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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Supplementary Notes — to the — ‘Birds of New Zealand.’ — Vol I

page break

Supplementary Notes
to the
‘Birds of New Zealand.’
Vol I.

The following additional notes on some of the Families treated of in the present volume may be of interest to the general reader.

Fam. CORVIDÆ.—The only representative of this family in New Zealand belongs to the somewhat aberrant genus Glaucopis. At page 4, in my account of G. wilsoni, I have stated my reasons for placing this form at the head of the New-Zealand Avifauna; and at p. 30 I have given the result of Dr. Gadow’s careful examination of a skeleton which I had submitted to him.

Fam. TURNAGRIDÆ.—At pp. 26–30 I have given what may be considered the final record of the North-Island Piopio, a species now on the verge of extinction. Its South-Island representative (Turnagra crassirostris) is still to be met with in certain wooded districts, but in rapidly diminishing numbers, and, with other interesting forms that still linger, its doom is sealed.

As recently as December 1887 last one of my New-Zealand correspondents, writing to me from the west coast, says:—“Since I came here I have formed the acquaintance of several old gold-diggers, from whom I have gathered much information on the haunts and habits of many of the species. All of them agree that certain birds are disappearing fast, viz. the Crow, the Saddle-back, the Thrush, the Robin, the Kakapo, the Woodhen, and the Kiwi. Fifteen years ago all these birds existed here in abundance. Every digger keeps a gun and a dog, besides, as a rule, having one or more cats in their huts. All the birds I have mentioned, either from their tameness, their incapacity for flight, or their habit of feeding on the ground, would fall an easy prey to dogs and cats, both of which animals often stray away from the diggers’ camp and become wild. Man also contributes to the work of wholesale destruction. Last Sunday I dined on stewed Kiwi at the hut of a lonely gold-digger, who, besides the three cooked for dinner, had four other fat Kiwis hanging on the wall, to serve through the week. My host informed me that he varied his bill of fare with Wekas and Kakapos. These men lead lonely page 238 lives in the bush, and only emerge once in a week or fortnight to get stores from some central point whither the trader brings them on a pack-horse. The well-trained dog of the gold-digger is perhaps the most destructive agent as regards the Kakapo and Kiwi. The felling and clearing of forests and the consequent diminution in the supply of honey-producing flowers will account to some extent for the present scarcity of the Bell-bird and the Tui. But, as you have already pointed out, the chief factor in this work of extermination is no doubt the introduced rat, which now exists in immense numbers over thewhole extent of the west coast, from the gold-diggers’ townships to the remote bush-covered ranges. Added to all these potent causes, I have no doubt that, owing to the changed conditions under which they exist, and the more scanty supply of food, disease in various forms contributes to the general sum of destruction.”

Fam. STURNIDÆ.-The Saddle-back (Creadion carunculatus), which was extremely common in all suitable localities fifteen to twenty years ago, has now disappeared from the North Island, and is becoming scarce in the South, although both this and the allied species (C. cinereus) are still plentiful on certain small islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Professor Hutton was the first to discover the nest of this bird on the Little Barrier Island, Where he found it lodged in the hollow stem of a tree-fern.

The accompanying figure appeared in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ (vol. v. pl. 17), together with the following descriptive notes by Mr. Potts:—

“For its nesting-places a hollow or decayed tree is usually selected; sometimes the top of a tree-fern is preferred. The first nest we know of was found by an old friend in a hole about four feet from the ground in a huge white pine (Podocarpus dacrydicides), close to the bank of the Ahaura river; it contained three eggs hard-set. We fonnd a nest in a dead tree-fern not far from Lake Mapourika, Westland. This was of slight construction, built principally of fern-roots, deftly woven, into rather a deepshaped nest with thin walls; for as the structure just filled the hollow top of the tree-fern thick-walls were unnecessary. Another nest (the one figured), found in a small-sized decayed tree in the Okarito bush, was in a hole not more, than three feet from the ground. It was roughly constructed, principally of fibres and midribs of decayed leaves of the kiekie (Freycinetia banksii), with a few tufts of moss, leaves of rimu, lined with moss and down of tree-ferns; it measured across from outside to outside of wall 12 inches 6 lines, the cavity 3 inches in diameter with a depth of 2 inches.”

Fam. SYLVIIDÆ.—When I was engaged on my former edition, Mr. T. H. Potts sent me a large series of pen-and-ink sketches of nests which he had collected at various times, all executed by himself and exhibiting the characteristics of each in a very happy manner. These were afterwards published in illustration of that gentleman’s “Notes on the breeding-habits of New-Zealand Birds,” page 239 which appeared from time to time in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute.’ But as some of the original sketches are still in say possession, I have much pleasure in reproducing them here, on a somewhat reduced scale. One of the most interesting of these is a representation of the nest of the South-Island Robin (Miro australis), which differs from the typical form in its more slender walls and thinner foundation. Mr. Potts, who has collected a large number of these nests, says:—“Its nest is wider and larger altogether than that of Myiomoira macrocephala, but not so closely interwoven; moss, sprays, leaves, fine fibres, and grass enter into its construction. Diameter of nest from 5 to 6 inches, of the cavity 3 inches, with a depth of 1 inch 3 lines. A favourite situation appears to be behind such protuberances as are to be found on the huge gnarled trunks of Griselinia litoralis, very often not more than 3 feet from the ground.”

The South Tomtit (Myiomoira macrocephala) is somewhat eccentric in its mode of nidification. Among the sketches mentioned above there are representations of four of the nests of this species from one locality, near Ohinitahi, and as they exhibit very different types of architecture I have given woodcuts of all of them.

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

page 240

No. 1 was built of dry sprigs of climbing-plants intermixed with grass-bents and strengthened by means of split shreds of ti-palm leaf, the cavity being lined, as usual, with soft moss. This structure, which appeared to be more loosely put together than usual, was discovered in the head of a ti-palm and contained, in addition to two unfledged young birds, three bad eggs. No. 2 was composed almost entirely of dry moss with a few slender strips of bark fixed to the outer surface, in order to give it stability, and in the lining of the cup could be seen a few green Parrakeet feathers. This nest was placed in a mossy recess on a rocky ledge in thick bush, and when found contained four eggs.

Fig. 3 Fig. 4

Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Figures 3 and 4 represent very unusual forms—one of them having an exact resemblance to a moss-basket, with a profusion of tree-fern down in the centre and cavity; the other being of a long tapering form and measuring fully fifteen inches in length from the rim of the cup to the lower extremity of the nest.

I have given, at page 48, some pocket-book sketches showing a considerable amount of variation in the nests of Gerygone flaviventris. The following are further illustrations of the kind, the one exhibiting a side view being ornamented with Acœa-burrs.

page 241

At p. 50 I have stated my reasons for giving Gerygone sylvestris (erroneously referred to in the first paragraph of that article as G. flaviventris) a place among the birds of New Zealand, although, so far as is known, no specimen of it exists. Mr. Potts, who described the species under that name, seems very positive that the bird which he killed in the dense bush between Okarito and Lake Mapourika was quite distinct from our common species; and Mr. Reischek’s report of a small bird on the west coast whose notes he could hear, although he could not see it, may perhaps be confirmatory of its existence.

Fam. TIMELIIDÆ.—I have given, at page 58, my reasons for insisting on the association of Clitonyx albicapilla and C. ochrocephala in one and the same genus. The subjoined woodcuts of the nests show very plainly that the architecture of both species is the same.

clitonyx albicapilla.Clitonyz ochrocephala.

clitonyx albicapilla.
Clitonyz ochrocephala.

As already stated at p. 60, the Grass-bird (Sphenœacus punctatus) attaches its slender nest to thin reed-stems standing in close proximity to each other, but it is sometimes placed on the ground under shelter of a tussock or tuft of rushes. One of the latter kind (formed entirely of dried grass-leaves) is here depicted.

page 242

Fam. MELIPHAGIDÆ.—Mr. T. Hunt, who has lived on Pitt Island for more than thirty years, in a letter to the press dated the 5th of September last, states that the Zosterops (to which he applies the name of Fish-eye) appeared there and on Chatham Island about three weeks after the great Australian fire known in local history as Black Thursday*.

As fully explained at pp. 83, 84; the nests of this species exhibit a considerable amount of individual variation, but the typical character is always the same, and this is well illustrated in the subjoined drawing of one of these pensile cups fixed in a sprig of fern.

As will be seen from the accompanying sketches, the Tui and the Korimako construct their nests on the same principle; but the fondness for gaily coloured feathers (as specially mentioned at p. 91) is confined to the latter bird.

Prosthemadera nova zealandice.Anthorniz melanura.

Prosthemadera nova zealandice.
Anthorniz melanura.

The Stitch-bird (Pogonornis cincta), which less than fifteen years ago was comparatively plentiful

* He mentions the further circumstance that the House-Sparrow, the Linnet, and the Blackbird have all come over to the Chatham Islands from New Zealand (a distance of 300 miles) and are now so numerous as to threaton to become a nuisance to the agriculturist.

page 243 in the southern portions of the North Island, is now quite extinct on the mainland, being met with only on a small wooded island in the Hauraki Gulf. As stated at p. 105, a nest of this species is preserved in the Colonial Museum; and I have much pleasure in reproducing here a sketch of this specimen which appeared in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ (vol. iii. pl. 12).

Fam. XENICIDÆ.—The recent discovery of the true relations of the New-Zealand genera Xenicus and Acanthidositta is extremely interesting from a biological point of view; and my own belief is that as we become better acquainted with the anatomy or internal organs of our many endemic forms other equally important alterations will require to be made in our present classification of the genera. In my account of Xenicus longipes I have given all the information I have been able to collect respecting it. I have shown, I think, conclusively that Xenicus stokesii is a myth, the creation of this new species having been due to an erroneous figure. In company with the late Mr. G. E. Gray, I examined the original drawing at the British Museum, in which I found the bill depicted as straight, and a mere indication given of the white superciliary streak. Mr. Gray told me that his artist was responsible for the alterations in the published figure, and that his own description of the species was inadvertently taken from the latter.

The nest of Xenicus gilviventris mentioned at page 112 is now in my collection, and on account of its extreme rarity I have had it photographed and carefully drawn for reproduction here; but, being to a larger scale than the other woodcuts, I have placed it at the end of these ‘Notes on page 250.

At page 115 I have described some peculiar conditions under which the nest of Acanthidositta chloris has been found at different times. By way of adding another curious instance, Mr. W. W. Smith has sent me the following note:—“I lately procured an egg of A. chloris under peculiar circumstances. One of the men in the garden, when moving some broken pipes formerly belonging to the hot-water apparatus in the vinery, noticed a nest in one of them. Thinking it to be the nest of a mouse, he tore it out, when the tiny egg dropped upon the ground, but escaped injury. I am sending you the specimen, together with the materials composing the nest.”

Earn. PLATYCERCIDÆ.—As will be seen at page 149, an interesting addition has been made to our Avifauna by the rediscovery on Antipodes Island of Platycercus unicolor, a species hitherto without any known habitat. The unique specimen upon which Mr. Vigors founded the species was more than half a century ago living in the Zoological Society’s Menagerie at Regent’s Park. On the 11th January, 1831, the above-named naturalist exhibited the bird at a Meeting of the Society and made some remarks upon it, stating that, although its native place had not been ascertained, “from the more graduated form of the tail and the plumbeous colour of the bill it was conjectured to have belonged to some of the Australian islands, the Parrakeets of which are distinguished by these page 244 characters from the allied groups of the same genus, Platycercus, of the Australian continent.” The lively and active gait of this bird, as distinguished from the slow and climbing motions of the Parrots, was particularly noticed*

On the death of this rarity it was skilfully mounted and placed in the bird-gallery at the British Museum, where it has remained to the present day. Its bill is conspicuously larger than in the specimens recently brought by Captain Fairchild from Antipodes Island, but this was doubtless due to its having been kept for a long time in confinement. In other respects it corresponds exactly with the specimen forwarded to me by Sir James Hector, and which I have had the pleasure of presenting to the Cambridge Museum. The discovery of the home of Platycercus unicolor, after so long a lapse of time, is just one of those events in Ornithology that serve to stimulate and reward the labours of our naturalists abroad.

The subjoined figures of the heads (natural size) of Platycercus novæ zealandiæ (fig. 1) and P. unicolor (fig. 2) will show, at a glance, how much these species differ from each other in size; whilst the uniform green plumage of the latter readily distinguishes it from all other members of the group. Fig. 2 is taken from the British Museum specimen, in which the bill is rather larger than in mine, owing perhaps to the long captivity of the bird, and the consequent tendency to abnormal growth.

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

I stated at page 149, on the authority of Sir George Grey, that the northern Maoris have a tradition of some very remarkable kind of Parrot as inhabiting Cuvier Island, a high wooded islet near the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf. It may be of interest to mention that this locality has very recently been thoroughly explored by Mr. Adams, a collector employed by the Auckland Museum, and that, although he met with the common New-Zealand Parrakeet and several other familiar species, he found no strange birds there.

Fam. NESTORIDÆ.—It will be seen that I have given a full account of the Kea, or Sheep-killing Parrot, with a history of its development into a carnivorous bird. The extraordinary habit which it has so speedily acquired of attacking live sheep, for the purpose of feasting on the kidney-fat, has been the subject of much discussion among naturalists. By its addiction to this vicious habit

* Proc. Zool. Soc. 1830–32, pp. 23, 24.

At the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, a painting in oils of considerable merit was exhibited by Mr. George Sheriff, of Wanganul, showing a pair of Keas at work on a sheep; but the artist has made the mistake of substituting a dead animal for a live one, thus falsifying the record in its most essential feature. As mentioned at p. 170, a pen-and-ink sketch, by Mr. Potts in ‘Out in the Open’ represents the incident correctly in this respect, but the figure of the animal operated upon is devoid of all expression, just as if the sheep submitted to the vivisection as a matter of course or treated the whole thing as a joke. A large drawing in my possession, from the talented pencil of Mr. J. Wolf, gives an admirable idea of the subject. The scene selected is the gorge of the Rangitata, under moonlight, showing the far-off snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, flanked by enormous glaciers; and the middle distance is veiled in mist, partly obscuring the stunted Fagus-forest which clothes the lower ranges. In the foreground, below the gorge, a sheep attacked by a Kea is writhing its body in agony and kicking up the loose snow from the ground in its frantic efforts to rid itself of this cruel tormentor, which clings tenaciously to its back. Two other Keas on the wing are coming to assist in this work of torture. A small mob of sheep are huddled together under a projecting cliff, trying to obtain a little warmth, whilst one sheep, more inquisitive than the rest, has advanced a hundred yards or more towards the suffering victim, and is looking on, in silent wonderment, showing that these animals have hardly yet learnt to regard this Parrot as their natural enemy.

page 245 the bird is doomed, and at the present rate of destruction a few years at most will witness its extermination. For this reason, if for no other, it was incumbent on me as its historian to give the fullest possible account of its natural history.

Mr. Walter Chamberlain, of Harborne Hall, Birmingham, in an interesting paper read before the Largo Field-Naturalists’ Society last year, makes the following observations on this remarkable Parrot:—

“Between 1865 and 1870 the shepherds who were pushing their flocks in the south further and further up the slopes of the central range began to complain that the Keas visited their huts and ate the hanging meat, more particularly the kidneys and fat. Here, then, we have the first evidence of the pernicious and, to them, fatal taste for kidneys which has since so rapidly developed. They found the meat hanging with the kidneys in situ. They took a special liking to the latter and sought for them high and low, all the more zealously no doubt that the shepherds took counter precautions to preserve the delicacies for themselves. It is most likely that they soon began to find and tear open with their strong bills the sheep that died among the hills, and were thus guided by degrees to the actual seat of the kidneys in the living animals and the readiest way of approaching them. At any rate, about the year 1875, the first sheep—still in the far south—were found wounded just over the loins. There was much puzzling over these wounds, and not unnaturally they were at first, ascribed to wild dogs, that is dogs run wild; but at last all doubts were set at rest by a shepherd actually catching a bird on the back of a live sheep hacking at its loins in order to reach the kidneys. Gradually since then the habit has travelled northwards, until only in 1885 the first sheep was attacked in the Rakaia district, not very far south of the extreme northern range, as at present known, of the species. In the meantime the southern birds that had already learnt the trick, commenced to follow the flocks lower down during the winter, and to carry on their devastations more systematically…… Now, this sudden acquisition of an altogether strange habit by birds in a state of nature is, I think, absolutely unique, and it is certainly a case of great interest to naturalists everywhere as well as to New Zealand run-holders. I cannot call to mind any instance that I have heard or read of which at all runs parallel with it. New habits when they are acquired by species in a natural state have always hitherto, so far as I know, been very slowly developed, and the habit itself, as a rule, is little more than a modification of some previous one performed by instinct, as for instance the painfully acquired experience which teaches wild creatures to avoid a new form of danger, or the easily made experiments which teach them that some crop newly grown by man near their haunts is suitable for food as it stands.

“Consider for a moment the sequence of events and the extraordinary change of habit involved to the parrot. Between 1865 and 1870 the Kea first comes in contact with the shepherd, and commences to steal his meat with a marked preference for the kidneys. This is natural enough, and any other parrot with a tendency to animal food might do the same, but here the matter would ordinarily rest. The shepherds would protect their meat, and the parrots would return to their usual food. Not so with the Keas. Between five and ten years later they have found out not only that kidneys are somewhere inside living sheep, but whereabouts inside and the nearest point on the back from which to reach them. A few years more and they have learnt further, not only that sheep are incapable of defence and unable to hurt their aggressors, but that they are singularly stupid animals, and may be reduced to a still further state of impotence by the simple expedient of worrying, and, moreover, they have worked out a plan of thus worrying the sheep by combining together and attacking the unfortunate animals one after another in succession.

“In the first part of these notes I have stated that I see no reason to rate the intelligence of the Psittacidæ generally above the average of other families of birds, but certainly if we were to meet with a few more instances among the former of habits acquired by a process which bears such a striking resemblance to inductive reasoning, or at least to the putting of two and two together, we should not be able to deny them possession of intelligence which, were they a more powerful family, might be dangerous to man himself…… I have stated elsewhere on the authority of Dr. Karl Russ, and as a matter of common observation, parrots are not flesh-eaters, and in confinement even the Nestor can be kept in health without it, whilst a moderate amount only is apt to cause disease. Yet the Kea seems able suddenly to abandon to a large extent its natural food and to gorge itself incessantly on raw meat, like a Hawk. Altogether the matter is one well worthy the attention of ornithologists, and it is to be regretted that the too probable extermination of the species may prevent the present or succeeding generations of naturalists page 246 witnessing the ultimate development of the habit, which one would expect to result in the production of a purely carnivorous parrot, with modifications of feet and digestive organs in accordance.

“In conclusion, I may remark that the Kea has not yet taken to flesh-eating throughout its range—possibly only from want of opportunity. Further north it still keeps well up in the mountains, and seems content with the diet that satisfied its predecessors; but as the habit commenced in the south and travelled northwards, so fresh cases keep occurring one beyond another, and it seems certain that the necessary information is passed onwards and northwards.”

Fam. STRINGOPIDÆ.—At page 180 I have mentioned some structural peculiarities in the osseous frame of Stringops habroptilus. I have since had the pleasure of presenting a skeleton of this bird to the British Museum, and it is now exhibited in one of the wall-cases in the main hall of the Natural History section. The subjoined woodcuts (after Meyer) will show how widely it differs from the skeleton of Nestor.

Nestor meridionalis Stringops habroptilus

Nestor meridionalis
Stringops habroptilus

Fam. STRIGIDÆ.—It has long been supposed that an Owl of much smaller size than the well-known Morepork exists in New Zealand, but I have never myself met with any positive evidence respecting it. Mr. Ellman, as far back as 1861, describing it as “not larger than a Starling,” gave it the name of Strix parvissima, and Mr. Sharpe, in the British Museum Catalogue (Birds, vol. ii. p. 43), refers the species, without any apparent hesitation, to Scops novae zealandiæ, Bonaparte, of which he gives a full description.

I have stated at p. 205 that the only authority for regarding the unique specimen in the Leyden Museum as a New-Zealand bird is a label in Temminck’s handwriting. Deeming this, in itself, insufficient evidence, I sent Mr. Keulemans over to Leyden to make a drawing of the bird in water-colour. He brought back a beautiful picture, of life-size, showing the mottled markings of its plumage in marvellous detail. But I saw, at a glance, that this Scops equalling in size small examples of Spiloglaux novæ zealandiæ, and with strikingly prominent “horns,” could never have been the bird intended by those who have described an Owl “about the size of a Kingfisher.” The occipital tufts, characteristic of the genus Scops, are so strongly developed in this species that they could not have page 247 escaped the notice of the most casual observer, and yet we have no mention of them in any of the hearsay accounts that have been recorded from time to time. In addition to the instances mentioned in the body of this work, the following are taken from ‘Out in the Open,’ p. 127:—

“Another specimen was procured by a gentleman in one of the forests far above the Rangitata gorge; on being observed on a branch of a treo, it was knocked down and caught during its fall. There was fur on its beak, as though it had not long before devoured a mouse. This bird also was set at liberty.

“It has been taken at the Waimate, where it remained for a day in the roof of a hut. Mr. M. Studholme had it in his hands, but permitted it to escape.

“The late Mr. Phillips, of Rockwood, one moonlight night captured a specimen by taking it quietly off a bough of an apple-tree. Mr. Phillips, like Mr. Studholme with his bird, carried it between his hands and allowed it liberty. He described it as being about the size of our Kingfisher. Note that each observer of this pretty Owl was impressed with its gentleness and its fearless confidence. Both had enjoyed long colonial experience, were accustomed to birds, men of position and well-known beyond their own districts. Athene parvissima must not be given up, even to satisfy the most erudite of ornithologists.”

Professor Newton, to whom I submitted the drawing, writes to me:—“I certainly admit that your caution has been justified, for it is almost impossible to suppose that the wonderful Strix parvissima (!) could have been a bird of the same species.” And Mr. J. H. Gurney, whose opinion on such a point is of the utmost value, sends me the following report:—

“I have carefully compared Mr. Keulemans’s drawing of the type specimen of Scops novæ zealandiæ with the series of Scops Owls preserved in the Norwich Museum, and after doing this, and also referring to the late Professor Schlegel’s descriptions of the specimen in his ‘Muséum des Pays-Bas,’ Oti, p. 27, and ‘Revue,’ Noctuæ, p. 13, and to Mr. Sharpe’s description in a footnote at p. 44, vol. ii. of his ‘Catalogue of Birds in the British Museum,’ I concur in the belief there expressed by Mr. Sharpe, that Scops novæ zealandiæ is a distinct species; but if it be so, two questions will still remain undecided—1st, whether the locality of New Zealand assigned to the Leyden specimen by Temminck’s label is correct; and 2nd, if so, whether the species is, or is not, identical with the New-Zealand bird for which Mr. Ellman proposed the name of ‘Strix parvissima.’

“The type specimen of Scops novæ zealandiæ, judging from the materials before me, appears to approach most nearly to Scops morotensis, Sharpe, a native of the islands of Morty and Ternate, described and figured in Mr. Sharpe’s Catalogue of Birds, vol. ii. p. 75, pl. 7. fig. 1; but it would seem to differ from that species in having a somewhat conspicuous nuchal collar, in the under wing-coverts being ‘almost entirely ochraccous,’ and (to quote Schlegel’s words). ‘par le manque de taches claires aux plumes scapulaires.

“I return Mr. Keulemans’s beautiful portrait of the Leyden specimen by parcel-post and thank you much for the opportunity of examining it.”

In my account of the Laughing-Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies) I have mentioned a tendency to variation in the plumage. I have since examined very carefully Mr. G. R. Gray’s type (brought to England by Mr. Percy Earl in 1845), and it seems to be a case of partial albinism, for the face is so white as fully to justify the specific name bestowed by him. It has the forehead, cheeks, lower sides of the head, and the whole of the throat conspicuously white; the feathers composing the facial disk and the rictal plumes with black shafts, and those on the lower parts of the face with a central streak of brown widening towards the base.

Fam. FALCONIDÆ.—Mr. J. H. Gurney writes to me (under date March 29, 1888):—“The Australian Harrier found in the Celebes is not Circus approximans=C. gouldi, but C. assimilis =jardinii, and neither of these species occurs in the Malay Archipelago”*. It will be seen that in my account of Circus gouldi I have limited the eastward range of this species to the Fiji Islands.

* Cf. also Gurney’s ‘Diurnal Birds of Prey,’ p. 22, footnote. As mentioned in the Introduction to my former edition, Mr. Gurney having sent to the Norwich Museum for a specimen of his Circus wolfi of New Caledonia (P. Z. S. 1865, p. 823) for my inspection, I felt no hesitation, after comparing it with adult examples of Circus gouldi, in accepting it as a good species, notwithstanding the opinions to the contrary of Professor Schlegel and other continental ornithologists. It appears to me to be readily separable from our bird by its blackish crown and ear-coverts, and likewise by the much darker colour of its wing-coverts. In the otherwise excellent drawing, from the pencil of Mr. Wolf, which appeared in the ‘Proceedings’ (l. c.), these distinguishing features are not sufficiently shown; nor does Mr. Gurney give the necessary prominence to them in his descriptive account, his object having been (as he has sinces informed me) to point out the distinguishing characters of the species as compared with C. maillardi (Verreaux), rather than with C. gouldi.

page 248

I have given an exhaustive account of this fine Hawk because it is one of our most conspicuous birds, being met with in all localities; but, I am sorry to say, it is becoming perceptibly scarcer in many parts of the country, owing to its wholesale destruction by farmers. On one occasion I counted no less than ninety-six heads nailed up in imposing rows against the wall of an outhouse on a small sheep-station. This crusade arises from the popular belief that the Harrier attacks and kills young lambs. That it occasionally does so in the case of weaklings is beyond doubt, but I am of opinion that the mischief done is very much exaggerated. In my history of the species I have endeavoured to vindicate its character as a useful bird.

Fam. CUCULIDÆ.—Of this family we have in New Zealand one representative of each of the two well-known genera Eudynamis and Chrysococcyx. Like Cuckoos in general, both of these species are parasitic in their habits of nidification, and, as a rule, both of them find their dupe in the Grey Warbler (Gerygone flaviventris), the builder of a pensile, dome-shaped nest. Mr. Potts has called attention to the frequency with which torn nests of this species are met with, and suggests that this may be due to the endeavours of the Cuckoo to make these nests available for their purpose; yet this view is hardly compatible with the fact that whenever the Cuckoo’s egg is found among those of the Warbler, the nest is always in perfect condition. But how the intrusive egg is deposited by its owner is certainly a mystery, particularly in the case of such a bird as the Long-tailed Cuckoo*. Mr. Rainbow writes that, as the result of much observation, he is firmly convinced that the English Cuckoo, after laying its egg, takes it up in its foot and deposits it in the nest of its victim. The process, he argues, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for in any other way. In connection with this I may mention the circumstance that a friend of mine in New Zealand shot a Long-tailed Cuckoo which appeared to be carrying some object in its bill. On picking up the bird, he found a broken egg, of a creamy-white colour and, so far as he could judge, of a size corresponding to its own.

Mr. Rainbow’s view seems to find confirmation in the following statement, which appeared in ‘The Ibis,’ 1867, p. 374:—“The long-presumed opinion of the Cuckoo first laying her egg on the ground and then carrying it off for deposition in the nest of some other bird, has of late been singularly confirmed by actual observation. In the German periodical ‘Der Zoologische Garten’ for 1866 (pp. 374, 375) appears a note by Herr A. Müller, stating that the author watched a Cuculus canorus through a telescope, saw her lay an egg on the grass, take it in her bill, and deposit it in the nest of a Motacilla alba!”

The feeding of the unwieldy young of the Long-tailed Cuckoo by the diminutive foster-parent and the appropriation of the Warbler’s nest by the young of the Shining Cuckoo are such droll phases of bird-life that I have introduced both incidents into the Plates illustrating those species.

One of my best correspondents says:—“It is not a difficult task to find the Warbler’s nest when the Long-tailed Cuckoo is about to lay her egg or immediately afterwards. It is laid very early in

* The late Mr. Henry Mair met with this species, with which he was quite familiar in New Zealand, during a visit to Danger Island. It also occurs at Samoa, but, according to the Rev. S. Whitmee, it is less abundant there than in many of the Polynesian Islands.

page 249 the morning, and after the female has deposited it her mate may be seen flying rapidly after her, dashing through the trees and sometimes in the open, the female uttering a distressed, peevish cry. On such occasions I have sometimes seen them fly long distances outside the bush.” Referring to the foster-parents’ nest he says:—“I may inform you of a curious position in which the Gerygone occasionally builds its nest. Of course you have seen the grand old white-pines whose trunks are thickly ‘bearded with moss.’ Selecting a spot where this moss is four or five inches thick, it constructs its nest among it, leaving the entrance just flush with the outer fringes. I was shown one by an old gold-digger, who assured me that during the last 25 years he has on frequent occasions found the nest of the Warbler in such situations.”

It is singular that in the same way that the Tui persecutes this Cuckoo in New Zealand, it is the victim in Samoa of another Honey-eater, a much smaller bird*. It is difficult to account for this unless it be due to the Hawk-like markings of its plumage.

Fam. TETRAONIDÆ.—The rapid and total disappearance of such a bird as the New-Zealand Quail is very remarkable, when we consider that the members of the restricted group to which it belongs have an almost universal diffusion, and continue to exist, under somewhat similar conditions, in other countries in undiminished plenty. The causes to which we are accustomed to attribute the extirpation of the Quail (the introduction of sheep and the prevalence of bush-fires) ought to operate with equal effect on such a bird as the Woodhen (Ocydromus australis), which, being utterly incapable of flight, is placed at a greater disadvantage even than the Quail; yet this species, instead of being exterminated, continues to thrive and multiply, and is even more numerous than formerly in the settled districts of the South Island. Some have endeavoured to account for the disappearance of the Quail on the theory of migration; but situated as New Zealand is in the great waste of the Pacific Ocean, such a theory seems to me quite untenable. It is true that, as stated at page 228, the bird has recently been found, apparently in considerable numbers, on the Three Kings; but I take it that this is a mere outlying refuge of the species, and that the birds to be found on these small islands are the only survivors of a race now extinct on the mainland, and not to be met with in any other part of the world.

The extreme fecundity of the Quail tribe ought, one would have thought, to have saved this species from such rapid extinction. Mr. J. R. Hill, of Christchurch, kept some California Quails (Lophortyx californicus) in his aviary, and was perfectly amazed with their productiveness. One of the hens laid in a single season no less than 80 eggs, forming several new nests during that period. At length she discontinued laying, and collecting 23 of the eggs into one nest commenced to incubate. She brought out all but one, and reared the 22 young ones to maturity.

* The bird is chiefly known to the Samoans as an example of arrant cowardice, owing to the fact that when seen it is almost always chased by a number of Iaos (Ptilotis carunculata), from which it tries to escape in the most precipitate manner. I scarcely ever hear the name of the Aleva mentioned by a native without some such remark as this:—“The big bird that is chased by the little Iao!”

A correspondent who has carefully noted the disappearance of the Quail writes to me:—“It seems to me to be of importance that the life-history of this bird should be correctly recorded; for the story of its rapid extinction will possess much interest for future naturalists. It cannot be said, as in other cases, that this species was exterminated by the introduction of other birds into its natural habitat, because it had almost disappeared before any acclimatized birds had reached the grass-covered downs where formerly it was so abundant. The tussock-fires have been the prime cause of the annihilation of this useful bird by destroying the seeds and insects on which it subsisted. So far as I have been able to discover, the last specimen seen alive was on the Raincliffe Station, in the year 1878.”

page 250

Fam. COLUMBIDÆ.—The New-Zealand representative of this group is perhaps the finest of the whole. It is scarcely inferior in size to Carpophaga galeata of the Marquesas Islands, fully as large as C. goliath of the Isle of Pines, larger than C. concinna of the Moluccas, and far more beautiful in plumage than all three of them. The Nicobar Pigeon (Calœnas nicobarica), from the Louisiade Archipelago, is certainly more brilliant, but it is much inferior to our bird in size. The largest Wood-Pigeon in Australia, the Wongawonga (Leucosarcia picata), is not to be compared with the New-Zealand bird.

The genus Carpophaga is confined to the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand; the nearest ally of our bird being probably Carpophaga forsteri of the Celebes, on the western limit of the Austro-Malayan subregion.

In my account of the species I have mentioned (at p. 234) the immense numbers that are annually killed without any appreciable effect on their abundance, in suitable localities, on the recurrence of each season. In further illustration of this I may add that in a small area of bush between Nukumaru and Weraroa, places of historic interest in connection with the Maori war, four young settlers shot upwards of 400 in the course of two days!

Nest of Xenicus gilviventris (four-fifths natural size). See page 243.

Nest of Xenicus gilviventris (four-fifths natural size). See page 243.