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When is a Wood Hen a Beach Bunny?

When it’s a Weka (pronounced “wehkkah”, Gallirallus australis), a biggish flightless endemic NZ rail.

If you’ve ever tried to see a rail in the US, you know it can be an exercise in frustration, since our rails are furtive and well-camouflaged wetlands birds.  Designed to slip secretly through reeds and sedges (as in “thin as a…”), they are far more often heard than seen.

Not so in Ulva Island NZ (a small refuge islet just offshore of Stewart Island), where the Weka is common, and emerges from the bush in broad daylight to forage the low tide line on the beaches of the Island, where it looks like a chestnut-colored chicken with a project.  In this habitat, Weka function as diurnal Kiwi birds, because they occupy roughly the same niche as the Kiwi, who also leave the forest for the small-invertebrate-rich strands, except usually at night.

In fact, the indigenous name for the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi is Tokoeka, which according to some means “Weka with a Walkingstick” (the wooden kind, not the bug kind) in reference to the long bill of the otherwise similarly-shaped Kiwi bird.  One beach we visited had four in the vicinity, but if you should by chance miss the Weka, look for the undulating lines of big-toed footprints leading out of the bush.

(Photos by A. Shock)

Posted by Allison on May 7th 2009 10:27 pm | No Comments yet
| View birding,birds,field trips,natural history category

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