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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Phalacrocorax Carunculatus. — (Rough-Faced Shag.)

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Phalacrocorax Carunculatus.
(Rough-Faced Shag.)

  • Carunculated Shag, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. pt. 2, p. 603 (1785).

  • Pelecanus carunculatus, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 576 (1788, ex Lath.).

  • Carbo purpurascens, Brandt, Bull. Sci. Acad. Imp. Pétersb. iii. p. 56 (1831).

  • Leucocarbo carunculatus, Bonap. Consp. Av. ii. p. 176 (1857).

  • Leucocarbo purpurascens, Bonap. Consp. Av. ii. p. 177 (1857).

Ad. similis P. imperiali, sed conspicuè major: fronte plus minusve carunculatâ: cristâ absente: dorso postico fasciâ albâ ornato: carunculis rubris: regione ophthalmicâ nudâ cyanescenti-purpureâ: pedibus flavescenti-brunneis.

Adult male. Similar to P. imperialis, but considerably larger and wanting the crest; it is furthermore distinguishable by the two large square spots of white which cross the back under the wings, by the larger extent of the white alar bar, and by a patch of white on the outer scapulars. The rows of papillæ along the forehead are red, and the naked space around the eyes bluish purple; feet yellowish brown. Total length 32 inches; wing, from flexure, 12·5; tail 5·75; bill, following the curvature 3, along edge of lower mandible 3·75; tarsus 3; longest toe and claw 5.

Female. The sexes are exactly alike in plumage, the fine metallic tints being as bright in the female as in the male. The former is, however, somewhat smaller in size:—Extreme length 27·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 11·75; tail 5·5; bill, along the ridge 2·75, along the edge of lower mandible 3·5; tarsus 2·25; longest toe and claw 4·5.

Young. General upper surface dull greenish black, with a slight gloss in certain lights, the feathers on the shoulders margined with a darker shade; the whole of the wing-coverts and the outer scapulars greyish brown with whitish margins; tail-feathers greyish black, with whitish shafts and margins.

Fledgling. The larger wing-coverts and the rectrices are the first to make their appearance, the former having the acuminate shape peculiar to young birds, with filamentous tips. In the downy state of P. varius, as already stated, the distribution of colours is the same as in the adult, the whole of the fore neck and under-parts being white; and when this is succeeded by the covering of feathers some spotted brown markings, more or less distinct, present themselves but disappear altogether with the first moult. In this species, on the contrary, the downy condition is dark, and is immediately succeeded by the pure white plumage. A specimen in Mr. Silver’s collection has the head and the whole of the neck still clothed in sooty-brown down, sprinkled with a few white filaments; the breast and all the under surface white, with vestiges of brown down still adhering to the feathers; the triangular rictal spot much darker but still visible; legs and feet reddish brown.

Nestling. Covered with blackish brown down, very thick and even. No papillæ on the forehead; lores and bare space surrounding the eyes and encircling the bill black. Upper mandible dark brown; lower mandible pure white, changing to brown at the tip; irides and feet blackish brown, with whitish claws. Down the middle line of the abdomen there is a narrow bare space, flesh-white, paddle-shaped, and about two inches long.

Obs. A specimen in the Otago Museum, from Shag river, has a very broad white patch on the wings, measuring 6 inches long by 2 in width. The colours of the soft parts as restored are:—Line of papillæ fringing the forehead red; bare facial membrane blue; gular sac red. This bird has a broad white patch page 156 across the back 3 inches in extent by nearly 2 in width. The crown, sides of the head, and hind neck are beautifully glossed with purplish green, and less so on the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts.

There is a specimen in the British Museum (brought by the Antarctic Expedition from New Zealand) marked “young”; and the presence of numerous scattered brown feathers on the abdomen and sides of the body attest the fact. In this bird the white of the fore neck, instead of running up in a narrow strip to the chin, spreads outwards immediately under the cheeks, and covers the sides of the neck. There is no white alar bar, nor is there any appearance of the white dorsal patch.

Note. A Shag in the Otago Museum from Macquarie Island (marked ♂), collected by Dr. Scott in December 1880, differs from ordinary examples of P. carunculatus in these respects:—It is a smaller bird; the gloss on the head, hind neck, back, and rump is metallic blue instead of green; on the wings it changes to dull green; there is an entire absence of the white dorsal patch; the alar bar or strip is much less conspicuous, being scarcely more than half an inch wide in any part, and only about 3·5 in longitudinal extent; instead of the narrow frontal line of papillæ there are two warty patches, more deserving the designation of caruncles (each measuring an inch in extent with a maximum breadth of ·4 of an inch), which meet at the base of the bill and cover the anterior part of the forehead. This bird has likewise a small or scant vertical crest, composed of narrow linear feathers of the same colour as the surrounding plumage, and an inch and a half long. The caruncles appear to have been originally orange, and the bare membrane on the face bluish. It appears to come very near to P. verrucosus, but is separated by the white transalar bar.

To the same species doubtless belongs a Shag recently received at the Otago Museum, of which Prof. Parker has kindly sent me the following note:—“A Phalacrocorax, shot at Otago heads, which does not correspond with any of the species in your ‘Manual.’ The following are its chief characters:—Above blue-black; below, oblong patch (4 inches by 2 inches) on upper side of wing, and squarish patch (2½ inches by 2 inches) in middle of back between bases of wings, white; no white feathers over eye; large orange wattle on each side of base of lower mandible, the two separated by a narrow white streak; small orange patch on each side at base of upper mandible; blue ring round eyes; legs orange.”

In his ‘Report on the Birds of the Challenger Expedition’ (Zool. ii. p. 121), Dr. Sclater says:—“Professor Hutton has lately written an article on Phalacrocorax carunculatus of New Zealand (commonly so called), in which, after a review of the literature of this subject, he points out the differences between the birds of New Zealand and the Falklands, and proposes to call the former cirrhatus (Gm.), and the latter carunculatus (Gm.). To follow this course would, in my opinion, only add further to the confusion, the names cirrhatus and carunculatus having been long considered synonymous. Professor Hutton is likewise unaware that the next following species of Kerguelen Island (P. verrucosus) is distinct*, and unites it to his Phalacrocorax carunculatus.”

But the question still remains, What is the true Phalacrocorax carunculatus?

Latham’s original description (l. e.) is as follows:—“Sides of the head bare of feathers; between the bill and eye much carunculated and red; the rest of the space round the eye ash-colour; the

* Phalacrocorax Verrucosus, Cab. Journ. f. Orn. 1875, p. 450.—Referring to a specimen brought by Dr. Kidder from Kerguelen Island, Coues says (Bull. U. S. Nat. Mus. 1875, no. ii. p. 7):—“I have no hesitation in identifying this species as above (i. e. P. carunculatus), although the single adult specimen collected does not show the white transalar fascia spoken of by authors. Schlegel, however, quotes it from the present locality. The caruncles, which are conspicuous features of the adult breeding-bird, constitute two prominent yellow masses symmetrically disposed on the naked forehead at each side of the base of the upper mandible. The head and neck are lustrous, deep steel-blue, with purplish and violet reflections, contrasting notably with the rich dark-green back, the colour of which is uniform, the feathers having no differently coloured edges. The entire underparts, from the bill, on a line along each side of the neck, are pure white.” He adds:—“During the breeding-season the bird carries an erectile crest of about a dozen small plumes upon the top of the head.”

Dr. Sclater writes (l. c. p. 122):—“The series of this Shag is quite sufficient to warrant us in adhering to the species as distinct. The principal characters are clearly pointed out by Dr. Cabanis in his original description; and a good figure is given of the adult male under the reference given above. Not one of the six specimens, of which two, and apparently a third, are adult, shows any traces of the white line along the upper wing-coverts, or of the white spot in the middle of the back which distinguish Phalacrocorax imperialis,”

page 157 orbits of a fine mazarine blue, and elevated; and over the eye is a tubercle larger than the rest.” He does not say it is crested, but that “the crown is rather full of feathers.” The colour he describes as follows:—“The top of the head, and sides of it, the hind part of the neck and all the upper parts of the body, the wings and tail, are black, except a longish patch of white on the wing-coverts; the forehead, chin, and all beneath, white; the legs are flesh-colour, or very pale brown.”

He distinguishes this bird as the Carunculated Shag, and says that it inhabits New Zealand (as well as South America), being “found in Queen Charlotte Sound but not in plenty.”

The reference in this description to white on the forehead is a little puzzling, but may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that in the breeding-plumage these birds sometimes exhibit some white linear feathers above the lores; and Prof. Parker’s bird, described on page 156, has carunculated patches “separated by a narrow white streak,” which may be a seasonal character.

There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that the bird here described is the same as that now inhabiting Queen Charlotte Sound, and although the specific name may not seem the most appropriate there can be no possible excuse for disturbing it. Although, as a rule, the so-called caruncles are mere papillæ, it will be seen from the descriptions given on the preceding page that examples sometimes occur (if they are indeed referable to this species) in which the caruncles and wattles are quite a conspicuous feature. Even Latham, in describing the species, mentions that “over the eye is a tubercle larger than the rest.”

There is no mention in the original description of the conspicuous white patch on the back; but I attach no importance to that, because (as Dr. Sclater has already suggested) this may be a character peculiar to the breeding-season. “On two skins from Chiloe in the collection of Salvin and Godman, one has the white dorsal patch broader and more distinct than in the ‘Challenger’ specimen, in the other it is altogether absent.”

But Latham described at the same time another species, under the name of the Tufted Shag (afterwards Pelecanus cirrhatus of Gmelin), a specimen of which, then in the Hunterian Museum, is said also to have come from Queen Charlotte Sound.

I think, however, with Dr. Finsch, that there is a mistake in the locality, and that the true habitat of Gmelin’s Phalacrocorax cirrhatus was Magellan Straits.

Dr. Sclater deprecates separating this name from carunculatus because they have so long been regarded as synonymous; but it must be clear from what I have said that Latham’s two descriptions of a crested and uncrested bird could not have related to one and the same species. His description of the Tufted Shag is as follows:—“Length 2 feet 10 inches. Bill 2½ inches long. Colour dusky yellow; round the eye bare; the head and sides above the eye, the hind part of the neck, and all the upper parts of the body, wings and tail black; the feathers on the top of the head very long, forming a pointed upright tuft or crest, somewhat tending forwards; on the wing-coverts is an oblong patch of white; and the underparts, from chin to vent, are also white; the tail is 4½ inches in length, rounded in shape and composed of fourteen feathers; the legs pale yellow-brown.”

Dr. Finsch says that “Phalacrocorax carunculatus may be easily distinguished from P. cirrhatus, Gmelin, from Magellan Straits, in having the sides of the head and neck dark, and by having a feathered stripe along the naked gular and chin-regions, which parts are totally naked in cirrhatus.”

Professor Hutton has given (Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. xi. pp. 332–337) an excellent history of the nomenclature of Phalacrocorax cirrhatus and P. carunculatus. He sums up the results of his investigation as follows:—“Dr. Kidder gives the length of a Kerguelen’s Land bird at 23½ inches; the specimen in the Otago Museum is rather larger. Dr. Buller gives the length of birds from New Zealand as 32 inches, and of birds from the Chatham Islands at 27 inches. The Chatham-Island birds are evidently smaller than those from New Zealand, but neither Latham, Gmelin, Braudt, nor Bonaparte had seen birds from the Chatham Islands. Brandt or Bonaparte appear to be the first to page 158 state that both species came from South America, and when Dr. Finsch had to transfer one back again to New Zealand, he took carunculatus. The evidence is, however, I think, in favour of the New-Zealand bird being cirrhatus; but as the Magellan Straits bird truly merits the name of carunculatus, while the New-Zealand bird does not, I think it would be better to change Dr. Finsch’s nomenclature.”

On one point, however, there is still some difficulty; for Professor Hutton says (l. c. p. 335):—“Gmelin was the first to name the birds, and he gave the name carunculatus to the smaller carunculated bird without a crest, and cirrhatus to the larger and crested bird. Gmelin says that both birds came from New Zealand only; but he took his birds from Latham, and Latham says that cirrhatus occurs in New Zealand only, while carunculatus is rare in New Zealand, and common in South America. The smaller size, the caruncles, and the locality, would all point to carunculatus as the South-American bird; but, on the other hand, the New-Zealand bird appears never to get a crest … . . The statement that the Chatham-Island birds are crested, while the New-Zealand birds are not, must be taken with caution. I have certainly never seen a crested bird from New Zealand myself, but they are very rare, and I have not seen many; and P. cirrhatus appears to have been founded on a crested bird from New Zealand; consequently the question as to the crest must be considered as unsettled. However, it appears that the Chatham-Island birds are decidedly smaller than those from New Zealand.”

In a paper which I communicated to the Wellington Philosophical Society in November 1876* I gave a table of measurements showing a considerable difference in size between the Chatham-Island bird figured in my former edition under the name of Phalacrocorax carunculatus, and a series of specimens (male, female, and young) which I had received from Queen Charlotte Sound, all of which were without a crest, and I added the following remarks:—

“Mr. Henry Travers (who collected the birds now exhibited) assures me that these characters are constant. He met with P. carunculatus in large numbers at the Chatham Islands, and there was always a crest, or some indications of it, in both sexes. The other bird he found nesting on the White Rocks in Queen Charlotte Sound; and although it was the height of the breeding-season, in a colony of some forty or fifty nests, with birds of both sexes and of all ages frequenting them, he did not observe a single example with a crest, or anything approaching it.

“On comparing the heads it would be seen that the bill is much larger and stronger in one than in the other; and although the colours of the soft parts are no safe criterion in dried specimens, it would appear that the naked spaces which in P. carunculatus are orange-red, are of a bluish colour in the other bird, with the exception of the patch of papillæ extending from the base of the upper mandible towards the crown.

“The general style of colouring is the same in the two birds, although the tints altogether are duller in the uncrested form. There is the same conspicuous alar bar of white, formed by the middle wing-coverts; but in addition to this the uncrested bird has a patch of the same on the outer scapulars. All the specimens of the latter which I have examined have two closely approximating spots of white, nearly of the size of a crown-piece, about the centre of the back.”

In a letter which I received from Mr. Travers after coming to England (dated 3rd May), he says:—“I have just procured from Queen Charlotte Sound a number of these Shags in fine condition, and a few in immature plumage (in all, about twenty specimens). None of the old birds show any sign of a crest.”

It is evident from the date of the letter that these last-mentioned specimens were collected in winter; so that the evidence as to the absence of a crest is not so conclusive as in the former case, for it might be fairly argued that it would be assumed only in the nuptial season.

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. ix. p. 339.

Phalacrocorax imperialis of the present edition.

page 159

On the other hand, Mr. Liardet, of Wellington, who has shot these birds at Queen Charlotte Sound at all seasons of the year for the purpose of converting their beautiful skins into ladies’ muffs, assures me that he has never seen a crested one. The three specimens which I purchased from him (all of them apparently in bright summer plumage) were certainly without the slightest indication of a crest or occipital tuft of any kind.

Of the Kerguelen-Island bird Dr. Kidder gives the following account (Bulletin of the U.S. National Museum, 1875):—“Only a single adult skin of this Cormorant was preserved and brought home, a female in nuptial plumage. There is no better reason, I am afraid, for this omission than the fact that the birds were exceedingly plentiful, and the preparation of the skins a very tedious job, so that it was put off from day to day for rarer specimens, until, in the haste of an unexpectedly hurried departure, it was omitted altogether. From memory I can only say that the young birds were of much more sober plumage than the females, destitute of the crest and brilliant blue eyelid, and generally rather smaller. All had white breasts and bellies; but there were many minor variations in plumage, which I suppose went to indicate differences in age… . . They do not differ materially in habits from other species of Cormorant, diving and swimming well, feeding entirely on fish, and often congregating for hours upon a projecting rock or headland, where, in pairing-time, they enact various absurd performances, billing and curvetting about one another in a very ridiculous manner. The note is a harsh croak, which never varies, so far as I have observed. They seem to be on particularly good terms with the Chionis, and are often joined by Gulls when sunning themselves. They build upon shelves, for the most part in the precipitous faces of cliffs overlooking the water, the base of the nest being raised sometimes as much as 2 feet, and composed of mingled mud and excrement. Upon this pedestal is constructed a rather artistic nest of long blades of grass. Apparently they continue to use the old nests year after year, adding a new layer each season, and thus building the nest up. The first eggs were found November 5th, there being sometimes two and sometimes three in a nest. They were procured at first by the kind assistance of Mr. Stanley, and a length of rope which tied us together, one end being knotted round the waist of each. One would then remain above and hold on, while the other clambered a little way down the face of the cliff and secured the eggs. After a time, however, I discovered a lot of nests, near a ‘rookery’ of Rock-hopper Penguins, accessible from below, where (on December 4th) the young birds were first observed. Eggs green, with white chalky incrustation. The young are most ridiculous-looking objects, being pot-bellied, naked, and perfectly black, and seem to be less advanced in development at the time of hatching than most birds, the bones of the tarsus and foot being not yet ossified. Small fish were generally lying by the nests. The old birds were very solicitous about their young, hissing and stretching out their necks, and refusing to leave their nests until pushed off. Yet, when I took one of the young away from the nest, and placed it close by on the rock, the mother seemed neither to recognize its constant chirping nor to be aware that one of her brood was missing. Certainly she paid no attention to it.”

I am indebted to Mr. Percy Seymour for the following notes on the breeding-habits of this and a closely-allied species:—

“Phalacrocorax cirrhatus* and P. chalconotus.—A large colony of these two species in company have built on a terrace at the foot of a small cliff on Otago Peninsula. The nests and eggs of the two species can only be distinguished by observing the birds sitting on the nests. The latter are constructed of tussock-grass, but the outside of the nest soon becomes plastered over with the excrement of the old and young birds. This hardens into a substance resembling stucco, which protects the nests against the destructive influence of the weather, and gives them the appearance of having been constructed of clay. By the accumulated layers of successive seasons, the nests are raised in some cases

* Phalacrocorax carunculatus of the present edition.

page 160 to as much as 18 inches above the surface of the rock. The diameter varies from 18 to 24 inches. The birds did not all commence laying at the same time, as nests in process of construction were found at the same time with others containing young birds. The number of eggs or of young birds is usually three. The eggs vary in size, but are all of the usual Cormorant type, being bluish white, covered with a chalky incrustation.

“I noticed three variations in the colour of the birds which I have spoken of as P. cirrhatus:


Black, with following parts white: throat, breast, abdomen, conspicuous alar bar, and large double spot on the back. Nearly all the birds were of this type.


Like a in every respect, except that the alar bar was not nearly so conspicuous, and that there was no visible spot on the back. There were only two or three of these.


Black, with only the abdomen and beneath the wings white. I saw only one, I think, of this description. When sitting, it exactly resembled P. chalconotus (from a little distance), as the white parts were then covered. It sat on a nest and extended its neck, with mouth open, when approached by other birds, but I did not see it receive any food. I suppose it to be a young bird. It could fly as well as the adult birds.

“All three of the birds described were without visible crest. Their feet appeared, from a distance of a few yards, to be reddish or brownish.

“I did not succeed in conveying home any young birds except about half a dozen very small ones. Some of these had a little down on them and the rest were perfectly bare, their skin resembling in appearance black kid gloves. They were just hatched. I have put them into spirits instead of skinning them. Some of them I carefully identified as belonging to P. cirrhatus*, but I could not see the slightest difference between the young of the two species at that stage. In the case of the older birds, there is white down on the underparts of one and not of the others, so I suppose that one is certainly P. cirrhatus. There were plenty of larger young birds, but they flopped about in the dirt and made themselves in a frightful mess. As the road was very rough and we had a heavy load to carry I did not take them. A resident near the spot has promised to send me some if there is another batch of eggs and young ones this season.”

In November 1885 Captain Fairchild visited a nesting-place of this species on the White Rocks near the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound. The birds were breeding in a colony by themselves, all the surrounding rocks being occupied by the Black Shag (P. novæ hollandiæ). They were nesting on the bare rocks, whereas the latter species had formed large nests of leaves and seaweed, but had not yet commenced to lay. Many of the young birds on the White Rocks were of full size, but still covered with down. Captain Fairchild brought a number of them, of different ages, to Wellington, and I was thus afforded an opportunity of describing the nestling. The more advanced birds were continually fighting or squabbling, with loud cries of craao-craao-craao. The cry of the younger ones was kek-kek-kek.

Dr. Sclater writes (Voy. Chall., Zool. vol. ii. Birds, p. 121:—“All Dr. Cunningham’s examples (Mus. Cantab.), which we called Phalacrocorax carunculatus in our reports on his collection (Ibis, 1870, p. 500, et aliter), appear to be referable to Phalacrocorax albiventris, of which the range is thus extended to the Magellan Straits.”

* Phalacrocorax carunculatus of this edition.