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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Œcestrelata Cookii. — (Cook’s Petrel.)

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Œcestrelata Cookii.
(Cook’s Petrel.)

  • Procellaria cookii, Gray in Dieff. Trav. ii. p. 199 (1843).

  • Procellaria leucoptera, Gould, P. Z. S. 1844, p. 57.

  • Procellaria brevipes, Peale, U. S. Expl. Exp., Birds, p. 294 (1848).

  • Rhantistes cooki, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 768 (1856).

  • Rhantistes velox, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 768 (1856).

  • Cookilaria leucoptera, Bonap. Consp. Av. ii. p. 190 (1857).

  • Cookilaria velox, Bonap. Consp. Av. ii. p. 190 (1857)

  • Æstrelata cookii, Coues, Proc. Phil. Acad. 1866, p. 152.

  • Fulmarus cookii, Gray, Hand-l. of B. iii. p. 106 (1871).

  • Fulmarus leucopterus, Gray, Hand-l, of B. iii. p. 106 (1871).

  • Procellaria cookii, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 307 (1873).

Native name.—Titi.

Ad. suprâ saturatè cinereus, plumis quibusdem pallidiùs terminatis: alâ totâ nigricanti-brunneâ, primariis et secundariis intùs albis, his ferè omninò albis: rectricibus centralibus cinerascentibus, reliquis albo variis, duabus externis intùs purè albis: fronte albâ, cinerascenti-nigro variâ: regione suboculari conspicuè cinerascentinigrâ: facie laterali et corpore subtùs albis, pectoris lateribus cinereo lavatis et minutè variis: subalaribus albis, exterioribus plus minusve nigricantibus: rostro nigro: pedibus flavicanti-brunneis, palmis pallidioribus: iride nigrâ.

Adult. Crown of the head, hind part and sides of the neck, the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts dark ashy grey, changing to slaty grey in certain lights, the tips of the feathers paler, or very narrowly margined with greyish white, giving a peculiarly soft effect to the plumage; entire upper surface of the wings blackish brown, the primaries largely, and the secondaries entirely white on their inner webs; the forehead white, each feather largely centred with greyish black, presenting a spotted appearance on the surface; under the eyes a broad mark of greyish black; sides of the face, throat, fore neck, and all the underparts pure white, stained and freckled on the sides of the breast with ashy grey; under surface of wings white, largely marked with greyish black along the outer edges; middle tail-feathers dark ashy grey, the lateral ones mottled or freckled, and the two outermost ones on each side entirely white on their inner webs. Irides and bill black; legs and feet pale purplish blue, with the webs a little darker and yellowish. Total length 12·5 inches; wing, from flexure, 9·25; tail 4; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible 1·4, length of lower mandible 1·5; tarsus 1·2; middle toe and claw 1·5.

I have taken the above description from the type specimen in the British Museum, which was obtained off the New-Zealand coast. Up to the time of my first edition I had never met with it, although informed of a specimen in the collection of the , at Auckland. Numerous examples have since been received from the Hauraki Gulf and other localities, but it has not yet been recorded in the South Island. This Petrel seems to be generally distributed around our coasts, at any rate to the north of Cook’s Strait. It is diurnal in its habits, and on a fine sunny afternoon in April, while lying off the port of Napier, a score or more of them passed our weather-bow, displaying the contrasts of page 218 their plumage, and looking like huge moths fluttering over the troubled waters. The dark wings are conspicuous against the grey and white plumage of the body, and make it easy to distinguish this bird on the wing from all the other Petrels of similar size. They fly low, sometimes skimming the water, with their wings aslant, and appear generally to be moving in a scattered community. I have observed it in the Hauraki Gulf sailing gracefully at a convenient distance from the steamer. Once I observed it dip into the water, touching the surface first with its feet and resting for a few moments before it took wing again. It was perhaps picking up something from the sea, but I was not near enough to observe this. Reischek met with it on the Little Barrier, chiefly at the northern extremity of the island, and once on the Larger Chicken; but it was a comparatively rare bird, even in the former place, and during several months’ sojourn he collected altogether about a dozen specimens. Of these he opened seven, and found that the stomachs contained nothing but seeds and small seaweed, without any of the oily matter so abundant in the stomachs of other Petrels.

It deposits its single egg at the end of a burrow from three to eight feet long, very tortuous and entirely dug out by the birds themselves. At the extremity of this burrow there are invariably two chambers, one beyond the other, and in the further one usually the bird deposits her egg. Up to this time the male and female share the same compartment, but the male now withdraws himself, and for the rest of the breeding-season occupies another hole at some little distance from the nest. The burrows are generally on sloping ground, and, owing to their depth and extent, involved often two hours’ digging to get out the occupants. And here I may record a very wonderful fact in natural history, an excellent illustration of which by a local taxidermist attracted much attention at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. On some of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, and on several groups of rocky islets off the New-Zealand coast, there exists a very remarkable lizard, which has long since disappeared from the mainland. This is the tuatara of the Maoris and Sphenodon of naturalists. But this is the point of interest to us at present: wherever the tuatara and burrowing Petrel co-exist, there appears to be a perfect understanding between them; they share the same underground habitation and respect each other’s rights to the utmost. On the Chickens Mr. Reischek found the tuatara very abundant, and (I grieve to add) collected for the market some thirty or forty specimens, many of them of very large size. He assures me that in every instance he found the Petrel (sometimes Æstrelata cookii, sometimes Puffinus assimilis) and a lizard occupying one and the same burrow. Often the terminal chamber had, as it were, two compartments, facing each other, one of which was occupied by the bird, the other by the lizard; but generally the two were living “cheek by jowl.” Whether the bird was sitting on its single egg or had hatched out its callow young, it was never without its attendant lizard, keeping watch over the Petrel’s nest as the Hesperides were wont of old to guard the golden apples which Gaia gave to the lady Hêrê. Captain Mair tells me that he has observed exactly the same state of things on the island of Karewa, in the Bay of Plenty, where both tuataras and Petrels are abundant; and his brother, Major Mair, sends me a similar report from the Rurima Rocks lying adjacent thereto. But here comes the curious part of the story. Mr. Reischek affirms positively that the lizard assumes the guardianship of the cave, and actively defends the nest against any invasion from without. Under ordinary circumstances the tuatara, in the wild state, does its best to escape, but here, as Mr. Reischek declares, whenever he attempted to meddle with the bird on the nest the lizard would immediately come to the rescue, attacking his hands and fingers with exceeding ferocity and biting fiercely. So real and constant was this mode of defence that he had at length to make it a rule to capture and remove this “dragonette” before attempting to handle the egg or young bird on the nest.

The breeding-season begins about the first week in October, or perhaps a little later, freshly-laid eggs having been found on November 2nd. The egg, which is perfectly white, is broadly ovoido-elliptical, and measures 1·9 inch in length by 1·5 in breadth; the surface is smooth but not glossy. A rather larger example than usual, from the Little Barrier, measures 2·1 inches in length by 1·5 in breadth.