And Bird of the Year in 2016!
By Cushla McGaughey
The North Island Kokako has blue wattles at its throat. Early settlers called it ‘the Blue-wattled Crow’, but the Kokako is in fact our largest songbird. Pairs sing for up to two hours after daybreak, flapping their wings as they call. Far from harsh cawing, their flute-like duets are hauntingly lovely.
Their length (from bill to tail) is almost a third greater than that of a tui, but at 230 g. the kokako weighs nearly twice as much. At the other end of the songbird scale, the tiny riroriro weighs only 6.5 g.
Short wings and a heavy body make flight a limited option. Instead, kokako use powerful legs to bound from branch to branch. It’s a skill that has to be learned. There is much awkward scrambling and falling off when fledglings venture from the nest. The baby-pink wattles turn blue only after the first moult.
A preference for lowland forest
Kokako prefer tall, mixed lowland forest with a high diversity of plant species. The birds search for food at all levels of the forest, from tree-tops to forest floor. They eat leaves and fern fronds all year round, buds, flowers, fruits and berries when available, supplemented with forest invertebrates.
Pairs each defend a large forest territory, where they live all year round. Too many pairs in too small an area means too much time spent defending their territory to be able to breed. Preserving sufficient pristine forest habitat is therefore a critical factor in the species’ survival.