Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Coturnix Novæ Zealandiæ — (New-Zealand Quail.)

Coturnix Novæ Zealandiæ
(New-Zealand Quail.)

  • Coturnix novæ zealandiæ, Quoy et Gaim. Voy. de l’Astr. (Zool.) i. p. 242, pl. 24. fig. 1 (1830).

Native names.–Koreke and Kokoreke.

ad. supra rufescenti-brunneus: dorsi plumis medialiter fulvo striatis, utrinque nigro marginatis, plumis quibusdam nigro irregulariter maoulatis aut vermiculatis: pileo saturatius brunneo, supercilio et linea verticali fulvescentibus: collo postico et laterali fulvescente: facie laterali et gutture toto castaneis, genis et regione auriculari paullo nigricante variis: tectricibus alarum minimis et medianis dorso concoloribus, his magis fulvescentioribus: remigibus nigricantibus, secundariis anguste fulvo vermiculatis: rectricibus nigris, fulvo transfasciatis, scapis etiam rufescenti-fulvis: subtus albioans, pectore superiore et abdomine imo fulvescentibus: pectoris plumis nigro marmoratis, fascia latâ nigrâ transfasciatis, abdominis plumis fasciis sagittiformibus nigris notatis: hypochondriis rufescenti-fulvis nigro transversim irregulariter fasciatis, et conspicue medialiter albo striatis: crisso et subcaudalibus nigro notatis et fasciatis: subalaribus albidis, anguste brunneo marginatis, margine alari brunneo vario: rostro nigro, versus apicem dilutiore: pedibus pallide carneis: iride pallide brunneâ.

ad. mari similis, sed paullo major, ubique dilutior: facie castaneâ et pectore nigro absentibus: facie laterali guttureque fulvescenti-albis, illâ brunneo maculatâ: corpore reliquo subtus rufescente, abdomine medio albicante, plumis omnibus nigro marginatis, pectoris plumis et hypochondriis medialiter albo lineatis.

juv. similis feminae, sed facie laterali et gutture pallide rufescentibus: corporis subtus plumis latius nigro marginatis.

juv. similis feminæ adultæ, sed corporis subtus plumis magis distincte nigro marginatis.

Adult male. Crown of the head and nape dark brown edged with paler, a series of feathers down the centre and on the sides marked in the middle with yellowish white; shoulders, mantle, and all the upper surface rufous brown, beautifully varied with black, and marked with numerous Ianceolate stripes of white. On closer examination it will be found that this effect is produced by each feather having a broad lanceolate mark of white down the shaft, bordered on each side with black, dark brown on the webs, fancifully rayed, or banded transversely, and largely tipped with rufous brown. Lores, line over the eyes, sides of head, and throat rufous, with a lunar mark from the ear-coverts on each side, and an anterior edging or border of black; lower part of the neck mottled or obscurely spotted with black and white, the former preponderating; examined separately, however, each feather is black crossed by irregular bands and largely tipped with white; sides and long plumage overlapping the thighs rufous brown, each feather margined and marked down the centre with white, and handsomely streaked and barred on the webs with brownish black; abdomen fulvous white, the under tail-coverts barred with black; primaries and outer secondaries dark brown, the latter rayed on their outer webs with zigzag lines of paler brown; inner secondaries and all the wing-coverts, as well as the tail-feathers, greyish brown, varied with pale rufous, each feather with a narrow shaft-line of white. Irides light hazel; bill black, paler at the tip; tarsi and toes pale flesh-brown. Total length 8·5 inches; extent of wings 14; wing, from flexure, 4·25; tail 1·5; bill, along the ridge ·5, along the edge of lower mandible .6; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw 1·25.

Adult female. In the female there is no rufous colour on the face or throat; the upper surface is light ferruginous brown mixed with fulvous, and handsomely varied with black; the lanceolate stripes are yellowish page 226 white, changing to fulvous on the longer secondaries and on the lower part of the back; the throat, fore neck, sides, and flanks ferruginous brown, and the breast fulvous white, all more or less varied with black; on the neck and breast each feather is marked near the tip with a broad crescent, and on the webs with irregular spots of brownish black; the feathers covering the sides, and the long feathers overlapping the thighs, have a broad stripe of white down the shaft and are streaked and marbled on both webs with black; the abdomen is white, the sides fulvous, and the under tail-coverts dark fulvous varied with black. The female is, moreover, slightly larger than the male in all its proportions.

Young male. In the young male the prevailing colour of the upper surface more nearly approaches that of the adult female. The rufous colouring on the cheeks and throat is very pale, and the lunate marks are less distinct than in the adult. The plumage of the underparts is largely washed with fulvous, and the dark crescents are broader and more conspicuous.

Young female. The only perceptible difference in the markings of the young female is that the dark crescents on the under surface are better defined and less blotched than in the adult bird. In my old collection (now in the Colonial Museum) there are two young females from the same nest, in one of which the prevailing tint of the plumage resembles that of the adult female, while in the other it approaches very near to that of the adult male.

Very young state. Crown of the head light fulvous varied with dark brown; ear-spots black; back and upper surface of wings yellowish brown, with dull black markings, each feather with a lanceolate stripe of fulvous white down the centre; throat and fore neck buffy white; breast and underparts pale buff, each feather marked near the tip with two converging elongate spots of a dull black colour. Bill, tarsi, and toes pale brown.

Obs. A beautiful male specimen obtained many years ago at Whangarei, in the North Island, and presented to me by Major Mair, differs from all my South-Island examples in having the whole of the plumage darker, the breast being almost entirely brownish black, relieved only by a few touches of fulvous white; the rufous colour on the face and throat is brighter, the lanceolate markings on the upper surface are very distinct, and the abdomen is fulvous.

This handsome species—the only indigenous representative in New Zealand of the order Gallinæ—was “on the verge of extinction” when I published my former edition. It is probably now extinct, for no specimen has been heard of for at least twelve years. In the early days of the colony it was excessively abundant in all the open country, and especially on the grass-covered downs of the South Island. The first settlers, who carried with them from the old country their traditional love of sport, enjoyed some excellent Quail-shooting for several years; and it is matter of local history that Sir D. Monro and Major Richmond, in 1848, shot as many as forty-three brace in the course of a single day within a few miles of what is now the city of Nelson: while a Canterbury writer has recorded that “in the early days, on the plains near Selwyn, a bag of twenty brace of Quail was not looked upon as extraordinary sport for a day’s shooting.” But, partly owing to the introduction of dogs, cats, and rats, and partly to the prevalence of the so-called “bush-fires” or burning of the runs (a necessary incident of sheep-farming in a new country), the Quail rapidly disappeared, and if not so already, it will ere long be numbered among the many extinct forms of animal life in New Zealand. Its place, however, has been more than adequately supplied by several introduced species, all of which appear to thrive well and multiply in their new home. Among these we may enumerate the following as being now permanently established in the country, viz. the common English Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), the Chinese Pheasant (P. torquatus), the Partridge (Perdix cinerea), the Californian Quail (Ortyx californicus), and the Australian Quail (Coturnix pectoralis)*. The last-mentioned bird closely

* To these may now be added the Swamp-Quail (Synoïcus australis), which has rapidly spread itself over the North Island, being plentiful even in the Taupo country. Three specimens of this bird (obtained at Tauranga) were sent to me by the Hon. Dr. Pollen, the then Premier, and I afterwards handed them over to the Colonial Museum with the following note:—“Two of these are in the normal plumage of the ♂ and ♀; the other is a remarkable instance of melanism. The entire plumage is a brownish slate-colour, paler on the underparts; on the crown and nape there are obsolete shaft-lines, and the whole of the upper surface is obscurely varied and mottled with blackish brown, washed with chestnut-brown on the wings. It is slightly smaller than the other specimens and proved on dissection to be a male.” (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xiv. p. 534.)

page 227 resembles the subject of this notice both in appearance and habits; and it will be curious to observe whether it will succeed in resisting for any length of time those physical conditions which have proved so fatal to the indigenous species.

According to the Maoris, even in the North Island it was formerly very abundant, certain grassy plains, like the Murimotu, in the Taupo district, being noted for them. Even at the present day, in the investigation of title in the Native Lands Court, the older generation of Maoris, when giving their evidence, often refer to the Quail preserves of former times in support of the tribal title*.

Sir Edward Stafford related to me the following circumstance in illustration of the suddenness with which the Quail disappeared from localities where it had once been plentiful:—On one occasion about the year 1848, accompanied by two other sportsmen, he went out to his own estate, about thirty miles from Nelson, for a day’s Quail-shooting; and in the course of a few hours the party bagged 29½ brace. In the hope of preserving the game, he prohibited any shooting over this ground during the following year; but in the ensuing season, when he naturally looked for some good sport, there was not a single Quail to be found!

Sir Frederick Weld (the present Governor of the Straits Settlements), about the same period, tried a similar experiment on his property at Stonyhurst, but with no better success. Finding the Quails very abundant in a particular locality, and being anxious to preserve them, he protected a suitable cover of about 2000 acres, never allowing the sheep upon it, nor permitting fires to overrun it. When this protection was first extended, there were almost incredible numbers of Quails on the land; but in less than a year they had all disappeared. In 1851 Dr. Shortland found it very numerous on the open downs of Waikouaiti; and as late as 1861, as we learn from Haast’s ‘Journal of Exploration in the Nelson Province,’ it was “still very abundant on the grassy plains of the interior, rising close to the feet of the traveller at almost every step.”

A specimen was shot by Major Mair at Whangarei in 1860; Sir James Hector reports the taking of a pair at Mangawhai in 1866; Captain Mair saw one at Maketu in 1867; and the Hon J. C. Richmond met with some in the Taranaki district in the months of November and December 1869. These are, I believe, the last recorded instances of its occurrence in the North Island. In the more retired portions of the South Island it was occasionally to be found down to 1875; but it had before that entirely disappeared from the settled country on the eastern side of the Alps.

In the autumn of 1860 I met with a bevy of nine on a dry grassy ridge in the midst of some shallow swamps about two miles from Kaiapoi (in the provincial district of Canterbury); and having with me a good pointer, I fortunately succeeded in bagging the whole of them. They afforded capital shooting, rising quickly and, after a low rapid flight of fifty yards or more in a direct line, dropping suddenly into the grass again. The stomachs of those I opened contained green blades of grass and a few bruised seeds, as well as some small fragments of quartz. The bevy consisted of an adult male and female, with seven birds of the first year; and as we may infer from the circumstances under which they were found that they comprised a single family, we have some evidence that this species is not less prolific than the other members of the extensive tribe to which it belongs.

Mr. Potts, writing of the bird before it had become rare, says:—“They often give utterance to a low purring sound that one might suppose to proceed from an insect rather than from a bird. The

* Extract from Aporahama Te Kume’s evidence in the Tokoroa case, at Cambridge, June 1880:—“Wahineiti died at Tauranga. He said to Ngatikes, Don’t take me to Maungatautari but to Tokoroa, that the rushes of my land may grow over me, and that my body may drink the dews of Tokoroa.’ This occasioned the name of Horohau: hence, too, the proverb ‘Nga wi o Tokoroa.’ These plains were famous for the abundance of Quail.”

page 228 call is indulged in most frequently during moist or wet weather; it sounds something like ‘twit, twit, twit, twee-twit,’ repeated several times in quick succession. In very stormy gusty weather these birds appear dull and silent, secreting themselves among thick tussocks. When flushed, they do not rise perpendicularly, but still very straight for a few feet from the ground. In confinement they are fond of picking about amongst sand, and thrive well on soaked bread, grain of various kinds, and the larvæ of insects. The male is not an attentive mate at feeding-time; and where several are kept in the same enclosure, constant little bickerings take place without actual hostilities being indulged in. The eggs require twenty-one days’ incubation; and the chicks are most active directly they emerge from the shell. They grow very rapidly; and at about four months old the young cannot very readily be distinguished from adult birds, either by contrast of size or plumage.”

It may be interesting to mention, as showing the value attaching to extinct or rapidly expiring forms, that a skin of this bird (and that, too, a female) sent from the Canterbury Museum to Italy fetched as much as ·75. My own collection contains an adult male and female (from the North and South Islands respectively), a young male of the first year, and another in the “very young state” described above. The last-named bird was one of a clutch of four, and I am indebted for this, among other rare specimens, to my lamented friend Sir Julius von Haast, the announcement of whose death in New Zealand reached me whilst these pages were passing through the press.

There is a specimen of the egg of this species (probably the only one in Europe) in Professor Newton’s fine collection at Cambridge; and there are five examples in the Canterbury Museum which exhibit a slight variation in form and a considerable difference in colour. Two of them (presumably from the same nest) are of a regular oval form and of equal size, measuring 1·3 inch in length by in breadth; these are of a pale yellowish-brown or buff colour, thickly marked with umber, the dark colour often preponderating and having the appearance of daubs or smudges on the outer surface of the shell. Two others (also exactly alike) are of a slightly larger size and of a thicker or broader form; these are of a dull cream-colour, sprinkled and minutely dotted all over with blackish brown. In one of them the spots are confluent at the larger end, forming a greyish-brown patch nearly half an inch in diameter; and in both the more conspicuous spots have a light or faded centre. The fifth egg is smaller and more rounded than any of the rest; it is of a yellowish-white colour, covered all over, but more thickly at the ends, with small smudgy spots of umber; and it has likewise a more glossy appearance than the others. On comparing the eggs of this species with those of Coturnix pectoralis, of Australia, there is a manifest difference, those of the latter bird being, as a rule, creamy white, with very obscure surface-spots.

After the above article had been sent to press, I received from the Colony the welcome intelligence that the last refuge of this well-nigh extinct species had lately been discovered. During the recent expedition of the Government steamboat ‘Stella’ to the Kermadec Islands, for the purpose of annexing them to New Zealand, Captain Fairchild, on his return voyage, landed on the Three Kings, a group of small islands situated about 32 miles W.N.W. of Cape Maria Van Diemen, the largest of them being only 1 ¾ miles long by ¾ of a mile in width, and rising about 900 feet above the sea-level. There is no “bush” on this island, but the surface is covered with stunted Leptospermum, fern, flax, and sedges, with here and there a grassy flat. Notwithstanding the scantiness of the vegetation, no less than five plants were discovered entirely new to the New-Zealand flora, and these have since been described and named by Mr. Cheeseman, F.L.S., not the least interesting one being Pittosporum fairchildi. But, from an ornithologist’s point of view, the most important discovery made was the existence there of several bevies of New-Zealand Quail, which were comparatively tame and fearless; and the explorers being fortunately without firearms they were left unharmed.

It is to be earnestly hoped that prompt steps will be taken by the Government to save and perpetuate this last remnant of an expiring race!