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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Eudyptula Minor. — (Blue Penguin.)

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Eudyptula Minor.
(Blue Penguin.)

  • Little Penguin, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. pt. 2, p. 572, pl. ciii. (1785).

  • Aptenodyta minor, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 558 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Catarrhactes minor, Cuv. Règn. An. i. p. 513 (1817).

  • Chrysocoma minor, Steph. Gen. Zool. xiii. p. 61 (1825).

  • Spheniscus minor, Gray, in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 199 (1843).

  • Aptenodytes minor, Forst. Descr. An. p. 101 (1844).

  • Eudyptula minor, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 775 (1856).

  • Eudyptila minor, Gray, Hand-1. of B. iii. p. 99 (1871).

  • Eudyptula albosignata, Finsch, P. Z. S. 1874, p. 207.

Native name.—Korora.

Ad. suprà obscurè cyanescens: subtùs argentescenti-albus: facie laterali brunnescente lavatâ: alâ sordidè cinereâ, albo marginatâ et latiùs apicatâ; rostro cyanescenti-cano, culmine saturatiore: pedibus carneo-albidis, membranis interdigitalibus brunnescenti-nigris: iride flavicanti-canâ.

Adult. Crown of the head, hind part of neck, and all the upper surface, as well as the thighs, light blue, with a black line down the centre of each feather; sides of the head dark grey; throat, fore neck, and all the under-parts slivery white; upper surface of flippers black, tinged with blue, and margined with white along the inner edges; under surface yellowish white, with a dark grey spot near the extremity. Irides yellowish grey, with a brownish margin; bill bluish grey, darker on the ridge; feet flesh-white, the soles, webs, and claws brownish black. Total length 19 inches; extent of flippers 14; length of flipper 5; bill, along the ridge 1·75, along the edge of lower mandible 2; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw 2·5.

Nestling. In the downy condition the young are blackish brown on the upper and white on the under surface; but they assume the adult colours before leaving the nest.

Remarks. I have already stated* my reasons for considering Eudyptula albosignata a mere variety of Eudyptula minor, but Dr. Finsch still believes in its validity as a species. The only differences pointed out by the learned doctor are: a patch of white on the upper tail-coverts, and a strongly marked peculiarity in the coloration of the flippers. These characters appear to me wholly insufficient, and I feel sure that on examination of a series of specimens Dr. Finsch would himself relinquish the species. The white marking on the wing is certainly peculiar, but it has an indeterminate character, and I find that in recognized examples of E. minor there is a tendency for the white to spread on the inner margin. In the type of E. albosignata it expands upwards at the flexure and forms a square patch about three quarters of an inch in extent, but on its further edge there is a broken connection with the broad white band which forms the outer margin of the wing. In another specimen I find a similar white mark, but only one third the size of the former, and very broadly separated from the white margin above. In ordinary examples of E. minor there is merely a notch in the blue at the inner flexure of the wing and no extension of the white; but this character is, in my opinion, too variable to be of any value whatever in the differentiation of allied species, and the white on the upper tail-coverts is obviously accidental.

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This species occurs all round our coasts, and resorts in large numbers to the Island of Kapiti, in Cook’s Strait, and probably to other islands of similar character, to breed and rear its young. It is abundant also in the seas surrounding Tasmania, in Bass’s Strait, and on the south coast of Australia generally. Mr. Gould found it breeding on the low islands in Bass’s Strait from September to January, and states that in these localities the ground is “completely intersected by paths and avenues; and so much care is expended by the birds in the formation of these little walks, that every stick and stone is removed, and in some instances even the herbage, by which the surface is rendered so neat and smooth as to appear more like the work of the human hand than the labour of one of the lower animals… . . A considerable portion of the year is occupied in the process of breeding and rearing the young, in consequence of its being necessary that their progeny should acquire sufficient vigour to resist the raging of that element on which they are destined to dwell, and which I believe they never again leave until, by the impulse of nature, they in their turn seek the land for the purpose of reproduction. Notwithstanding this care for the preservation of the young, heavy gales of wind destroy them in great numbers, hundreds being occasionally found dead on the beach after a storm; and when the sudden transition from the quiet of their breeding-place to the turbulence of the ocean, and the great activity and muscular exerrtion then required, are taken into consideration, an occurrence of this kind will not appear at all surprising… . Its powers of progression in the deep are truly astonishing; it bounds through this element like the porpoise, and uses its short fin-like wings as well as its feet to assist it in its progress; its swimming-powers are in fact so great that it stems the waves of the most turbulent seas with the utmost facility, and during the severest gale descends to the bottom, where, among beautiful beds of coral and forests of sea-weed, it paddles about in search of crustaceans, small fish, and marine vegetables, all of which kinds of food were found in the stomachs of those I dissected.”

I once had a live one in my possession for a considerable time; and although very savage when first taken, severely punishing the captor’s hands with its beak, it soon became quite tame, and exhibited, for such a bird, a remarkable degree of intelligence.

On land its mode of progression is very ungainly, and it frequently topples over when attempting to run. Its usual attitude is an upright one, but it sometimes crouches low, with its breast nearly touching the ground. The sea, however, is its natural abode; and on observing its movements there it is at once manifest that the flippers are intended to perform the office of fins, or paddles, for propelling the body through the water. On the surface it swims low and in a rather clumsy fashion; but the moment it dives under it trails its legs behind like a bird on the wing, and using its flippers in the manner indicated, glides forward with the same ease and freedom that the Sea-Gull cleaves the air above it. In clear deep water I have watched its graceful evolutions with considerable interest; and I have been astonished at the length of time the bird could remain under before rising to the surface to breathe. Whether it is nocturnal in its habits I am unable to say; but I am inclined to think not, inasmuch as my captive bird seemed to be far less active after dark than during the day, and when disturbed appeared to stumble about in a very blind manner.

It makes a loud croaking noise; and where large companies are breeding together they appear to keep up a constant angry altercation. The eggs, which are usually two in number, are deposited in a shallow artificial burrow or in a natural crevice among the rocks. Occasionally, however, these burrows are of considerable depth; and Reischek informs me that he traced one under the root of a tree, at Dusky Sound, for a distance of 12 feet. He also found the nests (often carefully lined with leaves and grass) more than a mile from the sea-shore. Sometimes three or four birds are found associated; and it is said that the sexes assist each other in the labour of incubation. The eggs are of a very rounded form, measuring 2·2 inches in length by 1·7 in breadth, greenish white originally, but always much soiled or stained by the bird, and often smeared with a white chalky substance.

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vii. p. 210.