Happy anniversary to a plucky bird

On this day 60 years ago, Geoffrey Orbell rediscovered the takahe in Fiordland.

Photo from Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust
Photo from Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust

The takahe or nortornis (Porphyrio hochstetteri) looks like a pukeko at first glance, but it’s a bit tougher. It has a big bill and strong legs with which it could happily defend itself in a Friday night Courtenay Place melee.

After only four recorded sightings in the 19th century, the takahe had been believed extinct for 50 years. But in 1949, an expedition discovered a remant population in the Murchison Mountains to the west of Lake Te Anau.

The population declined to 118 in 1982, but with intensive management of deer (which devour its food supply) it began to slowly recover in its mountain stronghold. DOC’s website says that today there are 130 in the Murchisons and 60-odd on island sanctuaries.

A mistake in target recognition during a pukeko cull on Mana Island reduced the population by one, d’oh; however, the resident population on Kapiti Island near Wellington and Tiritiri Matangi near Auckland are major tourist drawcards.

Jeremy Wells likes them – he had fun filming Birdland, measuring takahe poo and finding humour in the “irony of sending takahe down to Southland to become less inbred”.

So this Friday as you clink glasses on Courtenay Place or at your after-work social, propose a toast to a plucky blue-green customer that puts its political counterparts to shame. Here’s to the takahe.

5 Comments Posted

  1. Aren’t we all lucky that they never made it into Buller’s Birds in the 19th C, or else we’d be visiting Te Papa to ask special collections for a look at a stuffed one.

    For slightly less adventurous bird-lovers, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in suburban Wellington has lovely free-living native birds and puts on evening sessions in the summer so you can hear the twilight birdcalls & experience the glowworms lighting up. Costs to get in, but if you keep an eye out, there are ‘gold-coin’ days every once in a while to encourage the locals to see what the tourists visit in droves. No Takahe, but lots of other lovely feathered friends.

  2. Well remembered. A great date in history. In the first reports the bird was known only as the notornis. Only gradually, this being the 1940s, did it come to be universally called the takahe.

  3. Culling/shooting in the habitat of the takahe. There’s an extensive hut and track network in there for the cullers. It’s the only area of Fiordland mainland that is deer-culled by DOC I think, the rest is managed by commercial and recreational hunters (e.g. the Wapiti). Hardly any 1080 is used in Fiordland I think. Only the DOC staff and volunteers submit timesheets!

  4. “The population declined to 118 in 1982, but with intensive management of deer (which devour its food supply) it began to slowly recover in its mountain stronghold.”

    what sort of ‘management’ of deer? are we talking shooting? 1080? having weekly meetings with the deer and requiring them to submit timesheets to show where they’ve been grazing?

  5. Lake Orbell, in the Murchison Mountains is a beautiful place to visit but you need to have good thigh muscles to cope with the climb up from Lake Te Anau. We found a nest, with eggs. There are interesting and mysterious whakairo on a high cliff face near the top of the trail.

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