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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Daption Capensis. — (Pintado Petrel.)

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Daption Capensis.
(Pintado Petrel.)

  • Procellaria capensis, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 213 (1766).

  • Daption capensis, Steph. Gen. Zool. xiii. p. 241 (1826).

  • Procellaria punctata, Ellman, Zool. 1861, p. 7473.

Ad. pileo et collo postico usque ad interscapulium fuliginosis: dorsi totiùs plumis albis ad apicem conspicuè fuliginoso maculatis: tectricibus alarum minimis fuliginosis, medianis et majoribus interioribus ad basin conspicuè albis: remigibus fuliginoso-brunneis, intùs ad basin albis, secundariis albis, ad apicem fuliginoso maculatis: caudæ dimidio basali albo, apicali latè fuliginoso-brunneo: mento fuliginoso: corpore reliquo subtus albo, subcaudalibus exterioribus et subalaribus marginalibus fuliginosis: rostro nigro: pedibus saturatè brunneis: iride nigrâ.

Adult. The whole of the head, throat, back, and sides of the neck sooty black; the back, mantle, rump, and upper tail-coverts white, handsomely spotted with sooty black, each feather marked with a terminal triangular spot of that colour; fore neck, breast, and all the underparts pure white; primaries blackish brown, paler on the inner webs, and more or less varied with white; secondaries and scapulars white towards the base, black in their apical portion; wing-coverts sooty black, the longer ones varied with white; under surface of wings white, stained with sooty grey towards the edges; the long under tail-coverts tipped with sooty grey. Irides and bill black; legs and feet dark brown. Length 15 inches; wing, from flexure, 10; tail 4; bill, following curvature of upper mandible 1·25, length of lower mandible 1·4; tarsus 1·5; middle toe and claw 2.

To those who have made a voyage in the southern hemisphere probably no bird is so familiar as the so-called “Cape-Pigeon.”

It is numerous off the New-Zealand coast at most seasons of the year, and is the commonest of the birds inhabiting our seas. Nor indeed does it seem to be limited to any particular tract of ocean, for it is met with in all the colder latitudes.

In stormy weather it often approaches the land, following in the wake of the tossing vessel, hovering gracefully over the water, and occasionally alighting on the surface to pick up any floating substance that may arrest its attention. On one occasion, in comparatively smooth weather, a number of these birds attended our little steamer to the very mouth of the Wanganui river; but this occurrence was quite exceptional.

I do not know any more pretty sight than to watch the Cape-Pigeons on the wing. They move about with such absolute command of wing, presenting to the observer alternately their snow-white breast and then their prettily marked upper surface, the whole set off by their sooty black head and neck, that they look like large painted moths hovering in the air. The eye never tires of following them and noting their ever-varying evolutions, all performed with the utmost ease and gracefulness. Unlike the Albatroses and other sea-birds which exhibit a considerable amount of individual variation, one is struck with the wonderful uniformity in the plumage of these birds. All have the same freckled and spotted back and rump, and the same broad splash of white on the upper surface of each wing. There is no transitional plumage from the young to the adult states, and no difference observable between the sexes.

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When clustering together and disputing for the possession of some floating offal, they utter a low cackling note, like ka-ka-ka-ka.

The peculiar roundness of back which characterizes the various species of Albatros and other Procellariidæ, when on the wing, is conspicuously apparent in this bird.

Professor Hutton states that he has observed a Cape-Pigeon following a ship for several days in succession, when she has been making from 150 to 200 miles in the twenty-four hours. He adds:—“It is, I believe, the generally received opinion of naturalists that these birds, when seen for several days together, have never slept during the whole period, but have followed the ship night and day. To me, however, it appears incredible that any animal should be able to undergo so much exertion for so long a time without taking rest. Mr. Gould says that birds caught and marked are generally seen next day; but such is not my experience. I have sometimes marked ten or twelve Cape-Pigeons in a day, and seldom seen one again. Mr. Gould, however, is quite right when he says that sometimes a marked bird turns up after being absent for two or three days; and how can this be accounted for by the theory of the birds constantly following the ship? Most of the Petrels, more particularly those that burrow or live in holes in rocks, are no doubt nocturnal in their habits when they are on or near land; but when they are at sea they all become more diurnal. A few can certainly be often seen flying under the stern at night; and once, when I was keeping the middle watch, at about 1 A.M., a Cape-Pigeon, in crossing over the ship, struck a rope and fell on deck. Still they are never numerous, and where there were fifty or a hundred birds in the daytime there are only one or two at night. Their defenceless condition is, as far as I can see, the only reason for the Petrels hiding themselves by day and flying by night; for the oceanic mollusca &c. on which they feed are equally diurnal and nocturnal. At sea, however, where they have no enemies to fear and no holes to hide in, the conditions are quite different, and it is then better for them to take their rest at night and to be alert and feeding in the daytime, and they change their habits accordingly. I therefore believe that, although a few may follow a ship for a night, most of them sleep on the sea; and in the morning, knowing very well that a ship is the most likely place to obtain food, they fly high with the intention of looking for one. Some find the ship that they were with the day before; some another one. In the latter case, if the second ship is going in an opposite direction to the first, they are never seen by the first again; if, however, the course of the two ships is the same, the bird might very likely lose the second ship and rejoin the first, after a lapse of two or three days. A height of 1000 feet would enable a bird to see a ship 200 feet high more than fifty miles off; and often, although unable to see a ship itself, it would see another bird which had evidently discovered one, and would follow it in the same way that Vultures are known to follow one another. This opinion is much strengthened by the fact that at sunrise very few birds are round the ship, but soon afterwards they begin to arrive in large numbers; and I think I may safely say that this is always the case; for, having had to be on deck from four to eight o’clock every third morning for six of my voyages, and about once a week during my last voyage, I have had better opportunities for observing this than most people.” (Ibis, 1865, pp. 292–294.)

Mr. Layard writes:—“At one season of the year, about November and December, they disappear, and the voyager finds the sea duller and tamer than ever. We presume they go off to breed; but where they select their nurseries we know not.”

Sealers declare that the only locality known as a breeding-place of this species is the island of South Georgia; and, common as the bird is in all the temperate latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, its egg is still a desideratum in all the known collections.