18 Sep 2019

Kōkako tours let the public get up close with threatened birds

9:11 am on 18 September 2019

For the first time, the general public can take part in guided tours in the Hunua Ranges to take a look at a threatened bird species - the kōkako.

A Kōkako in the Hunua ranges

A kōkako in the Hunua ranges. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

It hasn't been easy for the native species, and Miranda Bennett, a senior ranger from Auckland Council, said there were only about 20 of them left in the area in 1994.

"We thought we had four breeding pairs, but what we realised was actually one of that pair was a male-female breeding pair so there was only one female at that stage," she said.

Once they realised how dire the situation was, a recovery programme was set up.

"We started with what we call a ring of steel around the nest of that breeding pair, so putting out a whole lot of traps and bait stations," Ms Bennett said.

"We also brought birds into the population, so we translocated from other known populations of kōkako ... because we need to build up the genetic diversity."

There are now about 250 kōkako around the Hunua Ranges and the aim is to boost that to 500 by 2025.

The birds are cloaked in grey feathers with black patches across their eyes.

What really makes them stand out are the electric blue wattles under their beaks.

Project manager of the Hunua kōkako recovery programme, Declan Morrison, said their birdsong was also distinctively unique.

Hunua kōkako recovery programme project manager Declan Morrison.

Declan Morrison. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

"It's quite different to other birds ... it's a mix between an organ and a squeaky door, it's quite a haunting sound - it's nice," he said.

Māori legend says that the kōkako stored water in their wattles and brought it to Maui when he was fighting the sun.

In return, Maui rewarded the kōkako by making its legs long and slender, enabling it to bound through the forest with ease in search of food.

The birds are known for hopping effortlessly from branch to branch, and Ms Bennett said now the public had the chance to see them too.

Auckland Council senior ranger Miranda Bennett.

Auckland Council senior ranger Miranda Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

"It's kind of a long way in and it's behind closed gates so it's not an easy accessible part of the ranges for most people, so that's why we've made this trip where we can guide people into the right areas and we can let them experience what we get to do every day," she said.

Ms Bennett said the two trial public tours being held on Friday sold out quickly.

They cost $35 for an adult, $15 for a child and a family ticket of four for $70.

She hoped more would be held soon.

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