The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary’s Ecosystem Ranger, Robert Schadewinkel, left, and trustee Derek Shaw release a weka outside of the sanctuary’s pest proof fence, last week. The sanctuary are aiming to move all the weka within the fence to safety, ahead of its poison drop this winter. Photo: Kate Russell.

Searching for Weka

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Finding every single weka within the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary’s 14km pest proof fence is no easy task.

The curious bird is the single most vulnerable species in the sanctuary’s upcoming poison drop, so getting them out is a top priority, according to their Ecosystem Ranger, Robert Schadewinkel.

Armed with a wildlife sound machine, cheese, cage traps, hand nets and a noose, they have managed to move 24 birds to safety since they started their “weka hunt” two weeks ago.

“The general estimate is that there are 40 to 60 weka in there, but it really is impossible to know,” Robert says. “We are just catching as many as we can.”

There are also low numbers of robin, morepork, harrier hawk and The New Zealand falcon within the fence, however Robert says the majority of these native birds will be completely unaffected by the poison operation.

“The pellets are coloured green, which is a colour generally ignored by birds and not mistaken for food. However, with weka being natural foragers, they may directly eat the bait,” he says.

“Weka are omnivores, so they eat anything.”

The sanctuary has been searching for weka with the Department of Conservation, primarily in the lower part of sanctuary, and then releasing them just outside the fence in a similar habitat.

And, just before the drop takes place, Robert says they will scour the same area again, as more weka will move down into the “vacant spaces”.

“The lower part of the sanctuary is prime habitat for weka – they love the undergrowth,” says Robert.

“They are very territorial birds, so if they see a vacant space they’ll move down into it – the lower part is the best real estate.”

Currently, Robert says that young weka are at danger of being eaten by stoats and feral cats.

“If they are desperate, they will go for a weka, but the adults are resilient,” he says.

“But, once predators are removed they will bounce back like rabbits, it’s going to be mind boggling.”

A final count of the rescued weka will be made available by the sanctuary in July.