Song thrush (photographer unknown)
by Carol Sawyer
I was thinking about this today…
‘Daily Southern Cross‘, 17 September 1862, Page 4:-
“We have received intelligence of the arrival at Auckland, on the 8th of April, of the ship ‘Cashmere,’ Captain Petheridge, which left St. Katherine’s Docks on the 9th of December with the addition, to in ordinary freight, of a consignment of 147 singing and other birds, intended for acclimatisation in New Zealand. Of this number it appears that eighty eight were alive when the ship reached its destination—a much larger proportion than, all circumstances consulted, it was expected would have survived.
There were placed on board 9 partridges 2 pheasants, 12 blackbirds, 13 thrushes, 12 skylarks, 8 goldfinches, 8 bullfinches, 9 linnets, 16 chaffinches, 16 sparrows, 12 starlings, 2 Canadian geese, 4 barnacle geese, 12 teal, and 12 wigeon — 117 birds in all, occupying 81 cages.
All these birds were wild caught, none of them having been reared by hand from the nest. It may be as well to add a list of the eighty-eight birds which have got safely out. There are— 4 partridges 10 blackbirds, 11 thrushes, 10 skylarks, 4 goldfinches, 3 bullfinches, 6 linnets, 6 chaffinches, 7 sparrows, 9 starlings, 2 Canadian geese, 4 barnacle geese, 11 teal, and one wigeon.
The same solicitude about the health and comfort of the birds appears to have been manifested as in the Australian consignment in 1858. May they thrive in their bloodless and unobtrusive mission of colonization. — The Field.”
Well, the bullfinches, partridges, linnets, barnacle geese, teal and wigeon didn’t make it, sadly (although we have our own species of teal). What must it have been like to be one of those birds… one of the 6 chaffinches, say, released here after a three month trip by sea? It must have seemed so very strange and scary. There would have been all these birds they had never seen before, who saw them as aliens and attacked them. Poor little things.
What a great pity the wigeon didn’t survive… only one made it to NZ of the 12 that boarded ship. Such a beautiful duck. See the photo.
I wish they had brought nightingales and bluetits as well, and what an addition the Great tit would have been.
Interestingly, the introduction of Canada geese is generally attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt. He gifted some of the first Canada geese to this country in 1876. Presumably this pair brought to NZ in 1862 didn’t make it.
The Deforestation of New Zealand:
“Around 1000 AD, before humans arrived in New Zealand, forest covered more than 80% of the land. The only areas without tall forests were the upper slopes of high mountains and the driest regions of Central Otago. When Māori arrived, about 1250–1300 AD, they burnt large tracts of forest, mainly on the coasts and eastern sides of the two main islands. By the time European settlement began, around 1840, some 6.7 million hectares of forest had been destroyed and was replaced by short grassland, shrubland and fern land. Between 1840 and 2000, another 8 million hectares were cleared, mostly lowland or easily accessible conifer–broadleaf forest.” – Te Ara Encyclopaedia of NZ
So the forests, where so many of our endemic bird species lived, have been hugely reduced in size but the cities and pasturelands that remain are now home to so many of our introduced birds.
In May thrushes started singing — which is what made me write this post. I love their song all around me. Only the male bird sings. In June and July the male blackbirds start, and in August the cheerful little chaffinch. For me the chaffinch is the “song of summer”. It has been a hugely successful introduction, doing no harm, and inhabiting our back country valleys as well as our towns and cities.
Chaffinch photo by Carol Sawyer. (He was named Joey and, although wild, learnt to fly to me for food.)
The period from the end of January until Autumn is pretty quiet, but with the onset of winter, it is time for the male birds to start attracting their mates, and to out-sing each other.
Most of us, whether in the cities or in rural areas, are lucky enough to have the presence of tui, bellbird, grey warbler, and fantail, among others. These little natives are still everywhere in good numbers.
The helpful chart is in an old bird book I picked up in a secondhand shop somewhere — A Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand by Falla, Sibson and Turbott, Collins NZ, 1966.