Clever pukeko will fool you into thinking they're a 'dumb bird'

Pukeko are misinterpreted as being "dumb birds", but are actually quite complex and clever. Photo...
Pukeko are misinterpreted as being "dumb birds", but are actually quite complex and clever. Photo: Brian Betts
Tanya Jenkins is the manager of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary Ihutai Trust, a non-profit organisation formed in 2002 to protect one of New Zealand’s most important coastal wetlands. Each week she introduces a new bird found in the estuary. Her column aims to raise the understanding of the values and uniqueness of the area.

The Pukeko or swamp hen are a well-known, heavyweight native resident – with male birds weighing up to 1.1kg.

Some people may call them “dumb birds” for getting on roads to become roadkill, however, pukeko are actually extremely clever and complex birds.

Don’t be fooled by the pukeko running around clumsily along the road as they can swim, run and fly extremely well.

Tanya Jenkins.
Tanya Jenkins.
Pukeko are commonly seen on regularly mown roadsides as they love the fresh new grass shoots and growth there.

That, paired with their need to eat grit off the road, (this aids them in their digestion of tough to digest foods like grass) puts them at high risk of being run down by motorists.

Pukeko live in small community groups and are very protective of their territory, hence why you can hear their loud shrieking when they defend their patch.

Females in the group will lay as many as 19 eggs in one shared nest, which is incubated by the males. When chicks hatch, the entire group, whether they are breeding and non breeding birds, will feed the chicks for about three months. Now that’s clever.

How can we help these birds thrive? Keep dogs on the lead when walking near waterways as to not disturb them while they are nesting, feeding or resting. Drive carefully along roads where you see pukeko regularly and slow down.






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