Wednesday, May 02, 2012

P is for Pūkeko

Ever since I started taking part in ABC Wednesday, I knew what the letter P would be: The Pūkeko. It’s my favourite bird in New Zealand.

The Pūkeko (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotu) has impossibly blue feathers, a large red-orange beak and big, goofy feet, all of which make it endearing. The bird is a subspecies of the purple swamphen, a member of the rail family of birds. In New Zealand, it’s often found along roadways, foraging in the drains (ditches along the side of the road), so being killed by cars is one of their biggest risks.

The birds arrived in New Zealand less than a thousand years ago (some researchers say only a few hundred years ago) and is now endemic. But while the cousins they left behind in Australia are still quite good at flying, Pūkeko tend to walk away from danger, only flying in short hops. The birds are also a close relative of New Zealand’s Takahē, the largest member of the rail family.

I like the Pūkeko because it’s calm, stately and blue. Indigenous peoples revered it, too, and there’s little evidence that it was used as food. The Romans kept their version as pets, not eating them, either. The Pūkeko was voted New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year” for 2011.

When talking about wildlife, the words endemic and indigenous are often used interchangeably. However, the word indigenous is generally used for plants and animals that originated in a place, while endemic is used for plants and animals found in a particular, identifiable geographic area. So, Pūkeko are not indigenous (or native) to New Zealand, because they originated elsewhere, but they are endemic here (particularly because they’re starting to show differences with their Australian cousins).

When we talk about people, however, indigenous people are the first peoples to inhabit an area, and the word native, when talking about indigenous people, has become offensive. Instead, the word native has come to mean anyone born in a particular place. So, the Māori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand, while one could also say that Māori and Pākehā (people of European ancestry) alike are native New Zealanders; one could say that, but hardly anyone here actually would.

The video at the top of this post is a TV ad for Genesis Energy, a state-owned (for now…) electricity company. It shows the birds moving (that one is trained, of course), as well as what its chicks look like. The photo below is of a Pūkeko in Marlborough (in the South Island), taken by Sid Mosdell and released under a Creative Commons license.

So, that’s my favourite bird in New Zealand. What’s your favourite bird?

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!


Roger Owen Green said...

So far, you're the ONLY one to pick this word! Good description about endemic (which I always read as epidemic!)

Interesting about "native", though. They actually surveyed American Indians, and they don't much care one way or another whether one uses native American or American Indians. They would actually prefer to be called by the tribal name, such as Sioux or Navajo.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I always liked the Canadian term "First Nations", which I always thought was less threatening to people of European descent than "indigenous". The word "native" is offensive to some when used as a noun, as in "the natives". That usage is kind of Kipling-esque nowadays, really.

chubskulit said...

Such a pretty bird!

P is for Pizzaroni
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

Black Jack's Carol said...

Wow! I am really interested to learn about the Pukeko and love the photograph! The ad was cute too, but I'm not so sure about the ethics of training wildlife for our profit. My favourite bird? I guess I really can't say. I can get as excited about seeing a crow as I was about my one and only sighting of a Virginia Rail several years ago. Thanks for a fascinating post!

ChrisJ said...

Love this bird. I've never heard of them before and I have been to New Zealand though we didn't have a lot of time for sight seeing -- or bird watching. It is a beautiful color and its feet are hilarious!I love the way it walks. Have to go back and take another look. They are a bit like the UK's Coot
but they are water fowl. I have real difficulty in choosing a favorite bird too many favorites.

Suzy said...

A great choice for P. My favourite is the eagle but I also love the cheeky kea.