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What is a Kagu?

By K. K. Lowen
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The kagu is a type of bird that is unique to New Caledonia, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. An essentially flightless bird, it lives in forests and shrub-filled areas. It is the only bird from the Rhynochetidae family that is still in existence, and it remains endangered despite conservation efforts.

An impressive crest adorns the back of the bird’s head, and it has white and gray feathers, lengthy red legs, and a bright red beak. The bird reveals another interesting feature while dancing to attract a mate. With wings spread during courtship, its feathers display black, white, and rust-colored spots.

Also known as Rhynochetos jubatus, the bird has full-sized wings but does not have the correct muscle structure necessary for true flight. It does possess the ability to glide close to the ground and utilizes this skill to escape from danger. One exclusive attribute of the kagu is its nostril enclosures, sometimes referred to as nasal corns, which are not found in any other species of bird.

The kagu is a carnivore and consumes a large variety of small animals and insects. The bulk of its nourishment comes from items found in the soil and debris of the forest floor, including bugs and an assortment of snails, lizards, and worms. Also known to occasionally hunt in a more traditional manner for slightly larger prey, the birds utilize their relatively large eyes to search for movement while perched above the ground.

The kagu is monogamous, meaning it has a single sexual partner. The female lays a solitary egg in a nest constructed from sticks on or near the ground in a basic fashion. Both the male and female take part in the incubation process, with one parent sitting on the egg for a day at a time before switching. The incubation lasts for more than a month.

Perhaps in part because of its isolated existence in New Caledonia and perhaps in part because of the introduction of new predators, the kagu has become an endangered species. Another a factor in the bird's endangerment is the gradual decline in the physical size of its habitat, which has been reduced over time by the invasive nature of human industry. Additionally, the bird has been hunted for many years. In the past, people valued the feathers on the bird’s head, also known as the crest, and used them frequently as decorations for hats.

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