A ‘Sensitive New Age Kōkako’ finally becomes a dad

Department of Conservation —  02/06/2021

On Tiritiri Matangi Island, a 16-year-old kōkako male called Parininihi, or Pari for short, has finally become a father after 14 years of failed attempts. More than just a feat for Pari, the two chicks will help preserve the bloodline of Taranaki kōkako that Pari descends from. It’s safe to say it couldn’t have happened to a better bird. Why? Because Pari is a SNAK (Sensitive New Age Kōkako), labelled so by Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi volunteers for the tireless care he has lavished on all his partners, often at the expense of his territory…

Pari the protective dad with one of his new chicks.
📷: Tony and Janet Petricevich

Just 20 years ago, the North Island’s kōkako population had dropped to as few as 330 breeding pairs. This was mostly due to predation at nest by ship rats, possums and stoats. Today, thanks to effective predator- control, there are 2,000 breeding pairs.

Predator-free Tiritiri Matangi Island plays an important role in the recovery of North Island kōkako. The motu / island, located near Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa, holds many of the remaining kōkako descended from the Taranaki region, as well as birds from Pureora Forest in the Waikato. Since the first kōkako arrived on the island in 1997, 146 kōkako chicks have fledged, and 42 have been translocated to boost or start new populations in the Hunua and Waitākere Ranges, Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua, Pirongia in Waikato, and Parininihi in Taranaki.

Pari perched in a tree.
📷: Luca Kornélia Kósa

Parininihi is named for the white cliffs found on Taranaki’s boundary with Maniapoto. He came to Tiritiri Matangi in 2007 after hatching at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre (formerly Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre) in 2005. His father, Tamanui, was the last known Taranaki kōkako who had been taken into captivity to breed and save the Taranaki kōkako line. His mother, Mapara, came from Pureora Forest Park.

As any Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi (SoTM) volunteer will tell you, each of the island’s birds has its own distinct personality. Pari is a favourite amongst SoTM volunteers for a few reasons. First, there is his friendly nature. Pari will happily venture quite close to volunteers, curious of their behaviour and any equipment they might be toting.  

Roger and Alison Bray, members of SoTM’s monitoring team, remember attempting to record the haunting song of kōkako, starting with Pari and (then partner) Koha. They recollect shaking with laughter when, instead of singing, a very curious Pari dropped down to inspect the fluffy grey cover of the microphone they were holding. Roger remembers, “He cocked his head to one side to check out the microphone as if to say, ‘G’day, I haven’t seen this before. Looks interesting, what’s it for?’”.

By far, however, Pari’s legacy will be the love and care he has bestowed on each of his four partners over the years. In order, his partners were Fern, Punga and Koha, followed by his current partner, Wairua, with whom he successfully reared a male chick, Ariki, and female chick, Marihi.

Morag Fordham has been on the Tiri kōkako team since its inception in 1997 and has kept track of Pari since he arrived. She can reel off his various movements and dramas with incredible accuracy.

She remembers following him one very hot day to find his nest with Fern. “He was rushing around looking for kawakawa fruit for Fern. She apparently had a craving for this and nothing else would do. At one stage he stopped and appeared to collapse over a branch where he lay for about 20 minutes, eyes closed, resting. He then picked himself up, fluffed up his feathers, and looked at me as if to say, ‘Oh that’s right, I need to find some ripe kawakawa fruit. Are you coming?’”

Sadly, Fern disappeared in 2009, so her sister Punga paired up with Pari. Their nests also failed, as did the subsequent nine years of nests he shared with his next partner Koha. During this time, Koha sustained an injury which Pari nursed her loyally through and hence the term, ‘SNAK’ (Sensitive New Age Kōkako), was bestowed on him.

SNAK also referred to his occasional lack of assertiveness in holding his territory. Twice he has needed to shift as other males moved in.

As is often the way in love and loss, Pari eventually paired up with his next-door neighbour, Wairua. The unproductive trend continued until Wairua constructed their second season’s nest… and low and behold, tiny bird sounds were subsequently heard.

Pari and his whanau – kōkako are poor fliers, using their strong legs and small wingflaps to bound around trees. You can sometimes find them bounding around on the grass on Tiritiri Matangi.
📷: Tony and Janet Petricevich

As expected, Pari proved to be an excellent dad, visiting both Wairua and his nestlings continuously with beakfuls of food. He even patiently watched while his chicks were banded. Ariki and Marihi successfully fledged this February. Now empty-nesters in the true sense, volunteers are hoping Pari and Wairua will continue to produce chicks over the next few seasons. After all, some of the original kōkako are pushing 23 years of age and are still successfully nesting!  

One of the new chicks begs for food from Wairua.
📷: Tony and Janet Petricevich

Tino kino te pai Parininihi!

Love it, Protect it, Restore it.

Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is your best chance of seeing North Island kōkako in the Auckland region. Morag suggests taking respite on benches near water troughs – you may just witness a pair call in for a bath. But throughout the island’s regenerating bush, lucky visitors might see a kōkako pair sitting together, preening or feeding one another. And if you don’t, chances are you will get to hear their famous haunting birdsong. Check the Fullers360 website for the timetable.

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