Thursday, September 9, 2010

Birds of a Feather

Titipounamu, the Rifleman
This wee chap is our smallest bird, measuring 80 mm from beak to stubby tail-tip. The original picture of this uis approximately life sized. Although one of the New Zealand Wren species, it is not closely related to the European or American wrens, merely bears them a superficial resemblance. Rifleman are insectivores and found in native forest prefering it not too dense podocarp or beech. They are fast moving and talkative little fellows, flicking fast around tree trunks and inserting their slightly upturned beak into crevices as they hunt for grubs.

Tutukiwi, the Snipe
Probably one of the least known native birds, the snipe is strange, small, secretive and very rare. No longer found on the mainland, he only lives on offshore islands. Whilst a member of the Wader family, the forests are his home. Once there were several species, but most were wiped out by rats and other introduced predators. More often heard then seen, the Snipe has a swift flight and a tendency to scream as it flies through the air in its mating flight. This scream greatly exceeds its dimunitive size and has lead to its attribution as Hakawai, a mythical bird from Maori folklore. Alledgedly, it sounds like a cable chain being lowered from a boat and is produced by vibrating tail feathers and preceeded by several calls. Obviously, its other Maori name - Tutukiwi, relates to the rather superficial resemblance it bears to our national icon. It is crepusculer in behaviour and like the kiwi eats grubs and bugs and other invertebrates, probing with its long, thin bill.

Tarapiroe, the Black Fronted Tern
The elegant tern can be found around our beaches and inland rivers. This graceful seabird can usually be identified in flight by its forked tail and long, narrow wings. It is not particularly common - the population is estimated to be around 5000, and migrates the length of the country. In breeding season, they flock to inland riverbeds to breed, returning to the coast in late summer and autumn. The nest is a simple scrape, in which they lay their eggs. Although nesting colonies can number around 50 pairs, they are prone to disturbances such as humans, dogs, cats and other predators. The youngsters hatch small, fluffy and precocious, and their camouflage offers them some protection from avian predators but very little from mammals (which hunt by scent). Whilst they will attempt to divebomb intruders, their small size makes them not overly efficient deterents.

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