Friday, 17 October 2014

Wily Weka of Elaine Bay

First there was one…..with bright orange legs and a loud call- ‘coo-eet’ …….we thought it was a warning, telling other weka this was his patch……

But then there were two……a partner with a bung foot and grey legs. They were gathering excess food in their bills and disappearing into the bush. We thought they were greedy & shy eaters……

….until a day later up popped number three! But only when it thought we were out of sight inside the van. Our tinted windows are not only good for people watching….

And then not long after, out from under the flax came weka number 4! It took four days but eventually this weka family felt secure enough to venture out into the open, albeit the chicks on the margin of the undergrowth. The parents were cautious but curious to see what food items we might have for them. I had wondered why the crusts for the sparrows had disappeared so quickly.

The chicks quickly hid if they caught sight of any movement and usually waited in the undergrowth for a parent to return with food but occasionally I’d see one scampering about over the long grass quite a distance away.

A soft cluck-cluck would bring it running back, tripping over grass and it’s large feet on the way.

A few times, early in the morning, I’d happen to glance outside and catch sight of the family scurrying flat stick, necks outstretched, chicks in the middle, across the reserve and quickly disappearing under the cover of the scrub.

The family’s territory took in all of the DOC camp including the overgrown scrub along the edge of the bay. The parents worked non-stop all day searching for grubs and insects under the bush and scavenging around the camp sites. When they found something they’d quickly run from cover to cover until they got to where the chicks were hiding. Quite often that cover would be a camper’s vehicle or caravan. Most often the occupants would be totally unaware of a bird under their car. A few times we heard them under our van pecking & checking it out.

It was good to see that these two chicks were healthy & surviving well, with doting parents. While at Elaine Bay we saw two stoats, one racing along the rocks on the edge of the water and one on a walking track. Being flightless and ground nesters, stoats would be a number one predator for weka, eating both the eggs & chicks.

Another predator are wild pigs who also eat the eggs & chicks. Pigs compete for the same food too; grubs & roots. Staying in camp for a few nights were three young guys and their two pig dogs. They came home one morning with two pigs, one dog had to be tied up as she kept returning to them and nipping at and licking the carcasses. The other, a much younger dog, could not be budged, she didn't even open her eyes when I spoke to her. She was totally worn out after a successful hunt.

Never missing an opportunity, the weka were quickly attracted to the pigs. Parents and chicks were keen to check them out. After an initial close inspection, the chicks became wary and retreated into the bush but the parents started tugging at the bristles and checking out the heads and rear ends. One even pushed it’s head through the cut belly until it was chased away.

David was packing up the dinghy and had the gear from the back of the ute spread out on the ground when I called him in for lunch. When he returned the large bag that was storing our rubbish (usually under cover in the back of the ute) was ripped apart and rubbish scattered about. Those crafty & sneaky weka must have a very keen sense of smell. They also checked out the bowl of green lip mussel shells our neighbours put outside while we finished drinks.

Love them or hate them (as many locals do- they can cause havoc in vege gardens and around chickens, even steal the dog’s food from the bowl), you can’t help but admire a Weka’s resourcefulness. It was a thrill & a privilege to share our ‘backyard’ with a weka family even though the one with the limp (and the one I felt sorry for) stole the sandwich out of my hand when I wasn't looking.

At least it went to a good home……


  1. Absolutely charming! So nice to see baby weka. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Olwen, it was a lovely surprise for me too. They were such characters too with big feet and beaks!

  2. Haha :-)) Brilliant storytelling and images! Loved this Shellie. I can see a book (or more) in the making.

    1. Thanks Amanda, you are too kind. I'm sure there is a weka story already out there, plus I don't have the time ;)


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