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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Puffinus Griseus. — (Sombre Shearwater.)

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Puffinus Griseus.
(Sombre Shearwater.)

  • Procellaria grisea, Gmel. ex Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. p. 399 (1785).

  • Procellaria tristis, Forster, Descr. An. p. 205 (1844).

  • Puffinus major, Gray, Voy. Ereb. and Terr. p. 17 (1846).

  • Procellaria fuliginosa, Hombr. Voy. Pôle Sud, iii. p. 138 (nec Strickland, 1853).

  • Puffinus tristis, Gray, Ibis, 1862, p. 244.

  • Nectris amaurosoma, Coues, Proc. Phil. Acad. 1864, p. 124.

  • Puffinus amaurosoma, Gray, Hand-l. of B. iii. p. 102 (1871).

  • Puffinus tristis, Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1st ed. p. 317 (1873).

  • Puffinus griseus, Finsch, J. f. O. 1874, p. 209.

  • Puffinus stricklandi, Ridgw. Man. N. Amer. Birds, p. 61 (1887)*

  • Puffinus griseus, Salvin, Ibis, 1888, p. 355.

Native names.—Titi, Hakoakoa ., and Totorore: “Mutton-bird” of the colonists.

Ad. similis P. tenurostri, sed major et obscurior, plumis corporis superioris sordidè brunneo marginatis: aubtùs interdum pallidior: rostro cinerascenti-nigro, culmine flavicanti-brunneo: pedibus dilutè cyanescentibus: palmis pallidè brunneis: iride nigrâ.

Adult. Entire plumage blackish grey, the feathers of the upper parts narrowly margined with dull brown; in some specimens lighter grey on the throat and underparts of the body; inner lining of wings greyish white, mottled and clouded with dark grey. Irides black; bill dull greyish black, inclining to yellowish brown on the ridge; tarsi and toes bluish grey, the webs yellowish. Total length 15 inches; wing, from flexure, 11·5; tail 3·5; bill, along the ridge 1·75, along the edge of lower mandible 2·1; tarsus 2; middle toe and claw 2·3.

Nestling. Covered with thick slaty grey down.

This bird resembles Puffinus tenuirostris, but is appreciably larger, as will be seen on referring to their respective measurements. It is a common species in the New-Zealand seas, and is said to be extremely abundant at Stewart’s Island and on the adjacent coast. It is also comparatively plentiful on the Island of Kapiti, where it is found breeding as late as March. On the Island of Karewa and page 233 on the Rurima Rocks large numbers annually breed, sharing their burrows with the tuatara lizard, and submitting, season after season, to have their nests plundered by the Maoris, who systematically visit the breeding-grounds when the young birds are sufficiently plump and fat for the calabash.

Mr. Marchant informs me that he found this species breeding in burrows near the summit of the Island of Kapiti about the end of February. The excavations were in peaty ground over which a fire had passed, destroying all the surface vegetation. The young at this time were half-grown, thickly covered with light grey down, and extremely fat. On being held up by the feet, oily matter ran freely from their throats. The old birds, on being taken hold of, fought fiercely with their bills.

Mr. Kennedy also informs me that when engaged on a survey of the Kaimanawa ranges, his native workmen caught numbers of these birds in their burrows. On their first arrival at the breeding-ground the young birds were very small, but in the month of April they had attained their full size and were veritable lumps of fat, “pure oil pouring from the bill when the birds were held up by the feet.”

It sometimes breeds in the hills at the back of Wellington, and I once met with the bird on the coach road in the Ngauranga gorge.

There are some nesting-grounds of this species on Whale Island in the Bay of Plenty. I visited these breeding-places about the middle of January and found the nestlings still occupying their deep burrows, but they were well grown, with black quills and tail-feathers sprouting vigorously through their thick downy mantle of slaty grey.

These birds are at all times more nocturnal than diurnal, and when hovering overhead at night utter a frequent call-note, like tee-tee-tee, from which the Maori name is derived.

There are several well-known breeding-places on the south-east coast of Otago, and on Stewart’s Island, from which large supplies of potted birds are annually drawn and forwarded to the Northern tribes, a poha titi (or cask of preserved Petrel) being a gift worth the acceptance of the highest chief.

Of this species probably Dr. Crowfoot writes (Ibis, 1885, p. 268):—“This Petrel, called by the Norfolk-Islanders ‘Mutton-bird’ or ‘Ghost-bird,’ from its child-like cry at night, lays its eggs on Norfolk, Phillip, and Nepean Islands. Its breeding-period extends over a considerable time. I have seen young birds nearly fledged on the 27th October, and have obtained fresh eggs on the 15th January. This bird digs out a hole in the soft soil on the faces of the cliffs, also in the sand on flat ground. Some of the burrows are six feet and more in length. The bird also lays extensively on Phillip Island in shallow recesses under overhanging boulders and in colonies, i. e. many may be found close together. On Norfolk Island its holes are always isolated and the burrows deep. One egg only is laid. Both bird and egg have a very strong peculiar smell, and I can usually tell a fresh hole from an old one by the smell of the entrance. There is no nest. The eggs, which are pure white, vary from 2·5 inches to 2·75 in length, and from 1·5 inch to 1·75 in breadth. Some are equally rounded at both ends; others are much pointed at one end.”

An egg supposed to belong to this species, and sent to me by Mr. Drew (who obtained it at Kapiti), is ovoido-elliptical in form, measuring 3·1 inches in length by 1·95 in breadth; it is white, with a smooth surface, but much discoloured by soiling.

Of the closely allied species, Puffinus carneipes, Mr. Salvin writes (l. c.):—“Sir Walter Buller’s collection contains a specimen which appears to me to belong undoubtedly to this species; the only other examples which I have seen are from Hakodate in Northern Japan. The latter only differ in being rather older, and in more worn plumage, the New-Zealand bird being freshly moulted. These additional localities show that this bird has a much wider range than has hitherto been suspected. Gould’s types came from Cape Leewin, S.W. Australia.

“The bird is rare in collections, and we have considerable doubts as to the correct determination of those stated to be in the Leyden and other museums (cf. Schl. Mus. Pays-Bas, vi. Procellariœ, p. 26); the Leyden birds should, I believe, be referred to Puffinus griseus (Gm.).”

* Mr. Salvin writes:—“There is now a large series of skins of this bird in the British Museum; and I have taken the opportunity of comparing birds from the North Atlantic with others from the Pacific Ocean, and have failed to see how two species can be set up as proposed by Mr. Ridgway. In his recently published ‘Manual’ it will be seen that dimensions do not afford any diagnostic characters, and that the only difference to be detected is that the under wing-coverts in the Atlantic bird are grey, transversely mottled with white at the tips, whereas in P. griseus they are white, transversely mottled with grey at the tips. A comparison of specimens shows how trivial this difference is. In the Pacific Ocean this species occurs as far north as the Kurile Islands, whence specimens have been sent by Mr. H. J. Snow.” (Ibis, 1888, p. 355.)

One of the Ngatiapa witnesses in the Rangatira case gave the following evidence:—“Pirihakoakoa is the name of a place in the cliffs far up the Rangitikei river—where the Hakoakoa was accustomed to breed. We repaired thither at the right season to extract the young birds from the holes. The cry of this bird was pipiriki-pipiriki-tawharara.