On our recent trip east we met a very strange bird – black with a white frontal shield and beak, and unusual scalloped webbing on its feet. It was hanging out in the water and on shore with the ducks and geese, but it wasn’t like any duck we’d ever seen before. It looked slightly like a pukeko, but decidedly unlike a pukeko in its behaviour. We were quite puzzled.
Finally today I checked my bird id books and all was revealed. No wonder we had not recognized this species. It was an Australian invader!!!!
Australian Coot. Fulica atra australis.
According to my bird books and a bit of internet research, they’ve introduced themselves to NZ through the earlier part of the 1900s, and really settled in during the 1950’s, perhaps during a particularly dry season or two in Aussie. Or perhaps they just recognize a great place to live! They are now considered to be a New Zealand native and are apparently quite common in some areas, mostly in the North Island, Otago and Canterbury. Even though they are actually related to the pukeko (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus) being in the Rallidae family, the coot is more likely to be found on clean clear lakes and lagoons, unlike the marshy mires that the pukeko prefers.
So here endeth today’s biology lesson!