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New Caledonian Grassbird, Megalurulus marieir
Compiled by Oscar van Rootselaar
A. Scientific nomenclature:
Genus Megalurulus J. Verreaux, 1869, Nouvelles Archives du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle De Paris, Bulletin, Ser. 1, No. 5, p. 16.
Type, by monotypy, Megalurulus mariei J. Verreaux.
Species Megalurulus mariei J. Verreaux, 1869, Nouvelles Archives du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle De Paris, Bulletin, Ser. 1, No. 5, p. 17, pl. 1, fig. 2 (type from New Caledonia).
B. Other names:
Nieuwcaledonische Zanger (Roselaar)
Nieuw-Caledonische Zanger (van Loon)
C. Habitat and status:
Found on New Caledonia only. Lives in the grassland and open heathlands, lowlands, and hills (Mayr). This species (and genus) is endemic to the mainland of New Caledonia, where it inhabits patches of tall blady grasslands and dense savanna scrub within rainforest (Doughty et al.) and open heath (Hannecart & Letocart, Clements, Walters, Sibley & Monroe), although in September 1981 and in May 1982 it has also been recorded flying close to and scurrying about secretively on or near the ground in the thick rain forest of the Dzumac mountains, at a height of 1,000 m (Hannecart & Letocart, Doughty et al.). Although it is reported to be common (or at least not uncommon), it usually travels singly or in pairs, moving around at the forest floor where it is very difficult to observe (Hannecart & Letocart, Doughty et al.). The species appears not to be globally threatened (Collar et al.), although habitat destruction caused by the Nickel Industries & mining seriously damages and pollutes the natural environment. Furthermore, although not known to have been studied in detail, introduced predators like rats, dogs, cats, pigs and deer may have a negative influence (Hannecart 1988).
D. Description and biology:
Small (7 inches = c. 17-18 cm) with a long tail, male and female identical, young birds less rufous (Hannecart & Letocart). Upperparts uniform olive-brown; slightly darker and more rufous on crown, wings, and tail; more olive grey on back. A conspicuous long white eyebrow from the base of the bill to the nape, brown eye-stripe and ear-coverts (slightly resembling an unstreaked European Whinchat Saxicola rubetra). Underparts creamy white with a pale-rufous wash, flanks brownish, more or less orange at the sides of the breast, often forming a faint rufous breast band. Iris brown; bill black; feet yellowish horn colour. Inside of mouth and throat black.
Calls not infrequently, either a sharp tzik or a note like the purr of a kitten (Mayr, Doughty et al.).
Not known in detail, but reported to be "insects" (Hannecart & Letocart).
Nests on the ground, where an open cup of grass and other leaves is constructed in dense vegetation (e.g. ferns). The breeding season was supposed to be probably from October to November (Mayr), but Hannecart & Letocart (1983) report November to January. The 1 to 3 eggs are greyish-white, speckled with reddish-brown. On leaving the nest, the young move around on the forest floor like terrestrial birds and they are fed by one of the parents for several months. Adults and young are rarely seen outside the vegetation (Hannecart & Letocart).
The species has been named in honour of E.A. Marie [or Marié] (1835-1889), a French naturalist and collector in New Caledonia (1869), Guadeloupe (1874) and Madagascar (1878) (Jobling). The name Megalurulus is a diminutive of Megalurus, from the Greek megalos (great, large) and oura (the tail), referring to the long tails of these species (Jobling). The type specimen is possibly in the Paris Museum, where Jules Pierre Verreaux (1807-1873) became assistant naturalist under Henri Milne-Edwards in 1864 (Mearns & Mearns), although no definite proof has been found.
F. Additional information:
The specific name has been variously spelled as mariae (Mayr & Cottrell) and mariei (all others). Gruson, Walters and Wolters consider it the single species in its genus, Howard & Moore and van Loon join it with bivittatus and Sibley & Monroe include four other species in Megalurulus (grosvenori, llaneae, whitneyi and rubiginosus), while bivittata is separated in Buettikoferella.
Currents "knowledge" appears to indicate that the species is more or less related to those species within the genera Megalurus, Cinclorhamphus, Eremiornis and Cichlornis and more distantly to those in Phylloscopus and Cisticola, all within the family of "Old World Warblers" (Sylviidae).
The bird has rarely been illustrated, with the only ones currently known to me the 1966 1f stamp from New Caledonia (Eriksen & Eriksen 1988), the three excellent colour photographs (nest with egg, young bird & adult) published by Hannecart & Letocart (1983), the recent thumbnail colour illustration by Westoll (Westoll 1998) and finally, a larger colour illustration in Doughty et al. (1999).
A special thanks are due to Jan Andersson and Lars Larsson from Sweden and Alain Fosse from France, who have kindly provided valuable bits and pieces of additional information, enabling me to compile this overview.
- Bruce, Murray D. (1985) Reviews (Oiseaux de Nouvelle-Calédonie et de Loyautés) New Caledonian Birds. Emu 85: 275-276.
- Cfo = Commission internationale des noms français des oiseaux (1993) Noms français des oiseaux du monde: 153 (nr. 7617).
- Clements, James F. (1991) Birds of the World: A Check List: 427.
- Collar, Nigel J., M.J. Crosby & Alison J. Stattersfield (1994) Birds to Watch 2.
- Doughty, Chris, Nicolas Day & Andrew Plant (1999) [Helm Field Guides:] Birds of The Solomons, Vanuatu & New Caledonia: 192-193
- Eriksen, Jens & Hanne Eriksen (1988) Collect Birds on Stamps: 185.
- Gruson, Edward S. (1976) A Checklist of the Birds of the World: 129.
- Hannecart, Francis (1988) Les oiseaux menaces de la Nouvelle Caledonie et des iles proches. Pp. 142-165 in Thibault & Guyot (eds.) Livre rouge des oiseaux menaces des regions françaises d'outre mer. Saint-Cloud: ICBP.
- Hannecart, F. & Y. Letocart (1983) Oiseaux de Nlle Calédonie et des Loyautés. Volume II: 12-13.
- Howard, Richard & Alick Moore (1991) A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World: 360.
- Jobling, James A. (1991) A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names: 141, 143.
- Loon, André J. van (1997) Michael Walters' Complete Checklist Vogels van de Wereld: 165.
- Massa, Bruno (1993) Enciclopedia Illustrata degli Uccelli: 398.
- Mayr, Ernst (1945) Birds of the Southwest Pacific: 167.
- Mayr, Ernst & G. William Cottrell (1986) [Peters'] Check-List of Birds of the World XI: 46-47.
- Mearns, Barbara & Richard Mearns (1988) Biographies for Birdwatchers: 403-407.
- Roselaar, Cornelis Simon (1993) Geïllustreerde Encyclopedie van de Vogels: 397.
- Schmitt, Rita (1996) The names of all birds: 122.
- Sibley, Charles Gald & Burt Leavelle Monroe (1990) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World: 625.
- Stokes, T. (1980) Notes on the landbirds of New Caledonia. Emu 80: 81-86.
- Walters, Michael (1980) The Complete Birds of the World: 218.
- Wells, Mic G. (1998) World Bird Species Checklist: 311 (nr. 6862).
- Westoll, James (1998) The Complete Illustrated Check List of the Birds of the World: 536-537 (pl. 268, fig. 402).
- Wolters, Hans Edmund (1980) Die Vogelarten der Erde: 369.
- Wynne, Owen E. (1969) Biographical Key: Names of Birds of the World: 134.
Oscar van Rootselaar, The Netherlands (e-mail: