T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network

Weka (Gallirallus australis)

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Gallirallus
Species: G. australis
Binomial name: Gallirallus australis
Common name: Weka, Woodhen, Maori chicken.

Not in Taranaki

Gallirallus australis is a large, brown flightless bird about the size of a chicken. They have sturdy legs and reduced wings. It is endemic to New Zealand, where four subspecies are recognized.
North Island Weka (Gallirallus australis greyi) once widespread is now only found on the mainland in the hills between Matawai and Opotiki, where a few thousand survive. Since 2000, weka hhasbeen released near Russell, in the Whirinaki Forest and there is a small population on the margins of the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. A substantial proportion of the population is on Kawau Island. Several other offshore island populations have also been established and they are also on Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua.

Western Weka (Gallirallus australis australis) are the most common sub-species and are found throughout the Marlborough Sounds, scattered in other regions of Nelson, the upper West Coast, and Fiordland in the South Island

Buff Weka (Gallirallus australis hectori) were once common on the eastern South Island. They have been reintroduced to Te Pekekara and Waikatipu islands. They are abundant on Chatham and Pitt islands, where they were introduced in 1905.

Stewart Island Weka (Gallirallus australis scotti) are found at a restoration site near Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island, and some surrounding islands. Weka occupy a range of habitats including forests, sub alpine grassland, sand dunes, rocky shores, and even modified, semi-urban environments. The fact that some weka populations persist in highly modified habitats suggests that they can adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions.

Gallirallus australis are predominantly a rich brown mottled with black and grey; the brown shade varies from pale to dark depending on sub species. The male is the larger sex at 50–60 cm in length and 532–1,605 g in weight. Females measure 46–50 cm in length and weigh 350–1,035 g. The reduced wingspan range is from 50 to 60 cm. The relatively large, reddish-brown beak is about 5 cm long, stout and tapered, and used as a weapon. The pointed tail is near-constantly being flicked, a sign of unease characteristic of the rail family. Being omnivores, they feed mainly on invertebrates and fruit and occasionally eat chitons (marine molluscs) and other rocky coast invertebrates, lizards, rodents, food scraps, carrion and the eggs and young of other ground nesting birds.
Weka mate for life and usually lay their eggs between August and January with both sexes helping to incubate them.

Weka has a famously feisty and curious personality. These two qualities traditionally made the bird an easy food source for Māori and early European settlers. The main threats now identified by the Department of Conservation to the Weka are predation by ferrets, cats, and dogs which are a threat to adults, stoats and ferrets are a threat to the chicks and stoats and rats are a threat to the eggs.

Though Weta are classed as a vulnerable species, because of its scavenging habit they occupy a problematic conservation niche. Some subspecies are threatened, but moving them to offshore islands can disrupt other threatened wildlife species, especially lizards, seabirds and other ground-nesting birds. For example, weka released onto Codfish Island, where they did not occur in recent time, threatened the viability of the Cook’s petrels there and were removed.

Click green icon to hear the call of a Weka. Thanks to http://www.kiwi-wildlife.co.nz/ 

Photos below are of a Western Weka (Gallirallus australis australis).

A cheeky Weka has entered into a caravan.


Thanks to Wikipedia for text and information