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The Kotuku a Rare Bird in New Zealand

Updated on January 14, 2020

The Kotuku (White Heron) sometimes dwells in the spirit land of Reinga, New Zealand. They accompany the departed travelling to their final resting place in Hawaiiki. The last words from the Maori, Ko to kotuku to tapui, e tama e - The kotuku is now your only companion my son . The Kotuku is a prized species among the Maori they are considered rare, beautiful and mythical. If a person is compared to a Kotuku, by the Maori, it is extremely complimentary. Sightings are rare and when it is seen its an exciting moment.

Scientific description

The scientific name of the bird is Egretta alba modesta also known as the great egret. The Kotuku inhabits temperate and tropical climates. They can be found across the world in India, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The Kotuku is rarely sighted, they frequent lagoons, rivers, lakes and swampy marshes.


The white heron breeding site was discovered in 1865 at Okarito in the South Westland. By 1941 a meager four nest were found, conservation workers were appointed to monitor the breeding site. The nesting population is now 100 - 120. In 2010 a senior conservation worker stated that wildlife and ecosystems were under threat in New Zealand. He claimed that the systems in place are mismanaged and more funding is required to improve the situation. There are three thousand endangered species including the white heron. The wildlife Act 1953 legislation needs to be compliant with environmental changes.

Feeding habits

The White Heron's diet comprises of small fish, frogs, shrimp and insects. Their long slender legs are ideal for wading in the water. Their predators are stoats, possums and harrier hawks. Hopefully, possums will be totally eradicated one day.

Homemade treats for wild birds

Pour about one cup of cereal into a bag and crush the contents. Pop into a bowl and and mix in 1/4 cup of honey or sugar. Stir in peanut butter and combine add more peanut butter continue mixing. Press into bake tin and add bird seed. Cook at 250 degrees for 3/4 hour. Shape into squares or balls - mix hardens in 30 minutes. A Kotuku will probably not visit your food station, but just imagine the birdsong you'll experience. I have numerous trees on my property and every morning a wake to the glorious sound of birdsong.

Our crude but functional feed tray
Our crude but functional feed tray

Courting ritual of the Kotuku

In New Zealand breeding time commences around August. The males raise the nuptial plumes - the neck is straight with their beak snapping and wings flapping. A female that is attracted will participate in the courtship process. The two preen each other and entwine their necks, wings and bills. They construct their nest in the trees near water. Three to five eggs are laid around September and the young can fly by December.

News clips

An avid bird watcher had been visiting a particular lagoon for over a decade. He finally sighted a White Heron. After ten years imagine the thrill; a sighting of a lifetime.

In Invercargil a white heron has been seen hanging around the airport. It is captivated by its reflection in car windows. It does not interrupt the flight path of the aircrafts.

The Department of Conservation of New Zealand was contacted after farmers found a Kotuku shot down with an air rifle, near north of Canterbury, New Zealand. An x-ray located the pellets in the chest area. All pellets were successfully removed and the Kotuku is expected to be returned the the nearby breeding grounds in a couple of weeks.

A proverb - writer unknown
A proverb - writer unknown

Remains a symbol to the Maori

The oral traditions associated with the Kotuku is still relevant today. And remains a significant symbol to the Maori. Human intervention was necessary to increase the population of the Kotuku. Their success is evident. However, there is still more work to do in increasing the Kotuku population. The sight of the elusive Kotuku in its natural habitat is an exciting moment for the avid birdwatcher.



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