Weka Fact File
Meet the weka. The birds are flightless spending their time walking around on the ground which is also where they will build their nest.
They are a species of omnivore which feeds on fruit, invertebrates and vertebrates. In some areas they have been removed as they prey on species which are endangered and may hamper conservation efforts.
Despite being flightless they are able to move around helped by strong legs and they also have the ability to swim.
Learn more about these brilliant birds here.
The weka is covered by feathers with highly variable coloration. These can be greyish, brown or almost black. This plumage is highly variable between the four subspecies.
Protruding from the face is a reddish-brown bill which is around 5cm (2in) long and used for a range of activities. These include rooting in the ground for food, breaking open eggs or delivering a fatal blow to small animals.
Their legs are colored pink or brown and have developed to be strong so they can be carried to safety when danger approaches.
On either side of the body is a round wing. The wing muscle has atrophied to a point they can no longer fly.
The eye of the weka is colored red.
Males are larger than females. An average male will measure 50-60cm (19.7-23.6in) long with a weight of 1kg (2.2lbs). Females measure 46-50cm (18-19.7in) long with a weight of 700g (24.7oz). They have a wingspan of 50-60cm (20-24in) across.
Their adaptation towards being flightless has allowed them to increase to a much larger size. They are up to 6 times larger than their closest flighted relative, the banded rail.
One of their main threats, the stoat has also become part of their diet. Other introduced species such as rats are also consumed.
When foraging they will move leaf litter around using their bill to find food among it.
A number of endangered species are part of the diet of the weka. As part of conservation efforts on some islands the weka has been removed.
New Zealand is the native home of the weka. Here they are found across the North and South island along with on a number of offshore islands.
They make their home in forest, shrubland, grassland and wetland.
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Breeding takes place from late winter to early summer (August to January) but is dependent on a ready supply of food.
Pairs form for life. They will defend a territory against entry by other weka.
They will form a nest out of fine grass and sedge leaves under an object or in a tight burrow. Both members work together on building the nest or the male may complete this on his own.
In to their nest they deposit 2-3 eggs which are incubated for 26-28 days. The eggs are colored white or pinkish with spots of dark color across them.
Females complete the incubation during the morning and late afternoon with males completing the rest of the incubation and a majority of the parental care.
At hatching the chicks are covered by brownish-black down.
These fledge after 28 days. In some parts of their range a female may raise up to 4 broods of young each year. In others they will only produce a single clutch once every few years.
They make a range of calls including a duet by a pair with the males call lower and slower than that of the female. They also make a booming and clucking sound.
These birds are able to swim well allowing them to cross water features up to the size of lakes even though they can’t fly.
Predators and Threats
Introduced predators are seen as one of the largest threats to the weka. Ferrets, stoats and dogs all present a threat to these flightless birds.
When nervous they will flick their tail up in to the air. This is a trait they share with other members of the rail family.
Weka will come in to contact with humans as they raid vegetable gardens and steal food from pet bowls.
Poison baits laid to control invasive possums may be accidentally ingested by the weka.
In New Zealand the weka is offered full protection under the law though on some islands hunting has been legalized.
At present the population of the weka has been declining rapidly though this has slowed in recent years. At present no major changes to their population trend have been brought about by conservation efforts.
Currently the total population is estimated to number between 107,000 and 177,000 individuals.
Four subspecies of the weka are recognized. Each of these have slight variations in color. These subspecies are known as the North Island weka, the Western weka, the Stewart Island weka and the Buff weka.
The weka is also known as the woodhen.
jamie_riden, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Middle One and Two
Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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