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The famous kōkako Duncan captured hearts across the country this month with his great escape; here’s his story…

Duncan the kokako on the run in a tree.

On the run

DOC ranger Hazel Speed has mastered catching kōkako in the depths of mature native forest in Pureora. She’s also adept at moving through the dense scrub on Tirtiri Matangi Island to monitor these birds that, although renowned for their inability to fly long distances, can still move pretty quickly—especially when you’re on their tail. But what does she do when faced with kōkako catching in suburban Auckland? One adventurous kōkako, going by the name Duncan, gave her the chance to show us.

This adventurous kōkako was released a couple of years back in the northern Waitakere Ranges into the intensive predator-controlled area of Ark in the Park. His appearance a few weeks ago in the eastern suburb of Glendowie (think 30 odd kilometres away, on the opposite side of Auckland) and you’ve got a complex challenge for our biodiversity ranger!

Duncan sitting in his favourite Jacaranda tree.

Duncan in the Jacaranda

A cupcake decorated with a kokako.

Kōkako cupcake

Luckily the residents of Glendowie were up for the challenge. Locals were so charmed by this blue-wattled crow that they’d stop in the street (on foot and in cars), fascinated, amazed and concerned. Then they’d bring their children and friends back to see him.

Hazel saw the nonplussed become engaged overnight by Duncan’s presence. One neighbour did a letter drop to ask if people would keep their cats inside at night. The same neighbour ensured tea and coffee and a toilet was available for the catching team (you can’t just pee in the bushes in suburbia like you can in the field!).

She also made soup for the team and even put Hazel up overnight (including dinner), so she could be up early to mist net the errant bird. And yes those are her kōkako cupcakes, to thank Hazel for her hard work.

And hard work it was—a number of days were spent over two weeks trying to figure out the best way to catch Duncan—not to mention negotiating access onto neighbours property, impenetrable hedges, tall fences, the likelihood of guard dogs, an extremely busy road and avoiding power lines with mist net poles!

Duncan is spotted in a tree in Glendowie before being caught.

Duncan, blissfully unaware he’s about to be caught

On the morning of Wednesday 15 May, one neighbour with three young boys asked Hazel, “Do you think you could catch Duncan today? It’s my son’s 4th birthday.” And like any great DOC worker, she delivered… and the three boys got to witness Duncan close-up (although behind a ranch slider!). Can you picture the boys peering into the small room in their house (that had been specially cleared of the boys’ shoes and stuff the night before), as Hazel safely checked Duncan over before popping him into a transfer box?

The media was keen on a Duncan close-up too, and Hazel negotiated a deal to ensure the bird could be caught without the distraction of cameras (and the associated crowd) in exchange for witnessing the bird’s release back into the Waitakere Ranges.

On the day of release, despite warnings, certain journos had brought their ‘city boots’, and gumboots had to be picked up on the way back across Auckland for them. Duncan was then released back into his home in the Waitakere Ranges and exited the transfer box like a shot. It was an exhilarating day for Hazel and all those involved.