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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Œstrelata Lessoni. — (White-Headed Petrel.)

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Œstrelata Lessoni.
(White-Headed Petrel.)

  • Procellaria lessonii, Garnot, Ann. Sci. Nat. vii. p. 54, pl. 4 (1826)

  • Procellaria leucocephala, Forst. Descr. Anim. p. 206 (1844)

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

  • Astrelata leucocephala, Bonap. Consp. Av. ii. p. 189 (1857).

  • Æstrelata lessonii, Cass. Proc. Phil. Acad. 1862, p. 327.

  • Fulmarus lessoni, Gray, Hand-1. of B. iii. p. 106 (1871).

  • Procellaria lessoni, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 303 (1873).

Ad. pileo summo et facie laterali albidis: regione ante- et suboculari nigricante: collo postico et laterali albicante obsoletè cinereo transfasciato: interscapulio et dorso superiore obscure cinereis, ad apicem obsoletè fulvescente fasciatis: dorso postico et uropygio saturatè fuliginosis, supracaudalibus albis, versus apicem cinerascentibus: tectricibus alarum fuliginoso-brunneis, majoribus extùs cinereis: remigibus fuliginoso-brunneis, intùs cinerascentibus: caudâ albâ, pennis centralibus suprà cinereis, reliquis plus minusve obsoletè brunneo vermiculatis: corpore subtùs albo: subalaribus fuliginoso-brunneis: rostro nigro: pedibus obscurè flavis, digito externo et palmis partim nigris: iride nigrâ.

Adult. Crown of the head and nape greyish white, obscurely and minutely freckled with darker grey; back, mantle, and rump cinereous grey; upper surface of wings brownish black, the larger coverts narrowly edged with greyish white; sides of the head white, with a broad mark of brownish black crossing the eyes; throat, fore neck, and all the underparts pure white; primaries and secondaries brownish black, lighter on their inner webs; tail-feathers pale cinereous grey on their upper surface, and freckled at the tips; inner lining of wings sooty black, varied with grey. Irides and bill black; tarsi and a portion of the feet dull yellow; the outer toe of each foot and a diagonal patch across the webs black. Total length 18 inches; wing, from flexure, 12; tail 5·5; bill, following the curvature of upper mandible 1·9, length of lower mandible 1·7; tarsus 1·6; middle toe and claw 2·5.

I have never seen this fine Petrel but once in New Zealand, and it is evidently very rare. The one I refer to was picked up in a dying condition, in the ocean surf, near Kaipara heads. Mr. Reischek informs me that he saw it once at the Hen and Chickens, but could not secure it. The example figured in my former edition was obtained at the Bay of Islands, and is now in the British Musem. So far, therefore, as our present information goes, this bird confines its range to the ocean lying northward of New Zealand.

Mr. Gould has given the following account of it in his ‘Birds of Australia’:—“While engaged in watching the movements of the several species of the great family of Procellariidæ, which at one time often and often surrounded the ships that conveyed me round the world, a bright speck would appear on the distant horizon, and, gradually approaching nearer and nearer, at length assume the form of the White-headed Petrel, whose wing-powers far exceed those of any of its congeners: at one moment it would be rising high in the air, at the next sweeping comet-like through the flocks flying around; never, however, approaching sufficiently near for a successful shot; and it was equally wary in avoiding the boat with which I was frequently favoured for the purpose of procuring examples of other species.” He states, moreover, that during flight the dark colouring on the wings shows very conspicuously, assuming the form of the letter W.