Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Diomedea Cauta. — (Shy Albatros.)

page break

Diomedea Cauta.
(Shy Albatros.)

  • Diomedea cauta, Gould, in Proc. Zool. Soc. part viii. p. 177 (1840).

  • Diomedea (Thalassarche) cauta, Bonap. Compt. Rend. de l’Acad. Sci. 1856.

ad. fronte et vertice cinerascenti-albis: pileo colloque toto pulchrè cinereo lavatis: regione ante- et supraoculari cinerascenti-nigris: dorso et interscapulio cum alâ totâ cinerascenti-nigris: uropygio et supracaudalibus albis: remigibus brunnescenti-nigris, scapis ad basin flavicanti-albidis, secundariis versus apicem brunnescente tinctis: caudâ saturatè argentescenti-cinereâ, scapis albidis: subtùs purè albus: subalaribus albis, plumis exterioribus nigricantibus: iride lætè vinascenti-brunneâ: pedibus sordidè corneo-albicantibus, tarsis saturatioribus: rostro cyanescenti-corneo, ad apicem sordidè nigro, culmine medialiter et gonyde obscurè flavicantibus, ad basin conspicuè nigro marginatis: margine mandibulari ad basin lætè flavo.

Adult female. The whole of the head and neck delicate pearl-grey, shading off almost to white on the crown and forehead; lores and a line over each eye greyish black, shading off below into the pearl-grey; back and upper surface of wings greyish brown; rump, tail-coverts, and the whole of the underparts pure white, softly blending with the grey on the lower fore neck; quills brownish black, the shafts whitish horn-colour towards the base, the longer secondaries tinged with sepia-brown; tail-feathers dark silvery grey, with white shafts, and paler on the under surface; lining of wings white, some of the feathers towards the edge of the wing greyish black; irides rich vinous brown; feet dull fleshy white, the tarsi darker; bill bluish horn-colour, lighter and tinged with yellow along the culmen, and also on the under surface of the lower mandible; the sides of the unguis or hooked extremity, as well as the terminal expansion of the lower mandible, dull black; the upper mandible margined at the base with a narrow black band, which broadens on the ridge and extends along the groove on each side to the nostrils. Base of lower mandible fringed on each side with a membrane of a bright yellow colour, bordered behind with black, and forming a very distinguishing feature in this species. Another bright yellow membrane extends, in an oblique line, down the cheeks for about three inches from the angles of the mouth, but this is only observable on the feathers being moved aside. Total length 35 inches; extent of wings 91, from carpal flexure to the tip 22·5; tail 9; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible 5·3, length of lower mandible 5; tarsus 3·25; middle toe and claw 5·7.

This fine species was first described by Mr. Gould (as quoted above) and named by him the Shy Albatros, in allusion to its cautious habits when on the wing. In his ‘Birds of Australia’ he gives the following account of it:—

“I first saw this species of Albatros off the south coast of Tasmania, and had frequent opportunities of observing it during my stay in Recherche Bay, at the southern entrance of D’Entrecasteaux’s Channel, where I was wind-bound for nearly a fortnight. Unlike other Albatroses it was most difficult to procure, for it seldom approached our ship sufficiently near for a successful shot. I succeeded, however, in shooting several examples while they were flying round the bay in which we had taken shelter. It is not usual for Albatroses to approach the land or enter a secluded bay like that of Recherche, and I attribute this deviation from the ordinary habits to the temptation presented by the vast quantities of fat and other remains of whales floating about, the locality being one of the principal whaling-stations on the coast of Tasmania. I have no doubt likewise that it was breeding on the Mewstone and other isolated rocks in the neighbourhood, as the plumage of some of the specimens I procured indicated that they had lately been engaged in the task of incubation.

page 204

“It is a large and powerful bird, the male being scarcely a third less in size than the D. exulans; is rapid and vigorous on the wing, and takes immense sweeps over the surface of the ocean. It will be interesting to learn the extent of the range of this species. A head in the possession of Sir William Jardine was said to have been procured at the Cape of Good Hope, but I believe this was by no means certain. When fully adult the sexes differ but little in colour; the female may, however, at all times be distinguished by her diminutive size, and the young by the bill being clouded with dark grey. Besides being larger than the three succeeding species (namely, D. culminata, D. chlororhyncha, and D. melanophrys, to which and the present the generic appellation of Thalassarche has been given), the beautiful grey on the sides of the mandibles and the yellow mark at the base of the lower mandible will at all times distinguish this bird from the other members of the genus. The stomachs of those I obtained in Recherche Bay contained blubber, the remains of large fish, barnacles, and other crustaceans.”

Prof. Hutton added this bird to the New-Zealand avifauna on the authority of a specimen captured at Blueskin Bay, in Otago; and in 1877 I exhibited and described* an adult female taken on the beach near the Wellington Pilot Station and brought to me alive. The fishermen by whom it was caught informed me that it had apparently been shot at sea and allowed to float ashore, the right wing being completely disabled, but that they had nevertheless considerable trouble in overtaking it before it reached the water .

In lat. 55° S., long. 135° W., in fine but intensely cold weather, a pair came up to us and followed our steamer for two or three hours. They fly in company with D. exulans and appear to associate freely enough with the smaller Petrels, but they did not once approach very near to the ship. Their flight is graceful and in wide circles, the outstretched wings appearing narrower and straighter than in the other species of Albatros, there being scarcely any perceptible curve.

A shrewd collector, who appeared to know the bird well, assured me that he found it breeding on the Snares, the nest being placed on a high platform of rock and the birds being quite unapproachable, rising on the slightest alarm and circling high in the air till all danger was past, in which respect their habits differ entirely from those of the Wandering Albatros, which will often allow itself to be captured on the nest.

This species may be readily distinguished from all the other members of the group, notwithstanding the similarity of colour, by the basal black band on the bill and the peculiar fleshy membranes which fringe the base of the lower mandible and extend down the cheeks, in the form of a narrow rib, the use or purpose of which in the natural economy of the bird it is impossible to imagine.

This feature was entirely new to me; but I find that it exists in another species also, for Capt. Carmichael, writing of D. chlororhyncha, says:—“A curious circumstance, with regard to this bird, is that when irritated the feathers of its cheeks are separated, so as to display a beautiful stripe of naked orange skin running from the corners of the mouth towards the back of the head.”

The only thing analogous to it among the other Diomedeæ is the fleshy rib which extends from the angles of the mouth backward in D. fuliginosa.

I am indebted to Mr. L. Wilson, of the Marine Department, for two specimens of the egg of this species, which were collected by him on one of the islands lying off the east coast during one of his official trips in the steamboat ‘Stella.’ They are broadly elliptical in form (presenting, indeed, a perfect ellipse); one is appreciably larger than the other, and they are yellowish white, with a finely granulate surface, but somewhat soiled by contact with the bird’s feet. The larger one measures 4 inches in length by 2·6 in breadth; the other 3·7 inches by 2·5.

* Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. x. p. 217.

Mr. Cheeseman has since recorded a male specimen, presented to the Auckland Museum by Mr. Bate of Parnell.