Monday, March 29, 2010

Seeking the Karearea in a Land of Few Hawks - Part 1

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend almost a month in New Zealand last fall. (It was springtime there.) There aren’t many endemic bird species in that country, but the ones that are there are quite unique and unquestionably amazing. European settlement burgeoned only a little over 150 years ago, and oh, how that changed things. New Zealand’s native terrestrial avifauna consisted of mostly weak-flying or flightless species – think Kiwi, for example. Europeans missed their birds from home, consequently most of the birds one easily sees now are those commonly seen in the UK: Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Skylarks, European Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, and more. There were no native land mammals in New Zealand either, so in addition to birds and domestic pets, rabbits, sheep, stoats, ferrets (to “eliminate” the Polynesian rats introduced earlier by the Maori), and the omnivorous Australian brush-tailed possum were brought in. These actions spelled doom for native birds.

Raptors might have helped keep the small mammal population in check, but for the fact that New Zealand has only two raptor species, the Australasian Harrier (Maori name: Kahu) and the New Zealand Falcon (Karearea). The Kahu is fairly widespread across the lands of the southwestern Pacific, but the falcon is endemic to New Zealand. Naturally, this latter fact put the Karearea at the top of my “must see” list (along with Kiwi, Kokako, and Rifleman).

From the very first day leaving Aukland Kahus were seen, soaring over meadows and hillsides, skimming grassland and marsh, weaving through hedgerows. Resembling Turkey Vultures in flight, they have a deeper dihedral than do our Northern Harriers. Sometimes they are seen in groups, coursing above the landscape. Kahus feed on small prey like mice and insects, but carrion comprises a large part of their diet, making these birds vulnerable to collisions with vehicles.

Part 2:  The Karearea

1 comment:

  1. Carolyn - Thank you so much for posting this for me! I discovered that the main problem with my computer is the operator!