When the kōkako came: Part I

Department of Conservation —  03/08/2022

In the first of a two-part blog series, DOC Ranger Troy McDonald gives an insight into what it’s like to be directly involved in the translocation of the rare and secretive kōkako.

Close up of the North Island kōkako.
📷: Matt Binns (CC BY 2.0)

The Call

Amanda Rogers put the call out to all the rangers who live in the DOC Pureora Village – the crew also also known as the “Villagers.”

“We will be back on the next fine day to get the last bird, do you guys want to help?”

Of course, everyone in the village answered the call with excitement and enthusiasm – “YES, definitely!” was the collective response

We all understood how important catching the last kōkakō for translocation from Pureora Forest to Pirongia Maunga meant.

All of the toil, sweat and hard work, all the predator control over the years, the crucial and long-lasting relationships forged between DOC, hapū and the local community groups, all of this coming to a crescendo…. the bird from this group to be translocated to it’s forever home.

Of course there is scope for future translocations, but this was the official close to this particular chapter.

kōkako translocation
Snack for the journey: a kōkako is hand-fed a banana during translocation.
Amanda Rogers (kōkakō expert), Hariata Kemp (Biodiversity ranger) and Tom Robinson (Biodiversity Ranger).
📷: Troy McDonald

The plan

The plan was to head out to the catch site at 9am, which worked well with us all as it was our day off and we could have a wee sleep in.

But what a way to spend your day off, helping to catch a kōkakō, one of two remaining bird species in NZ from the long, ancient lineage of wattled birds which included the extinct huia.

We all assembled at the Firestation, beside the DOC Pureora Field Base. Everyone was looking a bit tired from a big week, but also with an edge of anticipation and exhiliration. I’d say everyone’s second coffee of the morning had started to take affect too.

We headed out in a convoy to the site. Crossing a farm, and slipping in to the green abyss, chatting the entire way to the catch site about how awesome and humbling it is to be apart of this moment.

We were all well-versed in what our jobs were when we got to site, so upon arrival, we slipped quietly in to our positions.

 Two rangers on the net, with one at each end. Two rangers, again one at each side of the net, beside their “shaking tree.”

One ranger was left in the middle near a central speaker to observe and help kōkako catchers Dave Bryden and Amanda Rogers if need be.

Ready for action

Amanda had told us while we walked in this site had a juvenile and it was quite responsive – and that this capture task shouldn’t take too long.

Ah, but that was far from the truth. After the first playback, a Kōkakō response was heard. The little juvenile came in for a closer look, to see if there was a potential friend to be made, but, they also came along with a friend.

This new friend was a surprise to us all.

Funily enough, this new friend had instilled some new behavioural traits to the juvenile we came back to catch, they had become more weary and unsure. This was not good.

What may have been a nice, quick and easy capture had now turned into a “hurry up and wait situation”. Both the birds were intrigued but reserved and shy, sticking mainly to the larger surrounding trees, only giving us a brief glimpse.

Not long after that glimpse, they both decided this wasn’t a good idea and that they should go about their day.

Dave couldn’t handle the fact this might be the only day, since he had first started catching kōkakō for translocations; we wouldn’t catch anything and leave empty handed.

Dave Byers starts the kokako song playback, 12m high mist net barely visible in foreground.
📷: Cara Hansen

The pursuit

Dave pursued them, drawing them in with playback, relentlessly for about 30 minutes. Before finally, the juvenile came back, alone. Perfect! It almost jumped in to the net with no hesitation at all.


Once the bird was down and secured, it was time to weigh and measure it, and add apply a leg band so the specimen can be identified in the future during kōkakō surveys in Pirongia.

Then, finally, it was time to make our way to Pirongia, transporting the bird in a specially made transporting box fitted out with a perch, moss on the floor and some freshly cut coprosma.

Upon arrival, a small group of Pirongia volunteers had gathered at the information panel. Again, anticipation and exhiliration floated through the air, for the arrival and the chance to watch the  kōkakō from Pureora Forest be released into its new home.

The crowd gathered quietly around the bird box, cameras were aimed and ready to capture that brief moment of grey and blue. It was a beautiful and unforgettable moment, Frances Hughes from Rereahu (the kōkakō’s original home in Pureora) sang a hauntingly beautiful chant which was a goodbye from it’s previous world, but also a message of aroha and hope for it’s fruitful future ahead.

The perfect send off, as the kōkakō quickly emerged and bounced through the trees above, before finally dissolving into the trees like a ghost.

  • The recovery of the population of North Island kōkako has been a conservation success story built on several decades of sustained predator control by community groups and the Department of Conservation.
  • DOC wishes to acknowledge the significant contribution of Rereahu and Te Houkainga o Pureora to kōkako protection in the Pureora area.
  • Watch below video of the 2021 kōkako population milestone event, including rare footage of the secretive birds.

Read more: In it together: Bringing kōkako back to Mount Pirongia

10 responses to When the kōkako came: Part I


    Just Awesome Team and All involved…

    Frances Hughes 04/08/2022 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you, everyone involved from the beginning to the end of this entire translocation.
    We wish you well as you enjoy their company and beautiful singing, and may they prosper to continue their songs for the generations yet to come👏🙏


    Conservation of our flora and fauna is for the benefit of all New Zealanders, especially the generations that follow in our footsteps. Give them an opportunity to see this for themselves and not only from the pages of a book


    Excelent report. Dedication leads to success.


    I really love reading about your conservation work. If I was a little younger Id love to help out.


      I’m sure we can find something useful whatever your age. Tom Davies Pirongia Restoration Society.

    Peter Hallinan 03/08/2022 at 6:38 pm

    In the great historical tradition of saving the Lord Howe Island wood hen 🙂


    What news of the Kokako in the northern Ureweras

    Grania McKenzie 03/08/2022 at 5:21 pm

    What about the other kokako?

    Howard Matthew 03/08/2022 at 5:20 pm

    Great story Troy loved it! Awesome piece of work pats on backs all round…