The Goodies - Fiordland's Unique Fauna
The icon of our shop in Te Anau the flightless takahē (Porphyrio [Notornis] hochstetteri) is a unique bird, a conservation icon and a survivor. From an era when large flightless birds were spread throughout New Zealand, the takahē has clung to existence despite the pressures of hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators.
The Takahē was once thought to be extinct, but in the 1948 it hit world headlines when an Invercargill doctor, Geoffrey Orbell, rediscovered the bird high in the tussock grasslands of the remote Murchison Mountains, Fiordland. Even today, despite years of conservation effort, the takahē remains critically endangered. The Department of Conservation Takahē Recovery Programme is committed to ensuring the survival, growth and security of takahē populations throughout New Zealand. Donations can be made at the large statue in Te Anau outside Fiordland House.
Wild takahē in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland find their food and shelter in alpine grassland such as broad-leaved snow tussock, mid-ribbed snow tussock and curled snow tussock. The takahē’s strong beak is perfect for cutting and stripping the base of tussock tillers to get at the juicy new growth, but it still needs to feed nearly all day to get enough nourishment. The takahē also eats tussock seeds when they are available, sliding its beak along the seed head to strip the seeds and eat them. In winter, if snow cover is heavy, birds descend into the forest for shelter and feed mainly on underground starchy rhizomes of the summer green fern.
After the snow clears in October, takahē often nest under the shelter of large tussocks where each nesting pair builds up a messy raised bowl of grasses. One to three eggs are laid, and of these 80% hatch. The 30-day incubation period is shared by both parents who also feed the chicks for three months. Usually, only one chick will survive its first winter. Young birds often stay with their parents for up to 18 months helping to rear the next year's chick. Takahē have lived over 20 years in captivity but in the wild few birds reach this age.
The takahē is much larger and more colourful than the more common pukeko. It has a large, strong red beak and stout red legs. Its gorgeous feathers range from an iridescent dark blue head, neck and breast to peacock blue shoulders and turquoise and olive green wings and back. Adult takahē are about the size of a large hen, 50 cm high and can weigh over 3 kg.
Takahe are flightless. They have wings, but they are only use them to display during courtship or as a show of aggression.