The iconic Takahē is as imposing as it is a legend; widespread on New Zealand’s North and South islands when Maori people arrived seven hundred years ago but presumed extinct by the late nineteenth century, the decline caused by habitat loss and hunting. Then there was the dramatic rediscovery in 1948 in the remote Murchison Mountains near Lake Te Anau. There are now over 300 birds, in the Murchisons plus those bred in sanctuaries.
I am greatly enjoying reading “Birds of the West Wind” written by Garry Sheeran, on the origins of New Zealand’s birds. Sheeran postulates that 110 of New Zealand’s current bird population arrived or are descended from Australian birds blown by the prevailing westerly winds across the Tasman sea, some species arriving multiple times over the past twenty five million years. In fact it appears most of New Zealand’s birds have arrived this way.
The Takahē evidently evolved from a proto-type Australian Purple Swamphen that took the Tasman route perhaps 10 million years ago. It grew larger in size and developed digging tools to graze on alpine grassland. Like many New Zealand birds it lost its ability to fly. The Purple Swamphen has repeated the feat within the last 500 years and found recently cultivated lands to its liking. As a bird that is very similar to its Australian ancestor, this second invader has become what is now the New Zealand Pukeko.