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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Ocydromus Earli. — (Brown Woodhen.)

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Ocydromus Earli.
(Brown Woodhen.)

  • Ocydromus earli, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 238.

Ad. similis O. greyi, sed pallidior, et tergi colore minus nigrescente: fasciâ pectorali castaneâ vix obsoletâ: hypochondriis subalaribusque fulvo minuté terminatis et fasciatis: rostro rufescenti-brunneo: pedibus aurantiaco-flavis.

Adult. Similar to Ocydromus greyi, but generally lighter, having less black on the upper surface, and the plumage suffused with warm cinnamon-brown; the primaries are more distinctly barred; there is little or no pectoral band, the plumage of the breast being irregularly stained with cinnamon; there is less grey on the underparts; the under wing-coverts and the flanks are obscurely barred and tipped with fulvous brown; and the markings on the under tail-coverts are obsolete. Irides yellowish brown; bill pale reddish brown; legs and feet beautiful pale lake-red. Total length 18·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 8; tail 4·5; bill, along the ridge 2, along the edge of lower mandible 2·1; tarsus 2·4; middle toe and claw 2·6.

Obs. The plumage is perceptibly softer to the touch than in O. greyi, and has a more delicate appearance.

Mr. G. R. Gray, in his original description (l. c.), says that the bill and feet are “horn-coloured.” This is applicable to the dried specimen from which his description was taken, but it is obvious, at a glance, that the colours of these parts have faded out in drying.

I have already mentioned (at p. 107) the circumstances under which I discovered that this bird, which belongs really to the South Island, had been, for many years, confounded with the North-Island Woodhen under the above name.

It is, indeed, a strange fact, in the local distribution of species, that a Woodhen so closely resembling in plumage the form inhabiting the North Island should have been met with in two far distant localities on the western side of the South Island. In 1877, Mr. Reischek obtained one of these birds on the summit of Mount Alexander. His dog had caught a downy chick, whose cries attracted the parent, which, on being shot from the camp fire, proved to be a female of this species, with pale reddish-coloured legs. He forwarded the specimen to the late Sir J. von Haast, who sent it on to the Imperial Museum at Vienna. Some years later Reischek met with this bird again in the vicinity of Milford Sound, and two of the specimens then collected by him (male and female) are now in my collection. It may be readily distinguished from the northern bird by the warmer tints of its plumage and the brightness of its irides, bill, and feet.

Its occurrence under the conditions I have mentioned is a very curious and suggestive fact, especially when we remember that at least three other well-marked species of Woodhen occur in the South Island, although not met with in the North Island.

The peculiar whistling cry of the Woodhen, which is usually commenced at sunset and is continued, more or less, all through the night, is very pleasant to hear. A pair of them usually perform together, calling alternately and in quick succession, the female always taking the lead. She commences with a low whistle, preceded by a guttural sound from the chest (only heard on a very near approach), and the call increases in force till it becomes a shrill whistle, the responsive call of the male being pitched in a different key.

Of the five specimens brought by Reischek (three males and two females) one pair was obtained on Cooper’s Island, separated from the mainland by half a mile of sea, and the others in a clump of native fuchsia at an elevation of 1000 feet.