The geology of the run is too fascinating a subject upon which to embark in detail. Suffice it to repeat what has been said before, that there are several hundred miles of precipice and crag on Tutira. The western boundary running north and south is for miles a rampart of sandstone capped with limestone. The native name of the block, Heru-o-Turea, the comb of Turea, most aptly describes the look of the countryside, sliced as it is into sections by immense sandstone ravines, each forming a separate “tooth” of this titanic comb.
Hen pigeon sitting.
Plate LXI. Nest as first seen with no branches cut away.
Plate LXII. “Pidgie” and his Mother.
The boundary rivers of the run are gorges from watershed to within two or three hundred feet of sea level, and many of the paddocks are almost completely bounded by cliffs and gorges. In the crannies of their sheer sides all sorts of interesting plants find foothold, and where one stratum overlaps another, limestone over papa for instance, the superposition is marked by a long line of greenery, sometimes flax and toi, but often rangiora, fuchsia, mahoe, etc., and it is on their lateral branches, jutting out into the air, that pigeons love to nest.
For pigeons, therefore, Tutira is an ideal breeding place, and many nestlings must be reared on the run each year.
This season we got four nests, three of them built in lateral forked branches jutting out from cliffs; the fourth built in low bush, was spread over the intercrossing growths of three species of tree and an immense lawyer vine. The pigeon's nest is not unlike a heap of magnified spillikins well spread out and flattened. Only sticks are used, and through them from beneath can be seen distinctly the peculiarly long narrow white egg.
The earliest of these nests came to grief a day or two before the 3rd of November, for upon that date I found the perfectly fresh egg lying broken beneath the spillikin platform. It had been probably blown out during windy weather. The next nest was found on November 11th, and one of the parents was sitting on the egg “Pidgy.”*
On the 5th of January I took him from the nest, and he was capable of flying a yard or two on January 12th.
Another nest was got on December 23rd, containing a young bird, “Kuku,” of about the same age as “Pidgy,” and he also was taken home. On the 18th December I got another nest, the parent sitting hard on the egg “Uncle Harry.” By the 5th of January “Uncle Harry” had hatched. Later on he, too, was taken home to be hand reared, and on January 15th was able to fly a yard or two. From the start all these hand-fed birds throve admirably, and I believe the first attempts at flight were in no degree delayed by their short spell of artificial life.
Of the two nests got with eggs, the first was found on November 11th, and the young bird was able, on January 12th, to fly a yard or two, and would no doubt then have left the nest. Sixty-one days, therefore, elapsed between my discovery of the egg and the evacuation of the nest by the young bird.
The second nest contained an egg on December 23rd, and the nestling hatched from it was fit to fly a yard or two on February 15th, or fifty-four days later.
The egg, moreover, in the first nest, was certainly not fresh when discovered, and in the second nest was very much incubated, the darkness of the young bird's body showing very markedly through the shell.
Some seventy days, therefore, must elapse from the laying of the egg to the abandonment of the nest by the young bird.
Such a long period of defencelessness must be compensated for by long life and a very small percentage of loss to nest and nestlings, the more so as it is possible that with breeding operations so unusually protracted, the pigeon may lay but a single egg in the season. On the other hand I have got pigeons still in the nest at a very
late date, and, taking the first weeks in November as the commencement of laying, and supposing that the young are gone by the second week of January, and further supposing that the old birds build again at once, there would still be time for a second nest, the second youngster leaving it by somewhere about the third week of March.
Each of the nests containing egg or young has been under the camera, and from them much insight has been gained into the pigeon's domestic arrangements and way of life generally. We have found out what excellent mothers the hens are, how seldom the young require nourishment, the curious methods by which their wants are supplied in the nest, the different notes of young and old, and their extreme hardihood, both in the shell and after hatching.
The female pigeon when sitting is rather more steadfast in her objections to leaving her egg than the most broody old hen of a fowl yard. Pecking the intruder's hand, striking at him with her wings, and “growling” with anger, she will withdraw to the very edge of the flimsy platform, nor during this retreat is the egg, which, I believe, is somehow carried between her thighs, ever exposed to view.
Plate LXIII. Young Pigeon expecting food.
When desirous of securing a picture of the egg alone I have tried again and again to gently shove her off, but in the end have failed and had to leave her, exceedingly angry and broody, her feathers fluffed out, her tail spread to the very fullest extent, but victorious, and still in possession of her treasure.
The egg, nevertheless, need not be so carefully cherished, at all events as far as warmth is concerned, for on the 5th of December I know that “Pidgy” — to my great concern — was uncovered for over four hours, yet on the 6th he was hatched a fine strong chick.
The hen pigeon, when not disturbed, is an extraordinarily quiet and serene sitter, apparently for half an hour at a time not altering her position in the slightest degree.
One of my particular ambitions of the past season was to see this species feed its young, and to secure a picture of the act in progress. The nest where “Kuku” sat was selected for the preliminary effort. He had been first discovered when a well-grown bird of three weeks, and opposite his platform a screen and sham camera had been fixed.
This first attempt was a failure, for although I waited for over twelve hours, the old birds never visited the nest.
I was there by 6.30, and a few minutes later had finished unwrapping the real camera—placed there overnight—and was ready. During these operations the nestling never moved, but for a couple of hours lay quite still with his back to me. Later on he changed his position from time to time, once or twice during my vigil stood up in his nest for exercise, and at intervals during the long day, did a good deal of yawning, preened his feathers, nibbled the leaves and sticks within reach, relieved himself over the edge of the nest, rolled his crop round and round as pigeons do, and also went through series of throat and neck exercises, retching as if he was preparing to be sick.
At eleven he began to feel the heat very much, and moved about the nest, seeking for the least particle of shade. About noon I saw the parent birds in the distance, and heard them alight on a tall dead tree some sixty or eighty yards away.
It was not, however, until long past six in the evening that either of the old pigeons began to approach the nest.
Plate LXIV. Pigeon very angry and retreating to edge of nest.
It was then too late for photography, and partly because I wanted the young bird and partly because I thought it just possible it had been deserted, I decided to carry “Kuku” home.
I had, moreover, the less hesitation in taking him, as there was a second string to my bow in the nestling on the Racecourse cliffs. In regard to desertion, later in the year, and with a larger knowledge of pigeon nature, I found that I had certainly been quite mistaken, and that the old birds were merely keeping away because slightly suspicious, and well aware that their nestling would be none the worse for a twelve hours' fast. Through that long day, indeed, the nestling never seemed to me to evince any signs of hunger. He never whined or piped or looked about him with any particular interest. On the contrary, “the dog it was that died”; it was I who was starving, for my lunch was in my saddle bag, and I could never, of course, venture out for it. As, however, hour after hour passed, with my thoughts fixed on the joys of witnessing the pigeon feeding its young, I began to think about feeding myself, and the poor innocent bird on its nest
began to have a ludricrous resemblance to Quail on toast. By 6.30, when I left the cliff, ample as were the proportions of the Quail, and huge as was the piece of toast, I could have easily disposed of both. I rode home that night wondering if it was suspicion of the shining lens—the screen had been up three days—that had kept the old birds off, whether they fed the nestling only at dawn and very late, or whether in truth the nest had been deserted.
Allusion has been made to the discomfort suffered by the young pigeon from the sun's heat. That its rays should have ever reached the nest at all was of course owing to the necessary tieing back of some branches and the excision of others. The pigeon is most particular to guard against any risk of this sort, and always selects a site in open shade and where the sunlight is filtered through many layers of leaf.
The bird incubates, indeed, in almost complete shade, for even at noon hardly a chink of direct light falls on her.
During August, when the mated birds, clad in kings' raiment of purple and gold and green, seem on their lichened kowhais conscious only of the joy of spring returned,
Plate LXV. Hen Pigeon and Young.
perhaps really they are planning their future nests. There can be no greater error than to believe that any spot is good enough for a bird to build, and I believe myself that the nesting site is only chosen after long deliberation.
This year three times I chanced upon a pair thus deep in thought, each time upon the same branch, and within a yard of the spot finally chosen for the nest — a nest from which, unluckily, the egg was blown or tumbled out. I have often admired the care with which the details have been studied out, the shadow of each leaf and growing leaf, the sway of branches dancing in the breeze or lashed and swaying in the gale, the course of the water runnels that cling and linger on the wet bough's base, the ceiling of leaves that overlap like scales, and are fit to deflect even the huge drops of thunder rain.
The Pigeon, nevertheless, in his choice of a site, does not seem always to quite allow for the force of gales in spring, and possibly a few nestlings and eggs are blown from their spillikin platforms. I have mentioned the egg found broken beneath the nest, and “Pidgy,” after a violent
storm, was found beneath his nest, unhurt, however, and serene on a bed of swamp fern. Evidently he had been fed and tended there by the old birds. In this case, however, alterations had been made in the surrounding branches; several saplings had been cut and other boughs fastened back.
My second attempt was on the Racecourse nest, which was reached at 3.20 a.m., for on this occasion I was determined to discover if really the nestling was fed at dawn. A few minutes later the silence of the bush was broken by a single sharp, clear note from a Tui, and shortly afterwards a Warbler began to trill. The young Pigeon lay with his head sunk between his shoulders, and remained in that posture till after eight o'clock. About then I heard the parent birds settle in the immediate vicinity of the nest, and presently I became sure that the youngster was about to be fed. He also knew it, becoming watchful and attentive to every sound, and beginning also to pipe faintly and agitate his wings, shaking them out from his sides with a curious shivering motion. These expressions of his feelings became more and more marked as the hen bird approached, and
Plate LXVI. Young Pigeon being Fed.
Plate LXVII. Preparing to resist.
when at length she perched only a few yards distant from the nest, the youngster's eyes were rivetted to her with an intensity of gaze almost solemn in its earnestness.
I noticed, too, that though he thus followed with his head her every motion, he had shuffled his body round so that it pointed directly towards a certain claw marked bough that led on to the nest platform. He thus sat looking across his shoulder, his head following her body slowly and steadily, as iron does a magnet. All the motions of the parent bird were most deliberate, although by this time her offspring was piping with impatience and continuously shivering out both wings, but especially the one nearest her.
Still acting with tantalising slowness, she finally reached the branch leading into the nest and towards which his head now, as well as his body, pointed, and down this bough she sidled till close to her eager nestling.
Then, again, she paused as if to calculate the exact distance, bending her neck down towards the young one, who simultaneously raised his head. Their beaks then met, the old bird's overlapping that of the nestling,
and the contents of her crop were transferred to his with curious swaying, undulatory motions. This remarkable operation took about three seconds, and I judged that the food given was at least partially digested from the absence of dilatation in the nestling's outstretched neck. After staying for a few minutes about the nest, she flew off and the young bird again settled down comfortably on his platform.
I had at last witnessed the actual process but still wanted to find out how often it was repeated, for as yet one of the puzzles of the bird had been that no attempt at feeding had ever been witnessed, and although McLean was away for some weeks at this date, I had been time after time for hours about the nest, and the Pigeons were perfectly accustomed to the screen which had been then up for weeks, and was, indeed, hardly necessary, so friendly had the birds become. Until that afternoon no further feeding took place, and no bird was even in the vicinity except the male, who kept watch and ward from his perch on the dead kowhai tree. He never moved from there, and only at long intervals exchanged a “ku” with me. At about four
Plate LXVIII. Young Pigeon being Fed.
I heard the hen settle a few yards off, and at the sound the nestling began as before to prepare for his dinner, shaking out his wings and piping.
As before, too, though his eyes were rivetted to his parent, yet his body pointed to the claw scratched bough leading to the nest. Again he sat with his head pointing across his shoulder, as step by step the old bird sidled down the bough.
Once more, after due pause for exact measurement of distance, were the beaks of parent and child locked together, and as before, the contents of her crop transferred to him. Both parents, I believe, fed the nestling, but the female was the more bold and more frequent visitor.
How often young Pigeons may be fed in very early life or immediately before leaving the nest I have no means of knowing, but about nine o'clock and about four o'clock were “Pidgy's” meal hours during a considerable portion of his nest life, and experience gained by the artificially reared birds bears out the belief that Pigeons only feed twice a day. My trio, while on their made-up nests, were never ready for food oftener, and to this day in full liberty
come down to be fed but twice in the twenty-four hours.
No doubt at first the baby Pigeon is fed from the proliferation of the cells of the parent's crop, and gradually the food given in a form less and less digested. During his last week in the nest “Pidgy” was being fed on almost or quite raw kaiwhiria berries, for the ejected kernels lay thick beneath the nest. The transference of the contents of the crop then takes longer, and is repeated twice or thrice in a couple of minutes.
“Uncle Harry” also, like “Pidgy,” was an egg when I first discovered him, and as I had failed before to get a photo of a Pigeon's nest and egg, and as this nest was in an impossible position, we decided to lower the sapling on which it was built, photograph the nest, and afterwards replace the whole. Much had to be done, for the nest rested on intercrossing branches of three trees—tawa, whau, and matipo—as well as on a lawyer vine, and all sorts of sawing and snipping and cutting was required.
First of all, however, and in case of a sudden jar, and as an act of extra precaution, we took out “Uncle Harry,”
Plate LXX. Up in Arms.
Plate LXIX. “Ku-Ku.”
raking him out very gently from beneath his mother. I then wrapped him in my cap in case he should be broken, and left him on a limestone ledge while we continued our work.
After a time it was curious to notice how the mother Pigeon gradually began to miss him and became uneasy, yet even then we succeeded in lowering her down, still sitting, to the required level.
It was only when we had all but secured the lashings of the lowered sapling, that she flew off, shamming lameness and a broken wing, and fluttering off through the open underwood—the only time, by the bye, I have noticed a pigeon exercising this useful ruse. Had she had her egg beneath her I believe she would have continued to sit through the whole operation.
“Uncle Harry” was then put back in his nest and photographed, the sapling was replaced and securely fastened, and when an hour later I returned, hardly daring to hope all would be well, I found the courageous hen again sitting on him. In due course he hatched out, and eventually was taken to join “Kuku” and “Pidgy” at the house.
The Pigeon has several notes, one a single low “ku,” which may be taken to express watchfulness and caution, perhaps recognition too; then there is a louder, more interrogative single “ku,” by which alarm is indicated. The “growl” of extreme anger in the hen bird, and the eager piping of the nestling in expectation of food, have been mentioned. There is also the almost inaudible, sharp, slightly sibilant whistle of welcome, hardly, perhaps, a whistle, or, if to be so designated, then a whistle ethereal, spiritual and sublimated to attenuity. I often hear “Uncle Harry,” perched in the pear tree, shaking his wings and whistling thus when he spies me on the lawn and welcomes my approach. Then there is the curious double sound of grunt and whistle, noticeable when food is not at once forthcoming, and which may perhaps express impatience. Lastly, there is the moan*
coming sometimes, though very rarely indeed, from the parent bird—usually the male—who watches and guards the nest. What is its signification I have no idea
Plate LXXI. “Uncle Harry.”
whatsoever. There seemed no reason for it, and I could associate the sound with neither comradeship nor danger.
The youngsters thus ravished from their nests, and named by my little daughter “Kuku,” and “Pidgy,” and “Uncle Harry,” were each, upon arrival at the house, presented with an artificial nest, and though I say it who shouldn't, quite a superior article to the original. A large bowl was filled up with broken flax stems, over them were placed sticks, and on top of all the slender droopers of weeping willows cut into short lengths. “Kuku” and “Pidgy” were companions at first, and afterwards, owing to an accident to the latter, “Pidgy” and “Uncle Harry.” They were fed on oatmeal porridge, and on that and bread they thrived from the very start of their new life. During the first few meals the feeding was rather a messy business, but we soon learnt that by gentle manipulation of the throat, the birds could be made to voluntarily gape. The porridge should be fairly thick, and if it is then fed with a teaspoon and the little sections moistened with milk, they slither down the Pigeons' throats most artistically,
and no porridge sticks either to the neck of the bird or the fingers of the feeder. The birds held their beds of state at eight in the morning, when the nest had been changed, and then, before the throng of courtiers, each eager to do the feeding, and each firmly impressed with the belief in his or her superior method, the Pigeons received their first meal. The second was about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. After feeding was over there was the further interest of watching the process of “churning” as we we used to call it—the stirring of the crop round and round, first one way, then the other. After feeding, too, often the tail feathers would be agitated for very long with a rapid shivering tremor. As early as their third meal piping and quivering of wings assured us of an eager appetite. Later, bread was added to their simple menu, and sometimes cake, which their souls adore, and which was always welcomed with extra piping and wing fluttering. The wing is held out laterally, and we were thus able in a manner to shake hands with our little charges. The birds, during this period of detention, were very careful never to foul their nests, always retreating
to the edge of the platform when about to relieve the necessities of nature. When they began to want to fly, our friends were removed to an aviary, where they could practice short flights. In it they stopped for a week or ten days, learning always to hop down from perch to perch when meal times came round. Except this, they moved but little, and I should imagine that under perfectly natural conditions, when the young first quit the nest, they do little more for many days than perch quietly and feed. Maybe during that period they are still nourished by the parents, or perhaps the old birds lead them to a berry-loaded tree and there leave them. There was never any question of confining or cageing the birds, and the little aviary was only used during these few days because the youngsters were beginning in their peregrinations to upset the ink and generally disarrange my working room, where they had been brought up. At last came the day of liberation, with its anxieties lest the birds should lose themselves during the first flight, and its satisfaction when we beheld them established and at home in the big willow on the lawn. One side of the aviary,
I may say, was taken down so that they could emerge from it without any handling, for however tame birds may be they cannot bear to be held—their liberty is too precious to be entrusted even for a moment to the very dearest of human friends. Should grasping, however, be unavoidable, the bird should be held gently, though very firmly. The struggling, which terrifies more than the capture, can thus be almost entirely avoided, and the bird liberated tenderly and quietly. Ever since then, with the exception of another brief period of detention to “Pidgy,” through an accident, and to both during the worst period of their moult, “Kuku” and “Pidgy” have come and gone in perfect freedom. “Uncle Harry,” taken from the bush at a later date, was still in his artificial nest in my working room, and was not then fit to fly. Their first meal is usually made a little after our seven o'clock breakfast, and the second after lunch; or, should the household be away, about afternoon tea time. In the event of prolonged absence, we would find the birds waiting for us in the drawing-room or one of the bedrooms off the verandah, and would get a friendly whistle and a shake of the
Plate LXXII. “Uncle Harry” —three weeks old.
wings as welcome. But, although perfectly clean in their habits, we had to discourage this custom, as “Pidgy” one day in an attempted exit hurt himself against a closed window.*
By the last week in January “Kuku” and “Pidgy” were in magnificent colouring, their plumage perfect, and themselves very fit and strong. After that moulting began and the feathers gradually lost their lustre and gloss. The whole plumage, too, seemed to be thinner and not to fit and overlap with the former exact nicety. The birds, in fact, looked comparatively shabby and dingy. We noticed, too, that their appetites fell off, and by the first of March they were in poor plight. “Uncle Harry's” moult, perhaps because he was later hatched, seemed to come on faster, and a noticeable crop of quite new quills appeared about the base of his beak. There is no native bush close to the house at Tutira, and the only shelter for Pigeons
smallish clumps of pinus insignis, through which heavy wind and rain can easily penetrate. As about then the Pigeons were evidently feeling the bad, wet weather— “Uncle Harry,” indeed was found on the ground one day in a very wretched condition —the three were again put back into the aviary, where there was good shelter, and where the birds could feed out of the rain.*
As before, the whole side of the aviary was opened, and the birds were marched in, seated on our heads and shoulders— their usual habit when flying down to be fed. All handling was thus avoided. The birds were in no way fluttered or terrified, but hopped quietly from our heads on to their perches. After one or two attempts at the wire on the part of “Kuku,” the trio settled down happily, and were fed and watered in their enclosure for two or three weeks. Moulting is, with the Pigeon, seemingly a lengthy process, for even by mid-winter our trio were in far from perfect plumage. Probably under natural conditions the young birds retire during the worst
Plate LXXIII. “Uncle Harry” in his artificial nest.
period of the moult to the very depths of the bush, and there, in shelter and comfort, build up their strength. About mid-April, when they began to seem more robust, the aviary was opened and the birds allowed to quit at their own convenience. Since then they have enjoyed full freedom, coming to their meals every day, once in the morning and once or twice in the afternoon. Whilst eating, the pigeons are most particular as to the condition of the feeder's hands. On one occasion I had been gardening in muddy weather, and the birds, though hungry, evinced every sign of disgust, and nervousness at the soiled appearance of my hands, and, indeed, I had to wash to appease their susceptibilities. Gloves, too, cause them uneasiness, and on another occasion, when a Maori woman, one of my innumerable “landlords,” wished herself to feed the birds, her brown skin was so evidently an offence that we feared the stout old lady would notice it, and had to invent many excuses for the birds' unusual conduct! They are now beginning, undoubtedly, to feed themselves on poplar buds, the undeveloped male seeds of the insignis, and probably other dainties of that kind.
Often I hear the Pigeon termed a stupid bird, and just as an honest man among rogues is called a fool, so, perhaps, the Pigeon's trust and guilelessness does deserve that name amongst those who shoot him sitting at close quarters. Otherwise, he is by no means a fool. Far from being stupid, the Pigeon, on intimate acquaintance, seems truly a very sensible bird. Thus, when put back into the aviary after some weeks of entire freedom, many birds would have spent hours battling against the wire. Not so the Pigeons. They at once settled down. Then, when poor “Pidgy” was hurt by an angry hen, and carried back wounded to my working room, he was welcomed by “Uncle Harry,”—still on his artificial nest, and then for long separated from his parents,—with effusive wing shakings, and it is a curious fact that on at least two occasions “Pidgy” attempted to feed the younger bird pigeonwise from the crop. Then, again, “Pidgy,” when brought back hurt, settled at once on his bowl and resumed again his old cleanly habit in regard to sanitation of nest. Other instances of a high degree of intelligence on the part of the two perfectly wild bush birds that
Plate LXXIV. “Uncle Harry” and his Mother.
have domesticated themselves will be mentioned later. Of the trio it is “Uncle Harry” whom we love best. I confess we spoil him, though, mind you, his is not a nature easily hurt. He is too gentle and good, and if he does get more jam roll and cake and sponge cake and the buttery inside bits of scones, who can resist a creature so sure of his welcome? We can tell him before he alights, merely by his straight, resolute flight to shoulder or head. He has never heard a harsh word or known a moment of fear, and comes up like a happy child not knowing yet that elders can be churls and chide, or that there is aught in life but loving welcomes and loving words. He was taken from the nest as a younger bird than the others, and we rather flatter ourselves that his superior manners are the result of a longer acquaintance with the Guthrie-Smith family and their guests. While still on his artificial nest, I was always, when passing between my workroom and the darkroom, sure of a friendly wing shake, and this often when the bird was full fed, and when there could be no suspicion of cupboard love in the action. Afterwards, as a grown bird and free, for long we con-
to exchange greetings, I on the lawn giving him a word or two, he on the tree top softly fluttering his wings in reply. I notice, however, that as the birds grow older, this pretty infantile custom becomes more and more rare, and has now indeed practically ceased. Each of our three birds has his own well-marked individuality and special habits, “Uncle Harry,” for instance, always preferring to fly direct to the head or shoulder. There his first act is to nibble along the edge of the nearest ear, ending up with a real good hard tweak, just for all the world as if he was wrenching a morsel from a slice of bread. He likes, also, to be fed on the shoulder, peering eagerly over for the morsels handed back to him. “Uncle Harry's” speciality is the human ear; but each of the three will, when hungry, attempt to swallow the little finger or the finger tips. Perhaps by some blind, confused mental process thay may believe us to be some new species of berry-bearing tree, the fruit borne always at the extreme tips of the branchlets. “Pidgy,” always rather more touchy than his mates, has of late begun to suffer from what, in a human
subject, we should call nerves, and unless every motion of his feeder is extraordinarily gentle and deliberate, will, on his worst days, open his wings as if to strike, and even use his beak to peck. This, we know, of course, is only his way, and not bad temper or malevolence, and doubly excusable after his two small accidents in early life. “Kuku” is the strongest and handsomest of the original trio. He is the first, usually, to alight on the ground for fallen scraps, a position disliked by the Pigeon tribe, and where they show to little advantage, with their awkward hops and waddling gait. He is a famous trencherman, too, and even when moulting, his appetite hardly fell off. Of the three, he is the wildest bird, perhaps from natural disposition, perhaps because he was a more mature nestling when first transferred to my workroom.
Some time about the beginning of April, these three, “Kuku,” “Pidgy,” and “Uncle Harry,” began to attract other wild bush pigeons to the homestead, and somewhere about that date my little girl was delighted to notice a fourth bird on the pear tree top, “because, you see, Daddy, it
might be ‘Uncle Harry's’ mummie coming to see if we are good to him.” On one or two occasions there was also a fifth bird about the place. But it was not until the beginning of May that either of the two wild birds showed any signs of wishing to make our more intimate acquaintance. About then, one of them, whom we christened “No. 4,” began more and more frequently, sometimes two days running, and again sometimes not for five or six days, to come down with the others. At first he was content to watch them from his pear tree perch, but at last approached still nearer to the scene of their feasts, and settled on the verandah roof. Still later, he took the great step of joining the tame birds on the lawn, where, on that particular day, they were being fed. At first he would not attempt the bread thrown near him. On the other hand, he appeared to think that not to eat when the others were feeding, might, in the strange company in which he found himself, perhaps be considered a breach of good manners. He fed, therefore, at first out of courtesy and complacence, on the only vegetation visible. This was grass, and it was comical to watch him
Plate LXXV. “No. 4.”
plucking, rather distastefully, small mouthfuls of this uninviting “tack,” whilst the other three were gobbling at their little squares and cubes of bread. Several times he thus fed with the others, hopping about and apparently searching for something better than the grass and daisy heads, of which he partook sparingly, and in a very halfhearted fashion. At last, one day he was seen to pick up and swallow one or two tiny crumbs and this we considered another great step in his education. After this, my dates are exact, for our hopes were growing that we should be able to hand-feed and tame a fully matured wild born bird, and we were all very much interested. On June 2nd, he was again on the ground and this time attempted to secure a bit of bread out of “Uncle Harry's” beak. A day or two after, and when once more on the ground with the others, “Uncle Harry” was observed to feed him twice, turning round to do so, and, moreover, taking care to shove the bits of bread well down his throat. On June 5th, sitting on a low branch, he took bread readily, but, though eating a hearty meal, could not be quite coaxed to leave his branch and accept the
proffered wrist. On the 6th he took from me a big feed of the suety crust of an apple dumpling. Though, however, he would not venture on to my wrist, he was otherwise perfectly serene, and apparently regarded apple dumpling crust as not at all an extraordinary diet for a sensible bird. Between the 5th and the 13th, whilst being fed, he was repeatedly within an ace of trusting himself on wrist or arm, and several times, too, when about to alight hovered as if intending to perch on the head of the bread carrier. Until the 13th his heart failed him, but upon that date he flew without hesitation or vacillation straight to the head of one of our guests, and allowed himself to be quietly manipulated on to her wrist, and in triumph lowered down and fed. We now consider him completely domesticated, and as a regular member of our little flock. “Kuku,” “Pidgy,” and “Uncle Harry” are tame, and will allow their friends to caress them. But this newcomer is still more confident and trustful. The young birds, especially “Pidgy,” are liable to sudden panics, on which occasions they seem to be listening intently, and then dash
Plate LXXVI. “No. 4” at Breakfast.
off in all directions. “No. 4” is the last to join in these stampedes, and sometimes does not budge at all. Nor does he seem to have any objection to numbers, for during his first few meals we were all eager to view him closely and admire his magnificent attire. He is a heavier bird than any of the others, and his matured plumage quite outshines that of the younger Pigeons.
On June 26th another bird, “No. 5” as he is called, flew down on to the lawn, and as “No. 4” had at first behaved, began to pluck and eat mouthfuls of grass. That day he was in company with the other pigeons, and with them came up close to us and appeared perfectly tame. Four days later he arrived by himself, settling on the verandah roof, and his mates appearing shortly afterwards, the lot finally perched on the railings. There for some little time “No. 5” watched the others feeding, and at last quietly flew on to my daughter's head, hopping after a while on to my wife's arm, and then on to her shoulder, but still refusing the bread offered, and always attempting to pluck the finger tips. So trustful, however, was the bird,
that even on this, his first close connection with us, when his mates scattered in one of their sudden panics, he quietly remained.
For long this bird had been about the place, and had evidently noted that we were entirely to be confided in, and that his friends were obtaining food. These facts he must have pondered over for months, while “Pidgy,” “Kuku,” “Uncle Harry,” and, later, “No. 4,” were filling their crops and making themselves very much at home with us. It was not, however, for another six or seven weeks after the date mentioned that he actually took bread from our hands. That amount of time was still, apparently, necessary to work out the bread and finger tips problem. “No. 5” has for many weeks now been completely domesticated, and comes and goes with the other four. He, too, like “No. 4,” is a fully matured bird in fine plumage.
“Kuku,” “Pidgy,” and “Uncle Harry” are now some seven months old; they have given no trouble to the grown-ups, and to the younger folk of the station have, together with the Pukekos, “Budget,” “Toddy,” “Jack,” “Jill,” and, later, “Septimus,” been a source of unmixed pleasure
Plate LXXVII. Child Feeding Pigeons.
and interest. Even if they left us tomorrow, we elders have learnt from them what we never could have guessed. The station children have gained more. To them it has been an education, I believe myself, of the soundest sort, not taught by parents out of books, but drawn by the children themselves direct from nature.