Weka are known for their bold and curious ways, that extends to making off with people’s stuff as highlighted by this news story about a visitor to the Abel Tasman National Park who lost his wedding ring and then, thankfully, recovered it in the undergrowth.
Motueka community ranger Jacqui Irwin spent a week in summer as a camp host at the park’s Onetahuti campsite where warning visitors about scavenging weka was all part of the job. She has some words of advice about weka...
Weka are famous across New Zealand for being attracted to easy pickings at campsites, taking more than food that is left unattended. ‘Brazen’ is how one visitor described their behaviour in Abel Tasman National Park.
Where weka are around, it pays to keep an eye on your gear, especially smaller items, ideally securing them inside your hiking pack or tent with zips closed.
DOC rangers found a Kindle at Onetahuti around New Year along with other items weka had gathered. The Kindle was still working but they haven’t been able to track down its owner, the only clue being ‘Rachel’s Kindle’ appearing on the home screen.
DOC rangers have seen weka take full 1 kg bags of sausages, blocks of cheese, wallets, mobile phones, cutlery, soap and lots of toothbrushes.
We’ve also heard of a Heaphy Track walker recently losing a pillow, t-shirt, camisole and possum-fur socks to a weka while having lunch at Lewis Hut. She’d emptied gear out of her pack to find something at the bottom but left it momentarily to stop a weka snatching her group’s shoes. When she returned, she spotted another weka taking off with a ziplock bag containing her PJs. That bag was retrieved but it was only hours later, after arriving at Heaphy Hut, that she realised two other ziplock bags with gear were missing, likely grabbed and carried away by the weka.
I used to think it was because weka like decorating their nests, but apparently not. DOC Golden Bay Biodiversity Ranger, Mike Ogle, explained that weka think any loose item might be food, so they grab it and scurry off to a safe place to find out if it is edible.
“Weka take all sorts of things, leaving anything that isn’t food in the undergrowth, usually not far from where they were taken. They are curious like kea but aren’t specifically attracted to shiny objects. They are very quick and surprisingly strong and can carry off relatively heavy items for their size.”
Mike is a great fan of weka, which are often thought to be kiwi by overseas visitors.
“Weka should have been New Zealand’s national bird. They are friendly and visible during daylight hours; kiwi are pretty much the opposite.
“It’s a good thing that we have so many weka now because there is a 20 to 30-year cycle where their numbers crash to near zero. We don’t know if it is weather-related, or pests or illness but this pattern has been seen over the last 100 years. I would say, enjoy them while there are so many around – but fence your vegetables and make sure you don’t leave anything lying around for them to take.”
DOC works in partnership with Project Janszoon, a privately funded trust, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust, and Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa, to restore the original biodiversity of Abel Tasman National Park and protect native species like weka from predators and to grow their populations. Air New Zealand also supports a biodiversity project in the north of the park, around Tōtaranui.
It’s important that people don’t feed native wildlife as it can be bad for their health. Project Janszoon last spring released 24 kākā at Bark Bay and these chatty forest parrots are regularly being seen on the park coast. Feeding inquisitive birds like weka, kākā and kea only encourages them to scavenge and human food can be harmful to native birds.
There are four sub-species of weka in New Zealand; the most common being the Western weka that is found across much of the northern and western South Island.
When enjoying nature, we can all play a part in looking after the native wildlife that live there by ensuring we don’t disturb or stress them:
• Give wildlife space.
• Don’t feed the birds – help them to stay wild by finding their own natural food.
• Keep dogs well away from wildlife in areas where dogs are allowed.
• Watch out for bird nesting spots and keep clear of them.
• If you want to take a photo, don’t get close – use the zoom instead.
And if you see a weka running off with your things, it’s best not to chase it but watch where it goes and retrieve your belongings later.
Learn more about our feisty and curious weka on the DOC website.
P.S. This is the mystery Kindle in question – if anyone knows the owner, please let us know in the comments below.