Fellow Travelers

Buller’s Birds of New Zealand: A History of the Birds of New Zealand

by Sir Walter Lawry Buller, edited and revised by E.G. Turbott, with 48 color reproductions by J.G. Keulemans
East-West Center, 261 pp., $25.00

The Shore Birds of North America

by Peter Matthiessen, by Ralf S. Palmer, edited by Gardner D. Stout, with paintings by Robert Verity Clem
Viking, 270 pp., $22.50

The two fine volumes whose titles are given above, though poles apart in conception as are the countries with which each is concerned, are not inappropriately reviewed here side by side; for while the bird fauna of New Zealand and North America could not be more dissimilar, they have one close link—the migratory shore birds, which, thanks to the more enlightened days in which we pretend we are living, can be sure of a welcome at each end of their immense journey, in place of a shower of shot. It is in fact from Northwest America that New Zealand receives some of its most interesting winter visitors—the farthest flying migrants from their Nearctic breeding grounds to the New Zealand shores.

Since the second edition of Buller’s Birds appeared in 1888, enormous strides have been made in our knowledge of migratory birds, and it is now realized that, in addition to the godwit and knot, both of which were known to Sir Walter Buller in his day, a number of other American shore birds regularly undertake this stupendous journey to and fro, while some, especially first-year birds, summer in New Zealand before returning “home.” When Sir Walter Buller was in New Zealand the bar-tailed godwit was locally known as the “curlew,” and the numbers of these unfortunate birds which were slain—in and out of shooting season—must have been incredible, until they left these inhospitable shores for yet another. It is now a protected species in New Zealand. Godwits and knots are often close companions in winter quarters, and, in a little book recently reviewed in these pages, it is stated that “mixed flocks in favored localities often contain many thousands of these ‘fellow travellers.’ ” From North America there also come to New Zealand in small numbers: sharp-tailed sandpipers, rufous-necked sandpipers, curlew sandpipers, long-billed curlews, and whimbrels; and few years are said to pass without reports of American pectoral sandpipers and Hudsonian godwits having reached New Zealand shores. There are several other “globe-spanners”—the sanderling is the best-known—which regularly make the journey: for example, the ruddy turnstone, so called in America to distinguish it from the Alaskan black turnstone which does not follow in the footsteps of its ruddy relation but stops short at the Straits of Magellan.

All these visitors to New Zealand, as well as several unmentioned, will be found discussed in Shore Birds of North America, where some are depicted in the color illustrations; but when Buller wrote his History of the Birds of New Zealand very few had been recognized. In the revised edition with new material added to much of the original text, the editor, E. G. Turbott, refers to some of these Birds of Passage (pp. 139-140).

THE NAME of Walter Lawry Buller is a household word to all students of bird life in the rich Australian region to this day, but there will be many readers of The New York Review who, although they may be interested in birds …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.