IntroductionThe kōkako belongs to the endemic New Zealand wattlebirds, an ancient family of birds which includes the North and South Island saddleback and the extinct huia.
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: North Island kōkako: Nationally Increasing, South Island kōkako: Data deficient
Population: North Island kōkako 2,300 pairs
Found in: North Island native forests
Threats: Predation, competition for food
Kōkako song (MP3, 1,793K)
01:53 – Kōkako song.
Kōkako alarm call (MP3, 1,266K)
01:21 – Kōkako song, alarm call in response to playback of recorded distress call.
Species information: Kōkako on NZ Birds Online
Did you know?
In Māori myth, the kōkako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui as he fought the sun.
Maui rewarded the bird by making its legs long and slender, enabling it to bound through the forest with ease.
Decline and predation
In the early 1900s the kōkako was common in forests throughout New Zealand.
South Island kōkako are now assumed to be extinct. However it's remotely possible they may survive in low numbers in remote parts of the South Island and Stewart Island. Currently there are no confirmed reports of surviving South Island kōkako.
For the North Island kōkako, the species declined to a low in the 1990s of fewer than 400. Management reversed that trend in many areas to the point that the number of kōkako pairs surpassed 2000 in 2020.
Predation at nests – by ship rats and possums and stoats – is the primary cause of North Island kōkako declines. Female kōkako are particularly at risk of predation as they do all the incubation and brooding throughout a 50-day nesting period. Years of such predation resulted in populations that are predominantly male and with consequent low productivity rates.
Research in the 1990s focused on increasing knowledge of the species to improve management efficiency to ensure long-term kōkako survival.
The 'research by management' programme which compared kōkako survival and productivity in three central North Island forests, has demonstrated that intensive management of introduced mammals can result in rapid expansion of kōkako populations.
At Mapara reserve in the King Country the total population more than doubled in seven years between 1992–1999. More importantly, the female population increased at least nine times over the same period.
The knowledge gained during the ‘research by management’ programme was applied to locally threatened populations in Northland, Auckland, Waikato East Coast and Bay of Plenty, and still forms the basis for kokako recovery today.
Ongoing management focusses on effective predator control, genetic management, improving the habitat quality of existing populations and restoration of kōkako to parts of their former range.
Four day old North Island kōkako chick
Kōkako project in the Hunua Ranges
In the mid 1990s DOC and the Auckland Regional Council started a joint project to protect the population of 21 North Island kōkako in the Hunua Ranges.
In 1994 the only remaining breeding female in Hunua fledged 3 chicks, heralding a new era of recovery. The population grew slowly with the protection of nests from predators and close monitoring of nesting birds.
The population was helped by translocating kōkako from elsewhere (Mapara, Pureora, Tiritiri Matangi) to boost the population numbers and genetic diversity. This, along with a tremendous ongoing pest control effort by Auckland Council and volunteers, has led to a rapidly growing population. In 2015 a census found 55 kokako pairs. By 2022 this had grown to over 250 pairs!
A large, self-sustaining population established on Te Hauturu-ō-Toi/Little Barrier Island from translocations which took place during the early 1980s. This was used, together with kōkako from other locations, to create a new island population on Kapiti Island.
A survey in 2013 estimated 422 pairs on Little Barrier Island, and in 2021 there were an estimated >91 pairs on Kapiti Island.
A third island population begun on Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf during 1998. Tiritiri Matangi Island held kōkako of Taranaki lineage until a site at Taranaki was ready to receive them. In May 2017, kōkako of Taranaki lineage were returned to their ancestral home in Taranaki.
You can help
Community involvement is hugely important for kōkako survival.
Around half of existing kōkako sites are largely managed by community groups. The groups are involved in pest management to protect kōkako populations, monitoring and translocations.
Volunteers at Pureora ready for a day of bait station filling to protect kōkako at Okahukura.
Image: David Totman
Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.
On your property
- Trap predators on your property.
- Be a responsible cat owner.
In your community
- Find and volunteer with your local community group
- Trap predators in your community
- Get kids or schools involved
See Predator Free 2050 Trust - get involved for information.
Visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
- Leave nesting birds alone.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach.
- Avoid leaving old fishing lines in the water.
- Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
- Do not drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
- Check for pests if visiting pest-free islands.
With your dog
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
- If you come across wildlife put your dog on a lead and lead it away.
- Warn other dog owners at the location.
- Notify DOC if you see wildlife being harassed by people or dogs.
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
- Learn about the Lead the Way programme which encourages dog owners to become wildlife wise and know how to act to protect coastal wildlife.