Meet Kahurangi the Kōkako

by Helen Cordery

If you walk along the Pūkaha aviary track, you may hear something strange. A sound, like a person speaking, or was it a wolf whistle? But when you look around, you see no-one there. If you are standing near aviary 02, chances are you’re probably being watched by Kahurangi our resident kōkako and a bird with one big personality. This week we’d like to introduce you to her so you can find out just why she lives at Pūkaha in the first place.

Little chick lost

The story begins when a tiny chick was found by a DOC ranger who saw that she wasn’t thriving and needed urgent help. She was hand-reared and came to Pūkaha in 2005.

One sassy girl

Kahurangi (we call her “Kahu” for short) has plenty of personality. Her favourite treat are patete berries which she stuffs into her blue wattles. Kahurangi is also quite fond of men, with a penchant for older men with glasses. So if you fit the bill watch out – you might find yourself with an admirer!

The story behind those long legs

The tangata whenua of Aotearoa, the Māori, have a story about the kōkako. It goes like this:

Many generations ago, the demi-god Maui was making dinner with his brothers when they became angered at how dark it became as the sun was setting.

“The sun sets too quickly, we need more time!” Maui cried, and so he decided to try and tame it. After he had done so, Maui lay down in the shade of a tree, tired and very thirsty from the effort it had taken.

So he asked some of the forest birds if they could bring him water.

Tieke (saddleback) ignored him, which made Maui very annoyed. He reached out to grab the bird and, as he took hold of its black feathers, the heat from his hands coloured them burnt orange.

So Maui asked the hihi (stichbird). Hihi also didn’t want to help, and again Maui was annoyed. So he grabbed the hihi and threw it into the fire which burnt the tips of its wings yellow.

Maui then asked the kōkako for help. The beautiful bird did so, filling up its wattles with water. To say thank you for the kōkako’s kindness, Maui gave the bird beautiful long legs – longer than any other bird in the forest – so it would be able to walk through the mud without getting dirty. To this day, the kōkako moves with a spring in its step.

Kahurangi the advocate

Kahurangi cannot be released into the wild because she is too tame. As she was handreared, she has also not developed the skills necessary to survive in the wild especially when there are so many things out there that would love to eat her (looking at you, mustelids!).

We call her an advocate for her species because not many New Zealanders get to see a kōkako – after all, they are endangered. There is something special about seeing Kahurangi that awakens the conservation spirit and helps to inspire our visitors – old and young – to get behind the work we do here. Many of them continue with this long after they’ve left (for more ideas on how you can get involved with conservation at home, see here).

It’s now in your hands

Kahurangi, like all our birds, relies on your support. You can sign up to become a member, a sponsor or even get your work team involved on a team-building trip. Every visitor through our doors helps us to continue with our projects too. Maybe you can’t visit or get involved in those ways – that is fine too! You can help Kahurangi in different ways, maybe by creating a safer garden space or by being a responsible pet owner. Stay tuned to our blog for more ideas!