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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Rallus Brachypus. — (Swainson’s Rail.)

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Rallus Brachypus.
(Swainson’s Rail.)

  • Rallus brachipus, Swains. Anim. in Menag. p. 336 (1838).

  • Rallus lewinii, Swains, ibid. p. 336 (1838).

  • Rallus lewinii, Gould, Birds of Australia, fol. vi. pl. 77 (1848).

  • Lewinia brachypus, Bonap. Compt. Rend. de l’Acad. Sci. tom. xliii. (1856).

Ad. similis R, philippensi, sed minor et saturatior et dorso haud albido maculato, primariis concoloribus: supercilio cineraceo nullo, facie laterali et colli lateribus saturatè cinereis, minimè rufis, fasciâ pectorali cervinâ nullâ distinguendus.

Adult. Crown and sides of the head and hind neck dark rufous, each feather centred with black; chin greyish white; cheeks, fore neck, and breast olivaceous grey tinged with rufous; upper surface dark olivaceous brown, the interscapulars largely centred with glossy brownish black; the whole of the upper wing-coverts, the sides of the body, and the upper part of abdomen brownish black, fasciated with narrow and pretty regular bars of white; quills and tail-feathers dark brown, the scapulars black with olivaceous-brown margins; flanks and lower part of abdomen with broken transverse bars of fulvous; under tail-coverts crossed and tipped with white; bill and feet dark brown. Total length 8·75 inches; wing, from flexure, 4; tail 1·5; bill, along the ridge 1·3, along the edge of lower mandible 1·6; tarsus 1·2; middle toe and claw 1·5.

Young. Has the head very similar to R. philippensis in its immature state; plumage generally duller; there is very little rufous on the head, and only a dull wash of rufous on the hind neck; the fore neck and breast paler than in the adult, whitish on the throat and abdomen.

Baron A. von Hügel thus records (in a letter to ‘The Ibis,’ 1875, pp. 392, 393) his good fortune in obtaining a specimen of this Rail from the Auckland Islands, this being indeed my only authority for including the species in the Avifauna of New Zealand:—

“I have received a Rail killed on the Auckland Islands by the unfortunate Captain Musgrave of the ‘Grafton.’ As soon as I got the bird I was struck with its resemblance to one of the Rallidæ I was acquainted with, but for some time could not make out which. At last it struck me that it must be the Australian Rallus brachypus; and on comparing the Auckland with the Australian bird, I found them to agree very closely, though the colouring seemed different; but as the Canterbury-Museum specimen appears to be very old and faded, it is impossible to judge. I shall be able to determine if my Rail is Rallus brachypus, or new, as soon as I get to Melbourne, there being a good series there. At all events it is the first Rail known to have been procured in the group.”

The Baron has since informed me that a further comparison of specimens confirms his first conjecture. The specimen is now packed away with the rest of his collection, so that I have not yet had an opportunity of examining it; but I feel no hesitation in accepting his identification of the species.