South Island Kōkako: recording sparks hope of spotting elusive bird

A recording from the Heaphy Trail in Kahurangi National Park is being analyzed to determine if it is the South Island kōkako.

Illustration of the South Island kōkako, now believed to be extinct.
Photo: Florilegius / Leemage via AFP

The last confirmed sighting of the South Island kōkako, now believed to be extinct, dates back to 1967.

South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust CEO Inger Perkins said Morning report a researcher from Victoria University, Professor Stephen Marsland, had informed them that his program filter had just picked up the song of the kōkako.

Perkins said there were three people on the track, when they heard some long, sweet notes. Remembering the North Island kōkako they had heard before, they stopped dead and saw a bird of the “right size and color” walk away.

They managed to capture the last notes before it calmed down, she said.

“We went back there with volunteers and they played other sounds there that we think were the kāka, and the kāka responded.

“We know that the kāka react to the local sounds they make, and they responded to our previous recording but not this one.

“So we think it’s very different and we think it’s most likely the kōkako.”

While it may be difficult to identify it with a single bird because others such as tūī and kāka mimic the call of the kōkako, Perkins sees some light with this particular recording.

“[The South Island kōkako bird call is] pretty much the same as the North Island kōkako, but we’re looking at a few slight variations across Professor Marsland’s project so we can add to this analysis.

“Even when we hear the kāka making a flute sound, among the shrill sounds of chatter, they can mix it with the other sounds, while that particular note [on the recording] it’s just all by itself.

“The same with the tūī, they can have their boring sounds and their chatter and their squeaky sounds and their harsher sounds and maybe a softer note in between, but not just that mellow note in itself and also its melancholy nature … seems to indicate a kōkako. “

Now the Trust is hoping to seek visual proof of the elusive bird.

About Ethel Nester

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