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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

Larus dominicanus, Licht. (Black-backed Gull.) — Larus scopulinus, Forst. (Red-billed Gull.)

Larus dominicanus, Licht. (Black-backed Gull.)

Larus scopulinus, Forst. (Red-billed Gull.)

We have an excellent proof of the wisdom of protective legislation in the numbers and increasing tameness of the Seagulls that now frequent our harbours and estuaries. Not only are these birds very ornamental as they rest on the wharves and jetties, or hover lightly among the shipping at its anchorage, but they do good service to mankind as scavengers of the water by devouring the garbage which will inevitably find its way into the water in the vicinity of human habitations, and which, unless consumed, decomposes, and vitiates the atmosphere. On my last visit to Auckland I was much interested at seeing scores of seagulls of both species (Larus dominicanus and L. scopulinus) crowded together on the ridge-boards of the sheds on the Queen-street Wharf, in the very midst of the busy traffic. After years of rigid protection the birds have become quite familiar with the presence of man, and are, indeed, practically domesticated. What will happen in the course of time I saw exemplified at Glasgow, where hundreds of Kittiwake Gulls are to be seen all day long disporting themselves in the turbid waters of the River Kelvin, as it flows through the grounds in front of the Hunterian Museum. They are just as fearless and confident as domestic fowls, being wholly page 117 indifferent to the stream of passengers to and fro on both sides of the river. I met with another instance of this at Blairquhan, the country seat of Sir Edward Hunter-Brown, Bart. Here, owing to the close protection given to a small lake in the park, a couple of hundred Wild-duck had become perfectly tame, and would come up every day to the keeper's house to be fed. These same birds on being seen on the River Girvan close by, where shooting is allowed, are as shy as ever. So much for the intelligence of the common Wild-duck, which has learned to regard the park lake as a sanctuary, where it is perfectly safe from molestation! But to return to the Seagulls. The manner in which they have increased in Wellington Harbour during the last few years, in spite of advancing traffic, is a striking proof of the efficacy of this protection. At Pitone, where the Gear Meat-freezing Works are situated, there is of necessity a considerable discharge of refuse matter, and the number of Seagulls, of both species, that congregate there on the beaches and gravel-banks is something surprising.

On my last visit to Tokanu, on Lake Taupo, I noticed many hundreds of birds flying overhead, and the natives assured me these were the tarapunga (Larus scopulinus) on their regular migration from the Rotoaira Lake. This was on the 25th October. The birds were at a considerable elevation, presenting peculiar combinations; at one time flying in closely-packed lines, then forming into a wedge-shape, and then scattering again like a flock of crows, and uttering all the time loud cries of kek—kek—kek. Large contingents of the birds had already arrived, because they were to be seen crowding together in large numbers on the exposed sandbanks just above the surface of the water.