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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Numenius Cyanopus. — (Australian Curlew.)

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Numenius Cyanopus.
(Australian Curlew.)

  • Numenius cyanopus, Vieill. 2nd edit. du Nouv. Dict. d’Hist. Nat. vol. viii. p. 306 (1817).

  • Numenius major, Schl. (nee Steph.) Fauna Japonica, (see footnote) p. 110 (1850).

  • Numenius austratis et N. rufescens, Gould, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1862, p. 286.

  • Numenius tahitiensis, Swinh. (nec Gmel.), Ibis, 1863, p. 445.

Ad. suprà brunnescens: pileo summo nuchâque nigro-fuscis, plumis fulvo marginatis: dorsi plumis conspicuè medialiter saturatiùs brunneis: tectricibus alarum minoribus dorso concoloribus, extùs cinereo angustè marginatis: scapularibus cinereo obscurè transfasciatis: remigibus saturatè brunneis, scapis albidis, primariis interioribus cum secundariis irregulariter albo fasciatis: tectricibus majoribus conspicuè albo notatis: secundariis intimis fulvescenti-cinereo transfasciatis: uropygio et supracaudalibus nigricanti-brunneis, plumis lætè rufescenti-brunneo marginaliter fasciatis: caudâ nigricanti-brunneâ saturatè cinereo conspicuè transfasciatâ: gutture albido: facie laterali et corpore subtùs pallidè fulvescenti-albis, collo undique et pectore summo cinerascentibus, plumis lineâ centrali nigrescenti-fuscâ notatis: subalaribus et axillaribus albis brunneo conspicuè transfasciatis: rostro brunneo, mandibulâ ad basin flavescente: pedibus olivaceis.

Adult. General upper surface dark cinereous brown, the feathers of the head and hind neck centred with blackish brown, which colour spreads and darkens on the back and mantle; upper surface of wings more or less varied with greyish white, all the feathers having light spots or margins; the first four primaries clove-brown with white shafts, and freckled with grey on their inner webs, the rest of them darker brown with broad interrupted transverse bars of white; the outer secondaries and their large coverts similarly marked but not so distinctly; the long inner secondaries blackish brown, both webs marked with numerous regular bars of obscure cinereous brown changing to white on the margin; tail-feathers blackish brown with darker shafts and transversely barred in a similar manner; so also are the scapulars, but in a less decided way; rump and upper tail-coverts blackish brown, with broad interrupted bars of bright rufous brown; chin and throat white; sides of the head and fore neck, and the entire under surface, fulvous white, tinged with rufous, all the feathers except those on the abdomen and thighs having a narrow central streak of brown, which widens perceptibly on both sides of the chest; under tail-coverts washed with rufous and obscurely barred with brown; lining of wings and axillary plumes white, the former varied and the latter conspicuously barred with blackish brown; the feathers of the flanks more or less crossed with arrowhead markings of the same. Irides black; bill dark brown, changing to yellowish towards the base of the lower mandible; legs and feet dark olivaceous; claws black. Total length 29 inches; wing, from flexure, 11·75; bill, along the ridge 8, along the edge of lower mandible 8·1; tarsus 3·5; middle toe and claw 2·2.

Female. Similar in plumage to the male, but of somewhat larger dimensions, and with a much longer bill. A specimen in Mr. Seebohm’s collection from Victoria gives an extreme measurement of 8 inches. I have not yet met with an example of this sex in New Zealand.

Obs. The bird from which the above measurements were taken was shot in the early part of April by Mr. Robert Day on the Kaiapoi river-bar, north of Christchurch, and proved on dissection to be a male. Another of the same sex, which was obtained about three months later at the mouth of the Ashley river, gives the following smaller measurements:—Total length 25 inches; wing, from flexure, 12; bill 6; tarsus 3·1.

Note. Gould’s Numenius rufescens (l. c.) is undoubtedly this species in summer plumage. He thus describes page 46 it:—“Head, neck, upper and under surface reddish fawn-colour, deepest and most conspicuous on the rump and tail-feathers; down the centre of each of the feathers is a streak of blackish brown, broadest and most conspicuous on the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts; primaries blackish brown, strongly toothed on their inner margins with greyish white; tail-feathers irregularly crossed with blackish brown; thighs light buff.”

This fine Curlew, which is common on many parts of the Australian coast, occurs in New Zealand only as an occasional straggler.

A specimen was shot by Mr. Travers at the Wairau, in the provincial district of Nelson, in the summer of 1874–5, and was presented by him to the Colonial Museum. Another occurrence of the species in New Zealand was recorded by myself, on the authority of Sir James Hector, in the ‘Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute’ (vol. vii. p. 224); and a year later Sir Julius Haast reported the two specimens mentioned above as having been received in the flesh at the Canterbury Museum*.

Mr. St. C. Liardet, who is an experienced collector, informs me that he saw a flock of five (in March or April) near the bluff which stands between the Wairau and Awatere river-mouths. He shot one at Iron Bay, near the Wellington heads, about the end of February; this was in adult plumage and proved on dissection to be a female; bill, along the ridge 8 inches, along the edge of lower mandible 6·5.

From its habit of associating on the sands with the flocks of Godwits it is probable that this species visits our shores more often than is generally supposed and escapes detection in the crowd.

Mr. Gould found this Curlew very plentiful on the shores of Tasmania, but he was never able to discover its breeding-place; and he expressed his belief that it retires to the high lands of the interior for the purpose of reproduction.

Mr. Seebohm writes :—“There are only two Curlews in which the rump scarcely differs in colour from the rest of the upper parts, instead of being pure white with or without streaks, in either case in strong contrast to the darker mantle. The Australian Curlew is one of these, and differs from the other (N. longirostris) in having the underparts, including the axillaries, nearly white, streaked and barred with brown. Both species are large, with tarsi more than three inches long. Like its ally in the New World, it is a migratory bird, but the migrations of the Curlews on the Asiatic shores of the Pacific are on a very different scale to those of their cousins on the American shores of that ocean. The Australian Curlew breeds somewhere in Eastern Siberia, since it occurs on migration from Lake Baikal to the mouth of the Amoor, and along the coasts of Japan and China. It crosses the line to winter in Australia, and has also been recorded from Tasmania, New Guinea, Borneo, and some of the smaller islands of the Malay Archipelago.”

Dr. Ramsay says that in Australia it is “common everywhere in suitable places, and on muddy flats along the coast, and occasionally may be found on the margins of lakes and lagoons inland a considerable distance.”

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. ix. pp. 427–429.

‘Geogr. Distrib. of the Fam. Charadriidæ,’ p. 326.