Kagu Fact File
The Ghost of the Forest!
In the forests of New Caledonia the kagu is known as the 'ghost of the forest' owing to their rarity and covering of white feathers.
These birds are carnivores which use their long beak to probe in to the forest floor and search out small animals on which to feed.
Pairs of kagu will remain together for life and raise a single egg together each year.
They are threatened through hunting by introduced species such as dogs and birds along with the destruction of their forest habitat.
Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.
What does the Kagu look like?
Kagus are covered by a coat of bright white or grey feathers. On the underside of their wings are alternating black and white stripes.
Atop their head is a crest of white feathers. During courtship or territorial displays these birds will raise the crest.
Their thin, long beak is colored orange. The iris of the eye is colored red.
An average kagu will measure 55cm (21.6in) long with a weight of 900g (32oz). They have an average wingspan of 80cm (31.5in) across.
How does the Kagu survive in its habitat?
The kagu is the only bird which has a covering sitting over its nostrils, these are known as nasal corns. It is believed that this adaptation came about due to their habit of rooting around on the forest floor locking around for food.
These birds shown an ability to tolerate much higher concentrations of metal in their blood than other birds.
To help keep their feathers clean they produce powder down. These keep them clean and waterproof.
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What does the Kagu eat?
Kagus are carnivores. These birds will feed on animals such as insects and small reptiles.
Their large bill is used to help probe in to the ground so that they can seek out insects. They will also use one of their feet to move through the brush to try and flush out insects.
The beak of the kagu is specially adapted for pulling food in to pieces and they will use this ability to feed on species such as millipedes which contain distasteful substances to deter predators.
Learn more about the Kagu in this video from Tommy P. Pedersen on YouTube
Where do you find the Kagu?
This species is exclusively found in the forests of New Caledonia. They are restricted solely to the largest island of this country, Grand Terre.
Where can the Kagu survive?
These birds are found in mountain forests. Occasionally they are seen to enter areas of tall shrubland.
They will seek out shelter under rocks on the ground and will be seen perching on branches.
Credit: Quartl, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
How does the Kagu produce its young?
Kagu can breed year round though no egg laying has been observed during January and February.
These birds are monogamous and will remain with their partner over long periods. The pair work together to defend their territory but are often seen moving apart through their territory.
The nest of the kagu is a mound of leaves. Once the female lays her egg the pair will alternate sitting on it each day. A single egg is laid as each clutch. Incubation will last 33-37 days.
Hatchlings fledge roughly 98 days after they hatched.
If a predator approaches the chicks the parents will flap their wing around as if it is injured and this distracts the predator away from their chick. The dark stripes on the underside of the wings may also distract the threat.
Approximately 40% of hatchlings are female giving the population a skew towards males.
Sexual maturity is achieved by two years old. Parents may allow the young to remain in their territory for six years.
What does the Kagu do during its day?
While these birds have full sized wings they are considered flightless. Despite this when fleeing predators they are able to perform a short glide down to the ground.
Pairs of kagu will begin their morning by performing a 15 minute long duet with one another. Their call has been likened to the bark of a puppy and carries across the forest for long distances.
This species can also produce a hiss or soft cluck.
Females have a shorter, sharper call when compared to that of the male.
These birds maintain a territory which is fiercely defended against other birds using a shrill call.
This species is active during the day when they will forage for food. Before sleeping they will preen their feathers.
Credit: Pierre Fidenci, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons
Predators and Threats
What stops the Kagu from surviving and thriving?
The population of the kagu is declining with a number of threats facing the species. Their plight is further impacted by the species only being found on a single island. The population is estimated at 1000 mature individuals.
Among the largest threats to these animals is hunting by dogs. In one study over half of the tagged birds which were being tracked were killed by dogs. These are pet dogs with ferals not being established on New Caledonia. Feral pigs have also been observed feeding on kagu eggs.
Their forest habitat is being destroyed by mining and logging.
An increase in disease is seen as an emerging threat among some populations.
The species was hunted to near extinction during the 1800s for collection of their large head feathers which were sought after for hat making.
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Their scientific name is taken from the flaps of skin which sit over the nostrils. It is taken from the Greek Rhis, meaning nose and Chetos, meaning corn.
These birds are nicknamed, 'the ghost of the forest' in their native, New Caledonia. They may also be known as the cagou.
This species is the national emblem of New Caledonia.
The kagu is the only member of its taxonomic order and only one other species is included in its family, the sunbittern.
It is believed that the closest relative of the kagu is the lowland kagu (Rhynochetos orarius) which has gone extinct in the wild.
Credit: Public Domain
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Crew, B., 2022. Meet the ghost of the forest: the rare, flightless kagu. [online] Australian Geographic. Available at: <https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/creatura-blog/2021/12/meet-the-ghost-of-the-forest-the-rare-flightless-kagu/> [Accessed 15 April 2022].
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