THE NEW ZEALAND CROWS
IT'S MORNING CAROL
(By E. H. D. Stidolph, R.A.0.U.)
"Although in other lands tho family1, name is usually associated with anything but melody," wrote the late Mr, J. C. M'Lean, a noted New Zealand bird observer, "there is in our present [ day New Zealand bush no bird whose music, when heard in concert with others of its species, (surpasses that produe* ed by our sombrc-plumaged crow. Few, sounds are ho enchanting as when a party of these birds is practising .» number of rich flut> and organ-like. notes, many as if iix chord, and some ventriloquial. It is only at early morning, when the sun first tips the trees, that such a combination may be heard, for then the clicking and tapping sounds of other times are not indulged in. ... In their broken outburst of melody they somewhat rcsembio the imported Australian magpie, but the latter has not the music of tho native bird." For many years the North Island crow, to which Mr. M'Lean Teferred, was regarded as one of the rarest of New Zealand's birds, so much so that its extinction was anticipated. Happily, the bird is still plentiful at least in part of the Taranaki and Auckland districts, where the morning carol mentioned by Mr. M'Lean may; still be heard. Considerable confusion, exists in some districts regarding this bird, as many bushmen call this species the bell-bird, whereas the true bell-bird is a much smaller species. The name of organ-bird has been suggested for, the crow, an appellation that would bo more appropriate if the Maori name ; of kokako was not used. • The nest of the kokako is an ornithological rarity. One found by Mr. M'Lean was placed about twenty feet up in a large fork of a leaning tawhera. The nest was a large, round structure, fairly compactly built, the base • being composed of small twigs of manuka and other trees, mixed with strips of ma* nuka bark, rootlets, moss, and leaves. The ends of the twigs and pieces of bark projected somewhat. outside the moss and leaves, giving the nest a very; • irregular shape, but in the upper park there were fewer large twigs and more bark, rootlets, and moss. There wa» not much system except where the lining of the interior came up over the edge. The cavity was fairly well lined, principally with the narrow, strips of'manuka bark worked in with' moss, leaves, and rootlets. Its features were its outward irregularity, looseneM of construction, and the marked disproportion in the size of the material* » used to each other, rough quarter-inch' twigs being mixed indiscriminately with thin rootlets and moss. The cavity;'. was fairly deep, and seemed large for^ the size of tho bird, measuring four and three-quarter inches wide and two and a half inches deep. The width of the nest, with, the straggling ends of the twigs, was about sixteen inches,' but the more solid part would be about eleven. In depth it measured six and a half inches. A nest of the South Island crow, obtained ■in Milford Sound, was a massive structure, composed . almost entirely of coarse tree,' moss, and grass, the former preponderating, with a few small twigs inter* mixed. The cavity was round and* shallow, and was completely lined with fine grass bents, carefully arranged ia a circular form. i , ■' Sir Walter Buller kept a Sootti Island crow in confinement for many, months. It was accustomed to occupy a large wide cage in his library, and was a very lively companion, being perpetually on the move and very musscal. It was a male bird, in perfect plumage, with bright orange wattles, dark blue at the base. Its habitual note, emitted frequently but chiefly in. the early morning and forenoon was a long, plaintive double-note, pitched iii a minor key, very pleasant to hear, but to Sir Walter Built 's mind possessing less richness than the organ note of the North Island bird. It was accustomed to use its feet on eating leaves or berries presented to it, after the manner of a parrot. On ■offering this bird a large blue-bottle fly : he held it to his perch in the manner described, and deliberately tore oil one wing, then the other, tasted its flavour, 'and immediately dropped it. As a rule he would not touch insects, but showed great fondness for succulent leaves of anjr. kind and all sorts of berries. It partook readily of cooked potato and boiled rice, and soaked bread; and it was fond of water, drinking freely, but rarely washing itself as other birds do, and. yet its plumage was always in clean, silky condition. The wattles were always carried tightly compressed under the chin and meeting at their edges. Passing on to the bird's notes, - Sir Walter Buller said that in the early] morning, or before rain, it had a melancholy call like "kowai-koef" in. a high' key; at other times a melliflous.whistle, and every now and then a liquid note, twice repeated, quite indistinguishable from the evening bell-note of the tui. To this is no doubt due .the'circumstance that this is the bell-bird of many of tho settlers. Occasionally, but not often, it sounded the rich organ note —short but of surpassing sweetness—and at other times a soft note in.' repetition like the low whimper of the huia. Another note was like a short, hollow cough. Sir Walter Buller had a special affection for this beautiful bird, and in hia own words he said: "It is a matter of keen regret to me, as it must be to every true naturalist, that this is ono of the endemic species destined ere long to.vanish from the land." In 1854 it was a comparatively common. bird in tho thick forest surrounding Wellington and filling the valley of the Hutt. From these districts, with' the destruction of the native bush, it/ has long since disappeared. Has anyone seen the bird lately in the Bimu* taka or Tararua Mountains? In certain parts of the North Island there appears every prospect of this species surviving; in spito of the prophecy oi New Zealand's greatest ornithologist.
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Evening Post, Evening Post, Volume CXII, Issue 157, 31 December 1926
NATURE NOTES Evening Post, Volume CXII, Issue 157, 31 December 1926
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