Walk­ing bird that can fly and swim

Marlborough Midweek - - Front Page -

reeds, rushes and swamps. De­spite not hav­ing webbed feet, they are also strong swim­mers.

They are a mem­ber of the rail fam­ily – as are weka, moorhen, coot, crake and takahe – and are recog­nised by their bril­liant red ‘‘ frontal shield’’, which ex­tends from their beak up onto their fore­head, and deep blue breast plumage.

They have a com­plex so­cial life. To our un­e­d­u­cated eyes they seem to just be run­ning round in pad­docks screech­ing and flick­ing their white tail feath­ers, but there is pur­pose to their pos­tur­ing.

They live in per­ma­nent so­cial groups and vig­or­ously de­fend a shared ter­ri­tory, which is used for both feed­ing and breed­ing.

They will at­tack not only en­croach­ing pukeko, but preda­tory cats, stoats and har­rier hawks.

So­cial groups can have mul­ti­ple breed­ing males and fe­males, but all eggs are laid in a sin­gle nest. Con­trary to the wool, shred­ded paper, shoe laces and rib­bons in the Gen­e­sis en­ergy advertisement, most pukeko nests are made from the stems and leaves of plants. They are usu­ally con­structed on a plat­form of bea­t­en­down veg­e­ta­tion, over or near wa­ter with one or more ac­cess ramps for chicks. There can be up to 18 eggs in one clutch, from var­i­ous fe­males.

The males usu­ally in­cu­bate the eggs, and all of the group mem­bers help to look af­ter the chicks, which are fed by adults for about two months be­fore they are able to fend for them­selves.

In the South Is­land, breed­ing nor­mally takes place be­tween Septem­ber and Jan­uary.

Pukeko are pri­mar­ily veg­e­tar­ian, but an­i­mal foods make up a small pro­por­tion of the diet. Most com­mon foods are the stems, shoots, leaves and seeds of grasses, sedges, rushes and reeds, gar­den veg­eta­bles and crop plants.

An­i­mal foods con­sist mostly of in­sects, spi­ders and earth­worms.

In some ar­eas, pukeko are con­sid­ered an agri­cul­tural or gar­den pest, be­cause they will pull up and eat planted veg­eta­bles and crops.

Whereas it’s not too much trou­ble to pro­tect your veg­etable gar­den, grassy pad­docks are a dif­fer­ent story, and large flocks of pukeko can cause dam­age to pas­ture.

De­spite their lack of pop­u­lar­ity among gar­den­ers and farm­ers, the pukeko won New Zealand Bird of the Year in 2011 and is beloved by many New Zealan­ders for their out­sized feet, funky run­ning style and in­quis­i­tive ways.

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