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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Phalacrocorax Punctatus. — (Spotted Shag.)

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Phalacrocorax Punctatus.
(Spotted Shag.)

  • Spotted Shag, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii; pt. 2, p. 602 (1785).

  • Pelecanus punctatus, Sparrm. Mus. Carls. t. 10 (1786).

  • Pelecanus nævius, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 575 (1788).

  • Phalacrocorax nævius, Cuv. Règn. An. i. p. 525 (1817).

  • Hydrocorax dilophus, Vieill. N. Dict, d’Hist. Nat. viii. p. 85 (1817).

  • Phalacrocorax punctatus, Steph. Gen. Zool. xiii. p. 88 (1825).

  • Graucalus punctatus, Gray, in Dieff. Trav. ii., App. p. 201 (1843).

  • Gracalus punctatus, Gray, Voy. Ereb. and Terr., Birds, p. 20 (1844).

  • Sticticarbo punctatus, Bonap. C. R. xliii. p. 574 (1856).

  • Graculus punctatus, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 252.

Ad. fronte et nuchâ valdè cristatis: pileo et collo toto postico sordidè cinerascentibus, viridi-nigricante lavatis, hô lateraliter plumulis albis ornato: fasciâ latâ albâ, ab oculo per collum laterale decurrente et ad pectus laterale productâ: facie laterali reliquâ et jugulo toto viridi-nigricantibus vix cinerascentibus, hôc plumulis parvis albis ornato: interscapulio, scapularibus et tectricibus alarum pulchrè cinerascentibus, plumis omnibus apicaliter nigro minutè punctatis, tectricibua minimis nigro marginatis: remigibus saturatè brunneis, primariis extùs ad basin cinerascente lavatis, secunclariis omninò pulchrè cinerascentibus: dorso postico, urypygio et supracaudalibus viridi-nigricantibus: dorso imo lateraliter plumulis albis ornato: caudâ. nigrâ, suprà obscurè cinerascente lavatâ: subtùs pulchrè grisescenti-cinereus: abdomine imo et subcaudalibus viridi-nigricantibus: aubalaribus brunneis, nigricante lavatis: rostro brunnescenti-flavo: pedibus aurantiacis: iride viridi.

Juv. pallidior, dorsi plumis minùs distinctè apicatis: dorso postico et uropygio cinerascentibus: pileo et collo postico toto cinerascentibus: facie et collo lateralibus et corpore subtùs toto albidis, pectoris lateribus et hypo-chondriis imis cinerascentibus.

Adult. Crown of the head, with vertical and occipital creats, glossy greyish black; sides of the head, throat, and anterior portion of fore neck sooty black; a white stripe, commencing at the nostrils, passes over the eyes and increases beyond, being about an inch wide under the occipital crest, then gradually diminishes and passes down the sides of the neck to the roots of the wings; lower part of the neck in front, the breast, sides of the body, and upper part of abdomen uniform delicate leaden grey; lower part of hind neck, shoulders, mantle, and upper surface of wings brownish ash, all the feathers, excepting the quills and long scapulars, with a terminal spot of velvety black: these spots are most conspicuous on the interscapulars, and impart to the plumage a very lively effect; the small coverts along the edges of the wings and at the humera flexure are merely shaded with purplish brown at the tips; primary quills dark brown, burnished with silvery grey on their outer webs; inner surface of wings dark ashy brown; tail-feathers black, the shafts bluish white towards the base. The vertical and occipital crests consist of soft, narrow, silky feathers, the longest occipital measuring two inches, and the longest vertical about half that length. The sides of the head and the neck in front and behind are further ornamented with projecting plume-like white feathers of a silky texture, and varying in length to about an inch; the thighs also are ornamented in a similar manner, but to a less extent, the effect being produced by minute white feathers at the extremities of fine hair-like stalks, the web alone appearing above the surface of the surrounding plumage. Irides green; bare skin in front of the eyes dark blue; bill brownish yellow, horn-coloured at the tips; legs and feet bright orange-yellow. Total length 27·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 10; tail 3·75; bill, along the ridge 2·4, along the edge of lower mandible 3; tarsus 2·25; longest toe and claw 3·75.

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Obs. The size of this species is very variable; and a female specimen in the Auckland Museum gives the following measurements:—Total length 34 inches; wing, from flexure, 12; tail 5; bill, along the ridge 3·2, along the edge of lower mandible 4·5; tarsus 2·25; longest toe and claw 3·5.

Young. Crown of the head, back of the neck, mantle, and upper surface of wings dull brownish ash, silvery on the head and neck, tinged with light brown on the mantle and wing-coverts; back, rump, and thighs dull ashy brown glossed with green; the spotted character is absent, but the feathers composing the mantle and the smaller scapulars are obscurely marked at the tips with ashy brown; throat, fore neck, and all the underparts, including the abdomen and under tail-coverts, ashy white tinged with buff; under surface of wings dull brownish ash; tail-feathers greyish brown, with whitish shafts. It has no crest, nor has it any of the ornamental white plumelets. Bill dark yellow, brownish on the culmen; loral membrane orange; legs and feet orange-brown.

Nestling. In the very young nestling the skin is entirely bare, nothing being visible but the roots of the downy plumelets. When more advanced the body is covered with thick down, dark ash-grey on the upper surface and white on the underparts; the forehead, fore part of crown, and a portion of the face and throat perfectly bare. In the next stage the quills and tail-feathers are the first to appear.

Progress towards maturity. In my collection there are two specimens in transition plumage. They have neither occipital nor vertical crests; the crown of the head and back of the neck are sooty grey glossed with green; an indistinct streak of white passes from the eyes down the sides of the neck to the roots of the wings; the upper part of the fore neck is dark leaden grey mottled with black, indicating a change of plumage; upper surface as in the adult, but more tinged with brown, and having the spots less distinct; back, rump, and lower part of abdomen greenish black; a few scattered filamentous white plumes on the thighs; fore neck and all the under surface dark leaden grey. In one of these specimens the throat and fore neck are more largely mottled with black, the grey of the underparts is much lighter, and the thighs are deeply stained with brown; on the wings, where the plumage shows a transitional condition, the black-tipped coverts are taking the place of the light-brown feathers with white edges, these latter being characteristic of the young.

Obs. The plumage of the adult is exactly the same in both sexes. The vertical and occipital crests are present all through the year, but as the breeding-season approaches they become larger and more conspicuous, while the hind neck and the flanks are profusely ornamented with loose white plumes three quarters of an inch in length.

This beautiful representative of the Crested Shags is abundant on the coast of the South Island, but is seldom met with on the northern side of Cook’s Strait. I observed a party of three at the mouth of the Waikanae river in January 1864; two young birds were killed in Wellington harbour in the winter of 1865; and other instances have already been mentioned on page 154.

It associates in large flocks, and frequents the open sea in the vicinity of the coast, as well as the mouths of estuaries and sounds, subsisting on fish and crustaceans, which it obtains by diving. It is apparently a very inquisitive bird; for I have often observed a flock of them make up to a steamer going at full speed, and fly round her, sometimes returning a second time to reconnoitre.

Unlike that of the other Shags, its flight consists of quickly repeated flappings of the wings, without any sailing movement; and when out of the water the black plumage of the underparts is very conspicuous. It never rises to any great height above the water, which is probably due to the comparative shortness of its wings.

It breeds on the high shelving rocks on the coast or within the sheltered arms of the sea, the nests being arranged in successive tiers of considerable extent, and as closely grouped together as the form of the rocks in the locality chosen as a breeding-station will admit of.

The eggs (generally two in number) are elliptical in form, measuring 2·25 inches in length by 1·4 in breadth. When taken from the nest they are covered with a yellowish-white chalky matter, but on being cleaned they present a uniform surface of soft bluish green.