Takahe  Kiwi
Kakapo  Penguin
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Gigantism in insects

Wetas taking
the place of
small mammals.
Giant worms

Living fossils
Frogs and snails
Tuatara - world's
oldest reptile

Big Trees

First kokako hatchings for 100 years in Hawkes Bay
"It's been more than a century since a kokako was born in Hawkes Bay. But that changed"
New Zealand Herald
28 January 2004

Kokako chicks bring hope of regeneration
"For the first time in 60 years kokako chicks have been hatched in the wild at Mt Bruce bird reserve"
New Zealand Herald
26 January 2004

'Lone ranger' of song rejoining the forest's dawn chorus
"... North Island kokako, famous for their loud, flute-like notes, have increased almost 50 percent in four years"
New Zealand Herald
20 December 2003

Hunt in wild south for elusive kokako
"The last great hunt is on for one of New Zealand's most elusive birds ..."
New Zealand Herald
6 October 2000

Photo Credit
Left, above top:
North Island kokako
Left, second from top:
Archeys frog
Left 4th from top: Kakapo
Left, 5th from top:
Tusked weta
Crown Copyright, DoC
Top center:
North Island kokako,
Puketi State Forest,
Rogan Colbourne 1980s
Crown Copyright, DoC
Illustration Credit
Above left, third from top:
John Gerrard Keulemans
1842-1912, Huia (male
and female) Heteralocha
Right, top;
John Gerrard Keulemans
1842-1912, Blue-wattled
crow, Glaucopis wilsoni,
Orange-wattled crow,
Glaucopis cinerea 1888
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any re-use of these images.

The kokako is the most endangered of New Zealand's two remaining endemic wattlebirds, and one of the country's most endeared birds.  The kokako's loud, melodious song that carries through the forest with stereophonic clarity is one of the marvels of nature.  Each pair sing their own distinctive duet for half an hour at dawn, with other birds joining in the choir.


South Island kokako
Callaeas cinerea cinerea

Both subspecies of kokako were once common on all ranges of mature podocarp-hardwood forests throughout New Zealand.  In the early 1900s, South Island kokako were widespread throughout the South Island and Stewart Island.

It has not been sighted for 33 years and is considered extinct.  An extensive final search in 2000, in eight remote areas accessable only by boat and helicopter, from Nelson Lakes to Stewart Island was unsuccessful.

The two subspecies are almost identical in appearance. The South Island kokako has brightly coloured yellow or orange "wattles" on both sides of its gape that meet below the neck.

North Island kokako
Callaeas cinerea wilsoni

The North Island kokako subspecies is only distinguished from its former southern relative by blue wattles.  It is just holding on as the sole surviving member of the wattlebird family on New Zealand's mainland.

Kokako, Crown Copyright DoC
New Zealand's favourite singers .....
"The North Island kokako is a beautiful blue-grey forest bird with blue wattles and a black 'Lone Ranger' mask, but is most famous for its haunting song. The song is long and very loud - it is flung by the birds from the tops of emergent trees at dawn; it fills the sky, and then settles like a huge blanket down through their forest territories".
North Island Kokako Recovery Plan, Department of Conservation
Hear the song of kokako
Requires RealPlayer to run

A number of small populations are maintained by intensive ecosystem management, captive breeding and translocation.  Observers noted that kokako were retreating as early as 1885.  Since 1960 when they have been confined to the central and northern North Island, all populations in unmanaged locations have either disappeared or severely declined.

The total North Island population was estimated in 1999 to be 1160, however only 396 were females. They have existed in very small populations ranging from 17 to 500 birds in 17 isolated areas.

 Increase in Kokako pairs to 2003
 Mapara, Te Kuiti 5  (1989) 40
 Waipara, Pureora Forest 16  (1998) 77
 Mangatutu, North Pureora 8  (1995) 33
 Te Urewera National Park 8  (1990s) 100
 Total pairs 400  (1999) 640
 Total population 1160 (1999) 1700

In just four years from 1999 to 2003, kokako showed a most remarkable comeback with a total population increase of 50%, and rehabitation of areas that were previously vacant.

A self-sustaining population has been built up by the Department of Conservation on Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which with other locations has been a source for translocations to Kapiti Island.  Kokako have also been reintroduced to Tiritiri Matangi Island.

Kokako are very mobile on the ground and in trees, using their strong legs to bound from branch to branch.  But they have small rounded wings and are poor fliers, tending to glide from ridges to valleys.

They defend and obtain all of their food from territories ranging in area from 4 to 20 hectares.  A kokako diet includes fruits, leaves, fern fronds and various insects.

The kokako is the only bird in the world that is known to pair with another male.  The gay males build nests together.  Territories can be held by a male and female pair, two males, a single male, or briefly by one female. This is probably due to the high mortality and lesser number of females.

Next page - saddleback     huia
Return to wattlebirds

International Threatened
and Endangered Listings
2000 IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species


Heteralocha acutirostris
North Island Kokako
Callaeas cinerea
Philesturnus carunculatus
Lower risk near threatened

United States Threatened
and Endangered Species,
Foreign Listed Species

North Island Kokako
Callaeas cinerea

Kokako recovery at mainland island sites .....

The main cause of kokako decline is predation at nests by ships rats, possums and sometimes stoats and cats.  The native harrier is a natural predator.  The female does all of the incubation and brooding during a 50 day period, and is most vulnerable, together with the chicks and eggs, while on the nest.  Intensive pest management has been effective in improving breeding conditions.


At the intensely managed Mapara Reserve in the King Country, kokako population doubled in four years from 1992 to 1996, and then trebled after eight years of pest control. Seventeen chicks were fledged in 1996, and 55 in 1995. The number of females increased five times in six years.  The original 1989 Mapara population of 5 reached 40 in 2003.

At Kaharoa in the Bay of Plenty, 85 percent of pairs produced chicks after three years of pest control, but this dropped to none after management ceased.

Copyright © 2004 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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