Weka Watch files
The information below comes from the Department of Conservation website and Weka (Gallirallus australis) recovery plan document: http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/science-and-technical/tsrp29.pdf See also: http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/birds/land-birds/weka/
The weka is a large brown flightless rail (Rallidae – Gallirallus group) endemic to New Zealand. Human colonisation of the Pacific was associated with the probable loss of up to 1000 species of rails (Steadman, cited in McGlone et al. 1994 pg. 140).
Three species of flightless rails of the Gallirallus group (Olson 1973) survived this process of which the weka is the only one found here. A further species, Gallirallus minor (little extinct woodhen) was identified in the past in New Zealand from sub-fossil bones, but it is now considered not to be distinct from weka (Olson 1975).
Weka are of particular significance to some iwi Maori. The two qualities that Maori admired in the weka, their incurable curiosity and feisty, bold personalities also led to them being relatively easy to catch. Weka were a source of food, perfume, oil to treat inflammations, feathers in clothing, lures to catch dogs etc. (Beattie 1995) and therefore a resource to be managed sustainably.
Weka were also frequently encountered and utilised by the early European explorers and settlers who gave them the name ‘bush hen’. The legal harvest of buff weka continues to be a significant activity on the Chatham Islands.
While sustainable management practices were an integral part of the fabric of traditional Maori society, the decline in the suite of resources (including weka) on mainland New Zealand has inhibited the application of such practices in modern times. Some iwi Maori have indicated they would welcome the opportunity to participate in a/any project where an identified outcome were the restoration of this tradition. Others hold the view that the time for harvest has gone. The provision of a cultural harvest of weka (in those places outside of the Chatham Islands) is only briefly addressed in this recovery plan however debate will continue on this.
Weka can occupy a wide variety of habitats from rocky shore and sand dunes to subalpine grasslands. Their diet consists mostly of invertebrates and fruit but they also take lizards, snails, rodents, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds.
Weka are generally territorial and can breed year-round if food is abundant. Up to 6 eggs may be laid in a clutch and one pair has been recorded raising 14 young in a year. Weka are one of the few remaining large birds that distribute the seeds of plants so that they are particularly significant as facilitators of forest regeneration.