Pukekos’ love life part of new re­search


Dr Kristal Cain is work­ing to un­lock the se­crets of one of New Zealand’s most recog­nised na­tive birds.

The lec­turer in the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s school of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences is con­duct­ing field­work re­search into pukeko birds in var­i­ous sites in­clud­ing around the Water­care Coastal Walk­way south of Am­bury Re­gional Park in Man­gere Bridge.

She’s orig­i­nally from Texas in the United States and has con­ducted sim­i­lar re­search on other species in Aus­tralia.

‘‘I have to get per­mits and per­mis­sion to work on each prop­erty that I’ll be on,’’ Cain says, of her work in Auck­land.

‘‘I’m find­ing good spots where the birds are and set­ting up bait so they get used to com­ing to those areas for food.

‘‘I’ll set up traps and once they’re used to it then I can start catch­ing them and tak­ing mea­sure­ments. They’ll be freed again. It takes about 10 min­utes and doesn’t hurt.’’

Cain says she will col­lect a small blood sam­ple from each pukeko she catches and place a colour band on them to tell them apart.

It will also help her iden­tify each birds’ sex as well as which ones are dom­i­nant, she says.

‘‘I can get a bit of DNA and hor­mone lev­els from the blood sam­ple so I can fig­ure out who’s fa­ther­ing who and who’s mum to who.

‘‘I can get all that kind of in­for­ma­tion. I’ll come out once a week for a cou­ple of months to get the pop­u­la­tion es­tab­lished and get bands on ev­ery­body and then once all that stuff is go­ing we can do more in depth work.’’

Cain says she ex­pects her re­search may take ‘‘prob­a­bly a cou­ple of years’’ and she’s hop­ing to get a PhD stu­dent in­volved in the project.

She in­tends to gather re­search that she will teach to stu­dents, pub­lish in aca­demic jour­nals, and present at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences.

Among the things she’s hop­ing to learn are what pur­pose, if any, the red shield on top of a pukeko’s head plays, as well as the im­pact of the birds’ hor­mones.

‘‘We think it [the shield] may be a way to sig­nal to each other who the more ag­gres­sive or dom­i­nant bird is. It could be the big­ger and more ag­gres­sive birds have higher lev­els of testos­terone and there­fore have big­ger shields.

‘‘The main thing of in­ter­est is testos­terone.’’


Cain will be trap­ping pukeko and tak­ing blood from them to do ex­am­ine the birds’ DNA.

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