7 Feb 2023

Mystery surrounds weka discovered in Taranaki, a bird not seen in region since 1930s

8:33 pm on 7 February 2023
Wally the weka, the mysterious bird found in Taranaki.

Wally the weka, the mysterious bird found in Taranaki. Photo: Supplied/DOC

Mystery surrounds the discovery of weka in Taranaki, where the protected native bird has been extinct since the 1930s.

Adding to the intrigue, the Department of Conservation is worried the voracious forager's reappearance could threaten recovering ecosystems in the province.

Manaia retiree Pete Andreoli did a double take when asked to help identify a strange bird that had turned up in his son's South Taranaki backyard.

"I said to my wife straightaway 'that's a weka' but there's no weka in Taranaki and in fact as far as I know there's not that many in the North Island.

"So, I went down there and I managed to catch him after a lot of chasing and cornering and that. He had a side-step on him like Jonah Lomu I just couldn't get a hold of him."

Pete called the Department of Conservation but kept getting connected to staff in the South Island - where the birds were plentiful - who advised him to release it.

"I didn't really want to do that because I thought he won't last long if I just let him go.

"So, he destroyed my shade house for me. All my tomatoes and strawberries, me raspberries. He cleaned up all of them.

"Eventually, after Christmas, New Year I manage to track down the New Plymouth woman at DOC and an hour later they came down and picked him up."

Wally the weka outstayed his welcome at Pete Andreoli's property.

Wally the weka outstayed his welcome at Pete Andreoli's property. Photo: Supplied/DOC

Weka were a common sight in Taranaki up until 1918, but they were gone from the region by 1938 - and an attempt to reintroduce them on Mt Taranaki in the 1970s was deemed unsuccessful.

DOC senior ranger biodiversity Cameron Hunt didn't initially believe it was a weka.

"We were a little sceptical ourselves that there was actually a weka in Manaia until we saw the photos.

"You know weka are not found in Taranaki and have been here for many many years, but sure enough once we'd seen the photos we knew there were a couple of weka running around in Manaia."

He had no idea where they'd come from.

"We're pretty confident they didn't fly here, but where they've come from is one of the really interesting bits that we'd like to find out.

"So, after we captured the weka it was taken to Brooklands Zoo and a DNA sample has been taken and that should give us a fairly good idea as to where it's come from."

Hunt said uncontrolled reintroduction of weka to Taranaki was not without a downside.

"Weka are great foraging birds and they're almost a little bit of a predator especially in our national park you know it's still quite a fragile ecosystem still in in its sort of recovery phase.

"There is a bit of risk with weka getting into the national park and predating on the small invertebrates even around the coast on nesting seabirds."

Meanwhile, Pete Andreoli said he was not not missing his house guest - who he'd nicknamed Wally - all that much.

"Not really, not really. It took a lot of feeding. I was out digging worms every day and finding snails and various other things I had to feed him.

"He used to love eggs. Someone said 'why don't you put him in the chook house with your chooks?' and I said because 'I wouldn't get any eggs he'd eat them all'."

And then there was the noise.

"It was quite a relief [him going] because he'd started to call the last week he was here.

"He'd be screaming all night long, calling looking for a partner I suppose. So, yeah he's a noisy little bugger."

DOC asked that anyone who spotted a weka in South Taranaki call 0800DOC HOT and report it.