Cool Kokako

I am particularly fond of our native North Island Kokako and its beautiful fluting song. Here is the brief information that our Department of Conservation provides about the Kokako on its website:

“North Island kōkako

The kōkako belongs to the endemic New Zealand wattlebirds (Callaeidae), an ancient family of birds which includes the North and South Island saddleback and the extinct huia.
The kōkako is the only member of its family still surviving on the mainland. A dark bluish-grey bird with a long tail and short wings, it has a pair of brightly coloured, fleshy “wattles” extending from either side of its gape to meet below the neck.
The North Island kōkako has blue wattles, while the South Island kōkako has orange or yellow wattles. The bird is not particularly good at flying and prefers to use its powerful legs to leap and run through the forest.”
My earlier experience of a Kokako in the wild was when I visited Kapiti Island (a wildlife sanctuary) and as I trudged up the steep terrain that day I was stopped in my tracks by the unique melodious song coming from far across the gully. Prior to that I had only heard recordings of this lovely song.

So I was delighted to discover that there was a Kokako in captivity at Pukaha, Mt Bruce, when we visited there recently. This bird was recovered from the wild after it was blown out of its nest as a young fledgling and was hand reared. It is the only one in captivity and must remain in an aviary in order to survive.

Kokako at Mt Bruce

It was such a privilege to stand so close to a Kokako and to watch its movements, to hear it whistle (it had learnt to wolf whistle sadly while being hand reared) and to see its lovely plumage. With so much human contact this Kokako had not learnt to sing its natural song. However in terms of educating people this friendly, healthy bird has much to offer in terms of promoting programmes to ensure the species does not become extinct.

Kokako print

My Dad taught me so much about the native bush and the birds and wildlife in our country and for that I am very grateful. I just wish he had lived longer to see the results of programmes and sanctuaries that mean we get to see so many more of our native birds, many of whom have been on the endangered species list for a long time.


5 thoughts on “Cool Kokako

    1. ordinarygood Post author

      Hi Jo,

      It is a most special and beautiful bird and it is endangered, although management plans do seem to be helping. Debate rages as to whether or not the South Island Kokako is extinct or not. should take you to a recording of the Kokako’s song.

      Facts about kōkako

      North Island kōkako

      There are two sub-species of kōkako, the North Island kōkako (Callaeas cinerea wilsoni) and the South Island kōkako (C. c. cinerea).

      The North Island kōkako is found mainly in mature podocarp-hardwood forests. There are fewer than 400 pairs that occur in several isolated populations in the central and northern North Island. In the last 20 years, there has been a marked decline in numbers of North Island kōkako, although management is reversing that trend in many areas now.

      South Island kōkako are currently assumed to be extinct, although it is possible they may survive in low numbers in remote parts of the South Island and Stewart Island.

      Kōkako are renowned for the clarity and volume of their song which carries far across the forest. In the early morning, a pair may sing a duet for up to half an hour with other kōkako joining in to form a “bush choir”.

      Male and female are similar in colour and size (weighing about 230 grams).

      They protect large territories (eight hectares) by singing and chasing away invaders.

      They eat leaves, fern-fronds, flowers, fruit and invertebrates.

      In Maori myth, it was the kōkako that gave Maui water as he fought the sun. The kōkako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui. His thirst quenched, Maui rewarded the kōkako by making its legs long and slender, enabling the bird to bound through the forest with ease in search of food.

  1. Jo Woolf


    Thank you for the info! The kokako’s call is very intense and repetitive – we have nothing like that here. The nearest would be a buzzard’s cry but that is much higher pitched and more sporadic.
    I hope that their numbers continue to increase.
    I love the Maori legend, too!

    Best wishes

    1. ordinarygood Post author

      I love the fluting quality of the song. I have no idea about buzzards. We have NZ Falcons and Harriers – hawk type birds but much smaller than buzzards I expect and smaller than your kites but of a similar predatory nature. Nature is wonderfully abundant and diverse. Maori legends are such wonderful, wonder filled stories that are so rich in metaphor and symbolism. I hope you enjoy the Kaka from today’s post.

  2. Pingback: Kaka Circus! « ordinarygoodness

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