A deafening dawn chorus...

01:19, Jan 22 2013

When Captain Cook and his crew anchored off New Zealand, the dawn chorus was described as "deafening."  What has happened to our natural choir, and nowadays who gets to hear it?

While my early morning natural alarm isn't necessarily resounding with the echoing melody of native birdsong, before people and their pests arrived at our shores, it would have been something quite special indeed.  In fact, by the time that Captain Cook and his crew, including his naturalist Joseph Banks arrived here, it was enough to inspire Banks to write;

‘Their voices were certainly the [most] melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.’

Unfortunately our legacy of introduced predators, especially the likes of stoats, weasels, ferrets, possums - and yes - cats (see today's cat chaos over Gareth Morgan's new campaign!), has almost silenced our once-riotous dawn chorus.  Where we're starting to hear it again, are in places where huge pest control efforts have taken place, such as our offshore islands or predator proof areas on the mainland such as Zealandia in Wellington.  In fact, a few years ago, the population increase of tui as a result of fencing out the predators caused consternation amongst Karori locals after too many tui were waking people up! Auckland now has the fantastic Ark in the Park project in the Waitakere Ranges, with so much volunteer pest control that kokako were able to be introduced a couple of years ago, and they began to breed immediately. The recipe for increased native birds is quite a simple one, mostly relating to removal of predators.

The soulful melody of the kokako (pictured left), would have been heard throughout many of New Zealand's forests before the introduction of rats, mustelids and possums. (photo: Nicola Toki)

The reason for this is that 'Ducky', our beautiful fluffy chick given to us by my stepkids when we moved into our new house (I wrote about the joys of hand-raising chicks here), has blossomed into a very handsome, very large and extremely noisy...rooster.


Recently Ducky has gone through what must be chicken puberty, his pathetic wee first attempts at articulation resembling that of a half-strangled cat. That I could live with.  However, over the last few weeks, Ducky has grown enormous (I'm serious, he is taller than the dog!), bolshie and has mastered that raucous shriek that does actually sound like "cock-a-doodle-do".  The first time I heard it, I was kind of proud... but now, it's like nails down a blackboard.  In addition, Ducky has set himself a personal challenge of waking us up earlier and earlier.  Today's effort was a remarkable quarter past five.  As you can imagine, Ducky has to go.

The bloke is somewhat upset about this. He has become rather fond of Ducky in the last couple of months.  Aside from keeping tabs on the other chooks and becoming a rather fearsome "guard-rooster", Ducky has developed a rather endearing evening routine.  At approximately 7pm, he flies over the fence of the chook-run, stalks around the back yard for a bit, carefully avoiding the vegetable garden, and then when he tires of his patrol, he wanders up to the house, climbs the steps of the deck and taps on the French doors to the lounge.  This is his signal that he would now like to return to the chook-run, and we must then get up, walk to the back of the section, open the gate and stand at attention while he parades past us to ready himself and his 'girls' for bed time.  Who knows why he only escapes at this time, or why he can't fly back in? In any case it always provides some evening entertainment at our house.

Ducky the Rooster on one of his evening visits to the lounge door...

Lucky Ducky, he is not destined for the freezer - his rooster-manliness so impressed one of the bloke's blokey mates, that we are sending Ducky to live at his farm, where he will be exchanged for one of blokey mate's roosters, which blokey mate will kill and give to us. As well as this, he (the bloke's blokey mate) assures us that he has 'the most promiscuous chickens in North Canterbury', so it appears everybody wins (not least of all my poor neighbours) in this instance.

If roosters crowing aren't your thing (they're not mine!) and you'd like to see and hear what a true New Zealand dawn chorus should and could be like, this video of life on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island gives us a great insight of what our forests may have sounded like before people arrived. 


Do you have a natural dawn chorus where you live? What wildlife wakes you up in the mornings?

» Please feel free to email me to send me your questions, feedback, ideas or photographs for In Our Nature blog posts. You can also join the In Our Nature Facebook page.