The kiwi may be the most famous and iconic flightless bird of New Zealand, but there are other fascinating flightless birds on the North and South Islands that deserve our notice and protection.
KAKAPO – It is a bit strange that the world’s largest parrot is flightless although I suppose its weight has a lot to do with its lack of aerial skills. Like the kiwi it is nocturnal and if not pressured by predators would live between 80-100 years. Sadly in the wild it breeds infrequently – and so the kakapo’s best chances for species survival comes in heavily protected sanctuaries in New Zealand where humans endeavor to keep predator – free. The above pictures are taken from the internet as I unfortunately did not get a chance to see the kakapo in the wild.
WEKA – Although they are flightless the weka have very large wings. They also possess a dagger like bill, can run quickly and can even swim. Weak have a wide-ranging diet – they consume mice, chicks of other species, invertebrates, lizards, seeds, and fruit
TEAL – This was the most surprising flightless bird – a duck! The Campbell Island teal is the smallest of the three brown-teal ducks endemic to New Zealand. In fact, they were thought to be extinct until the species was found again in 1972, 87 years after finding the first specimen. They are very shy and it took quite some time before I was able to take these few photos.
TAKAHE – This bird was also thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in a remote section of the Fiordlands on the South Island. It has the distinction of being the largest flightless bird still living in New Zealand. Takahe are listed as National vulnerable with stoats as the major predator.
A side note: when I sight a new bird I of course do my research to confirm the species. Often, however I am faced with the fact that many species look alike. For example I took a photo of this bird thinking it was a takahe:
Nope. It is a pukeko, or a purple swamp hen. It is actually a relative of the takahe, with the latter being a much heavier bird. In addition,the pukeko can fly, if somewhat clumsily and it is not endangered as it has been quite successful at adapting to the changing environment.
So mea culpa if I represent a photo of any animal incorrectly. It isn’t always easy.
KORORA – My first sighting of a New Zealand flightless bird was not in New Zealand, but actually back in the States in Boston. The korora, or little blue penguin is small – only 13-15 inches tall and 2-3 pounds. As with most flightless birds, they are mainly nocturnal and these little penguins burrow underground. It is not exactly endemic – they are also found on the nearby shores of Australia,
These unique flightless bird species are all endangered and need human help to insure their survival. The Department of Conservation in New Zealand has established many programs in this endeavor. Some birds are transferred to remote offshore islands to build new populations. Others like the takahe are reared in captivity and then released into the wild where they are constantly monitored. The kakapo is involved in on-site breeding. There are also ongoing efforts across New Zealand to eradicate the predators such as stoats and rats.
While their hard work is reaping rewards there must be constant vigilance to protect these amazing birds.
Next week more on the endemic birds of New Zealand – the flying kind.