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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Puffinus Tenuirostris. — (Bonaparte’s Shearwater.)

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Puffinus Tenuirostris.
(Bonaparte’s Shearwater.)

  • Procellaria tenuirostris, Temm. Pl. Col. vol. v. livr. 99 (1836).

  • Priofinus brevicaudus, Bonap. C. R. xlii. p. 769 (1856).

  • Nectris brevicaudus, Bonap. Consp. Gen. Av. ii. p. 201 (1857).

  • Nectris brevicauda, Coues, Proc. Phil. Acad. 1864, p. 127.

  • Puffinus brevicaudatus, Hutton, Cat. Birds New Zeal. p. 45 (1871).

  • Puffinus brevicaudus*, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 315 (1873).

Native names.—Titi, Hakoakoa, and Hakuakua.

Ad. omninò fuliginosus, corpore superiore brunnesente lavato: rostro nigricanti-brunneo, mandibulâ pallidiore: pedibus vinascenti-cinereis: iride nigrâ.

Adult male. Entire plumage sooty or blackish grey, the upper surface strongly tinged with brown. Irides black; bill blackish brown, the under mandible paler; legs and feet vinous-grey; the webs yellowish flesh-colour, blackish brown towards the edges. Total length 15 inches; wing, from flexure, 10·75; tail 3·75; bill, along the ridge 1·5, from gape to extremity of lower mandible 1·8; tarsus 1·75; middle toe and claw 2·25.

Female. Differs from the male only in having the plumage more suffused with pale brown, the feathers of the breast, sides, and underparts generally having brownish margins.

Young. Has the blackish grey of the upper sides of the face and sides of the neck fading gradually into the white of the underparts; the bill also is darker, being of a uniform brownish black, very slightly paler along the under edge of the lower mandible.

Younger state. A fledgling in Mr. Drew’s collection, which was picked up on the Wanganui sea-beach, has the plumage as in the adult, except that the throat and fore neck are ash-grey, the down of that colour giving place, however, to white feathers, which are at present very minute. On the lower cheek the down has almost disappeared.

Obs. A specimen picked up by myself on the ocean-beach near Otaki gave the following measurements:—Total length 14 inches; extent of wings 26·5. This was in the early part of February, and the bird was in adult plumage, but too far gone to admit of my preserving it.

This species of Petrel is very abundant on our coasts, and retires inland, sometimes to a distance of fifty miles, to breed. It nests in underground burrows, forming often large colonies, and resorting to the same breeding-place year after year. There is said to be an extensive nesting-ground of this kind in the Kaimanawa ranges in the Taupo-Patea country. At certain seasons the natives collect large numbers of these birds and preserve them in calabashes, potted in their own fat, either for future use or as gifts to neighbouring tribes.

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It is extremely abundant in the seas surrounding Tasmania and among the islands in Bass’s Strait, to some of which it resorts in countless numbers for the purpose of breeding. Green Island is described as the great Petrel nursery; and a most interesting account thereof, by Mr. Davies, may be found in the second volume of the ‘Tasmanian Journal.’ The following extracts must suffice:—“About the commencement of September these birds congregate in immense flocks, and shortly afterwards proceed, at sunset, to the different isles upon which they have established their rookeries. Here they remain during the night for the space of about ten days, forming their burrows and preparing for the ensuing laying-season. They then leave and continue at sea for about five weeks. About the 20th November, at sunset, a few come in to lay, and gradually increase in numbers until the night of the 24th. Still there are comparatively few, and a person would find some difficulty in collecting two dozen eggs on the morning of that day. It is not in my power to describe the scene that presents itself at Green Island on the night of the 24th November. A few minutes before sunset flocks are seen making for the island from every quarter, and that with a rapidity hardly conceivable. When they congregate together, so dense is the cloud, that night is ushered in full ten minutes before the usual time. The birds continue flitting about the island for nearly an hour, and then settle upon it. The whole island is burrowed; and when I state that there are not sufficient burrows for one-fourth of the birds to lay in, the scene of noise and confusion that ensues may be imagined; I will not attempt to describe it. On the morning of the 25th the male birds take their departure, returning again in the evening; and so they continue to do until the end of the season…… . Besides Green Island the principal rookeries of these birds are situated between Flinders Island and Cape Barren and most of the smaller islands in Furneaux’s group. The eggs and cured birds form a great portion of the food of sealers, and, together with the feathers, constitute the principal articles of their traffic…… It takes the feathers of forty of these birds to weigh a pound; consequently sixteen hundred must be sacrificed to make a feather bed of forty pounds weight. Notwithstanding the enormous annual destruction, I did not, during the five years I was in the habit of visiting the Strait, perceive any sensible diminution in their number. The young birds leave the rookeries about the latter end of April, and form one scattered flock in Bass’s Strait. I have actually sailed through them from Flinders Island to the heads of the Tamar, a distance of eighty miles. They shortly afterwards separate into dense flocks, and finally leave the coast.”

The following extract from Flinders’s Voyage (vol. i. p. 170), describing a single flight of these birds, will give the reader an idea of their prodigious numbers:—“There was a stream from fifty to eighty yards in depth and three hundred yards or more in breadth; the birds were not scattered, but were flying as compactly as a free movement of their wings seemed to allow; and during a full hour and a half this stream of Petrels continued to pass without interruption, at a rate little inferior to the swiftness of the Pigeon. On the lowest computation I think the number could not have been less than a hundred millions. Taking the stream to have been fifty yards deep by three hundred in width, and that it moved at the rate of thirty miles an hour, and allowing nine cubic yards of space to each bird, the number would amount to 151,500,000. The burrows required to lodge this quantity of birds would be 75,750,000; and allowing a square yard to each burrow, they would cover something more than 18½ geographic square miles of ground.”

It is very plentiful in the Hauraki Gulf, and is diurnal in its habits. It associates on the water in large communities, has a vigorous flight, and utters a peculiar cry represented by the syllables hakwa-kwa, from which it derives its native name. It breeds on all the islands in the Gulf—not, however, in colonies, but each pair selecting its own locality and excavating a deep burrow, sometimes 5 feet in extent, with a rounded chamber at the further end, where a single egg is deposited about the end of September. A specimen in my son’s collection, from Lord Howe’s Island, is of a rather elliptical or slightly pyriform shape, measures 2·75 inches in length by 1·6 in breadth, and is perfectly white.

* Dr. Finsch was the first to identify our bird with Puffinus tenuirostris; and Mr. Salvin says of it:— “It seems well established that P. brevicaudus of the Australian and New-Zealand seas does not differ from P. tenirostris of Japan. The latter name has priority.”