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A History of the Birds of New Zealand.

Platycercus Unicolor. — (Antipodes-Island Parrakeet.)

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Platycercus Unicolor.
(Antipodes-Island Parrakeet.)

  • Platycercus unicolor, Vigors, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1831, p. 24.

  • Platycercus viridis unicolor, Bourj. St.-Hilaire, Perr. t, 34 (fig. fide Leon), 1837.

  • Cyanoramphus unicolor, Bonap. Eev. et Mag. Zool, 1864, p. 153; id. Naumannia, 1856.

  • Platycercus unicolor, Gray, Gen. of B. ii. no. 19 (1845); id. List of Psitt. 1859, p. 14; id. Ibis, 1862, p. 229.

  • Platycercus unicolor, Finsch, Die Papag. 1868, p. 289.

  • Platycercus unicolor, Buller, Trans. N.-Z. Instit, vol. vi. p. 121 (1873).

  • Platycercus fairchildii, Hector (in litt. 1886).

ad. omninò prasinus, vertice capitisque lateribus lætioribus: dorso et corpore subtùs flavido lavatis: alâ spuriâ et primariis exterioribus extùs cyanescentibus: caudâ sordidè viridi, subtùs flavicanti-brunneâ: rostro nigro, versus basin albido: pedibus brunnescentibus; iride flavicanti-rubrâ.

♀ mari simillima, sed valdè minor et pallidior: maxillâ cinerascenti-albo, versus apicem nigricante, mandibula omnino cinerascenti-alba.

Adult male. General plumage grass-green, brighter on the crown, sides of the head, face, and ear-coverts; back, rump, and all the under surface strongly tinged with yellow; primaries bright green on their outer vanes; the margins of the outermost primaries, as well as their coverts, and the whole of the bastard quills, indigo-blue; tail-feathers dull green, olivaceous or yellowish brown on their under surface. Bill black, greyish white towards the base of lower mandible; legs and feet dull brown. Total length 13·25 inches; wing, from flexure, 6; tail 6·25; culmen 1·25; tarsus ·9; longer fore toe and claw 1·4; longer hind toe and claw 1·25.

Female. Of smaller size and paler plumage than the male. Bill greyish white, the upper mandible brownish black in its apical portion, and with a clouded bluish spot in front of each nostril. Wing 6·75 inches; culmen 1; tarsus ·8.

Obs. My description of the male is taken from the type specimen in the British Museum; that of the female from the specimen referred to below.

Note. One of the specimens collected by Captain Fairchild (as stated below) was sent to the Canterbury Museum; and of this Prof. Hutton has sent me the following note:—“It answers very well to your description of the bird in Trans. N.-Z. Inst. vol. vi. p. 122, except that in the bill it is the basal half of the upper mandible that is greyish white, and not the lower. The measurements are as follows, but taken from the skin after it had been mounted:-Extreme length 14·25 inches; wing, from flexure, 6·25; tail 6; culmen 1; tarsus ·9; longer fore toe and claw 1·18; longer hind toe and claw ·95. The foot seems smaller than in the British-Museum specimen; but I measured with a pair of compasses from point of claw, while you may have measured round the curve.”

Sir James Hector sends me the following account of two specimens received at the Colonial Museum:—“General plumage yellowish green, lighter on the underparts; forehead and cheeks with minute feathers of intense verditer-green; first three quills and coverts dull blue on outer web, rest dusky black; tail-feathers green above, dusky below; under surface ash-colour and very downy; upper mandible pale blue, with black margin and top; lower black; mandible not grooved. Legs and feet black; irides yellowish red.”

page 149

On my first, visit, in company with the late Mr. G. R. Gray, to the fine collection of Parrakeets in the galleries of the British Museum, a mounted specimen standing on the same shelf with Platycercus novæ zealandiæ and P. auriceps immediately arrested my attention. My companion informed me that this was the type of Platycercus unicolor (Vigors), and that it was supposed to have come from New Zealand. On further inquiry I found that the bird had come to the Museum from the Zoological Society’s Gardens, where it had lived for some time, that its origin was quite unknown, and that the specimen was unique.

Mr. Gray had included the species in his “List of the Birds of New Zealand” (l. c.); but in the absence of any positive evidence as to the habitat I felt bound to omit it from my former edition.

The home of Platycercus unicolor has at last been discoyered. Captain Fairchild, of the Government steamboat ‘Hinemoa,’ on a visit to Antipodes Island in March 1886, found the bird comparatively common there and brought several specimens back with him to New Zealand. One of these was forwarded to me by Sir J. Hector; and this has enabled me to add the description of the female to that of the hitherto unique specimen of the male bird in the British-Museum collection.

Although this type specimen (which has been in the Museum for upwards of fifty years) had no ascertained habitat it was always supposed to have come from New Zealand, and Mr. G. R. Gray included it in his list of our avifauna, published in ‘The Ibis’ (1862).

Captain Fairchild, who is an excellent observer, reports that on Antipodes Island he found it inhabiting a plateau 1320 feet above the sea. It was very tame and easily caught. He never saw it take wing, which he attributes as much to the boisterous winds that sweep over this exposed island as to its naturally feeble powers of flight. It habitually walks and climbs among the tussock-grass, reminding one of the habits of the Australian Ground-Parrakeet (Pezoporus formosus),

Besides collecting several good specimens, Captain Fairchild brought with him to Wellington a live one. Sir James Hector sends me the following account of this interesting bird, for which he had proposed the name of Platycercus fairchildii:—“It is a ground Parrakeet, i. e. a Parrakeet that resembles a Kakapo. It is twice the bulk of P. novæ zealandiæ, flies feebly, does not care to perch, climbs with its beak and feet, and walks in the same waddle-and-intoed fashion as the Kakapo.”

So far as external characters go there is absolutely nothing by which to separate this bird from Platycercus. An investigation of its skeleton (of which the Colonial Museum has fortunately secured a specimen) may perhaps bring to light some new character showing its relation to a different group. But my own view at present is that the apparent inability to use its wings for purposes of flight is just another of those remarkable cases where the muscles have in some degree atrophied through long-continued disuse. Even in the case of Pezoporus from Australia, neither Mr. Sharpe nor I can find anything, apart from the different style of coloration, by which to distinguish the genus.

Sir George Grey tells me that forty years ago the natives assured him of the existence of a strange Parrot on Cuvier Island, and described the sexes as differing from each other. Excepting only Mair Island, Cuvier is the most seaward point in the Hauraki Gulf. It is a mountainous island of a few thousand acres, rising abruptly from the ocean and clothed to the very summit with dense vegetation. It is difficult of approach, but there are several practicable landing-places in fine weather. Tamihana Te Rauparaha and other natives of the present generation declared to Sir George that they had in their youth visited the island and actually seen these Parrots. He suggested to me that they might be descendants of some stragglers from the South-Sea Islands; but if such birds do really exist there, it seems far more likely that they are the last survivors of a species that has become extinct on the mainland, for, as before remarked, expiring forms linger longest on sea-girt islands remote from the coast, where the struggle for existence is less severe.