Rare kotuku living the high life in Petone

Horace the kotuku sits on a car outside the High St flats.
Matthew Tso

Horace the kotuku sits on a car outside the High St flats.

Horace the white heron is a regular visitor to Petone and for the last four years has dropped by to see the residents of a small block of flats on High St.

The large, white bird can often be seen perched on the fence or on top of cars within the boundary of the flat.

Flat resident Les Taylor said a nearby garage was also a favourite refuge of the white heron, or kotuku, when curious school children get too close. 

"He must have some brains because he knows they can't get him up there."

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Apart from not getting on with the local ducks and pigeons, Horace causes no trouble at all said Taylor.

Taylor said the bird has returned for the last four years. It visits for three or four month long stretches and hangs around the flats during the day before flying off when it gets dark.

Taylor, who also named the bird, had no idea why Horace keeps coming back.

DOC biodiversity ranger David Moss said DOC was aware there was one or more, possibly different, kotuku that were regular visitors to the Hutt Valley and there was no evidence to suggest Horace was a he.

Outside of breeding season, from August to January, the birds disperse widely around the country. Moss said although they were a special sight, it was "totally normal for them to turn up anywhere [there is suitable habitat]."

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Kotuku are naturally uncommon with only 150-200 in New Zealand. There is a single breeding colony at Okarito Lagoon in Westland.

Moss said people can help look after kotuku by keeping dogs on leads and away from the birds when they are feeding, and by driving carefully when near wetlands.

"The birds take so long to get going when they take off, they can't manoeuvre out of the way if disturbed by a passing car."

Teri Puketapu, an elder at Waiwhetu Marae, said a kotuku had visited Waiwhetu Stream, near the marae, about 18 months ago.

He said the visit was unusual and was impressed by its striking white plumage.

"I had never seen one here before in my lifetime, and I'm 78!"

Kotuku are a symbol things rare and beautiful in Maori folklore. The phrase "he kotuku rerenga tahi" means "a bird of a single flight" and is a complement to rare visitors of high esteem such as the Queen. 

 - Hutt News

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