Story: Large forest birds

New Zealand’s forests are home to some intriguing large birds. The kākāpō is a flightless nocturnal parrot; the feisty weka helps itself to people’s food and belongings. The takahē was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1948, and the kōkako’s haunting song has been described as ‘rare forest music’.

Full story by Gerard Hutching
Main image: North Island kōkako

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New Zealand’s large forest birds

Some unusual large birds live in New Zealand’s forests. They include:

  • weka
  • takahē
  • kererū (wood pigeons)
  • kākāpō
  • kākā
  • kōkako.

Birds that can’t fly

Some New Zealand birds have lost the ability to fly. Weka, takahē and kiwi don’t fly at all. Kōkako use their wings just for gliding, and kākāpō sometimes use theirs like a parachute.

Size

Birds that didn’t need to fly were able to grow larger. The kākāpō is the world’s biggest parrot, and the takahē is the world’s biggest rail.

Weka

Weka are about the size of a hen, and cannot fly. They live in the forest, but sometimes go onto farms or gardens, where they pull up plants. Weka also steal food and shiny objects from people.

On some islands they have become pests, killing smaller birds.

Takahē

Takahē are flightless. They have turquoise, purple, brown-green and navy blue feathers, with a white undertail and a red beak and legs.

People believed that takahē were extinct, until some were found in 1948, in the Fiordland mountains. There are not many takahē left. Some have been moved to islands without predators, to try and save them.

Kererū

Kererū are plump pigeons. They are purple and green, with a white bib, and red eyes, bill and legs.

Kererū are important in the forest, because they are the only birds that can spread the seed of trees that have large fruit.

Māori hunted kererū, but since 1922 the birds have been protected.

Kākāpō

Kākāpō are large, flightless night parrots. In the past, some people kept them as pets.

They cannot fly. Instead they jog through the forest – sometimes several kilometres in one night – and climb along branches to feed. Males attract females with a low booming noise, which can be heard up to 5 kilometres away.

There are not many kākāpō left, so people are working to save them.

Kākā

Kākā are noisy, comical parrots which can mimic other birds. North Island kākā are olive-brown. South Island kākā are bright green and crimson.

Kōkako

Kōkako have coloured wattles (fleshy pads hanging from each side of the beak). They are beautiful singers. Kōkako songs vary from region to region.

The South Island kōkako is thought to be extinct, but sometimes people report hearing or seeing signs of it in the bush.

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How to cite this page:

Gerard Hutching. 'Large forest birds', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Jan-13
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/large-forest-birds