Is it a takahē or a pūkeko?

Department of Conservation —  06/04/2020

For many years, two of New Zealand’s most treasured native birds have been misidentified – and for good reason, they have very similar features.

Is it a takahē or a pūkeko?

Who’re you calling a pūkeko!? Photo: Servane Kiss

Takahē have long been called a fat pūkeko, which isn’t very nice to be called a fat version of another species. The fat shaming ends here.

April is the Month of the Takahē, or Takahē Awareness Month. This month brings awareness to not just to the once-thought-to-be-extinct takahē, but also to the misconception that takahē and pūkeko are the same native bird.

One of the clear indicators that the species are different – their conservation status. Takahe is Endemic in New Zealand, whilst the pūkeko are everywhere, probably one of Aotearoa’s most recognised native birds.

1. There are many more pūkeko than takahē.

New Zealand’s flightless takahē was thought extinct until famously rediscovered by Dr Geoffrey Orbell in 1948 in the remote Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in the South Island south-west. Today, takahē are classified as Nationally Vulnerable with a population of just over 400 birds.

Pūkeko are abundant and widespread and there is no threat to their long term existence.

2. They’re entirely different colours.

Evidence below (top, Pūkeko; bottom, Takahē). Takahē have bright blue and green coloured feathers. Pūkeko have dull blue and black feathers.

3. Takahē aren’t going far. They’re flightless.

Unlike the pūkeko, the takahē is a ground-dwelling bird with short wings, large feet and long toes – the world’s largest living rail.

A curious older takahē chick surrounded by its family. Photo: Lisa van Beek

4. Oh, and their habitats are vastly different.

You’ll find takahē like to live in tussock country most of the year. Pūkeko prefer wet places – essentially, a bird of swampy ground, lagoons, reeds, rushes and swamps.

Pūkeko prefer wetlands, which is why you can see them on marshy roadsides and farmlands. At this stage, if you see a bird that might be a takahē on the side of the road – it’s a pūkeko. Photo: Stewart Baird

5. Still confused? It’s all in the size of the beak.

You can spot a takahē from a mile away. How? Their beak! Takahē have a large, strong red beak, whereas their pūkeko friends have a longer, leaner beak.

Takahē prefer to inhabit native grasslands. They eat mostly the starchy leaf bases of tussock and sedge species, and tussock seeds when available. Photo: Helen Dodson

6. Yes, takahē are a little chunkier than their pūkeko friends.

And the most obvious distinction, there’s more to love of the takahē. They weigh between 2.3-3kg each; their legs are stout as opposed to the slender legs of a pūkeko, which makes them appear as a wider version.

A majestic takahē enjoying its favourite tussock habitat. Photo: Jo Robertson

The Takahē Recovery Programme, the Department of Conservation’s longest running species conservation programme, has been striving to save the species from extinction since the early 1980s. It pioneered techniques that have brought success in growing takahē numbers and have assisted the conservation of other species.

Essential to the Takahē Recovery Programme’s achievements has been the support of partners Ngāi Tahu and, since 2016, civil engineering company Fulton Hogan.

To learn more about takahē during April (Takahē Awaremess Month), visit the DOC website for a range of fun, family-friendly resources.

3 responses to Is it a takahē or a pūkeko?


    Lovely birds, great info. As a New Yorker, I had no knowledge of either bird. Thanks for the article!
    Donna L

    Hans van Beek 06/04/2020 at 11:57 pm

    Proud of my daughter Lisa and her partner James who are involved in the Takahē Recovery Programme at the Burwood Takahē Breeding Centre! This summer I enjoyed these marvellous birds and their beautiful colour. (Almost as beautiful as the Dutch “IJsvogel”)

    Kisses from The Netherlands

    Hans van Beek


      We have a KIngfisher or Kotare which is very like your IJsvogel but they aren’t seen as often now as when I was a child. Do you see many near your home and where is that? I lived in Renkum between Arnham and Wageningen for 6 months and it was beautiful.