Over 40 years of bird calls on Radio New Zealand.
Certain sounds make a New Zealander’s heart swell. A school kapa haka competition or a boarding call for an Air NZ flight after a long time overseas, some noises can have us grinning from ear to ear. Among these sounds are those at 6.59.30 and 8.59.30am each weekday on our national broadcaster, when distinctive bird calls punctuate the Morning Report.
It was radio presenter Robert Taylor who first got us into the groove. But funnily enough, the recording of a ruru he used on his Night Owl show in 1974 wasn’t a bird at all. It was in fact the work of a technician who cupped his hands around his mouth and mimicked the call of our native morepork.
It aired for four months but the late, great New Zealand conservationist John Kendrick wasn’t fooled. Puzzled by the dialect in the ruru ‘recording’ he called the station and, when he found out it was manufactured, offered one of his own.
That sparked a tuneful trend that has since become an icon of the local airwaves. When Robert moved from the Night Owl to the Morning Report the bird calls went with him. Kendrick would go on to donate his bird call recordings to Radio New Zealand for decades and would later be awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for his contribution to wildlife.
70 year old Les McPherson of Ashburton is the main supplier of bird recordings these days and he’s helping to build an even larger and more diverse selection. Thankfully we don’t have to go to John Kendrick’s intrepid lengths to hear the call of our native birds these days. The Ngā Manu collection is hovering around 220 bird calls currently, available for your listening pleasure on RNZ’s website.
Modern technology makes it easy but, for a long time, these calls were the only opportunity to hear the songs of our more threatened species. Without these morning welcomes many New Zealanders would never know the booming of the kakapo, or the haunting trill of the kōkako.
And so this radio institution has become a vital channel for raising awareness of our native birds. In its time the calls have fought off a number of attempts to remove them from the airwaves. But let’s face it, they’re now as kiwi as camping.
It wouldn’t be the morning news without them.