Peel forest.”-Out in the Open.