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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

1. Nestor meridionalis, Gmelin. (Kaka.)

1. Nestor meridionalis, Gmelin. (Kaka.)

Mr. Gould, in the supplement to his superb work on "The Birds of Australia," figures and describes several species from New Zealand. Among these there is the Prince of Essling's Parrot (Nestor esslingii, De Souance), upon which he remarks as follows:—

"A single specimen only of this magnificent Parrot has come under my notice; and this example is perhaps the only one that has yet been sent to Europe. It formerly formed part of the collection of the Prince d'Essling of Paris, but now graces the National Museum of Great Britain. It is in a most perfect state of preservation, and is, without exception, one of the finest species not only of its genus, but of the great family of Parrots. The native country of this bird is supposed to be New Zealand; but I, as well as M. de Souance, have failed to learn anything definite on this point. In size it even exceeds the great Kaka (Nestor meridionalis), which it resembles in the form of the beak, while in its general colouring it closely assimilates to the Nestor productus; in some features of its plumage, however, it differs from both. In both those species the tail-feathers are strongly toothed on the under surface with red; and in the N. esslingii no such marks occur, the toothing on the inner webs of the primaries is not so clear and well defined, and the light-coloured interspaces are much freckled with brown."

Dr. Finsch, on the other hand, states in his "Monograph of Parrots" that Nestor esslingii is in size and general colour the same as Nestor meridionalis, but "has the breast ash-grey with brown terminal margins, and a broad yellowish-white transverse band straight across the belly." He quotes De Souance to the effect that the red marks on the inner vane of the quills and tail-feathers are precisely as in Nestor meridionalis.

As far back as 1870 I expressed my belief that this was only an accidental variety of our common Nestor meridionalis; and a subsequent examination of the specimen in the British Museum, on my first visit to England, confirmed this view. At this time the specimen was exhibited, mounted with others of the same genus, in a plate-glass show-case in one of the main galleries. But Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, the able Curator in charge of the collection of birds, has had them carefully unmounted and reduced to the condition of cabinet skins, as page 142 he feared that constant exposure to the light would have a damaging effect on the bright plumage. In the "Bird-room," however, they are always accessible to students, and may be examined with more satisfaction than in hermetically-sealed show-cases.

The specimen which I have the pleasure of exhibiting tonight is, so far as I can remember, almost exactly similar to the type of Nestor esslingii. There is a very slight indication of the toothed markings on the under-surface of the tail-feathers; but, as I have already shown, the authorities differ as to their presence or entire absence in the original specimen. The curious part of the story, however, is that the bird now exhibited is one of three, all marked alike, recently obtained in the same locality (District of Marlborough)—all three of which I have had an opportunity of examining. One would have felt much inclined to rehabilitate Nestor esslingii as a species but for the fatal circumstance that one of them has the lower mandible on one side yellowish-white, betraying the latent tendency in the bird to albinism. I still feel satisfied, therefore, that this handsome bird is only a variety of Nestor meridionalis, the most variable of all our indigenous Parrots.