Cuckoo from Polynesia

E, kua rite ke ti Koekoea

By Jim Webber

10th October 2009

koekoea image
We’ve talked already about how Maori proverbs and sayings often refer to birds and animals  — and one that I think of at this time of year is the Long-tailed Cuckoo, the Koekoea.
The Koekoea arrives here from Polynesia in springtime.

It has a distinctive, harsh screech which we hear on Kapiti particularly, a sure sign that it has made landfall and probably is looking for a nest with suitable foster parents.

The “homeless” nature of the Koekoea is acknowledged in the saying “E, kua rite ki te koekoea.” Or, “you’re just like the koekoea” — sometimes directed at someone who has no permanent place to live.

The cuckoo’s habit of leaving its egg in another bird’s nest is also noted in “Te parahako o te koekoea” (the “unwanted” offspring of the cuckoo), referring to a child abandoned by its parents.

For some reason we always thought that the Koekoea was a pretty fierce bird, possibly because of its screech which is a “I’m here, lock your doors” kind of sound and also because it is believed to be partial to the respected skinks which are common on Kapiti and its neighbouring islands.
I guess it’s good that a warning note like this exists. However something in bird genetics clearly hasn’t got the message through because the nest-grabbing continues from season to season.

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