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South Island Kōkako Makes The World’s List Of Top Ten Lost Birds

Re:Wild has given the search for the South Island kōkako a massive boost by including New Zealand’s most evocative forest songbird in its new global list of top ten Lost Birds.

Re:wild is a movement to build a world in balance with the wild. They work to protect and restore biodiversity, the primary solution to the triple threat of climate change, extinction and pandemics. Their innovative Lost Birds initiative springs from collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy and BirdLife International, two towering authorities in global bird research and conservation. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (creators of eBird, a bird-sightings platform used here and abroad) are also firm supporters of the List.

Nigel Babbage, chairman of New Zealand’s South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust, is immensely encouraged to see the kōkako listed internationally.

“Global acknowledgement of our mission to find the kōkako before it is too late is precisely what this bird requires now. The listing lifts and validates our cause. We hope that our search expeditions in New Zealand’s southern forests will benefit from practical and financial assistance as a result.”

The Trust commenced its searching in 2010. Its investigations of encounter reports aim to be more systematic and sustained than was possible when relying solely on part-time volunteers. In 2017, the Trust made headlines at home and overseas after launching its $10,000 reward campaign for definitive evidence of the kōkako’s survival. Since then, says Nigel Babbage, the Trust has received around 300 reports of historical and more recent encounters with the bird. All reports are followed up, ranked for probability and prioritised for field investigations.

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"The more publicity our bird receives, the more we hope our back-country users will remain alert for the signs and sounds of its survival."

Many of those reporting encounters speak of hearing a bird call so unlike others that they are stopped in their tracks. A mournful, haunting, melodious note or harmonics differing from the more familiar calls of tui, bellbird, kaka and others. For example: “I heard a short organ song of about 5-6 notes. It was very loud, strong and haunting, and not repeated.”

Sightings are reported less frequently and recent examples include:

“Red wattle, grey plumage, size bigger than a black bird, but smaller than a tui. Call heard before sighting - distinct and unusual call of this bird as a long hollow haunting sound.”

“Large grey bird similar shape to a magpie flew below us whilst stopped at lookout point. Similar colour to a grey heron.”

Nigel Babbage applauds the work Re:Wild has done with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to compile the initial list of 2000 species lost or of uncertain survival worldwide.

“It really says something for New Zealand's efforts to recover the South Island kōkako that the bird has been chosen from such a tragic list of other vanishing species. Re:Wild was impressed that we are actively searching for the bird, using imagination, mobilising the back-country public, and adopting ground-breaking new detection methods. Their hope is ours too - to return the utterly compelling song of this bird to our southern forests.”

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