Piopio or New Zealand Thrush Turnagra capensis capensis (Sparrman, 1787)
- RMNH 110.040: September 1873.
- RMNH 110.041: male. Big bay, Southern Island, New Zealand. Collector: H. Suter, 16 October 1905.
- RMNH 110.056: New Zealand. Bought from: Frank, 1876.
- RMNH 110.057: adult, female. Southern Island, New Zealand. Aqcuired: 1846.
- RMNH 110.058: juvenile, female. Southern Island, New Zealand. Aqcuired: 1846.
- RMNH 110.059: adult, male. Southern Island, New Zealand. Aqcuired: 1846.
Neither the English nor the scientific name of the Piopio is appropriate. The bird is often referred to as the New Zealand Thrush. However it bears no relationship whatsoever with the thrushes. This name seems to have been given by an early, homesick naturalist or, somewhat less romantic, by someone who tried to place all new birds in known groups. Other New Zealand birdnames too often injustly refer to European species, such as the New Zealand Bush Wren Xenicus longipes.
The scientific name capensis, meaning “from the Cape”, is equally confusing. The Swedish naturalist Anders Sparrman, on the invitation of Johann and Georg Forster, sailed with Captain Cook on his second voyage to New Zealand. When Sparrman returned to his home in the Cape Province, South Africa, he did not remember all localities where the birds in his collection had been shot. Apparently he was under the impression that the Piopio came from somewhere in South Africa.
At the time of its discovery, the species was quite common on South Island and in the southern parts of North Island, where it lived both on the coastal plains and in the mountains. The second director of the Leiden Museum, Hermann Schlegel, recognized that the birds from North Island differed from those of South Island, particularly in the breast, which is more heavily streaked in the North Island birds. In 1865 he described this Piopio as a separate species. Nowadays the North and South Island forms are generally considered two different subspecies of the Piopio.
The Piopio was a tame and confiding bird, which did not seem to be disturbed by human presence. However, as with so many endemic New Zealand birds, the introduction of dogs and cats led to its disappearance. The North Island race became extinct about 35 years after it had been described, although there were unconfirmed reports until 1955. Around the turn of the century the South Island Piopio too had practically vanished, but it seemed to have managed to linger on until 1963. It has not been seen since.
The Leiden Museum possesses three specimens of the northern subspecies (among which the holotype, the skin used in Schlegel's description) and six of the South Island Piopio.