The Birds

Matuku – Australasian Bittern (Nationally endangered)
The Matuku or Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) is a heron-like bird that lives in shallow, densely vegetated wetlands. It hides among raupo (bullrush), reeds and scrub by standing still with its bill vertical, even swaying with the surrounding plants on a windy day. Their numbers have fallen due to drainage of wetlands, and they are nationally endangered. They are found in the wetlands here on Matakana Island.

The bittern is mottled brown with long legs and neck. Stockier than a heron, it is about 70 centimetres long. Bitterns hunt fish, frogs, eels, mice and young birds.

The male’s foghorn-like boom in the evenings during the breeding season (June to February) is the best sign of the bittern’s presence. He booms to attract females, and to guard the territory from other males.

Kotuku – White Heron
The Kotuku or White Heron is rare in New Zealand, with a population of just 100–120 birds. With a long, slender neck, yellow bill and thin legs, white herons grow to 92 centimetres in length and 900 grams in weight. In flight their long neck is held kinked. During breeding their bill darkens and a veil of fine feathers extends beyond the folded wings and tail, accentuating their graceful profile. Kotuku had mythical status for Maori because of their rarity and beauty. The epithet, ‘te kotuku rerenga tahi’ (the white heron of a single flight) was given to distinguished guests who seldom visited. This beautiful bird has been sighted on rare occasions around the Island.

Kuaka/Hakakao – Bar-tailed godwits (known locally as curlews)
Bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) are the most common Arctic migrant to New Zealand. In 2005 scientists reported that they make the longest non-stop flight of all birds – an amazing 11,000 kilometres from Alaska to New Zealand, in only five or six days. It was already known that the departure and arrival were only days apart. They are found in coastal roosts around the Island.

The southern migration
When it is time for the godwits to migrate south, they wait for storms that provide them with tail winds of 40–80 kilometres per hour for the first 1,600 kilometres. Observers report that when the birds finally reach New Zealand they fall asleep, but within hours begin feeding to replenish what they lost en route – about half their body weight. Three months later, in preparation for the northward return flight, they start to stock up on food, doubling their body mass. Arriving from late September, during spring, the majority of the 80,000–100,000 godwits head for Kaipara and Manukau harbours, the Firth of Thames, Farewell Spit, Tauranga Harbour and the Avon–Heathcote estuary near Christchurch. In large flocks they feed on molluscs, crabs, marine worms and aquatic insects, probing the mud with their long bills as the tide recedes. They are relatively large waders average 40 centimetres and 325 grams, the females heavier than males. Brown with a long bill and medium length legs, their front turns ruddy red when they are plump and ready for the return journey.

Ruru (Morepork)
The Ruru is widely found throughout the Island, pine forests and wetland margins. The plumage varies greatly from brownish grey to dusky dark brown, with white to light brown flecks. Yellow eyes set in dark facial mask. The Ruru averages 29cm with the females generally slightly bigger. They live in native and exotic forest and in open country, however mature trees are required nearby for shelter and nesting. Behaviour: A nocturnal bird of prey, the Ruru roosts by day in thick vegetation, especially in tree ferns and mature trees, preferably in gullies with plenty of shelter overhead. The call of the Ruru is very distinctive, being a clear 'more-pork' often with the last syllable repeated. Also other calls include a deep and repeated 'more-more-more...' and a repeated 'cree-cree' when hunting.

Moho-pereru (Banded Rail) – Nationally endangered
The banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis) is a strikingly marked bird, usually only glimpsed briefly as it dashes in and out of hiding. It is related to the more familiar weka, but is slimmer, and can fly. The banded rail has a long tapered bill and spindle-shaped body, suited to pushing through dense scrub. Its head is usually stretched forward, led by the pointed bill. Its toes are not webbed, but the bird is a good swimmer. It measures around 30 centimetres, including its long tail, and weigh

Breeding pairs stay on their territory year-round. They make cup-shaped nests, well hidden among dense rushes or grasses. Females may lay two or more clutches of around five light-pink or buff eggs from September (spring) through summer. Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs. After hatching, the young follow the parents to feed for two months, and are then evicted from the territory.

Banded rails inhabit dense rush, salt marsh or mangrove that surrounds freshwater and coastal waterways. Their diet includes land snails and coastal molluscs, crabs, spiders, insects and worms. They also eat berries and seeds, and sometimes scavenge in rubbish tips. They feed mainly at dawn and dusk.

Tuturiwhatu (NZ Dotterel) – Nationally endangered
NZ dotterels are shorebirds, usually found on sandy beaches and sandspits or feeding on tidal estuaries. They are largely pale-grey on the back, with off-white underparts which become flushed with rusty-orange in winter and spring. They have a prominent head, large dark-brown eyes and a strong black bill. NZ dotterels can be hard to see, because their colouring merges effectively with the background of sand, shells and dune vegetation in their environment. Their distinctive ‘chip-chip’ call is often heard before the birds are seen. Matakana Island is New Zealands most successful breeding site with a successful partnership beween DOC and the community.

Tui are unique (endemic) to New Zealand and belong to the honeyeater family, which means they feed mainly on nectar from flowers of native plants such as kowhai, puriri, rewarewa, kahikatea, pohutukawa, rata and flax. Occasionally they will eat insects too. Tui are important pollinators of many native trees and will fly large distances, especially during winter for their favourite foods. Tui will live where there is a balance of ground cover, shrubs and trees. Tui are quite aggressive, and will chase other tui and other species (such as bellbird, silvereye and kereru) away from good food sources. Tui’s are found throughout Matakana Island.