South Island Kōkako: Recording sparks hope of spotting elusive bird

A recording from the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park is being analyzed to determine if it is the South Island kōkako.

Illustration of the South Island kōkako, now thought to be extinct.
Photo: Florilegius/ Leemage via AFP

The last confirmed sighting of the now presumed extinct South Island kōkako was in 1967.

Inger Perkins, CEO of South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust, said morning report a Victoria University researcher, Professor Stephen Marsland, had let them know that his program filter had just picked up the singing of the kōkako.

Perkins said there were three people on the track, when they heard two distinct long soft notes. Remembering the North Island kōkako, which they had heard before, they stopped short and saw a bird of “the right size and color” flying away.

They managed to capture the last notes before everything quieted down, she said.

“We went there with volunteers and they played other sounds there that we think were the kāka, and the kāka responded.

“We know that kaka react to the local sounds they make, and they reacted to our previous recording but not to this one.

“So we think it’s very different and we think it’s most likely the kōkako.”

Although it may be difficult to identify it as a bird because others such as tūī and kāka mimic the call of the kōkako, Perkins sees some light with this particular recording.

“[The South Island kōkako bird call is] much the same as the North Island kōkako, but we are looking at some slight variations in Professor Marsland’s draft so that we can add to this analysis.

“Even when we hear the kāka making a flute noise, among the creaking sounds of chattering, they can mix it with the other sounds, while that particular note [on the recording] it’s all alone.

“The same with tūīs, they can have their chirping sounds and their chattering sounds and their squeaky sounds and their harsher sounds and maybe a soft note in between, but usually not just that soft note in itself and also its nature melancholy…seems to indicate a kōkako.”

Now the Trust hopes to seek visual evidence of the elusive bird.

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