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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Cabalus Dieffenbachii. — (Dieffenbach’s Rail.)

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Cabalus Dieffenbachii.
(Dieffenbach’s Rail.)

  • Rallus dieffenbachii, Gray in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 197 (1843).

  • Ocydromus dieffenbachii, Gray, Voy. Ereb. and Terror, p. 14, pl. 15 (1844).

  • Hypotænidia dieffenbachii, Bonap. C. R. xliii. p. 599 (1856).

  • Hypotænidia dieffenbachii, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 238.

  • Rallus dieffenbachii, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 179 (1873).

Native name.—Moeriki.

Ad. suprà brunnescenti-olivaceus, ochraceo et nigricante irregulariter transversim fasciatus: dorso postico et uropygio olivascenti-brunneis, supracaudalibus aureo-fulvo transfasciatis: pileo summo brunneo unicolore: strigâ, longâ superciliari, genis et gutture toto cinereis: strigâ alterâ a basi maxillæ per oculum ductâ brunnescenti-castaneâ: tectricibus alarum dorso concoloribus: remigibus castaneis, nigro transnotatis, versus apicem brunnescentibus, secundariies intimis dorso concoloribus, fulvo notatis: rectricibus olivascenti-brunneis, unicoloribus: collo laterali inferiore et pectore superiore nigris albido transfasciatis: pectore fulvescenti-ochraceo, nigro transfasciato: corpore reliquo subtùs nigro, albo transversim lineato: subcaudalibus latiùs fulvo transfasciatis: rostro brunneo, versus basin saturatiore: pedibus pallidè brunneis: iride rufescenti-brunneâ.

Adult. Crown and nape dark rusty brown; sides of the head and the whole of the throat pale ash-grey, the former traversed by a broad band of rusty brown, which, commencing at the base of the upper mandible, passes across and under the eyes and thence downwards, changing on the ear-coverts to chestnut, and meeting in a broad band of that colour on the lower part of the hind neck; towards the base of the lower mandible, and a streak over the eyes, greyish white; on the fore neck a zone of black with rayed lines of white, bordering the ash-grey, and widening out on the sides into a rounded patch; neck beyond and the whole of the breast bright rufous brown, with narrow transverse bands of black; shoulders and all the upper part of the back fulvous brown varied with black, beautifully barred and spotted with pale rufous brown; lower part of back and rump dark fulvous brown, plumbeous beneath; underparts black, handsomely fasciated with white on the upper part of the abdomen, sides of the body and flanks, less distinctly so and tipped with fulvous on the lower part of abdomen and soft ventral feathers; under tail-coverts black, broadly barred with rufous brown; primaries bright chestnut, with numerous transverse bars of brownish black and tipped with olive-brown; secondaries much browner, with the chestnut considerably diminished and assuming the form of broad toothed markings on both vanes; wing-coverts similar to the plumage of the back, but largely tinged with chestnut; tail-feathers dark rusty brown, with rufous margins in their basal portion. Examined individually, the feathers of the back are blackish brown, crossed by two broad undulating bands of fulvous; those of the breast have the bands broader and more regular; those covering the abdomen and sides of the body are black, with two equidistant bars and a narrow terminal margin of white. Irides reddish brown; bill light brown, darker towards the tip; tarsi and toes light brown. Total length 12·25 inches; wing, from flexure, 4·75; tail 3·25; bill, along the ridge 1·45, along the edge of lower mandible 1·5; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 1·75; hind toe and claw ·6.

This beautiful Rail was brought from the Chatham Islands by Dr. Dieffenbach in 1842, and named by Mr. Gray in compliment to this enterprising naturalist. The adult specimen in the British Museum, from which my description was taken, is unique, and seems likely to remain so.

page 122

In answer to my inquiries, a Chatham-Island correspondent, Kirihipu Roiri Te Rangipuahoaho, wrote as follows in August 1863:—“Na, ko to kupu mo te manu. I ngaro tera manu, to Moeriki, i te torn o nga tau i noho ai nga Maori ki tenei moutere. Mehemea kei te ora taua manu, maku e hopu atu mau. He manu pai taua manu. I kite au imua i taku tamarikitanga. Ta nga Maori ingoa o taua manu he Popotai.” [Translation.—Now with regard to the bird. This bird, the Moeriki, disappeared in the third year after the occupation of this island by the Maoris. If the bird still survives I will catch you some. It was a beautiful bird. I remember seeing it when I was a boy. The Maoris called it a Popotai.] But my friend Roiri, although he had the stimulus of a handsome reward, never succeeded in finding the Moeriki; and we may therefore conclude that it is extremely rare, if not quite extinct, on the main island.

In this very interesting form the plumage bears a strong family likeness, in the style and distribution of the markings, to that of the well-known Rallus philippensis; but, as will be seen from the figures given below, its bill is more Ocydromine in its character.

It has been conclusively shown that the skeleton of the Rail described by Hutton under the name of Cabalus modestus (regarded in my former edition as the young of Rallus dieffenbachii) differs widely from that of Rallus, especially in the character of the sternum; and as we find here the same modification in the bill, I think the proper course will be to place Dieffenbach’s Rail in Hutton’s new genus, as indeed Mr. Sharpe has already done in his Supplement to the Birds of the ‘Voy. Ereb. and Terr.’ (p. 29). It ought, however, to be remembered that Mr. G. R. Gray had long before proposed to refer this form to the genus Ocydromus.

Of the last-named group I have treated fully in my accounts of the five species inhabiting New Zealand.

Another allied species, Ocydromus sylvestris (Sclater), is confined to Lord Howe’s Island, a small insular district whose zoological relation to New Zealand has already been discussed in my Introduction.

It is very curious that at the Chatham Islands, lying, as it were, between these points, a generically different Ocydromine from should present itself. The New-Caledonia Rail (Eulabeornis lafresnayanus), although aberrant, comes even nearer to our Ocydromus *. The bill is more attenuated, and the tail (in all the specimens I have examined) is very inconspicuous, but the general characters are very similar, and the legs and feet are the same, although somewhat more slender.

Rallus philippensis.

Rallus philippensis.

Cabalus dieffenbachii.

Cabalus dieffenbachii.

* In general appearance it is not unlike Ocydromus fuscus in plumage, but it has a much larger bill, which is slightly curved as in O. sylvestris from Lord Howe’s Island. Layard writes (Ibis, 1882, p. 535):—“This queer Rail is, though generally distributed, a rare bird in New Caledonia. It appears to inhabit much the same localities as the Kagou, and is, in fact, a ‘Woodhen,’ like the Weka, and not a swamp-bird. We have kept it in confinement, feeding it on Bulimi, raw meat, and garbage. It is nocturnal, and runs with great rapidity. In walking it elevates the tail with the peculiar flip common to the Rails, and it can climb and jump like a cat. If alarmed it will squeeze itself into the smallest holes and crevices and lic ‘perdue’ and motionless, feigning death for a long time.”