The territorial song master
Kōkako – Callaeas cinerea wilsoni
North Island Kōkako
Whakapapa from the supernatural Hine Wairua Kōkako, this bird arrived in Aotearoa from Hawaiiki on the waka Takitimu as a pet of the famed tohunga, Ruawharo.
In Taitokerau kauri was once its favoured habitat, but with the decimation of these forests Kōkako came close to extinction and continues to struggle for survival in Waipoua, Puketi and Warawara forests, once its strongholds.
Said to have lost its shiny black plumage by trickery to the cunning huia, its long legs are attributed to Maui, who stretched them out as a mark of gratitude after Kōkako,brought water in its wattles to a thirsty Maui after his battle with the sun. These long legs allow Kōkako, to hop between the high branches without having to stretch its wings.
The adults have blue-grey plumage tinged with deep green/grey on the rump and wing coverts, with bright blue wattles at each side of its short, strong black beak. Its song is distinctively rich, with pure, flute-like qualities and a melodic character, punctuated with more gruff, breaks of clucks and barks. Each individual has a distinctive, unique voice, which, when aligned to the territorial nature of Kōkako,, has made its call a rohe marker for many hapu in forested areas.
Adult birds moult in late summer and autumn, losing tail and wing feathers as well as body plumage. They mate for life and the pairs raise one clutch of no more than 3 chicks each year, with an incubation period of 20 days and a further 30 to 35 days for the chicks to become fully fledged. Young birds stay with their parents throughout their first year, pairing up in the following year and producing their first clutch of young at around 2 years old.
Kōkako are mostly vegetarian, eating leaves and other green matter as well as berries. During summer their diets will be more heavily dependent on insects and they perform a service for trees by keeping scale insects under control.