This intriguing native bird was classified as extinct until 2013, when its status was updated to ‘data deficient’ as a result of possible sightings. Now the search is on again. This time with renewed vigour and a hefty reward.
The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust has teamed up with DoC and other partners to organise systematic searches in locations likely to result in an encounter.
They have also enlisted public assistance by offering $5000 for information resulting in a confirmation that the bird is still alive. As anticipated, local and international media is bubbling in reaction to the generous offer and amateur search efforts are underway.
So just where should bounty hunters, excuse us, bird watchers focus their efforts?
A good place to start is the native forests of the western South Island and Stewart Island, particularly areas where effective pest control practices are in place.
Bellbirds may also provide a lead, according to the Trust. This is because a call from the South Island kōkako might elicit an increase in the number of bellbirds singing and a dramatic change in their ‘dialect’.
The kōkako’s very fitting pseudonym is the ‘grey ghost’.
This call of the kōkako is likely to stop backcountry users in their tracks. Similar to that of the Forest and Bird 2016 Bird of the Year, the North Island kōkako, it has a haunting “organ-like” depth, flute-light notes and contains a noise that sounds like ‘took’.
Larger than a tūi, smaller than a kereru, the bird is equally unforgettable when spotted. Look for blue-grey feathers, a black facial mask and vibrant orange wattle. But it won’t be easy: the kōkako’s very fitting pseudonym is the ‘grey ghost’.