Birds – Notornis

Before leaving this group there is a very curious New Zealand bird that is worthy of notice. It is a large Gallinule-like bird, called by the natives the Moho (Notornis mantelli), and was first made known to science from fossil or subfossil remains found in association with bones of the Moa. A few years later (1849) a single extraordinary bird was captured alive by some sailors near Resolution Island, and parts of it falling into scientific hands, it was decided that it was referable to the fossil form, which had hitherto been supposed to have met the fate of its erstwhile companions, the Moas. Since that time only three additional examples have been captured, the second in 1851, the third in 1879, and the last in July, 1898, showing that although exceedingly rare it has still managed to escape extinction. The first three examples having been preserved by unskilful hands were not in very good condition for study, but from an examination of the best of these, which is now preserved in the Dresden Museum, it was determined that although very close to the fossil form it should be regarded as distinct, and it was given the name of Notornis hochstetteri. This view is entirely confirmed by the last specimen, which was fortunately received entire at the New Zealand Museum, and in condition that permitted a fairly complete study of its anatomy and soft parts. It may be described as a stocky bird about twenty-five inches in length, with a short, very thick bill and exceedingly strong feet and legs. The wings are short and rounded and quite useless for flight, the quills being soft and the webs more or less unconnected. In color it is dark purplish blue, shaded on the back and wings with olive-green, while the bill and legs are red. Nothing is known of its habits beyond the fact that it is very fleet of foot, probably spending most if not all of its life on land. The stomach of the last one taken was filled with small bits of sedge and grass; but the bill appears needlessly strong for securing such a diet, and it seems probable that it feeds on seeds or other hard substances when these are procurable.

Another species known as the White Swamp-hen (N. albus) was once found on Norfolk and Lord Howe islands, but is now extinct, only a single specimen being preserved. It was entirely white with the bill and legs red.