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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

Art. V.—On a New Species of Fern-bird (Sphenœacus) from the Snares Islands; with an Exhibition of Specimens. — [Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 25th July, 1894.]

page 127

Art. V.—On a New Species of Fern-bird (Sphenœacus) from the Snares Islands; with an Exhibition of Specimens.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 25th July, 1894.]

I have much pleasure in exhibiting this evening some specimens of a new bird, which I have distinguished as Sphenœcacus caudatus. In order to secure the advantage of early publication, I have sent my diagnosis of this species to our London ornithological magazine, the Ibis; but, as I think it well to have everything of the kind on record in the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute" for the convenience of local workers, I append a copy of that paper.

In a collection of birds made for me by Mr. H. H. Travers on the last visit of the Government steamboat "Hinemoa" to the various groups of islands adjacent to New Zealand, there are a good many specimens of the Fern-bird or Utick, obtained by him on the Snares, a group of islets lying about seventy miles south of the southernmost extremity of New Zealand. I have hitherto referred this island-form to Mr. G. R. Gray's Sphenœacus fulvus. But the opportunity of examining so good a series (both male and female) has led me to investigate the subject further, and I am now satisfied that the species is distinct.

Mr. G. R. Gray's description of Sphenœacus fulvus appeared in his very useful "List of the Birds of New Zealand and the adjacent Islands" which came out in the Ibis of 1862.

To commence with, his bird was from New Zealand; and, although no locality is given, it cannot have come from the Snares, inasmuch as there was no communication with these small islands at that time.

According to his description, Sphenœacus fulvus, although of a "rather larger size" than Sphenœacus punctatus, has a smaller bill and shorter tail. This is not the case with the bird from the Snares, which is altogether appreciably larger, the bill being more robust, and the tail so conspicuously different that I have named the species from that feature: that is to say, instead of its being composed of Emu-like feathers with disunited barbs, the webs are closely set and compact, not differing in any way from the typical tail-feathers of the extensive family to which this genus belongs. Mr. Gray says of his bird that "the black streaks and dots are less pronounced than in Sphenœacus punctatus," which is not true of this bird; and he adds that "the abdomen is white, more or less minutely dotted with black," a description which is page 128 equally inapplicable to this species. In Mr. Gray's bird the white superciliary streak is more pronounced than in Sphenœacus punctatus; in this species it is less so.

The form which I am now distinguishing appears to be intermediate between Sphenœacus punctatus of New Zealand and Sphenœacus rufescens, mihi, of the Chatham Islands; and its occurrence on the Snares is the more interesting as another inhabitant of these islets is the Chatham Island Robin (Afire traversi, mihi), which has never yet been found in New Zealand.

Sphenœacus caudatus, sp. nov.

♂ ad. similis S. punctata, sed paullo major: ubique lætius fulvescens, plumis vix ita distincte medialiter lineatis: pectore etiam minus distincte maculato: remigibus rectricibusque ochrascenti-fulvis; caudâ minus acuminatâ, scapis plumarum haud nudis, sed ad ipsum plumiferis. Long, alæ 2.65, caudæ 3.5, rostri 0.5, tarsi 0.85.

♀ mari similis.

Hab. Inss. Snares, maris Novi-Zelandici.

This is the Sphenæacus fulvus of my "Birds of New Zealand" (2nd ed., vol. ii., p. 61). The specimens therein referred to as having come from the South, without any locality being assigned, must, I now feel assured, have come from the Snares. They reached me through dealers, and it is almost impossible in such cases to get reliable particulars of the kind.