Kokako Log 1991 by Sid Marsh
Situated within the Coromandel State Forest Park, only seven kilometres north-west of Waihi, is the peninsula's largest known colony of blue-wattled crow or North Island kokako: six birds inhabiting the slopes of the Maratoto Saddle and a ridge near Waitekauri.
The kokako is arguably the most striking and beautiful forest bird in New Zealand. It is larger than a tui with a soft grey plumage, a black mask across its eyes, and two blue wattles tucked under a black bill. Beauty aside, what really sets the kokako apart from all other birds, is its song. It was known as the organ-bird by early European settlers for its penetrating, hypnotic morning recitals.
'The cry of the crow is indescribably mournful. The wail of the wind through a leafless forest is cheerful compared to it. Perhaps the whistling of the wind through the neck of an empty whiskey bottle is the nearest approach to it, and is sadly suggestive of departing spirits.'
From Mr Explorer Douglas, ed. by John Pascoe.
Like the kauri, tuatara and kiwi, the kokako is one of our national wilderness treasures - a tenacious survivor - but only just. Kokako are found only in New Zealand and their numbers have dwindled to a point where there are probably less than 1,500 birds left - isolated populations confined to pockets of lowland forest in the North Island. Numbers continue to decline due to forest clearance and modification; competition for foods with deer, goats and possums; and predation from rats, possums, harriers, stoats and cats.
According to one of my sources, kokako were once more common than tui.Little is known about the handful of birds left on the Coromandel Peninsula, but that is changing. For nearly two years now one man has made these local kokako his special project: Dave King is a biologist and wildlife enthusiast who has been funded by a Lotteries Board grant to study these ancient creatures before they are gone forever. The Waitekauri kokako, because they are easiest to observe, are the main focus of Dave's energies. In the field he uses a 'listen-follow-see' strategy, trying to sight and then track birds to map territories and tape-record snatches of song. The tape-recording is not easily accomplished as Coromandel kokako aren't as vocal as their kin in the larger Northland, King Country, Urewera and Bay of Plenty populations. The local birds have been heard 'tooking' and 'nattering' during the day, and when they do sing it isn't full song. Even at dawn their 'dialect' is somewhat restrained: three sad, slow, drawn-out notes repeated over a few times. Each of these notes sounding similar to each syllable in the bird's Maori name: ko-ka-ko.