Native Bird of New Zealand: North Island Weka
New Zealand has many different kinds of birds living in mountains, forests, wetlands, open country and coastal areas. While there are many introduced birds, there are also many native birds, found only in New Zealand. At least two birds, the moa and the huia are now extinct, and many others have been on the brink of extinction, but fortunately saved. Until the arrival of man, ground-dwelling birds such as the extinct moa and the endangered kiwi thrived, as there were no native predators. The arrival of man initially brought dogs and rats to the country, followed by other animals, such as stoats and ferrets. Mammals changed the life of New Zealand birds forever.
Because it is classed as a vulnerable species, the only chance many New Zealanders get to see a weka is in captivity at one of the many wildlife sanctuaries around the country. Like the more famous kiwi, the weka is a flightless bird, native to New Zealand. There are three species of weka, living in different parts of the country. The North Island weka is found mostly in Northland, Poverty Bay and on Kapiti Island.
Also known as the woodhen, the North Island weka is about the size of a chicken, 53 cm from head to tail. Its plumage is brown and black. It builds its nest in long grass or under fallen trees, in scrub land or at the edge of the forest. The eggs have an incubation period of 20 to 27 days. Usually numbering three to six at a time, the eggs are a creamy white colour, speckled with pinky mauve flecks. The laying season is from September to April.
Although it is flightless, the weka can run very fast, especially when in pursuit of a potential meal. It is most active at dusk, but during the day time it scurries here and there, scrounging for food, especially in picnic areas bordering onto the forest, where humans may have left rubbish. They eat a range of invertebrates, seeds, fruit and lizards. The weka has a reputation for stealing eggs and the young of ground-nesting birds. Rats and mice also add variation to the weka’s diet.
Fortunately, with the support of numerous organizations, the Department of Conservation works hard to minimize further loss of native birds and has a number of recovery programmes in place. Wildlife sanctuaries have been established on islands that have been made predator free and birds, as well as other native wildlife, are monitored closely. Other mainland sanctuaries and wildlife parks have to follow strict guidelines to ensure the safety of the birds and animals in their care.
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