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What is a Takahe?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The takahe is a flightless bird in the rail family native to New Zealand. These remarkable birds have a fascinating conservation story, thanks to the fact that they were thought extinct for fifty years before being rediscovered in a remote valley in New Zealand. Today, captive takahe populations are being used to revitalize the takahe population, and several careful releases in other regions of New Zealand have been arranged, with the hopes of expanding the range of the takahe again.

These birds are around the size of chickens, with large, bright red bills and festive plumage. They feed on plants, preferring alpine grasslands as their habitat, and they are capable of eating a considerable amount of food every day. The birds mature at the age of two, at which point they pick a mate for life, laying two eggs each year and raising the chicks together.

Evidence suggests that several relatives of the takahe were once spread more widely across New Zealand, but hunting and predation forced them into extinction. In 1898, the last known takahe were spotted, and with no further sightings, the birds were presumed extinct. However, some biologists suspected that takahe might still exist in isolated corners of New Zealand, and their suspicions were proved by a 1948 expedition, in which the takahe was rediscovered.

The rediscovery of the takahe was quite exciting for biologists, who immediately swung into action to protect the newly discovered birds. In a bold scheme, several takahe eggs were taken from their natural habitat under the watchful eye of a brooding Bantam hen and successfully hatched to create the start of a captive colony of the birds. The known takahe habitat was also protected by the New Zealand government, which works to reduce predators and competitors for resources so that the birds can thrive.

Takahe are famous for being extremely curious, bold birds, and they are also quite noisy, according to biologists who have studied them. The birds look rather preposterous, with their over-sized beaks and flashy blue and green plumage, and they use their small wings for social displays. While the comeback of the takahe is still considered shaky, biologists hope that the birds will continue to thrive and grow, thereby illustrating that it is indeed possible to bring a species back from the brink of extinction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Takahe and where can it be found?

The Takahe is a large, flightless bird native to New Zealand, known for its striking blue and green plumage and robust red beak. Once thought extinct, Takahes are now primarily found in predator-free sanctuaries and offshore islands like Tiritiri Matangi and Kapiti, with a population of around 418 individuals as of 2021, according to the Department of Conservation in New Zealand.

What does the Takahe eat?

Takahes are primarily herbivorous, feeding on a variety of grasses, shoots, and leaves. They have a particular fondness for the tussock grasses of their native alpine habitats. Their strong beaks are adapted to clip grass stems, and they may also consume insects occasionally, providing a supplementary source of protein.

Why was the Takahe once thought to be extinct?

The Takahe was believed to be extinct due to overhunting by humans and introduced predators, as well as habitat destruction. The bird's rediscovery in 1948 in the remote Murchison Mountains of Fiordland was a momentous event for conservationists, sparking efforts to protect and recover the species from the brink of extinction.

How is the Takahe being conserved?

Conservation efforts for the Takahe include predator control, habitat restoration, and breeding programs. The Takahe Recovery Programme, initiated by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, involves careful monitoring, supplementary feeding, and translocation to safe habitats. These efforts aim to increase the population and genetic diversity of the species.

What are the main threats to the Takahe's survival?

The main threats to the Takahe's survival include predation by introduced mammals like stoats and cats, habitat loss, and genetic inbreeding due to their small population size. Conservation programs are actively addressing these threats through intensive management strategies and community engagement to ensure the species' long-term viability.

Can Takahes fly, and how do they defend themselves?

Takahes are flightless birds, having evolved without the need to fly in the absence of mammalian predators in New Zealand. To defend themselves, they rely on their strong legs for fast running and their robust beaks for pecking. They also have a distinct booming call that can be used to communicate and deter intruders.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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