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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Nyrcoa Australis. — (White-Eyed Duck.)

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Nyrcoa Australis.
(White-Eyed Duck.)

  • Nyroca australis, Gould in Eyton’s Monogr. Anat. p. 160 (1838).

  • Aythya australis, Gray, Hand-l. of B. iii. p. 86 (1871).

Native name.—Karakahia.

Ad. suprà brunneus, tectricibus alarum magis cinerascentibus: remigibus brunneis, extùs et versus apicem nigricantibus, minimis extùs albis nigro terminatis, fasciam alarem conspicuam formantibus: caudâ brunneâ: pileo et collo undique cum pectore superiore saturatè castaneis: corpore reliquo subtùs albo, hypochondriis cum abdomine imo et crisso sordidè castaneis: subcaudalibus et subalaribus albis: rostro nigro, versus apicem cinereo transfasciato: pedibus saturatè brunneis: iride albâ.

Adult male. The general plumage is dark chestnut-brown, paler on the flanks, and deepening to castaneous on the head and nape, where the feathers have a beautiful silky lustre; a broad band of brownish white crosses the underparts; the under tail-coverts, likewise, are white, and on the sides of the rump there are faint spots of greyish white, speckled with brown; quills dark brown; primaries in their middle portion, and the secondaries towards the base, pure white, forming together, in the opened wing, a conspicuous bar, and exhibiting in the closed wing a diagonal triangular spot. Irides white; bill black, with a band of bluish grey near the tip, not including the nail, however, which is black, prominent, and of the shape of the human finger-nail; feet dark leaden brown. Length 19 inches; wing, from flexure, 8; tail 3; bill, along the ridge 2, along the edge of lower mandible 2·25; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 2·4; hind toe and claw ·6.

Female. Rather smaller than the male and with the plumage duller.

Young male. Has the chestnut-brown plumage much lighter, and the feathers of the back margined with pale-brown; it has also less gloss on the head, and the brownish white of the underparts mottled with brown.

The existence of this well-known Australian Duck in our country was first ascertained by Captain Hutton, who, in 1869, sent me a specimen for determination. He furnished at the same time the following notes:—“I first noticed this bird about two years ago, on the Whangape lake, Lower Waikato, and since on the Waikare lake, where it was abundant in March 1868. On the lakes of the Lower Waikato it is not uncommon, but is so wary that, as yet, I have only been able to obtain three specimens, the first of which was kindly procured for me by Mr. A. M. Sheppard of Ahiruna. This bird is known to the natives both of Tarawera and Waikato by the name of Karakahia. Like all the Pochards, it frequents the lakes only, and is rarely, if ever, seen in the rivers and creeks.”

It has since been found on Lake Ellesmere, in the South Island; and the Canterbury Museum contains several fine specimens from that locality.

In Australia and Tasmania it appears to be thinly distributed, frequenting quiet reaches of rivers (where the water runs slowly), bays and inlets of the sea, and freshwater lagoons.

Shortly before leaving the Colony I observed one, on the wing, in Te Aute Lake in the Hawke’s Bay district.