Walking bird that can fly and swim
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.