HIRUNDO TAHITICA, Gm.
Otaheite Swallow, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 563, pl. frontisp. (1783).
Hirundo tahitica, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 1016 (1788) ; Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 58 (1845) ; id. B. Trop. Isl. Pacific Ocean, p. 4 (1859) ; Pelz. Peis. Novara, Vog. p. 41 (1865) ; Finsch & Hartl. Faun. Centralpolyn. p. 51 (1867) ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 70, no. 811 (1869) ; E. L. Layard, P. Z. S. 1875, p. 430 ; id. Ibis, 1876, p. 391 ; Finsch, P. Z. S. 1877, pp. 730, 738 ; E. L. & L. C. Layard, Ibis, 1878, pp. 270, 280 ; Sehmeltz, Verh. Ver. Hamb. 1879, p. 76 ; Tristr. Ibis, 1879, p. 192 ; Nehrk. J. f. O. 1879, p. 395 ; Salvad. Ibis, 1880, p. 130 ; Tristr, t. c. p. 246 ; L. C. Layard, t. c. p. 298 ; Finsch, Ibis, 1881, p. 536 ; id. Rep. Voy. ‘Challenger,’ ii. Birds, pp. 43, 53 (1881) ; Salvad. Orn. Papuasia etc. ii. p. 5 (1881) ; Tristr. Ibis, 1882, p. 142 ; Layard, t. c. pp. 503, 543 ; Finsch, Vog. der Sudsee, p. 5 (1884) ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. x. p. 141 (1885) ; Grant, P. Z. S. 1887, p. 330, 1888, p. 194 ; Salvad. Agg. Orn. Papuasia, ii. p. 69 (1890) ; Wiglesw. Abhandl. k. Zool. Mus. Dresden, no. 6, p. 18 (1891).
Hirundo taitensis, Less. Voy. 'Coquille,’ i. p. 648 (1820).
Herse taitensis, Less. Compl. Buff. viii. p. 443 (1837).
Hirundo pyrrholoema, Forster, Icon. ined. no. 167 ; id. Deser. Anim. p. 241 (1844).
Cecropis taitensis, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 175.
Herse tahitica, Bp. Consp, i. p. 340 (1850).
Petrochelidon pacifica, Cass. Cat. Hirund. Philad. Mus. p. 5 (1853).
Chelidon tahitica, Licht. Nomencl. Av. p. 61 (1854).
Hirundo subfusca, Gould, P. Z. S. 1856, p. 137 ; Gray, Cat. B. Trop. Isl. Pacific Ocean, p. 4 (1859).
Petrochetidon tahitica, Cass. Cat. Hirund. Philad. Mus. p. 5 (1853) ; Bp. Rivist.
Contemp., Torino, p. 5 (1857).
Phedina subfusca, Bp., teste Salvad.
Hirundo (Herse) tahitica, Pelz. Reis, ‘Novara,’ Vog. p. 41 (1865).
H. minor : alis caudam excedentibus : praepectore minime torquato : fronte rufa ; gufa intense rufa : rectricibus omnibus coucoloribus vel minute albido notatis.
Hab. in insulis Occaicis maris Pacifici.
Adult male. General colour above dull steel-blue or blue-black, with ashy bases to the leathers ; lesser and median wing-coverts like the back ; greater coverts, bastard-wing, primary-coverts, and (pulls blackish, slightly glossed with steel-blue on the outer web ; tail-feathers uniform blackish.
with a slight steel-blue gloss on the outer webs ; forehead deep chestnut ; lores blackish ; ear¬-coverts dull steel-blue like the head ; cheeks, throat, and fore neck deep chestnut, with a half-crescent of steel-blue descending on the sides of the latter ; remainder of under surface of body uniform smoky brown, with a few mottled feathers in the centre of the breast, some of the feathers being washed with steel-blue near their ends ; under tail-coverts smoky brown, edged with rufous, with a distinct subterminal spot of steel-blue ; under wing-coverts and axillaries dark smoky brown ; quills dusky below, rather lighter brown on the inner webs : “bill and legs black ; iris dark brown” (Layard). Total length 5 inches, culmen 0.35, wing 4.15, tail 2, tarsus 0.3.
Adult female. Similar to the male in plumage. Total length 5 inches, culmen 0.45, wing 4.2, tail 2, tarsus 0.4.
Hab. Tahiti ; Tonga group ; Fiji Islands ; New Hebrides ; Solomon Islands ; New Britain ; New Caledonia ?
The principal difference between this species and its ally H. javanica has hitherto been considered to consist in the absence of white spots on the tail-feathers, these being always a noticeable feature in H. javanica. Mr. Seebohm has, however, recently pointed out to us that white spots on the tail are often present in H. tahitica, though in a reduced form ; and a re-examination of the specimens in the British Museum, along with the series in the collections of Mr. Lister and Mr. Seebohm, has convinced us that the latter gentleman is quite correct in his statements.
As will be seen below, the presence or absence of white spots on the tail is not a character which is accompanied by any coincident feature of peculiar geographical distribution, nor are the spots on the tail-feathers always to be found equally developed on each side of the tail, as the following list will show :—
a. Specimens without any trace of white on the tail-feathers.
a. Male. Ovalau (E. L. Layard).
b. Male. Ovalau (E. L. Layard).
c. Female. Matuka (Voy. H.M.S. ‘Challenger ’).
d. Male. Kandavn (E. L. Layard).
e. Female. Api, New Hebrides (Voy. H.M.S. ‘Challenger').
f. Ad. New Britain (Dr. Kleinschmidt).
g. Female. Guadalcanar, Solomon Islands (C. M. Woodford).
B. Specimens with faint spots of white on the inner web of the tail-feathers.
a. Female. Ovalau (E. L. Layard).—An indistinct spot on penultimate feather on both sides of tail.
b. Male. Levuka (E. L. Layard).—White spot indistinct on right penultimate feather, indistinct on penultimate feather of left side, but quite distinct on second and third feathers of left side.
c. Female. Matuka (Voy. H.M.S. ‘Challenger’).—Spot distinct on right penultimate feather of right side, but scarcely visible on left penultimate feather.
d. Female. Kandavu (Voy. H.M.S. ‘Challenger’).—A small spot visible on right outer feather.
e. Female. Moala (T. M. Rayner).—A tiny spot on outer feather.
f. Male. Nomuka-iki (J. J. Lister).—A white spot faintly indicated on the three outermost feathers of right side and on the penultimate feather of left.
g. Female. Nomuka-iki (J. J. Lister).—A white spot scarcely visible on the two outside feathers of right side and on the penultimate feather of left.
h. Male. Nomuka-iki (J. J. Lister).—Spot very plain on penultimate feather of right side and on penultimate and third feather of left.
i. Male. Nomuka-iki (J. J. Lister).—Spot very plain on penultimate and third feathers of both sides.
k. Male. Nomuka-iki (J. J. Lister).—Spot distinct on penultimate feather of both sides, with a faint trace of a white spot also on the third feather of the left.
l. Aneiteum (J. Mavgillivray).—An obsolete whitish spot on the outer feather on both sides, a spot also traceable on the penultimate and third feather of the right side and on the penulti-mate feather of the left side.
m. Male. Vate, New Hebrides (L. C. Layard).—Only a slight indication of a whitish spot on the third feather of the left side.
As its English name implies, the present species is a bird of the Pacific Islands. It was first recorded from the Society group, is widely distributed in the Fiji Archipelago, the Tonga group, and certainly occurs in the New Hebrides, in the Solomon Archipelago, and in New Britain. Prom all of these localities we have examined specimens ; but it is quite probable that in the eastern limit of the bird’s range it meets with its ally H. javanica, an undoubted specimen of which species we have examined from Duke of York Island. That the specific characters which separate the two species are not of the most constant character will be seen by our notes on the variation which occurs in the present bird.
The occurrence of the species in the Sandwich Islands, as recorded by Cassin, who notes a specimen received from the Rivoli collection, requires confirmation, and the New Caledonian record is not satisfactory. Mr. E. L. Layard and his son saw a bird in the latter island on the 26th of November, 1879, which they believe to have been a Pacific Swallow, but they were unable to procure it.
The present species was first discovered in the “mountainous parts” of Otaheite, or Tahiti, in the Society Islands, during Captain Cook’s Voyage, and the specimen described by Latham was said by him to be in the collection of Sir Joseph Banks. It was pro¬bably the actual specimen figured by Forster in his ‘Drawings,’ and called by him H. pyrrholoema in the ‘Descriptiones Animalinm.'
Mr. J. J. Lister has recently met with the species in the Tonga group at Nomuka-iki. In the Fiji Archipelago the following islands are given as the abode of the species by Mr. E. L. Layard:— Ovalau, Wakaia, Mokani, Taviuni, Loma-Loma, Mango, Vitu Levu, and Kandavu. It was also obtained on Moala Island by Dr. Rayner during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘Herald.’ The ‘Challenger’ Expedition likewise obtained specimens at Matuka and Kandavn.
Writing from the Fiji Islands, Mr. E. L. Layard says:—
“This Swallow is very local, but, I think, widely spread throughout the islands. It is said to nest in rocks ; and I feel confident that a pair nested this year in the cracks and crannies of ‘Brewer’s Rock,’ as they were visible almost every evening during my residence in my present house, Hitting over the little point of land on the other side of the creek, and in front of my verandah. They are very crepuscular in their habits. I saw them in the hills as far up the Rewa River as Naruku-ruku, mingled with the Swifts, also at Kandavu, Loma-Loma, and Taviuni.”
Mr. L. C. Layard, in his account of the birds observed by him in the New Hebrides, says that only six individuals of this Swallow were seen—one pair on Santo and two pairs on Vate, out of which last three birds were procured. These were in a maize-field, attracted by the insects put up by burning the grass. They perched on the tops of the stalks. In Santo they were on trees overhanging water. The late John Macgillivray obtained the species on the island of Aneiteum, and it was also met with at Api by the ‘Challenger’ Expedition. Canon Tristram recorded the present species from the Solomon Islands, where it was obtained by Commander Richards at San Cristoval and St. George. Count Salvadori was inclined to doubt the occurrence of H. tahitica in the Solomon group, but Mr. C. M. Woodford has obtained perfectly typical examples in Guadalcanar and Alu. In New Britain Dr. Finsch states that the bird is a migrant, and he does not appear to have collected specimens, but the species has been obtained in the island by Dr. Kleinschmidt.
Mr. L. C. Layard has given the following note on the breeding of the species in the New Hebrides:—
“I found one nest on a ledge under an overhanging rock, made, as usual, of mud, the depression lined with feathers. This was during the last week in August, and the three eggs were just on the point of hatching. They are of a very pale pink ground¬colour, generally spotted throughout with brown-madder spots, which run very thickly together, and form a ring at the greatest diameter. The only specimens obtained are all more or less damaged in extracting the embryos, but measure about, axis 10'", diam. 6.1/2'''."
The descriptions of the present species have been taken from a pair of birds in the British Museum, while the figure has been drawn from a specimen in Mr. Seebohm’s collection.
HIRUNDO TAHITICA, Gm.