Gangling teenage legs
aristocratic Roman nose
and the instincts of a shop-lifter
The Pukeko (swamp hen) is one of New Zealand’s ‘flightless’ birds that has been very successful in adapting to civilisation, and can now be seen even close to major motorways. You can love them or hate them, but you have to admire their tenacity. I saw a lot of them when we had a small-holding on the South Island’s West Coast. It was my job to clean out the cattle troughs – and they were constantly being fouled by Pukeko, so they weren’t my most popular bird. Over the years that I have watched them I have been fascinated by the fact that they appear to be regaining and strengthening the power of flight. They graduated from running over the West Coast roads to flying clumsily (at about windscreen height), and I have seen a pair of Pukeko fluttering into the air to chase off a hawk that was threatening their chicks. At first they built all their nests (if you could call an untidy bundle of sticks a nest) in the middle of our paddocks, but by the time we left the Coast they were constructing huge nests in the tops of small trees. Probably to get away from Rod’s rather erratic tractor driving.
Pukeko are gregarious birds and stay in small family groups. Chicks are always being looked after by a series of ‘aunties’. If danger approaches a quick flirt showing the underside of a white tail warns the rest of the family. It will be interesting to watch their progress in the future.