For many people visiting Abel Tasman National Park, their encounters with weka are memorable. This large flightless bird appears fearless, approaching closely yet quick to skulk away if uncomfortable. Because of their omnivorous diet, weka can be seen in a variety of habitats including estuaries, forests, farm land and under picnic tables. At night the calls can be loud and persistent.
Weka were once common in Abel Tasman National Park but, for some unknown reason, disappeared in the 1980s and 90s. In 2006 the species was reintroduced at Totaranui using birds captured in the Marlborough Sounds and now weka are being seen throughout the Park.
In the North Island weka are rarer than kiwi but in the South Island they are abundant in the Marlborough Sounds and Westland, and increasingly in Golden Bay, Nelson and the Abel Tasman.
The main recognised threats are starvation during droughts, and predation by mustelids, especially ferrets. Weka are often killed by uncontrolled dogs, and because of their abundance are legally hunted on the Chatham Islands and on some muttonbird islands.
While banded rail are considered the birds nearest flying relatives, weka are three to six times larger than the rail. They are charismatic birds that are often attracted to human activity. However they are not always welcome as they raid vegetable gardens and pilfer poultry food and eggs. The re-establishment of some wildlife (lizards, ground-nesting birds) is just not possible in the presence of weka.
Bird calls courtesy of NZ birds online
Photo courtesy of Ruth Bollongino www.fernphotos.com