Tag Archives: Anas

Mo’ora-‘ura and toroa – a red duck and a surf duck from Tahiti?

In ancient times, Tahitians believed that several of their Gods and other celestial beings would show themselves to the human eye in form of an animal, a so-called ata and Teuira Henry [see also here] lists some of them, among them also three kinds of ducks.:

Red-feathered duck (mo‘ora-‘ura), ata of ‘Orovehi‘ura (‘Oro in his manifestation of Red-feather-covered). 
Wild duck (mo‘ora-ōviri), ata of “sylvan elves.” 
Surf duck (toroa), ata of Hau, god of peace.
” [1][3]

The ‘Wild duck’, mentioned here, is the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa J. F. Gmelin) which is the only duck species known from French Polynesia at all, so what are the other two ‘ducks’?

The most showy headdress worn officially by the king and princes and high chiefs was the taumi, a superb helmet made of clusters of crimson feathers of the moora ‘ura (red-feathered duck), set upon a light framework and covering the head like a bird, with a glossy terminal behind of outspreading red, black, and white feathers tastily mixed together.” [1][3]

taumi, however, actually is a gorget decorated with feathers, a feathered helmet was called fau.:

Henry gives a description of a headdress which has some characteristics of a fau, but which seems to be a mixture of remembered types, further confused by the use of the name taumi, which we know was a gorget:” [4]

The fau was also decorated with several of the elongated tail feathers of tropicbirds (as you can see in the depiction, in which they are from the White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus ssp. dorotheae Daudin)).

This depiction shows three men wearing a taumi, one of them, a tahu’a, a high priest, also wearing a fau, decorated with a ray of white tail streamers of the pete’a (Phaethon lepturus ssp. dorotheae).

Depiction from: ‘William Hodges: The fleet of Otaheite assembled at Oparee, 1777’

(public domain)


A little update here:

A “surf duck” apparently is nothing but an albatross (Diomedea spp.), a bird that is well known to the Polynesians, even in the tropical parts of the region. [2]



[1] Teuira Henry: Ancient Tahiti. Bishop Museum Bulletins 48: 1-651. 1928 
[2] Kenneth P. Emory: Tuamotuan bird names. The Journal of the Polynesian Society 56(2): 188-196. 1947
[3] Douglas L. Oliver: Ancient Tahitian Society. The University Press of Hawai’i, Honolulu 1974
[4] Karen Stevenson; Steven Hooper: Tahitian fau – unveiling an enigma. Journal of the Polynesian Society 116(2): 181-212. 2007


edited: 31.07.2023

Bird safari

We are more or less ‘housebound’ thanks to the Corona virus … so, we took a walk through the city.

It is now definitely spring because there are starlings singing from almost every tree.:

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris ssp. vulgaris); this one is not singing it is pruning its feathers

I usually don’t look at the Mallards because they are typical feral ducks, many of which don’t resemble wild ducks at all.:

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos ssp. ptatyrhynchos); a nice-looking couple

Another sign for/of spring are singing Chaffinches, like with the starlings, almost every tree has its own singing Chaffinch right now, however, they are very difficult to photograph because they usually fly away as soon as they spot the camera.:

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs ssp. coelebs); a male waiting for a female to arrive

This is a Goldfinch, it has one of the most beautiful songs of all European birds.:

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis ssp. carduelis); a photo with very bad light

This little cutie was hopping about as close as only one meter away from us, so I could make at least two quite good pictures.:

Robin (Erithacus rubecula ssp. rubecula)

Saint Paul Duck … an ‘extinct’ species that never was?

Saint Paul Duck  (Anas sp. ‚Île Saint-Paul‘)

While describing a new extinct bird, the Amsterdam Island Wigeon (Anas marecula) in 1996, the two authors Storrs L. Olson and Pierre Jouventin mentioned an account from the middle of the 18th century, and quoted another author, W. R. P. Bourne.:

Of far greater interest, however, is the report of the explorer John Barrow, who was on St. Paul Island on 2 February 1793, where he mentioned the presence of „a small brown duck, not much larger than a thrush“ that was „the favorite food of the five sealers living on the island“ (quotes brom Bourne et al. 1983).“ [2][3]

To me, it seems, the two authors did not actually check the original source, John Barrow, here.

Well, but I did …!   😉


By the way; another well-known author of bird/extinction-related books, Julian P. Hume (in Extinct Birds; in the 2012 – or in the 2017 edition), even gives a completely wrong source.:

„John Barrow: Some Account of the Public Life, and a Selection from the Unpublished Writings, of the Earl of Macartney. Amsterdam London: T. Cadell and W. Davies. 1806“

I checked that source too!   😉


But back to the actual source, what does it really say?

Page 140:

On the 1st of February we discovered the two islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, and on the evening of the same day anchored on the eastern side of the latter, at the distance of about a mile from the shore. …“ [1]

The latter one is Amsterdam Island, right?

What follows are several descriptions of the island, of its geology, and some quite interesting philosophical reflections about the fact that some parts of the planet appear to be older/younger than others, and that islands apparently can just appear out of nothing or disappear into nothing, obviously without aid of an unearthly higher being (remember; Darwin’s ‚On the Origin of Species‘ first appeared 66 years after).

… oh, and a list of birds of course.:

Page 147/148:

The number of birds was likewise astonishing, and the two causeways were strewed with teir eggs. During our short stay on shore we obtained the following birds:

Anas, A small brown Duck, not much larger than a thrush, and apparently not described by naturalists.
“ [1]

The author still speaks about Amsterdam Island here, so this is the Amsterdam Island Duck (Anas marecula Olson & Jouventin)!

Its this little passage – „A small brown Duck, not much larger than a thrush“ – that apparently was copied again and again by several authors without checking the original source.


On page 155 resp. 156, the author reports about five seal hunters, that „all lived in a small miserable hut, as dirty and offensive as that of an Hottentot; and it was surrounded on every side by the dead carcasses of seals and sea-lions.“ [1]

Page 155:

If the smoke and the fires of Amsterdam Island had excited our curiosity, the discovery of two or three human being running along the shore, as our ships approached it, on so miserable a spot, and so distant from any other land except the little neighboring island of St. Paul, caused a still greater degree of astonishment. …“ [1]

This passage clearly still refers to Amsterdam Island! 


Page 156:

The birds, they observed, had a strong fishy taste, to which, however, long habit had reconciled them: those that were the least so were the blue petrel and the little brown duck.“ [1]

There again, the small duck from Amsterdam Island! 


The Amsterdam Island Wigeon clearly survived into the 18th century, since it is clearly that bird that is mentioned in the so often (incorrectly) cited quotes. There may a duck have existed on the Île Saint-Paul, however, up to now there is no proof for that assumption!



[1] John Barrow: A voyage to Cochinchina, in the years 1792 and 1793. To which is annexed an account of a journey made in the years 1801 and 1802, to the residence of the chief of the Booshuana nation. London: printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies 1806
[2] W. R. P. Bourne; A. C. F. David; C. Jouanin: Probable Garganey on St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands, Indian Ocean. Wildfowl 34: 127-129. 1983
[3] Storrs L. Olson; Pierre Jouventin: A new species of small flightless duck from Amsterdam Island, southern Indian Ocean (Anatidae: Anas). The Condor 98(1): 1-9. 1996


edited: 08.10.2018