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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Extracts from Reviews of First Edition

Extracts from Reviews of First Edition.

Birds, as most people know, or ought to know, form the most important part of the vertebrate fauna of New Zealand; and their importance is maintained not only when they are compared with their compatriots of other classes, but when regarded in reference to members of their own class in the world at large

“The birds of New Zealand, therefore, merit especial attention, and we are happy to say they receive it at the hands of the authors whose works are above cited. Taking the field in or about the year 1865, Mr. Buller, till then unknown to fame beyond the limits of his native colony, brought out an ‘Essay on the Ornithology of New Zealand,’ which at once attracted notice in this old world of ours. Some of his views were challenged by Dr. Finsoh, then of Leyden, who had paid attention to this extra-ordinary avifauna; and a controversy ensued. This, to the credit of the controversialists, was carried on in a spirit very different from that in which many another war in natural-history circles has been waged; and the happy result is that on most points the combatants have arrived at the same conclusion, thereby giving assurance to the general public of its being the right one. The essay we have mentioned may be regarded as the preliminary canter which a race-horse takes before he puts forth his full strength; and Mr. Buller’s book, or that part of it which is as yet published, shows what he can do now that the colonial authorities have allowed him to come to England for the express purpose of completing his design.

“Captain Hutton is known as an observer who, during several long voyages, had proved that some rational occupation could be found at sea even by a landsman; for, instead of devoting his energies to the ordinary time-killing amusements of shipboard, he watched the flight of the various oceanic birds which presented themselves, and speculated on the mode in which it was performed and the forces it brought into operation—to some purpose, as the Duke of Argyll and Dr. Pettigrew have testified. The pamphlet whose title we give is in some respects a not less significant, if a less ambitious, work than Mr. Buller’s; and though to the last must belong the crown of glory, we by no means wish to overlook the useful part which Captain Hutton’s publication will play. If here we do not notice it further, it is because its value will be most appreciated in the colony itself, while Mr. Buller’s beautiful book appeals to a larger public.

“Of the Kakas (Nestor) Mr. Buller admits three species—Nestor meridionalis, N. occidentalis, and N. notabilis—the two first of which, we think, are barely separable. This very remarkable genus of Parrots includes some two or three other species, one of which, the N. productus of Phillip Island, is believed to have gone the way of so many animals that only inhabit small islands; and the same fate in all likelihood awaits its congeners. Most animals suffer from not being able to accommodate themselves to change of circumstances; but the very adaptability of the Mountain-Kaka, or Kea, will tend to its early destruction; for, though belonging to the group of Parrots distinguished by their brush-like tongue, and deriving a considerable portion of their subsistence in a manner worthy of the Golden Age, from the nectar of flowers, this wretched Kea (N. notabilis), since the introduction of sheep to New Zealand, has incurred the imputation of a fondness for mutton-cutlets à la Abyssinie; and the charge, whether true or false, is likely to bring about its doom, since the shepherd is apt to practise what in good old times was called ‘border justice,’ and the species will probably suffer extinction before its guilt is fully proved or extenuating circumstances admitted. The Common Kaka (N. meridionalis), on the other hand, is ably defended by Mr. Buller as one of the most useful birds in the country; yet this also is rapidly diminishing. ‘In some districts,’ he says, ‘where in former years they were excessively abundant, their cry is now seldom or never heard;’ and though he adds that ‘in the wooded parts of the interior they are as plentiful as ever,’ it requires no prophetic eye to see that, with the extension of settlement, the Kaka must succumb.

“Here we must pause. Mr. Buller’s book is in every way worthy of its subject; and we trust that we have shown that the subject is worthy of close attention—whether we regard the various forms of New-Zealand birds from the point of view of their intrinsic interest, or from that of so many being now on the verge of extinction. It is easy to be wise after the event, and ornithologists at home do not in these days look back affectionately towards their predecessors who have let so many species pass away without tracing the process of extermination.”—Nature (July 18, 1872).

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“New Zealand is especially fortunate in the possession of many admirable Naturalists, including geologists, botanists, and zoologists. One of the latter (born and bred in the colony), a gentleman who has made many zoological contributions to the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute,’ and whose acquirements, more especially as an ornithologist, have been recognized by his having had conferred upon him the Degree of Doctor of Science, as well as the Fellowship of the Linnean, Geological, Royal Geographical, and Zoological Societies, is at present in London passing through the press a magnificent work on the Birds of New Zealand, one that cannot fail to bring prominently-into notice the present aspects of scientific culture in that colony.”—Constitutional (Nov. 18, 1872).

“It is not often that thorough practical knowledge, both in the field and at home, is possessed by the author of a work like the present; but Dr. Buller has studied his subject in both aspects, and the value of his book is clearly enhanced thereby. Moreover he has set about his task in a way that shows us that he thoroughly appreciates the difficulties surrounding it. His personal acquaintance with the birds themselves has been followed up by a critical and impartial investigation of the writings of previous authors; and, lastly, an independent examination of many of the typical specimens in England has placed him in a position to speak with great precision upon intricate points of synonymy. The consequences to many of the indigenous birds of New Zealand, arising out of its colonization by Europeans, seem likely to be so disastrous, that it is high time that authentic histories of them should be put on record before they finally disappear. Dr. Buller’s work, therefore, supplies what might have proved a serious omission in ornithological literature. It is not too late to write a full life-history of those New-Zealand birds whose numbers are rapidly diminishing; but a few years hence it is more than probable such a task could not be accomplished. Though the present active causes may be novel, the rapid destruction of the indigenous fauna of New Zealand dates back to far beyond historic times; for though Maori tradition may give an approximately recent time when the Moa still survived, numbers of other similar forms have succumbed whose remains are now found in a semi-fossilized state, and of these we have not another vestige of record. They, like the Dodo and the Solitaire, seem to have fallen victims to some enemy suddenly introduced into their domain, against which they were powerless to make successful resistance. The remains of these extinct birds have furnished the materials for Prof. Owen’s series of exhaustive memoirs on Dinornis and its allies. Dr. Buller’s will form a fit companion work, and thus provide us with a very complete record of the birds of New Zealand both past and present.”—The Ibis.

“The first work professing to give a complete account of the ornithology of New Zealand must needs be an important one. This ornithic fauna presents so many points of general biological interest, that only those of the islands east of Africa can be compared with it. It was high time that a complete account of this fauna should be given by a competent naturalist. Some of the most interesting forms have already become almost, if not quite, extinct; others are fast expiring, or obliged to accommodate themselves to the changed conditions of the country. We do not say that the majority of the native species will not survive, though in diminished numbers of individuals; but it is quite probable that some of these survivors will be preserved by accommodating themselves to the new state of things, modifying in a more or less perceptible manner their nidification, food, or some other part of their mode of life; and if such changos should occur, the student of a future generation will find in Dr. Buller’s work the means of comparing the birds of his time with those of the past. The author has shown unremitting care in adducing all the information that can possibly throw light on his subject; he has spared no pains in illustrating it in the most perfect manner; and the result is that a most valuable work is placed before the student of ornithology, which will offer to every lover of natural history real and permanent enjoyment, and which, by its attractive form, will allure many a young man in that colony from the pursuit of other branches into the camp of ornithology.”—Annals and Magazine of Natural History.

“A mind may be so imbued with the views of Darwin as to be blind to the evidence of his eyesight, deaf to the logic of facts; but there is no proof that Dr. Buller is either: he is evidently friendly to Darwin’s celebrated hypothesis, but sees, hears, and thinks for himself. Happily for Science, the author for twelve years has held an official position in New Zealand which has enabled him to visit every part of the country, while his frequent intercourse with the natives has greatly assisted him in acquiring the information required for making such a work complete. It contains a vast amount of the soundest natural-history teaching, and seems to combine in an eminent degree the new with the true. The illustrations in the first number, the only one yet published, are excellently drawn by M. Koulemaus, who always aims at the representation of living birds rather than the conventional attitudes of birdstuffer’s specimens. They are well coloured by hand, and thus the work is rendered as ornamental as useful. We cordially recommend the ‘History of the Birds of New Zealand’ to the readers of the ‘Zoologist,’ and we sincerely wish it every success.”—Zoologist.

“The accounts which naturalists from time to time have given to the world of the birds inhabiting New Zealand have been hitherto but fragmentary and incomplete; and although forty years have elapsed since the first of such publications made its appearance, the available sources of information on this subject are still so few in number, that they may be enumerated almost in a breath. The late Mr. George Gray might deservedly be regarded as the pioneer of New-Zealand ornithologists; for, although page break never an actual explorer of the country himself, his official position gave him unusual facilities for studying its avifauna by means of the numerous collections which from time to time passed through his hands, and not a few of these antipodean species were originally described by him.

“When Mr. Gould, in 1868, published his ‘Handbook to the Birds of Australia,’ he gave, by way of appendix to his second volume, an account of various New-Zealand species which were scarcely known to English readers, save in name; and in point of date this would seem to have been the latest publication on the subject in this country until a fow months since, when Part I. of Mr. Buller’s splendid work made its appearance. But, although so little, comparatively, has of late been published here, naturalists in New Zealand have been actively engaged for some years past in working out the natural history of their adopted country; and the transactions of two of their scientific societies contain many excellent contributions on ornithology from such able naturalists as Dr. Haast, Dr. Hector, Mr. Potts, and the author of the work now before us. Nor have our friends in Germany been behindhand in their zeal to become acquainted with an avifauna perhaps the most remarkable in the world.

“We recognise in Mr. Buller’s publication, however, the first attempt which has been made to give anything like a complete history of the birds of New Zealand; and it would not be easy to overrate the importance which attaches to such an undertaking.

“Those who had an opportunity of seeing the Huia, which lived for some time in the Parrot-house in the Zoological Gardens, could scarcely have noticed it without wishing to learn something of its haunts and habits; and to them Mr. Buller’s account of it will prove most entertaining. In the following extract we seem to get a peep of the country which it inhabits, as we search for and find this very curious bird. Such sketches as these go far to enliven a comprehensive work on birds, which, in other respects, is strictly scientific. As regards the illustrations Mr. Buller has been most fortunate; for, under his direction, his artist, Mr. Keulemans, has produced some of the most life-like and beautiful pictures of birds which we have seen. We understand the work is to be completed in five Parts, two of which have already appeared, and a third is in active preparation. It will assuredly become the text-book for all students of New-Zealand ornithology.”—The Field.

“Dr. Buller has just produced Part IV. of his great work on the ornithology of New Zealand; and we may now fairly say that the high anticipations we had formed as to the author’s capabilities have been fully realized. In the book before us we find the two great requirements of science combined—namely, a thorough appreciation of the necessary details which are expected of a scientific work in the present day, and the ability to write in appropriate and entertaining language the life-histories of the birds of which the author has to treat, So rarely are these two qualities found combined in a scientific writer, that the greatest credit is due to the learned author for the admirable manner in which he has performed his task.

“The ornithology of New Zealand is especially interesting, from the fact that the indigenous species are being gradually extinguished; and we read with regret that even within the memory of the author certain birds, which were formerly common, have almost ceased to exist.

“The work contains elaborate scientific diagnoses of the various birds, and a classification of the different names by which they have been known to different writers.

“The coloured plates are really exquisite examples of the lithographer’s skill. In every respect the work is a most valuable addition to the scientific student’s library, as well as to that of the more general reader, and seems to contain the fullest information on every point connected with this interesting study.”—Land and Water.

“Although several more of less complete treatises on and lisfs of the Birds of New Zealand have been published, they were rather of a tentative and preliminary character; and the work before us is the first which gives a full account of this ornithic fauna, which, in zoological interest, is not excelled by that of any other country. There can be no doubt that Dr. Buller, well known in Europe by his preliminary ornithological publications, is eminently qualified to fulfil this task. His long residence in the colony and his official position have given him rare opportunities of making observations and collecting materials; and by a lengthened visit to England he has derived the great advantages of studying typical examples and of availing himself of that typographic and artistic skill in which this country excels. To judge by the first part issued, Dr. Buller has succeeded in producing a work of real excellence. The text is clear, instructive, and not overloaded with unnecessary detail; while the illustrations are beautiful and life-like.”—The Academy.

“New Zealand may be congratulated on having outstripped the other colonies in the race for scientific honours. Even Canada, with all the resources at her command, has produced nothing at all comparable with the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute.’ Now we have before us something of a far more ambitious kind—namely, a complete life-history of the birds of New Zealand, adapted to the present advanced state of ornithological science, and most beautifully illustrated with coloured plates. The descriptive part of the text is very carefully worked out, both in English and Latin; and the history of each species is given in the most complete and exhaustive manner. The plates are extremely beautiful, and are rendored more attractive by the page break introduction of botanical accessories, representing the indigenous flora of the country. The volume, when complete, will not only be a valuable contribution to scientific literature, but will be an elegant drawing-room companion; for, to adopt the language of a leading scientific journal respecting it, ‘the plates are as beautiful in execution as the text is excellent in quality.’” —Home News.

“The lamentable way in which the indigenous birds are expiring in that country before the progress of civilization and other natural causes, has rendered it a necessity that a work should be prepared that will rescue from oblivion the feathered denizens of those places which in a short lapse of time ‘shall know them no more.’ This it has fallen to Dr. Buller’s lot to accomplish; and it were small praise indeed to say that his task is executed in an admirable manner. Few ornithological works that have been written come up to the standard of the subject of this notice; and none have yet surpassed it, nor will it be possible to do so. Certainly the author brings to his aid unusual advantages; but even these might fail in the hands of a less conscientious’ person than Dr. Buller has shown himself to be. In the Part now before us the history is given of thirteen birds, ten of which are figured; and this brings us down to the end of Accipitres, Psittaci, and Picariœ. No one since the time of the late Professor Macgillivray has so successfully combined the two branches of cabinet and field ornithology as Dr. Buller; and his experiences, and those of his numerous coadjutors, are told in a pleasing and instructive manner, which cannot fail to interest and amuse his readers. Indeed it is seldom that we have seen a book which so thoroughly calls for unqualified praise as the present. We have only, in conclusion, to perform the pleasing duty of offering our congratulations to the inhabitants of New Zealand on their possession of so distinguished -a naturalist as Dr. Buller, and to, the author on the complete success with which his arduous task promises to be crowned.”—European Mail.

“This admirable work, which places New Zealand in the front rank of countries, from an ornithological point of view, does credit to all concerned in it. Nothing seems to have been spared to make it as good as possible: and this fact is the more gratifying as in a few years many of the native species will probably have become extinct, and the opportunity of observing their habits, which are in most cases very fully described, will be lost for ever. The selection of the species for illustration is judicious, and the Plates are good.”—Zoological Record.

“Before entering upon my own researches and a dissertation on the species, I will briefly refer to the Ornithological literature that has been published during the last two years; and on this occasion I scize with pleasure the opportunity of drawing attention to an undertaking which I desire to recommend most warmly to all friends of and experts in Ornithology. It is the beautiful work entitled ‘A History of the Birds of New Zealand,’ upon the publication of which my friend Dr. Buller is at present engaged, having come from New Zealand to London for that special purpose. This work, as is proved by the First Part, which I have now before me, very worthily links itself in with Sharps and Dresser’s ‘Birds of Europe,’ Sharpe’s ‘Kingfishers,’ and Marshall’s ‘Capitonidæ.’ As with the last-mentioned works, the execution of the Plates has been entrusted to the clever pencil of Keulemans, whose masterly work has long since gained universal acknowledgment, and does not stand in need of any further recommendation. Thus we shall before long be in the enjoyment of an exhaustive description of the Birds of New Zealand, equally perfect in text and illustration, and every person whose means will permit of it ought, without delay, to obtain possession of this beautiful book, the more so as its publication in Parts greatly facilitates the acquisition.”—Dr. Finsch in ‘Journal für Ornithologie,’ 1872.

“That New Zealand contains more than an average number of persons interested in the advancement of science is evident, not only from the large number of members belonging to the various scientific Societies in the Colony, but also from the liberal way in which the Legislature votes money for scientific purposes; and to all of those who wish to see an intelligent interest taken in the subject of Natural History by our rising generation, Dr. Buller’s beautiful work on the Birds of New Zealand cannot fail to be most welcome. A book of this nature can be looked at either from a scientific or from a popular point of view—the nomenclature, descriptions, &c. forming the strictly scientific part, and the life-history of the birds the popular part; each being, in its own way, of equal importance. It is very rare indeed to find the qualifications necessary for the pursuit of both branches of Ornithology combined in one individual; and although we do not consider Dr. Buller’s book irreproachable from either aspect, still we know of no other work on Ornithology, the product of a single author, in which both branches are so successfully combined, as in the book before us. Dr. Buller’s style is exceedingly good, clear, and to the point. Without wasting words, he brings out in a few graphic touches the salient points of whatever he may be describing, and it is easy to see that he is a real lover of nature and delights in a camp-out in the bush. The descriptions of the species are excellent. Indeed, we think that these are the best portions of the book; and it is evident that a great deal of labour has been expended over them. In very few books on Natural History do we get such detailed descriptions of the adult, the young, and the varieties of the species, and the methodical manner in which they have been drawn up adds greatly to their value.”—Review by Prof. Hutton in New-Zealand Magazine’ (January 1876).