The Rare Takahe of New Zealand

The colorful and unusual takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) is not a bird that many people are familiar with. In fact, it wasn’t very long ago when the bird was thought to be extinct since there were no sightings from 1948 until very recently. So, while very few people are aware of its existence, takahes are slowly being cast under the ornithological spotlight since the re-emergence of this species has many bird enthusiasts nattering enthusiastically amongst one another.

The flightless takahe has colorful plumage, a large, strong beak and rather stout legs. The feathers on the bird’s neck and body take on lovely purple-blue color, while the wings and back are a pleasant shade of green. The bill is reddish pink with a red frontal shield, while the legs are a dark pink. While the male and female bear similar plumage, the juveniles have only pale brown plumage. The female is slightly smaller than the male. The overall length of the bird is about 63 centimeters and, as such, it is the largest living member of the Rallidae (rail) family.

Currently Takahe’s are most commonly sighted at the location where they were first rediscovered – the Murchison Mountains in New Zealand. However, now that the population in that area is breeding successfully, small numbers of the birds have also been taken to four safe and appropriate sights, namely: Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Maud and Manna. Those wishing to see the bird in captivity can go to the Mt Bruce Wildlife centers in Te Anau.

At one stage the Takahe nearly died out completely due to over-hunting, introduced predators and loss of habitat. While a few did survive and manage to reproduce, there is now a shortage of strong genes and inbreeding is a problem. As a result a lot of research is currently being done to ensure that captive breeding stock is as genetically diverse as possible. If you are planning to do some bird watching in New Zealand, head to the Murchison Mountains and keep an eye out for the Takahe. You’ll find these birds in alpine grasslands where it can often be seen plucking grass and eating the lower parts of the stalk.