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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

HæMtopus Longirostris. — (Pied Oyster-Catcher.)

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HæMtopus Longirostris.
(Pied Oyster-Catcher.)

  • Hæmatopus longirostris, Vieill. Nouv. Dict. d’Hist. Nat. xv. p. 410 (1817).

  • Hæmatopus picatus, Vigors, App. King’s Voy. p. 420 (1834).

  • Hæmatopus australasianus, Gould, P. Z. S. 1837, p. 155.

Native names.—Torea, and Torea-tai.

Ad. suprà niger, dorso postico et uropygio cum supracaudalibus albis, his nigro notatis: tectricibus alarum majoribus conspicuè albo terminatis, fasciam verticalem formantibus: remigibus brunnescenti-nigris, scapis brunneis: caudâ nigrâ, rectricibus versùs basin albis: gutture toto et pectore superiore nigris, illo paullò brunnescente: corpore reliquo subtùs albo, subalaribus marginalibus nigris: rostro apice flavo cruentato: pedibus cruentatis: iride coccineâ.

Adult. Head, neck, and fore part of breast, mantle, scapulars, and upper surface of wings and tail shining black, glossed with green in certain lights; back, rump, lower part of breast, and all the under surface pure white; the secondaries and their coverts crossed by a broad band of white, which is very conspicuous when the wings are spread; the axillary plumes and the inner lining of wings pure white, the edges of the latter mottled with dusky black. In some examples the dark plumage is sharply defined against the white of the lower parts by a line crossing the breast just above the insertion of the wings; in others the line of demarcation is broken by scattered fringes of white intermixed with the black. Irides and eyelids crimson; bill dark arterial red, changing to coral-red towards the tips of both mandibles, which are yellow; legs dark arterial red. Length 18 inches; wing, from flexure, 10·5; tail 4·25; bill, along the ridge 3·6, along the edge of lower mandible 3·75; bare tibia 1; tarsus 2; middle toe and claw 1·6.

Obs. The sexes are alike in plumage, but the male is somewhat larger than the female.

Young. In a fledgling I find that the distribution of the colours is the same as in the adult. The white of the underparts is sufficiently although not sharply defined against the dark plumage of the breast, and the blackish-brown down of the upper parts is giving place to black feathers with dull brown margins; the lower part of the back, rump, and upper tail-coverts white, with some obscure greyish markings; tail-feathers black, with long, straggling filaments of down still adhering to their extremities; alar white mark quite conspicuous. Bill blackish brown, changing to reddish towards the base of lower mandible; legs and feet reddish brown. In another from the same nest, but in a more downy condition, the crown, sides of the head, and fore neck are lighter, being mottled with grey, whilst the lower part of back, rump, and upper tail-coverts are obscurely barred all over with blackish brown.

Younger state. Uniform dull black strongly tinged with brown especially on the entire upper surface, the wing-coverts very minutely and the secondaries more largely tipped with fulvous brown. Irides dark brown, with a reddish eyelid; bill dull orange-red at the base and on the rictal membrane, passing into reddish olive in the middle portion and shading into brown towards the tips of both mandibles; legs and feet leaden grey. Enlargement under tarsal joint very conspicuous.

More advanced state. Plumage as in the adult, but with the dark plumage more or less suffused with brown, the white of the underparts less pure, and the pectoral line of demarcation somewhat broken or indeterminate; the axillary plumes and under tail-coverts irregularly margined and broadly tipped with dusky black; rump page 17 and upper tail-coverts varied more or less with black, many of the feathers being blotched and all of them tipped with that colour; the white alar bar very narrow and inconspicuous; the wing-coverts and inter-scapulars narrowly edged with fulvous brown; and the plumage of the upper surface without any sheen or gloss. Bill reddish yellow, darker at the base; legs and feet pale red.

Chick. Covered with down of a greyish-buff colour, varied on the upper parts with black; there is a broad streak of black on the crown, another on each wing and thigh, and a series of large square spots down the middle of the back, tinged with red at the base; bill and feet dull brown.

Albino. Major Mair informs me that he saw a pure albino of this species on the ocean-beach at Opotiki. The whole of the plumage was of snowy whiteness, and the irides, bill, and feet bright red. He observed this beautiful bird on several occasions, but failed in all his efforts to secure it.

This fine species, which closely resembles the European Oyster-catcher (H. ostralegus), is generally dispersed over the southern coast of Australia, and is particularly abundant in Tasmania and among the islands in Bass Strait. It likewise occurs all round the New-Zealand coasts; but although a few may be met with on every stretch of sandy beach, it is nowhere very abundant. Occasionally they are found in parties of six or more, but more generally in pairs, and sometimes in association with the Black Oyster-catcher, which is a far more common bird in the middle and southern portions of the colony. I have counted as many as nineteen consorting together at one time, of which number only six belonged to this species. They are occasionally met with in the Hot-lakes District of the North Island, wading about in the warm water and capturing small prey. Like its European prototype, it subsists on small mollusks and crustaceans, for securing which its long wedge-shaped mandibles are peculiarly adapted. Notwithstanding its ungainly form, the strongly contrasted black and white of its plumage and the bright red of its bill and feet render it an attractive object on the smooth sandy beach, where it may be observed sedately reposing on one leg, or nimbly running to and fro in search of its prey left exposed on the beach by the receding tide. During the nuptial season, it is curious to watch the male bird paying his addresses to the mate of his choice; elevating his back and lowering his bill till it nearly touches the ground, he struts or runs round her with a loud quivering note, no doubt expressive of his undying attachment; and when there are two rival males thus performing in concentric circles before the same shrine of devotion, it is amusing to observe with what perfect indifference the object of this demonstration appears to receive the attentions of her rival suitors. When once, however, her affections are secured, she appears to remain faithful to her mate, and the pair continue together, if not for life, certainly long after the breeding-season, with all its cares, has passed by. Even when consorting together, as they frequently do, in small flocks, each pair seems to maintain its individuality; and when at rest on the sands the party may be seen disposed in couples, at short distances apart from the rest.

They love to bask in the sun, squatting close to the ground; and when disturbed by the presence of a dog or other disquieting object, instead of immediately taking wing they habitually run some distance along the sands. On being disturbed at night they take to the shallow water for safety.

The flight of this species is rapid; and on the wing it repeatedly emits a shrill whistling cry.

It breeds on the open sandy spits, or in the dry river-beds, forming its nest among the small drift-wood and other débris of the sea, or rather selecting a suitable depression in which to deposit its eggs; these are usually three in number, ovoid, measuring 2·5 inches by 1·5, and pale yellowish brown of a warm tint, marked over the entire surface with rounded spots and blotches of blackish brown, among which are paler markings of purplish brown. Sometimes, however, the nesting-place is on a sandy plain a couple of miles or more from the sea-shore. The young are able to run immediately on quitting the shell; but on the approach of danger they secrete themselves by squatting among the stones, to which their colour closely assimilates, while the parent birds resort to various cunning devices for drawing away the intruder.