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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Anakhynchus Feontalis. — (Wry-Billed Plover.)

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Anakhynchus Feontalis.
(Wry-Billed Plover.)

  • Anarhynchus frontalis, Quoy et Gaim. Voy. de l’Astr. Zool. i. p. 252, pl. 31. fig. 2 (1830).

  • Thinornis frontalis, Gray, Gen. of B. iii. p. 545 (1847).

  • Anarhynchus albifrons, Schl. Handl. Dierk. i. p. 435 (1857).

  • Charadrius frontalis, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 234.

  • Thinornis frontalis, Gray, Hand-l. of B. iii. p. 17 (1871).

Native name.—Ngutupare.

Ad. suprà dilutè cinereus, scapularibus et tectricibus alarum dorso coneoloribus: alâ spuriâ brunneâ: reraigibus cinerasceuti-brunneis, versùs apicem conspicuè saturatioribus, scapis albidis: secundariis cinereis, dorso concoloribus: caudâ cinerascenti-brunneâ, rectricibus exterioribus pallidè cineraceis, extimis albicantibus: fronte et supercilio distincto albidis: lineâ secundâ, frontali nigrâ: lineâ per oculum ductâ et regionem paroticam amplectente cineraceâ: aubtùs albus, torque pectorali lato nigro: subalaribus albis, imia cinereo lavatis: rostro nigro: pedibus nigrieanti-viridibus vix cinerascentibus: iride nigrà.

Juv. similis, sed sine torque pectorali.

Adult male. Crown, hind neck, and all the upper surface uniform dark grey, the wing-coverts edged with lighter; primaries dark brown on their outer webs and at the tips, with white shafts, and the inner webs dusky grey; the inferior primaries marked with white on their basal portion; secondaries and their long covering-plumes dusky grey; the middle tail-feathers greyish brown, the outer ones silvery grey, margined and tipped with white; forehead, throat, and all the underparts pure white, a narrow line of black bordering the white forehead; the upper part of the breast crossed by a broad band of velvety black, which is generally widest on the left side; under tail-coverts and lining of wings pure white. Irides and bill black; legs and feet blackish green tinged with grey. Total length 8 inches; wing, from flexure, 4·75; tail 2; bill, following the curvature, 1·4; bare tibia ·4; tarsus 1; middle toe and claw 1·05.

Female. Similar to the male, but without the frontal black line, and with the pectoral band much narrower, of a duller black, and sometimes interrupted in the middle.

Young. Plumage of the upper parts as in the adult, but paler; no pectoral band; under surface pure white. The progress towards maturity is indicated by a narrow irregular zone of sooty black mottled with white.

Chick. Covered with silky-looking down of a stone-grey colour (similar to the upper surface of the adult) freckled all over with white; bill and feet pale brown. The curved bill is congenital, being quite as pronounced in the newly hatched chick. In a more advanced state the bill is greyish black, brownish at the tip; legs and feet greyish olive.

This very remarkable form, distinguished from all other Waders by its peculiar asymmetrical bill, affords another instance of the very distinctive character of the New-Zealand avifauna. The species was first made known to science by MM. Quoy and Gaimard, who obtained it during the French Expedition in the years 1826–29, and gave a figure of it in the ‘Voyage of the Astrolabe;’ but no specimens of the true Anarhynchus having, for many years after, been received in Europe, Mr. G. page 10 R. Gray, in his List of New-Zealand Birds (July 1862), pronounced the curved bill a mere deformity, adding “the bill is perfectly straight in most specimens,” a statement which appears to have been purely hypothetical, Mr. Harting, in an able paper “On Rare or Little-known Limicolæ,” was the first to clear up the confusion in which the species had become involved, and to claim for it a proper recognition as the type of a genus quite distinct from Charadrius, in which it had been placed by Gray and other modern authors. Mr. Harting’s paper had the effect of calling special attention to this singular species on the part of local observers; and thus a bird which had up to that period been deemed of rare occurrence was found to have a very general distribution along our shores, in all suitable localities, in both the North and South Islands. It is generally met with in small flocks on the smooth ocean-beach, or on the broad sand-banks and shingle-beds at the mouths of our tidal rivers, where it feeds upon minute crustaceans, fluviatile insects, and other marine life, for the capture of which its peculiar bill is specially adapted.

In the North Island the Wry-billed Plover is particularly plentiful during the spring and winter months on the extensive sand-banks at the mouth of the Kaipara, on the mud-flats of the Manukau basin*, in the Bay of Plenty, and on the ocean-beach between Waikanae and Wanganui, where numerous tidal streams and rivers discharge their waters. In the South Island it is abundant in Queen Charlotte’s Sound, and both at the mouths and along the shingle-beds of all the snow-rivers that find their outlet eastward.

At a little distance it is scarcely to be distinguished from the Banded Dottrel, with which it freely associates, but it is of a smaller and plumper form, and on a nearer view may be recognized by the absence of the red pectoral band, so conspicuous in the last-named species. It is likewise more approachable and less inclined to take wing. It runs along the sands in front of you, and utters no sound, whereas the last-named bird emits at brief intervals a “click” or short call-note. I have observed also that these birds have not the same habit of bobbing their heads when they stop running. They run with marvellous celerity, their little black legs, when viewed sideways, appearing to revolve like the spokes of a wheel. On the wing, the flocks form such compact bodies that ten or more may be killed at a single shot. At nesting-time they emit a low purring sound.

It breeds early in the spring, but not so soon as the Banded Dottrel, and is even tamer then than at other times, being always very reluctant to take wing.

On its reproduction Mr. Potts writes:—“Its nesting-place would be discovered with very little difficulty, were it not for the wonderful instinct it exhibits in selecting the ground for depositing its eggs. They are simply laid, without any preparation, amongst the pebbles of some river-bed usually, and never far from water; and so well does their grey tint harmonize with the general colour of the shingle around them, that their detection would be almost hopeless if the bird were less confident…… The young, if undisturbed, remain for some time near the spot where they were hatched; to escape observation they lie concealed behind stones, and should an attempt be made to molest them, they start off with considerable celerity, uttering at the same time a shrill piping cry of alarm. When hard pressed they take to the water; and I have known them to cross a stream of considerable volume… . . So tame does the Anarhynchus become under the influence of parental instinct that after eggs have been picked up, examined, and replaced on their unsheltered sandy bed, I have seen the old bird immediately resume her duty of incubation, although I may have removed but a few paces distant, and remained in sight for some time.”

There are three eggs of this species in the Canterbury Museum, all exactly alike both in form and colouring. They are broadly ovoido-conical, or slightly pyriform, measuring 1·35 inch in length by 1·05 in breadth, and of a delicate greenish stone-grey, freckled over their entire surface with purplish brown.

* Mr. Cheeseman writes to me:—“At Manukau I have, on some occasions, seen as many as 200 or 300 together; but this is quite unusual, the flocks in that locality generally numbering from 10 to 20 birds.”