The large, bright red beak is often the first thing you see when you are trying to find a takahē. It’s incredibly powerful—even a young bird can administer a finger numbing bite.
The beak has to be strong for a lifetime of cutting and pulling the tussock that takahē use for food in their natural mountain home.
A beak in good condition isn’t just decorative, it’s vital to the survival of a takahē.
On Kapiti Island, when Ahoake the takahē returned from his winter territory, I noticed damage to his beak. I wasn’t sure how he’d gotten the injury—perhaps some feisty pre-breeding antics!
Ranger Nick Fisentzidis set about getting photographs of the beak, and video footage of Ahoake feeding. DOC vet, Kate McInnes, and Brett Gartrell of Wildbase Hospital at Massey University, examined these for us.
In the meantime, Ahoake appeared unconcerned by the damage and was still feeding well.
The advice from the vets was to monitor his feeding behaviour closely in the field, and provide weekly photo updates so the damage could be compared over time.
After monitoring Ahoake for a month it was apparent that he was in need of help. The beak seemed to be healing but it was crossing over at the tip which could end up affecting his ability to feed properly.
The takahē were heading into a breeding season, where Ahoake was potentially about to spend time helping to incubate an egg or two.
Takahē pairs share the incubation of eggs, so Ahoake needed to be in tip-top condition to play his part. Getting him off the island to the Wildbase Hospital was a high priority.
Luckily he wasn’t too difficult to catch and, following a boat ride and short road trip, he arrived at Wildbase where staff cared for him for two nights.
An x-ray, a routine examination and a file and polish and he was ready to return to the island.
Back on the island, Ahoake strolled casually from his transfer box and called to his two mates.
His beak is still not in great condition, so we are keeping an eye on him to make sure it continues to heal, but that polished beak must have been impressive enough as he has been seen nesting.