When our old cat died and wasn’t replaced, the birds returned to our garden. This included a pukeko clan. I’ve loved them ever since. I admire pukekos’ attitude – their courage – and that they considered my garden part of their habitat. That felt like success to me.
Even though it meant my vege patch was far less successful than it would have otherwise have been, I thought it was a fair trade off to have such a beautiful and gracious bird call my place home. Because I also have free range chooks, my garden had to be fenced off anyway. Some people cage their chooks and birds. At my place, we cage the vege patch and let the birds run free.
For a dozen years, a pukeko whanau made my home part of their territory. It got to the point that they’d call me out to throw them some tasty crust or an apple core. They would come on to the deck and eat out of my hand.
Occasionally, they’d come up the stairs on their long tippy toes, and tap on the bedroom door to be fed. Each generation seemed to become tamer and more adapted to our backyard, just the same way they’ve adapted to land clearance and swamp drainage and thrived. They entertained me with their antics – like swimming in my bird bath, playing chase with wild and pet rabbits, bringing their little chicks in a cluster, aerating the soil and digging weeds with those bright red, scissor-like beaks.
Sometimes they disturbed me – like when they ripped the head off the fledgling we’d been watching grow in a nest in the garden outside our bedroom window. But mainly they impressed us with their group dynamics, dexterity, vocal range, curiosity, trust, quirky nature, lovely colours and robust adaptation to our highly modified and human-dominated world.
They have other interesting features. Our version is one of five Pacific sub-species, and part of a super-species cluster that’s found around the world. They are mainly vegetarian, can fly and swim well, live on offshore islands like the Kermadecs, the Chathams and Pitt Island and from the sea level to 2300m high. They live in complex, permanent social structures with shared territories, which they defend noisily and aggressively. Group members share a nest, which includes the collective’s eggs, with each hen laying 4-6 eggs each. Nests can include more than 18 eggs. Breeding males mainly incubate the eggs, but both sexes look after the chicks, including non-breeding helpers.
They’re one of the few native species that has done well in spite of human impact. They’re sometimes considered pests, and some people just don’t like them. Perhaps because they kill ducklings. But I think this staunch, bright, character-filled bird is one to celebrate.
They’re welcome in my garden anytime.