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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Fregetta Melanogaster. — (Black-Bellied Storm-Petrel.)

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Fregetta Melanogaster.
(Black-Bellied Storm-Petrel.)

  • Procellaria grallaria, Licht. Verz. Doubl. p. 83 (1823).

  • Thalassidroma melanogaster, Gould, Ann. N. H. xiii. p. 367 (1844).

  • Fregetta melanogastra, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 769 (1856).

  • Procellaria melanogastra, Schl. Mus. Pays-Bas, Procell. p. 6 (1863).

  • Thalassidroma melanogaster, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 319 (1873).

Ad. fuliginoso-brunneus, tectricibus alarum majoribus pallidiùs brunnescentibus: gulâ albo variâ, plumis basaliter albis: corporis lateribus, supracaudalibus, subalaribus et axillaribus albis: subcaudalibus fuliginosis albo terminatis: rostro et pedibus nigris: iride nigrâ.

Adult. General plumage sooty black, darker on the wings and tail; sides of the body, flanks, and long upper tail-coverts pure white; some of the under tail-coverts on each side edged with white; long inner wingcoverts and axillary plumes pure white. Irides black; bill and legs black. Total length 9 inches; wing, from flexure, 6·5; tail 3; bill, along the ridge ·75, along the edge of lower mandible ·9; bare tibia ·75; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 1·1.

Occasional examples of this Storm-Petrel are recorded; and specimens are to be found in the Auckland, Nelson, and Canterbury Museums, all obtained on the adjacent coasts. Mr. Gould, who met with it in great abundance, in March 1840, between the eastern coast of Australia and New Zealand, observes:—“It is a bird of powerful flight, and pats the surface of the rising waves more frequently than any other species that came under my notice; or perhaps the great length of its legs rendered this action more conspicuous.”

During stormy weather it often follows in the wake of the labouring vessel, and apparently for days together. I observed this myself, in 1856, during a severe gale, experienced off the Chatham Islands, which lasted nearly a fortnight. These Storm-Petrels followed us day and night; and it was some relief to the extreme monotony and misery of our situation (for our vessel was a mere schooner of 80 tons) to watch the movements of these fairy-like beings as they danced among the surging billows, running with fluttering wings in the hollow of the waves, and then hovering over their foaming crests with the lightness of summer butterflies. I observed that the same individual bird often remained in our wake for considerable distances, without ever resting on the water or changing its course for one moment, its powers of endurance being truly wonderful. I found, on inquiry, that seamen make no distinction between this species of Storm-Petrel and its congeners, calling them all “Mother Carey’s chickens,” and resenting as a positive sin any attempt to shoot or capture these “spirits of departed sailors,” as they facetiously term them, to whom they profess to commit the destinies of the voyage. It is an interesting sight to watch this Petrel fluttering over the stormy ocean—alternately skimming over the rolling billows and treading, as it were, the trough of the sea. It is a pretty object when seen under these circumstances, and it is not surprising that from time immemorial it has excited the sympathy of the hardy sailor. As the bird trips lightly over the waves the black and white plumage shows very clearly against the opaline blue of the deep sea water. Like the other members of the group, it subsists on small mollusks, medusæ, and any kind of greasy substance that may be floating on the water.