Imagens das páginas

tunnel invariably inclined upwards, the entrance at some distance from the ground, four or five feet and upwards. In one instance the hole was not more than two feet from the base of a wall built on rather a steep slope; this is noted to show that the habits of our bird differ from those of its European congener Alcedo ispida. In Wood's 'Homes without Hands,' p. 519, is a representation of the nest of the English bird, and it may be noticed there that the floor of the tunnel is nearly on a level with the surface of the water; our bird always ascends in entering, and descends on quitting the nest.

October 10th, first egg laid in a nest on our cliff; second egg laid on the 12th, before 10 A. M.; third egg laid on the 14th; fourth egg on the 15th; fifth egg on the 16th; sixth and last egg, on the 17th. Subsequently the nesting-place was measured, and gave the following dimensions:—Entrance rather over two inches in diameter; tunnel sixteen inches in length; egg chamber of ovoid form, seven inches in length, five inches and a half in width, with a height from the bottom of four inches. The size of the nest may create surprise when one thinks of the space occupied by the eggs; but a roomy home is necessary, for, like those of most troglodytal breeders, the young remain in their hole till their wings are well grown. This stay-at-home habit saves the parents much expenditure of force, depending, as they do, for food on living prey; nor is the safety of their offspring so often jeopardised. Rapid digestion would cause the young to utter constant cries for food, which would disclose to enemies the whereabouts of each member of a scattered brood; the labour of hunting after stray young ones would be very great compared to the task of carrying food to one common feeding place. It should be noted that the egg-chamber is hollowed out slightly below the floor of the tunnel, a ridge is thus formed by which the eggs and newly-hatched young are kept safe from accident; in fact, there is no need of a nest during incubation, the warmth that is communicated to the hole by the body of the sitting bird being very considerable. The birds that built near us last season gave plenty of opportunity to watch their labours; steady hard work it is, indeed, that in some instances endures for weeks. After the site is selected and a commencement made, the birds do not both leave the spot, watch being kept by one whilst its mate works or is absent after food. Should an alarm be given it is speedily answered, though from the distance of half-a-mile* Both take about an equal share of labour. On timing them it was found that if the female worked hardest one day, on the next the male was most laborious.

October i23rd. The female bird at work in the hole three minutes; the male then took his turn, the time in the tunnel for either bird varying from a few seconds to about three minutes. When the female flew off to feed, the male remained to watch just below the hole; after his mate returned, in about twenty minutes, he at once recommenced work. They darted upwards from their perches into the hole, always correctly judging the distance, at the moment of entering uttering a short cry of two notes like " chi-rit." They turned when in the tunnel, as they always emerged head first. Once the female darted to the hole and flew back, perhaps from timidity, more likely from coquetry, then sought the male, who bent down from his perch and caressed her with his bill. Early in the morning, from five to six o'clock, little work was done, that part of the day seeming to be the time allotted for feeding, but the state of the tide might have had something to do with this, as the greater part of their food is procured from the mud-flats at ebb tide.

A notable instance of their perseverance was given this season; a pair fixed for the site of their nesting-place the back of a plaistered sod chimney attached to an empty cottage: they were at the chimney on the 19th of October. After commencing on the egg-chamber this nest was abandoned, probably the wall not affording what was considered by them a sufficient depth for the safety of their offspring. On the 3rd of November they were hard at work with a fresh nest in front of the cottage, between the door and a window; this was deserted for probably the same reason as caused them to leave the first nest. November 14th saw the same pair at work on a fresh site on the south wall of the same cottage, darting upwards from a convenient rail five and six times in a minute, till the hard plain surface of the wall was brokeu by the dig of the bill. This was the difficult commencement of their toil; here was no foothold, the beak served as a pick, and a separate dart upwards had to be made each time this pick was applied. Alas! their labour was again lost, three more holes were begun and partly completed in that wall; then this indefatigable pair went over to the opposite end of the cottage, and, in the chimney-wall they had first attacked, commenced another nesting-place,—this was the seventh attempt,—on November 26th. On December 4th this contained two eggs; on the 7th five eggs. The nest was visited, always by the same person, on the 9th, 16th and 28rd; on the 25th there were five young ones, apparently hatched on the previous day, thus allowing seventeen days for incubation. From the state of the tunnel, the bird fed or was fed during incubation. When a fortnight old the young look very strange; they have a dim show of the colours of the old birds, but the feathers are in their sheaths over their whole bodies, so that they look prickly all over; irides dark brown, almost black; the bill black, with white tip to the upper mandible. On the twenty-fourth day the young left the nest, dashing out of the hole aud covering quite two hundred yards before seeking a perch: this occurred on the 8th of January, so that most of the heavy labours of the birds, which commenced on or before the 19th of October, are now over, as the young are able to follow their parents to the feeding-ground. Here a very interesting question rises. In what state was the ovary of this female during the protracted labours of nest-building? What limit is there to the power of retention? as during a space of about six weeks, judging from the almost finished state of the nest, she was three times ready, or nearly ready, to deposit her eggs.

We found the halcyon scarce through some part of Westland, from Hokitika south to the Waio River; the note was only heard, or the bird seen, twice or thrice near the rivers Waitaroa and Okarita. Inland from the coast we have met with it as far back as Castle Hill, near Porter's Pass; this was at breeding time (December 6th). It is during this all important season that these, our silent birds, change their habit so much as to become really noisy; so many varying calls or cries are used that one accustomed to their society could tell of much they might be engaged in, even with his eyes shut. Their boldness in driving away intruders from their young is most conspicuous. The female bird will often meet a person some two or three hundred yards from her treasures, dash at the intruder, return to the place where the young are perched, and repeat the attack again and again. We have known it attack and drive back a dog; in the autumn, when the old birds are accompanied by their young, boldness seems mingled with mischiei or humour. We have seen a group of fine pigeons sunning themselves whilst preening their feathers on the roof of our village parsonage, in an instant scattered to the winds, as one might say, by the sudden dash of a mischievous kingfisher, with no other


apparent object than to excite their alarm. We have noticed sheep and cattle grazing close to a nest without causing any anxiety to the birds, yet a cat, or human being, would be immediately attacked. We have seen our handsome butterfly (Pyrameis) sunning itself unmolested just above a nesting-hole at which a pair of kingfishers were at work, yet after the young had flown we found the bottom of the chamber covered with remains of thousands of insects, including the gauzy wings of our largest dragonfly. At Ohinitahi, in the breeding-season of 1871, we knew of three nests containing in each seven eggs, one nest with six, and another with five eggs.

Thrush (Keropia crassirostris, Gray); "pio-pio" of the natives; "thrush" of the settlers.—In writing on the natural history of our birds, the bewailment of their lessened numbers has come to be a matter of course; the rapid settlement of the country has, in the case of the thrush, limited its range greatly, few birds having retreated with so much haste before the efforts of the cultivator. Let us take a section of this island, say one hundred miles in width, including Banks Peninsula, and stretching from the eastern to the western shore; this will afford some information as to its present habitat. Within this range, at one time, the pio-pio might be found in any bushy place, not too far from water, where belts of shrubs afforded shelter and abundance of seeds; ten years at least have passed since we heard of its occurrence in this neighbourhood (Governor Bay); on Banks Peninsula proper it is now scarce; in the bush-dotted gullies of the Malvern Hills, the Thirteen-mile Bush, Alford Forest, and many other localities, it Was not very uncommon; now, let an enthusiastic naturalist traverse these places in quest of our feathered philosopher, he will find it has become a rara avis indeed. We must pass through these portals of the mountains, the river gorges, to catch sight of the thrush hopping about the openings of the bush, much after the fashion of its English namesake; but even here its numbers have become wofully diminished; four or five years ago, on either side of the Upper Rakaia, where the bushes descend the mountain slopes, these birds fairly teemed in their favourite haunts, but they are already becoming rare. They may be seen about the bushes that skirt the cold streams of the Havelock, the Upper Waimakariri and the Bealey; through the romantic gorge of the Otira to the more level ground that stretches away to the Teremakau, it may be frequently seen, always appearing to prefer the timbered forests, the mixed scrub, made up of moderate-sized bushes of Coriaria, Oleaxia, Veronica and Coprosma. As we reach the western coast, about the Arahura river, it was three years since most abundant. Last December we searched one of their former favourite haunts,— a large island in that river, more or less covered with scrub-bush, dotted with Ti trees,—and two or three specimens only were to be seen; they have been driven away from Arahura by the clearances for paddocks to supply the requirements of the West Coast cattle trade. Last December, in travelling along the coast from Ross to Okarita, we saw this bird in abundance on the face of those bluffs which form such picturesque breaks in that journey; up the riverflats it was equally numerous.

Settlers have given the name of "thrush" to the pio-pio, from its size and brown plumage recalling to mind their favourite of the old country: it possesses not in the slightest degree that charm of song which distinguishes the throstle, yet it enjoys the power of giving utterance to several pleasing notes. It does not stir so early as many other birds; its morning salute is along-drawn, rather plaintive note; this peculiar whistle it indulges in at times only, for its habit, when close to the water frequently, is to pipe thrice, in a way that at once recalls the red-bill (Hecmatopm); the imitation is so like that the writer and his son (well acquainted with bird-notes and calls) were frequently deceived, and have looked for a red-bill till the pio-pio disclosed himself by fluttering from bush to bush. Its common song seems to be near akin to that of the lark (Anthus Novos-Zealandice); it sounds two preludatory notes, then strikes off into a very brief song; when joyously flying in pursuit of the female it utters a quick " chi-chi-chit, chi-chi-chit;" it marks its displeasure, or tries to intimidate intruders that approach its nest with a low purring " churr-r-r;" both male and female join in this cry of anger. When singing, the effort is marked by the tail being spread, the wings held not quite close; the feathers of the breast and back are not raised, as in the case of the bell-bird. We have called this pio-pio a philosopher; he has quite as good a claim as many a biped to whom that title is accorded: who doubts this, let him make acquaintance with the pio-pio—not merely a sight acquaintance, but such an one as ripens into intimacy. The result will be to know a bird who takes the world as it is, indifferent as to food; that feeds on iusects when procurable, or can make shift on grasses,seeds or fruits; that neither courts nor avoids observation;

« AnteriorContinuar »