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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Diomedea Fuliginosa. — (Sooty Albatros.)

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Diomedea Fuliginosa.
(Sooty Albatros.)

  • Sooty Albatros, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. pt. 1, p. 309 (1785).

  • Diomedea fuliginosa, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 568 (1788).

  • Diomedea spadicea, Lesson, Man. d’Orn. ii. p. 391 (1828).

  • Diomedea fusca, Aud. Orn. Biogr. v. p. 116 (1839).

  • Diomedea palpebrata, Forst. Descr. An. p. 55 (1844).

  • Phæbetria fuliginosa, Reich. Natürl. Syst. Vög. p. v (1852).

Native name.—Toroa-pango.

Ad. fuliginoso-cinereus, alis caudâque saturatioribus: facie laterali nigricante: fasciâ postoculari albâ: primariorum scapis ad basin albis, rectricum scapis omninò albis: rostro nigro, gonyde albicante: pedibus albis purpureo lavatis: iride saturatè cinerascenti-brunneâ.

Adult male. Head and neck and upper surface of wings and tail brownish black; back and mantle slaty brown, with obscure wavy bands or margins of brownish grey; the rest of the plumage uniform dark slaty grey; the eyes surrounded posteriorly for two thirds of their circumference by a distinct mark of white; the shafts of the primaries white in their basal portion, and those of the tail-feathers in their whole extent. Irides dark greyish brown; bill jet-black and perfectly smooth, with a white cartilaginous line along each side of the lower mandible; legs and feet white, with a purplish tinge. Total length 32·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 19; tail 9·5; bill, along the curvature 4·25, from the gape to extremity of lower mandible 3·75; tarsus 2·75; middle toe and claw 4·75.

Adult female. Similar to the male, except that the whole plumage is lighter, being of a dull sooty brown, darker on the head and upper surface of wings and tail; the feathers of the back and the interscapulars broadly margined with paler brown.

Young. Differs from the female only in having the plumage of the upper parts more largely tinged with brown, the margins of the feathers paler, and the marks encircling the eyes light grey instead of white.

Nestling. Covered with thick down having a woolly appearance, and being sooty black with pale brown tips.

Var. A specimen obtained by Mr. Reischek at Antipodes Island is remarkable on account of its very pale colour. The general upper surface is slaty grey, becoming darker on the head; the underparts uniform light slate-colour.

Note. The fine series in my collection consists of the adult male bird, female, and young, as described above.

This well-known species (the “Cape-Hen” of sailors), which appears to be generally distributed over the temperate latitudes southward of the Equator, is comparatively common in the New-Zealand seas. Its graceful form and long cuneated tail at once distinguish it from all the other members of the group, while its short and rather feeble legs indicate its more aerial character. Thus we find Mr. Gould observing that “in its actions and mode of flight it differs very considerably from all the page 206 other species of Albatros, its aerial evolutions being far more easy, its flight much higher, and its stoops more rapid; it is, moreover, the only species that passes directly over the ship, which it frequently does in blowing weather, often poising itself over the masthead, as if inquisitively viewing the scene below. At this moment it offers so inviting a mark for the gunner that it often forfeits its life.”

In the winter of 1856 I received a very fine specimen from the Wairarapa plains, where it was found alive many miles from the sea, apparently blown inland by the violence of the prevailing storms. I have since received several specimens from the South Island, all in adult plumage, and a young bird from Cook’s Strait, where the violence of the storm had driven it ashore.

It flies fast and often very near to the surface, almost touching the water, and with the wings more angular than in D. exulans. The black head is very conspicuous, and the length of tail enables one to distinguish the species almost at any distance. Its flight is more like that of an ordinary Petrel, and it has the same habit of coming up close under the stern of the ship and down into the trough of the sea.

On my last voyage to England (viâ Cape Horn) on the 16th March, about lat. 55° S. and long. 144° W.—in a heavy westerly wind with the thermometer very low,—a pair of these birds came up to us and followed our steamer during a great part of the day, although she was making nearly 20 knots an hour.

An egg of this species examined by me is of a narrow elliptical form, measuring 4·2 inches in length by 2·7 in breadth; of a dingy brownish white, splashed, dotted, and marked all over its larger pole with dull blackish brown. Another, of the same length but somewhat narrower, is of a clear greyish white, minutely and indistinctly spotted, and presenting a pretty regular zone of sepia-brown near its larger end.

Some naturalists separate this form from the other Albatroses under the generic name of Phœbetria, Reich., with the following distinguishing characters:—Bill excessively compressed; a sulcus on the sides of lower mandible; feathers forming a deep re-entrant angle on culmen; an acute salient on one side of lower mandible; nostrils very large; tail elongated and cuneate.

As mentioned on page 202, it has been proposed to treat three of the preceding forms of Albatros as belonging to one and the same species, but the more specimens I examine the more satisfied I am as to their being specifically distinct. In D. chlororhyncha the shape of the head and whole expression of the face are so entirely different from D. melanophrys that I do not understand how any naturalist who has compared them can confound the species. The dark loral spot is one of the distinguishing features of D. melanophrys, but I have seen a very old example in which it had entirely disappeared, the whole of the head and neck being snowy white.

In the Natural-History Museum of the Jardin des Plantes there is a beautiful specimen of Diomedea culminata; head and entire neck delicate uniform slate-grey; there is no loral spot, but there is a dark rim round the eyes; bill black, with the culmen yellow, broadening on the hook; lower edge of under mandible up to commencement of the symphysial margin, and forming an angle upwards at the base, bright yellow. In the same collection there is a very fine specimen of D. chlororhyncha, in which the forehead and crown are pure white; the cheeks and face of a very delicate pearl-grey, this wash presenting a distinct boundary line extending from the mandible to the upper margin of the eyes; bill black, with the ridge of the upper mandible and the extreme tip of the lower bright yellow, this colour running up into an acute point near the root of the bill, and spreading out on the hook, where it deepens into orange-red. In the Liverpool Museum there are two specimens of D. melanophrys, in which the colour of the bill is changing from brownish black to yellow. In two specimens of D. chlororhyncha in the same collection the bill is perfectly black, with a bright yellow culmen, changing to reddish on the ridge of the unguis.