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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Prion Turtur. — (Dove Petrel.)

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Prion Turtur.
(Dove Petrel.)

  • Procellaria turtur, Kuhl, Monogr. Procell. p. 143, pl. xi. fig. 8 (1820, ex Banks MS.).

  • Prion turtur, Gould, Ann. N. H. xiii. p. 366 (1844).

  • Halobæna typica, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 768 (1856).

  • Pseudoprion turtur, Coues, Proc. Phil. Acad. 1866, p. 166.

Native names.—Whiroia and Totorore.

Ad. suprà pulchrè et saturatè cinereus, scapularibus brunnescentibus albo terminatis: tectricibus alarum dorso concoloribus, minimis brunnescentibus: remigibus fuliginoso-brunneis, intùs albis, secundariis cinereis: caudâ cinereâ, ad apicem brunneo fasciatâ; facie anticâ albâ minutè cinereo punctulatâ: supercilio albo ab oculo postico suprà regionem paroticam ducto: plumis subocularibus et regiome paroticâ cinereis: facie laterali et corpore reliquo subtùs albo, pectore laterali summo et hypochondriis imis pulchrè cinereis: sub-alaribus albis: rostro clarè cinereo, ad basin nigricante: pedibus pallidè cinereis, anticè viridi lavatis, palmis albicanti-canis: iride nigricanti-brunneâ.

Adult. Crown of the head, back of neck, and upper parts generally delicate blue-grey; a small spot in front of the eyes and a streak below them greyish black; space surrounding the bill, the lores, a broad line above and continued beyond the eyes, the throat, fore neck, and all the under surface pure white, tinged on the sides of the body and flanks with blue-grey; the primaries and their coverts are black on their outer webs; a black band with fading edges covers the smaller wing-coverts, and passes across the lower region of the back and the scapulars, leaving the tips of the latter white; and when the wings are expanded this assumes the form of a crescent; the middle tail-feathers are blackish towards the tips, and their under-coverts are tinged with blue. Irides brownish black; bill bluish grey, darker on the sides, and inclining to black at the base; legs and feet light blue, tinged with green in front, the webs whitish grey. Total length 11 inches; extent of wings 22; wing, from flexure, 7; tail 3; bill, along the ridge 1, greatest width at base ·4, length of lower mandible 1·2; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 1·6.

Young. Assumes the adult plumage on emerging from the downy state.

Chick. Covered with thick, soft down, and having much the appearance of a little ball of wool. General colour grey; whitish on the fore neck, breast, and abdomen. Bill whitish horn-colour at the tip.

Nestling. The downy covering darkens to a slaty grey as the young bird advances, and the feathers begin first to show themselves on the wings.

This charming little Petrel is extremely abundant off our coasts, and I have often observed flocks of them on the wing together numbering many hundreds. In boisterous weather it appears to suffer more than any other oceanic species from the fury of the tempest, and the sea-beach is sometimes found literally strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying. I have frequently watched them battling, as it were, with the storm, till at length, unable longer to keep to windward, they have been mercilessly borne down upon the sands, and being unable, from sheer exhaustion, to rise on the wing again, have been beaten to death by the rolling surf or pounced upon and devoured by a hovering page 210 Sea-Gull. On picking them up and placing them in the pocket of my overcoat, they have soon revived, and in some instances have lived for several days on a diet of fresh meat, minced into small pieces. From the increased activity they always manifested on the approach of night, seeking the darker corners of the room and fluttering about in a very excited manner, with a rapid twittering note, I conclude that, whether at sea or on land, this Petrel is more nocturnal than diurnal in its habits. During the day the eyes were always half closed, imparting a peculiar fretful expression to the face. One circumstance interested me much, as illustrating the force of habit. On taking up one of these birds and inserting its bill in a glass of water, it at once commenced to move its feet, as if in the act of swimming or treading the waves. I repeated the experiment many times, and always with the same result.

This Petrel, like many of the others, feeds on squids and other small jelly-fish, which contribute likewise to the support of our great cetaceans. The presence of large flocks at sea is regarded by whalers as a favourable sign on this account, and among sailors the Dove Petrel is generally known as the “Whale bird.”

In rising from a plane surface I observed that they always accomplished it by running a few feet with the wings outstretched, so as to give the body an impetus forward; and they seemed never to tire of climbing over the armchairs or other inclined surfaces in the room, using both wings and feet in this operation. At sea they are very active on the wing, and are rarely seen to rest on the water; they hover over the rolling billows, and dance, fairy-like, in the trough of the sea, sometimes poising their bodies like butterflies over a flower, at others cutting the air with the swiftness of a meteor, and always apparently intent on the one object of seeking the small marine animals on which they feed.

In the winter of 1878 I had occasion to visit the Wellington west coast, after a north-west gale had been blowing for several days, and I found that large numbers of Prion had been killed by the fury of the tempest and their bodies washed ashore on the beach. In travelling by coach from Waikanae to Otaki, a distance of only ten miles, I counted no less than twenty-seven lying on the strand, and there were probably many more. As I performed the rest of the journey to Manawatu in a buggy, I was able to stop and pick up specimens. In this way I was fortunate enough to obtain, during one day, twenty fresh birds. Of these, twelve were referable without hesitation to Prion turtur and eight to P. banksii. The difference in the size and form of the bill was constant, and among individuals of each species there was only a slight variation.

Reischek found this Petrel breeding in holes underground, on both the Little Barrier and the Chickens; but it was very scarce, and met with only on the highest wooded ridges in the centre of the island. He found a fresh egg on the 1st November, and met with young birds (one in each nest) in the beginning of December, and reports that during the breeding-season this Petrel hovers about after dusk, making a noise like the cackling of a Bantam-hen after laying her egg, but not quite so loud.

Of the egg of this species I have received specimens from the Island of Kapiti, in Cook’s Strait, where also Mr. Percy Seymour obtained fresh ones on the 20th October. The egg is of a regular ovoid form, measuring 1·8 inch in length by 1·5 in breadth; it is creamy white, and generally much soiled over the entire surface. Examples vary slightly in form and size, one of the specimens in my son’s collection measuring 1·8 inch by 1·2, and another 1·7 inch by 1·3.