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NATURE NOTES.

ST J. DEUUMOND. F.L.S., V.Z.S.

Mr. H. Middleton, writing from Invercargill, states that he was surprised, when he visited Canterbury in the spring of last year, to hear the hoarse but pleasing harmony of the cawing of rooks. He heard it year after year for many years in the Old Country, but did not expect to hear it in New Zealand. It may be heard, as far as my information extends, in Canterbury, Hawke's Bay, and several parts of the Auckland Province- Although rooks have no language, many people in the Old Country, without any fantastic notions, believe that different sounds in the caws have different meanings, to the same extent as the barks, whines, and growls of a dog. These people recognise actual words when one rook intrudes near another rook's nest, when a rook sinks on to its nest, and when it flies away from the rookery to seek food. In the different words, there are recognised warnings, scoldings, reproaches, anger, exultation, and fear. The rook is a member of the crow family, the corvidae, which is placed at the top of the avian tree. Members of this distinguished family have remarkably well developed brains. The box in which their voice is contained, the syrinx, to give it its proper name, is superior to the same organ of the most gifted songsters that fill the air with music. Between thirty and forty notes, which may be intricately combined, have been noted in the caws. Mr. Edmund Selous, who watched rooks day and night, found in the caws " shoutings of triumph, chatteringa of joy, deep thrills of contentment, hoarse yells of derision, deep guttural indignations, moaniugSt groanings, tauntings, remonstrances, clicks, squeaks, sobs, cachinations, and the whole a most musical murmur; loud, but , a murmur, a wild, noisy, clamorous mtirrour, but sinking low, softening to a lullaby,"

Professor J. A. Thomson, professor of natural .history at Aberdeen University, has watched rooks at play. " There are gambols and sham fights, frolics and wild chases, in which, curiously enough, jackdaws and lapwings sometimes become keenly interested." Professor Thomson adds: " Who knows the real truth about rooks posting sentinels, which is often alleged. The ecclesiastical air of the rook, enhanced by the white about the head, gives spice to an apparent humorousness, and there is no doubt about its wisdom. Who knows the significance of the vast congregations of rooks sometimes seen, and who can tell us if there is any truth in the alleged trials of individuals who have defied the conventions of the community ?''

Much has to be learnt of the black member of the corvidaa that has been introduced into this country, much more about our own two members of the family. Both are aberrant members, and have affinities with the Australian magpie, another successful introduction to New Zealand, and the Australian bowerbird. Most of the crows of the world bear the name of the family, Ccrvus, but the two New Zealand crows are Glaacopis, two Greek words, meaning blueeyes. This name was given first to the crow of the North Island, which has a bright ultramarine blue wattle below each eye. The North Island crow i 6 Glancopis wilsoni, and the South Island crow is Glancopis cinerea. The last word refers to the ashy hue of the plumage. These two crows have all the important characters that belong to the* Corvidse family, but in plumage, voice, and habjte they hardly could differ to a greater degree than they do from their sable cousin, the rook. They shun human habitations, and love the depths of the forests, where the rook never is seen. Their plumages, in different lights, change from ashe colour to ashy blue and then to clear blue. They do not congregate in flocks, and no report has been published of their having established a kind of avian republic. Instead of caws, they have wonderful deep, rich organ notes. In the North Island these notes occasionally have led people to refer to the crow as the bellbird, causing a little confusion.

" I never heard those notes without calling to mind Waterton's saying of the pretty snow-white campanero, that Actaeon would stop in mid-chase, and Orpheus would drop his lute, to listen to its toll," Sir Walter Buller wrote. Some of the notes, he states, hardly can be distinguished from those of the tui- Another note, heard only occasionally, is like the mewing of a cat. Both of New Zealand's crows', like all forest birds, live mainly on berries, but, like all members of the Corrida, they eat insecte. They seem to be particularly fond of the berries of the fuchsia, the bush-lawyer, and the kaiwiria. Sir Walter Buller bought a North Island crow from Maoris at Otaki. It shared his apartments for nearly a week, and amused him by its tricky manoeuvres. It usually was concealed under a side table in a dark corner of the room, but in cold weather it stole quietly to the inside of the fender, in order to get warmth from the fire. When a stranger appeared, it immediately sprang out and hopped back to ita corner. Male and female, when they pair, seem to coy with each other, and to converse in a low, musical twitter.

A member of the New Zealand geological survey in Otago some years ago saw about 20 South Island crows travelling through the forest on foot, in single file. They parsed rapidly over the ground by a succession of fiops, and followed their leader like a flock of sheep. If the first bird hopped over a atone or a tree, every bird in the procession also hopped over it. The South Island crow, which has yellow wattles, usually is found in the forests, but formerly was seen occasionally in light scrub, on the seashore, and on mountain tops 3000 ft. above the level of the sea. It is very quick at hiding when disturbed. Several observers have stated that the male and female mate for life, and are inseparable.

When the pairing season of the South Island crows begins, the males, it : s stated, make extraordinary evolutions in front of the females, bowing their heads, squaring their wings, and erecting and spreading their tails, making at the same time a gurgling noise. In the early days of colonisation in the South Island, men interested in ornithology traversed rough forests to find the crow's nest. The favourite site seems to be scrub or undergrowth, not far from the ground. It is made mostly of twigs and moss. About the beginning of December one, two, or three eggs are laid. Young crows thrive well in confinement, and feed well on bread and milk and green stuff, with a few grubs. The nest is reached easily by cats and rats and stoats and weasels-

A captive South Island crow caught near Westport, and kept in Wellington, when offered a large fly, held it in one claw, in the same way as a parrot holds food, deliberately tore off the insect's wings, then tasted its flavour, and dropped it. Insects seemed to have little attraction for that crow, but it was very fond of all kinds of succulent leaves, berries, particularly those of the karamu, It readilv 'took cooked potatoes, boiled rice, and soaked bread, and drank much water, but seldom bathed like other birds, although its plumage always was clean and silky. After it lost its tail by accident, it moped and hardly uttered a tound. When a new tail aopeared. it became sprightly again. Sir Walter Buller expressed an" opinion that the notes of the South Island crow are feebler than those of the North Island crow, that is to say, not so full and mellow. Both crows are known to the Maoris generally as kokako, but sometimes they are known as pakara, honga, and honge.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19210312.2.98.10

Bibliographic details

New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Herald, Volume LVIII, Issue 17728, 12 March 1921

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1,309

NATURE NOTES. New Zealand Herald, Volume LVIII, Issue 17728, 12 March 1921

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