Photo: Michael Hamilton
The Karori Sanctuary Experience

Birds

Takahē / Takahē, Sth Is.

Takahē

Photo By Steve Attwood

Puffin (female), followed by T2 (male)

Photo By Brendon Doran

Family history

Takahē are found only in New Zealand. They belong to the Rallidae (rail) family of birds, as do their lookalike but lighter-built cousins, the pukeko (Porphyrio porphyrio). New Zealand used to have two species of takahē. The other was the even larger moho, or North Island takahē (P. mantelli) but these are extinct. The South Island takahē has been introduced to Zealandia as an analogue species for the extinct moho – our first analogue species.

Back from the dead

Takahē were once officially declared extinct until they were rediscovered in 1948 in a remote Fiordland valley. Their natural range is now confined to the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland National Park. Thanks to an intensive programme of captive breeding, translocations, stoat control and deer culling spearheaded by the Department of Conservation, the takahē population has seen a gradual increase from a low of 112 birds in 1981 to the current population of 225 birds.

Zealandia was the only North Island site selected to receive takahē as part of the Mitre10 Takahē Rescue programme. They are the 17th native species to be re-introduced to the sanctuary and by far the rarest species to be released. The birds are a “retired” breeding pair from DOC-managed Mana Island, which haven’t produced chicks for some years. They were removed from the Mana Island breeding population to create room for younger birds. Nicknamed ‘Puffin’ and ‘T2′, the birds have quickly adapted to their more public life in the wetlands area at the top of the lower lake in Zealandia. They have become quite unafraid of people, making them a popular attraction for visitors. They help Zealandia Rangers educate visitors about the role of conservation in protecting our rarest species. Seeing takahē at Zealandia is a unique opportunity, as most of these carefully protected birds live on off-shore islands or in remote mountain reserves.

Recognition

Similar looking to their cousins the pukeko, but much larger and heavier and, unlike pukeko, takahē are flightless. Their colour ranges from an iridescent dark blue on the head, neck and breast, and peacock blue shoulders, to an olive-green and blue back and wings. They have a large, heavy-looking, bright red bill and face shield and heavy red legs with large, splayed out toes ending in claws. Chicks are a fluffy black.

The birds are quite chatty and “talk” to each other with a series of slow, deep coo-eet sounds. If startled they let out a deep, vibrating oomf.

That heavy, sharp bill is a perfect vegetation cutter and stripper. In their natural habitat they eat the bases of tussocks and the rhizomes of ferns, but they have taken to introduced grasses and are often seen clipping the grass around their wetland area. Their sausage-like, fibrous, green droppings are often seen along the paths by the wetland.