Notornis (Gr. vór south, and bpvig, bird), a large bird of the rail family, established by Owen in 1848, on a nearly entire skull sent with those of the dinornis from New Zealand. The natives had traditions of the existence of a large rail-like bird which they called moho, contemporary with the moa or dinornis, but it was by them considered extinct like the latter. This bird, which Owen called N~. Mantelli, was known only by the occasional occurrence of its bones, until Mr. Walter Mantell in 1849 obtained a skin from the South island of New Zealand. A specimen was there taken alive by some sealers after a long chase; it ran very rapidly, and when captured screamed and struggled violently; after having been kept three or four days, it was killed, and its flesh found delicious; the skin was sent to England, where a description was made by Mr. John Gould, confirming entirely the opinion of Owen based upon the bony structure. The bird had the aspect of a large porphyrio in the bill and the color, but had the moderate feet of tribonyx, with the rudimentary wings and tail of an ostrich.
The length was 26 in., the bill to gape 21/8, the wing 8½, and the tarsi and tail each 3½; the bill was shorter than the head, much compressed on the sides, with the culmen elevated and arched, extending on the forehead as far as the posterior angle of the eye; wings very short, rounded, slightly concave; the primaries soft and yielding, the first short, and the third to the seventh equal and longest; feathers of tail soft and loose; tarsi powerful, almost cylindrical, very broad in front and defended by wide scutellaa; anterior toes large and strong, shorter than the tarsus, with powerful hooked nails; hind toe short, strong, rather high up, with a blunt hooked nail. The head, neck, breast, upper part of abdomen and sides purplish blue; back, rump, upper tail coverts, lesser wing coverts, and tertiaries dark olive green tipped with verditer green; on the nape a band of rich blue separating the purplish blue of the neck from the green of the body; wings rich deep blue, the greater coverts tipped with verditer green; tail dark green; lower abdomen, vent, and thighs bluish black; under tail coverts white; bill and feet red.
From the thickness of the plumage, and the great length of the feathers of the back, it is believed that this bird inhabited marshy places and coverts of damp ferns; it was essentially terrestrial, yet probably able to swim; though unable to fly, it was a very rapid runner; it was doubtless very shy, keeping concealed, naturally or to avoid enemies, in the darkest and thickest recesses of the islands.