A bird that was thought to be extinct has been reportedly seen in Golden Bay which is close to the northern tip of South Island, New Zealand. Liam Beattie and his father were walking along the Heaphy Track near the Gouland Downs hut last month searching for a takahē which is considered to be one of New Zealand’s rarest birds. He didn’t see the takahē, but instead encountered a bird which was thought to be extinct.
Beattie said that he noticed a large bird with grey feathers and orange wattles under its beak. He then explained that the bird flew onto a low-hanging tree branch and then hopped onto the ground before flying away about ten seconds later. It is believed that what he saw was in fact a South Island kōkako. The North Island kōkako has blue wattles, while the South Island ones have orange wattles.
The last verified sighting of the orange-wattled kōkako was in 1967 at the Mount Aspiring National Park. In 2008, the Department of Conservation classified the South Island kōkako – also known as the “grey ghost” – as extinct. But after an accurate sighting of the bird was reported, the DOC changed its status to “data deficient” in 2013.
Inger Perkins, who is the general manager of the South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust, explained that since their campaign began, there have been 120 reports of people seeing the bird. In fact, after doing more extensive research, Perkins said that there have been around 430 sightings of the kōkako since 1990. “The reports are coming from all over the place,” she said. “When we started the public launch for the search in January last year, we were hoping it would help us narrow down the areas, but it’s actually broadened it out.”
Additional sightings and sounds of the bird have been reported from the Marlborough Sounds, South Westland, the West Coast (specifically the Grey Valley), Fiordland, and the Catlins.
There is so much interest in finding out whether these birds are in fact still around that the trust is offering a $10,000 reward for photographic proof of the South Island kōkako. Also, the Department of Conservation’s website reads “it’s remotely possible they may survive in low numbers in remote parts of the South Island and Stewart Island.”
At the top of New Zealand’s “Most Wanted” list is the South Island kōkako, so whenever locals decide to take a stroll in the wilderness, they better remember to take their cameras, as there’s a large monetary reward for photographic proof of this bird which was previously thought to be extinct.