Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri)

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Takahe fact file

Takahe description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGruiformes
FamilyRallidae
GenusPorphyrio (1)

This unique flightless bird is roughly the size of a hen, making it the world's largest rail. It has a stocky body with stout red legs, and is brightly coloured with a large robust red bill and attractive green and blue plumage (4). It has small wings (4), which are used in courtship and aggressive displays (5). The call is a slow and deep 'coo-eet' and the alarm call is a deep 'oomf' (3). Chicks have black down and a black beak (5).

Synonyms
Porphyrio mantelli.
Size
Female weight: 2.3 kg (2)
Male weight: 2.7 kg (2)
Length: 63 cm (2)
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Takahe biology

The takahe feeds mainly on the leaf bases and seeds of tussocks and other grasses. They occasionally take invertebrates, particular during the chick rearing period and the Fiordland birds will feed on the rhizomes of the summer-green fern hypolepis during winter (6). It is a monogamous breeder (2); nests are raised bowl-like piles of grass and are built after October when the snow begins to melt (4). A clutch can contain between one and three buff-coloured blotchy eggs (2), which hatch after about 30 days of incubation (4). Both parents incubate the egg and then share the feeding duties, which can last for up to three months. It is typical that just one chick per clutch survives the first winter (4). This species is long-lived, possibly as long as 14 to 20 years (3).

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Takahe range

The takahe is endemic to New Zealand, and was once widespread in both the North and South Islands. It was thought to be extinct for around 50 years (6), before being 'rediscovered' in 1948 in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in the South Island (3). Individuals have been introduced to the five offshore islands of Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Mana, Maud and Rarotoka (6).

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Takahe habitat

Mainland populations prefer alpine tussock grasslands although they are also found in forest and sub-alpine shrublands. Island populations are found mainly on modified grassland habitat (6).

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Takahe status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). Formerly Porphyrio mantelli, this species has been split into P. mantelli (extinct) and P. hochstetteri (extant) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Takahe threats

When Europeans arrived in New Zealand the pressures on New Zealand's previously isolated and mammal-free fauna and flora intensified. When 'rediscovered' in 1948 just 250 to 300 takahe survived, and the population has undergone further declines since that time (3). Habitat modification and the introduction of predators such as dogs to lowland habitats were significant in the decline of takahe numbers, although these birds were probably never particularly numerous (6). More recently, harsh winters (3) and competition for grass tussocks with introduced red deer (Cervus elaphus) (6), have caused great fluctuations in the precarious populations that remain; predation by the introduced stoat (Mustela erminea) may also have taken its toll (3).

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Takahe conservation

After the species was rediscovered, a special area was set up within Fiordland National Park in order to conserve this rare bird. Deer have been controlled in the area, and the habitat has started to show signs of recovery, although takahe numbers remain low (7). The New Zealand Department of Conservation's Takahe Recovery Plan began to introduce pairs to predator-free islands in 1985 (4) (7). These birds have been extensively managed and measures such as supplementary feeding and captive breeding have helped to produce successful populations (3). The Recovery Plan is currently being revised but the long-term aim is to produce two self-sustaining populations, containing 100 pairs each; one in Fiordland and one on the offshore islands and other lowland habitats (6). Takahe numbers reached a low of just 118 birds in 1982, but thanks to concerted conservation efforts the population now stands at 242 individuals (6).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the takahe and the conservation programme see:

  • Crouchley, D. (1994) Takahe Recovery Plan. Department of Conservation, New Zealand.

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (21/10/02) by Dave Crouchley, New Zealand Department of Conservation.

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Rhizomes
Rhizomes are thickened, branching, creeping storage stems. Although most rhizomes grow laterally just along or slightly below the soil's surface, some grow several inches deep. Roots grow from the underside of the rhizome, and during the growing season new growth sprouts from buds along the top. A familiar rhizome is the ginger used in cooking.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. UNEP-WCMC Species page (April, 2008)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/species/data/species_sheets/takahe.htm
  3. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  4. Terranature (April, 2008)
    http://www.terranature.org/takahe.htm
  5. Kiwi Conservation Club (April, 2008)
    http://www.kcc.org.nz/birds/takahe.asp
  6. Crouchley, D. (2002) Pers. comm.
  7. Crouchley, D. (1994) Takahe Recovery Plan. Department of Conservation, New Zealand.
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Image credit

Takahe portrait  
Takahe portrait

© Peter Reese / naturepl.com

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