Nothing wasted during Pukeko cull

Pukeko can have an impact on native ducklings and chicks.
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Pukeko can have an impact on native ducklings and chicks.

They are a ubiquitous part of rural life fearlessly foraging along road sides or strutting carefully across paddocks on their long elegant feet. But it's fair to say Pukeko can be something of a nuisance.

Unlike many natives who have struggled with the arrival of humans and their pests these sleek and beautiful birds, that love open spaces, have thrived.

For this reason, along with quail and pheasant they have the longest shooting season from May to the end of August.

Pukeko feathers can be woven into a cloak
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Pukeko feathers can be woven into a cloak

Frustrated at their habit of snapping off young plants or pulling them out completely some growers admit they sometimes shoot them out of season.

But it is these prolific breeders habit of also eating chicks and ducklings that sees them sometimes having a serious impact on conservation efforts.

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Marie Jones and  Cherie Williams work on a pukeko pelt.
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Marie Jones and Cherie Williams work on a pukeko pelt.

Along with paradise ducklings ending up as dinner, so too do rare pateke (brown teal) ducklings at the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, in north Auckland.

The 588 hectare sanctuary is a mainland island with rare wildlife protected behind a 2.5 km pest-proof fence across the Takatu peninsula, erected in 2004.

They even fly into the trees and eat tui chicks, Auckland Council's Senior Ranger Open Sanctuaries Matt Maitland says.

Beka Rangi and Auckland Ranger Michael Ramsbottom remove pelts from the culled pukeko
Delwyn Dickey

Beka Rangi and Auckland Ranger Michael Ramsbottom remove pelts from the culled pukeko

Around 1000 birds in the park seems to work the best for their mix of farm, bush and wetland, he says.

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So a couple of years ago the park got a permit from the Department of Conservation to cull around 600 birds. This left around 800 birds which have been left to build up again.

The birds were dispatched by being fed small pieces of bread laced with a drug.

Auckland Council summer rangers Jonathan Cope,  Michael Boyle,  Michael Ramsbottom with some of the pukeko pelts to be ...
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Auckland Council summer rangers Jonathan Cope, Michael Boyle, Michael Ramsbottom with some of the pukeko pelts to be used in the korowai making lesson.

But the birds were not wasted.

Pukeko in the park have been the focus of several studies over the years.

Professor James Quinn from McMaster University in Canada has been leading long term research into the social structure of the birds. With strong family ties they are one of a small number of bird species which have communal nests with several birds sharing nesting duties.

Around 100 of the culled birds had previously been banded as part of an earlier study led by Associate Professor James Dale of Massey University, Albany campus. He and his team were then able to examine the dead birds including measuring the red face shields and weighing testes. This helped confirm the size of the red shield on the birds face acts like a karate belt to show the birds level of dominance and social standing in their group.

Their paper on the Tawharanui pukeko, a collaboration between members the two universities has just been published by the American Ornithological Society and included mention of the pukeko cull.

The scientists and students were joined at Tawharanui by members of local hapu Ngati Manuhiri who vacuum-packed the birds in bags for the freezer.

Manuhiri Kaitiaki Charitable Trust contacted master weaver Hemoata Henare of Ngati Hine/Ngapuhi in Northland for advice and a workshop was held at Tawharanui a few weeks later to show members of Ngati Manuhiri, some Department of Conservation and Auckland Council rangers and other interested locals how to use the feathers to make traditional cloaks.

Each person was shown how to start a small hanging cloak on the day which they were able to take away and finish. 

Nothing is wasted with all the used carcasses buried in the same place so they can be dug up later when the bones have been stripped bare and fashioned into needles.

The bills can even be used for jewellery.

With numbers creeping up and another cull possible this winter it seems another weaving workshop could be on the way and beautiful korowai made - with nothing from these pukeko and their glorious feathers going to waste.

 

 - Stuff

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