1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nestor (parrot)

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NESTOR, the name of a small but remarkable group of parrots peculiar to the New Zealand sub-region, of which the type is the Psittacus meridionalis of Gmelin, founded on a species described by J. Latham (Gen. Synopsis i. 264), and subsequently termed by him P. nestor, in allusion to its hoary head, but now usually known as Nestor meridionalis, the “Kaka” of the Maories and English settlers in New Zealand, in some parts of which it was very abundant, though its numbers are fast decreasing. Forster, who accompanied Cook in his second voyage, described it in his MSS. in 1773, naming it P. hypopolius, and found it in both the principal islands. The general colour of the kaka is olive-brown, nearly all the feathers being tipped with a darker shade, so as to give a scaly appearance to the body. The crown is light grey, the ear-coverts and nape purplish-bronze, and the rump and abdomen of a more or less deep crimson-red; but much variation is presented in the extent and tinge of the last colour, which often becomes orange and sometimes bright yellow. The kaka is about the size of a crow; but a larger species, generally resembling it, though with plumage mostly dull olive-green, the Nestor notabilis of J. Gould, was discovered in 1856 by Walter Mantell, in the higher mountain ranges of the Middle Island. This is the “Kea” of the Maories, and incurred the enmity of colonists by developing an extraordinary habit of assaulting sheep, picking holes with its powerful beak in their side, wounding the intestines, and so causing death. The bird is admittedly an eater of carrion in addition to its ordinary food, which, like that of the kaka, consists of fruits, seeds and the grubs of wood-destroying insects, the last being obtained by stripping the bark from trees infested by them. The amount of injury the kea inflicts on flock-masters has doubtless been much exaggerated, for Dr Menzies states that on one “run,” where the loss was unusually large, the proportion of sheep attacked was about one in three hundred, and that those pasturing below the elevation of 2000 ft. are seldom disturbed.

On the discovery of Norfolk Island (October 10 1774) a parrot, thought by Forster to be specifically identical with the kagháá (as he wrote the name) of New Zealand — though his son (Voyage, ii. 446) remarked that it was “infinitely brighter coloured” — was found in its hitherto untrodden woods. Among the drawings of Bauer, the artist who accompanied Robert Brown and Flinders, is one of a Nestor marked “Norfolk Isl. 19 Jan. 1805,” on which Herr von Pelzeln in 1860 founded his N. norfolcensis. Meanwhile Latham, in 1822, had described, as distinct species, two specimens evidently of the genus Nestor, one said, but doubtless erroneously, to inhabit New South Wales, and the other from Norfolk Island. In 1836 Gould described an example, without any locality, in the museum of the Zoological Society, as Plyctolophus productus, and when some time after he was in Australia, he found that the home of this species, which he then recognized as a Nestor, was Phillip Island, a very small adjunct of Norfolk Island, and not more than 5 m. distant from it. Whether the birds of the two islands were specifically distinct or not we shall perhaps never know, since they are all extinct, and no specimen undoubtedly from Norfolk Island seems to have been preserved. The Phillip-Island Nestor may be distinguished from both of the New-Zealand species by its somewhat smaller size, orange throat, straw-coloured breast, and the generally lighter shade of its tints.

The position of the genus Nestor in the order Psittaci must be regarded as uncertain, but it is now usually placed in the sub-family Nestorinae of the Trichoglossidae (see Parrot).

Further knowledge of this very interesting form may be facilitated by the following references to the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, ii. 64, 65, 387, iii. 45-52, 81-90, v. 207, vi. 114, 128, ix. 340, x. 192, xi. 377; and to Sir W. Buller's Birds of New Zealand. (A. N.)