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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Eudyptula Undina. — (Little Blue Penguin.)

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Eudyptula Undina.
(Little Blue Penguin.)

  • Aptenodytes undina, Gould, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1844, p. 57.

  • Spheniscus undina, Gould, B. of Austr. vii. pl. 85 (1848).

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

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

Ad. similis E. minori, sed minor, et suprà dilutiùs et lætiùs cyanescens.

Adult. Crown, nape, hind neck, and all the upper parts bright glossy pale blue, the shafts of the feathers black; sides of the head bluish grey; throat, fore neck, and all the underparts pure silvery white; upper surface of flippers bright blue, each feather with a lanceolate mark of black down the centre; along the inner edges of flippers a narrow band of white. Irides pale grey with a silvery edge to the pupil. Bill blackish brown, paler on the under mandible; feet yellowish white, with black claws; the webs and soles blackish brown. Total length 14·5 inches; length of flipper 3; tail 1·25; bill, along the ridge 1·25, along the edge of lower mandible 1·5; tarsus ·75; middle toe and claw 1·75; hind toe and claw ·4.

Young. I have obtained newly-fledged specimens from the nest, with the down adhering; the colours were the same as in the adult, the blue on the upper surface being conspicuously bright.

Nestling. Covered with thick short down, sooty brown on the upper and white on the under surface; irides purplish grey.

Obs. Like Eudyptula minor, this species assumes the full plumage from the nest, the blue on the upper surface being very bright. I have a specimen in that stage with remnants of down adhering.

This Penguin is equally, if not more abundant on our coasts than the preceding one; and the foregoing account is applicable to both species.

Dr. Finsch refuses to admit any specific distinction. Dr. Coues also, in writing of Gould’s types in the Museum at Philadelphia, says:—” These specimens are slightly smaller than average minor, bluer than usual, but not bluer than No. 1338, for example, and with rather weak bills… . . I cannot distinguish these specimens even as a variety.” Mr. Gould, however, who originally described this bird, observes:—“By many persons it might be regarded as the young of E. minor; but I invariably found the young of that species, whilst still partially clothed in the downy dress of immaturity, to exceed considerably in size all the examples of this species, even when adorned in the adult livery, and possessing the hard bill of maturity; there can be no question, therefore, of the two birds being distinct.”

In support of my own view that this bird is specifically distinct from the preceding one, I have already published * figures of the bill in two selected examples, in order to show their relative proportions. These sketches were from specimens in the Colonial Museum, exhibiting the two extremes of size in a somewhat variable series.

There is a fine mounted group of New-Zealand Penguins in the Canterbury Museum. The case page 303 includes two nestlings of Eudyptula minor, with down still adhering to the plumage; and in these young birds the bill is fully one third larger than that of an adult example of E. undina in the same group.

On January 18th I visited the Rurima Rocks in the Bay of Plenty and dug out several of these Penguins from their deep subterranean burrows. One was an adult male, in perfect plumage, which bit savagely on being taken hold of and uttered a low growling note. After examining the bird I turned it loose, and it was amazing to see with what celerity he trundled over the stony beach and dived into the surf, not appearing again on the surface till he was well out at sea. In another hole I found an adult female with her plumage much faded and worn, indicating the close of the breeding-season, which probably commences about September. I found two nestlings of very unequal size, and covered with down, in a hole by themselves; and the natives brought me another young bird in a more advanced state, having the bright plumage of the adult, but with a broad yoke of blackish down adhering to its shoulders, with a remnant also on the flippers.

Many of the young of both this and the preceding species lose their lives, in the months of January and February, owing to their inexperience in keeping off a lee shore when the surf is breaking. They are cast ashore and perish on the sands, where I have counted a dozen in less than a mile’s walk. I found them particularly abundant on the open beach at Waeheke, in the exact spot where, in 1864, H.M.S. ‘Harrier’ pitched a shell into a retreating body of Ngatiporou warriors, killing their chief, Poihipi, with several of his followers, whose bodies were afterwards buried in the sand-hills near the spot where they fell. The encroachments of the sea have exposed the bones of these unfortunate braves, and they are now tossed about with the ebb and flow of the tide, just as remorselessly as the bodies of these little Penguins—victims of the pitiless storm and rolling surf.

They swim and dive with great activity; resting their bodies on the surface with the whole of the back exposed and the head raised they travel along at marvellous speed, diving under the moment any danger threatens.

I have found this little Penguin far more tractable than the crested species (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), for under judicious management it will soon become perfectly tame. I have on several occasions endeavoured to keep the Crested Penguins alive, but I could never induce them to eat anything. A very fine one sulked in my aviary for a whole week without, so far as I could discover, eating a morse! of anything. In the end, I had (adopting an Irishman’s expression) “to save its life by killing it.” This bird was sent to me by Captain Fairchild, of the Government steamboat ‘Hinemoa,’ who had captured it with many others in Caswell Sound, where he found these Penguins breeding in the early part of September. He also presented me with six specimens of the egg, all collected by himself in that locality; they were found under shelter of the rocks, and there were generally two, but sometimes three, in a nest. It was very amusing, he states, to watch the proceedings of the birds after their nests had been plundered. They were breeding in a colony and all close together. On strutting up to this breeding-place and finding their own eggs missing, they would deliberately commence to steal from their neighbours, pushing the eggs along the ground into their own nests with their bills, and appropriating them in the most methodical way. Major Mair’s bird of the same species (mentioned on p. 288) would come up regularly at feeding-time and would make its wants known by a loud chuckle accompanied by a comical twisting of its neck. It had also a habit of waddling off to a duck-yard, a distance of a quarter of a mile, apparently for company, and then coming back at the usual time to be fed.

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. ix. pl. xv.