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Gallirallus australis (Weka)

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Weka
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gruiformes
Family: Rallidae
Genus: Gallirallus
Species: G. australis
Binomial name
Gallirallus australis
(Sparrman, 1786)

The Weka or Woodhen (Gallirallus australis) is an endemic bird of New Zealand. It is a member of the rail family.

Wekas are sturdy brown birds, about the size of a domestic chicken and typically around 50 cm tall and weighing around 1 kg. They have long toes, without webbing, that help them walk through wetlands and they are good swimmers.

They are omnivores, feeding mainly on invertebrates and fruit, but also eating seeds, small vertebrates such as rats, birds and lizards. They are also known to scavenge carrion.

A rapid drumming sound helps demarcate territories - especially during the breeding season(s). Although Wekas are capable of breeding all year round, producing up to four broods in a year, they usually lay eggs between August and January. Both sexes help to incubate the eggs.

Tales of Wekas stealing shiny items and bags of sugar are part of New Zealand folklore. There are four subspecies:


Stewart Island Weka

Subspecies G. a. scotti is found on small islands in Foveaux Strait and is common on the south coast of Stewart Island, where they are fearless enough to investigate the pockets of picnickers that remain sessile and relatively immobile. The Stewart Island sub-species is the smallest and also the darkest of the Weka.

North Island Weka

Wekas were once common throughout New Zealand, but the population in the North Island of subspecies G. a. greyi has been heavily reduced, chiefly by habitat destruction. The North Island Weka is a relatively shy bird compared to its southerly cousins.

Western Weka

The South Island G. a. australis subspecies is more common, especially in the Marborough Sounds, Golden Bay and Northwestern Nelson together with Westland south to Hokitika. It is bolder, with a reputation for curiosity approaching that of the Kea and chestnut in colour tending to get darker in Fiordland.

Buff Weka

Subspecies G. a. hectori became extinct in the eastern South Island but were introduced to the Chatham Islands where they have since become numerous enough to be legally hunted for the pot - which is forbidden in the rest of New Zealand.

The Department of Conservation killed 400 Buff Beka in the Chatham Islands in 2003, to protect the critically endangered Taiko which is one of the world's rarest seabirds, and the Chatham Islands Oystercatcher.

References

  • BirdLife International (2006). Gallirallus australis. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is vulnerable
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