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19 Bird Watching
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New Zealand has the highest number of extinct bird species and the greatest number of species on the Red List ( a list drawn up by the United Nations of critically endangered species). Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre is here to help.
Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is signposted 11 km south of Eketahuna on SH2.
The large parking area has picnic tables and a shop/café are located on the premises.
An entrance fee is payable to view the aviaries and attempt the walk, although the display areas and cafe are free to enter.
The wide even track is suitable for strollers or wheelchairs and passes through the regenerating forest of Mount Bruce. The loop periodically passes aviaries, which enclose species such as hihi, kokako and kaka. Interpretation panels and benches punctuate the walk. There is also a short detour to the Campbell Island teal enclosure and kiwi house.
Although the walk takes 40 minutes, it will no doubt take longer with the avian distractions.
Early accounts of the vegetation around Mount Bruce included a preponderance of large podocarps with tawa and pukatea also prevalent. A lattice of vines and climbers entwined the branches and carpets of lichens and mosses covered the forest floor. Today’s forest lacks the large podocarps, but has similar number of large rimu. Rata, kamahi, maire, hinau and other canopy trees are enshrouded with epiphytes such as kiekie and astelias.
Initial felling was carried out in drives, where one tree would be toppled in the direction of another to start a domino effect. After selective logging the rest of the bush would then be burned to clear the way for conversion to pasture. Over 25 sawmills were established in the region, including those owned by McLeod at Mount Bruce. Totara, matai and kahikatea were the target species.
Mount Bruce Forest was reserved in 1889, a last remaining piece of what was known as 70 Mile Bush. In the 1930s experimental planting of redwoods was hailed a success, the gigantic trees being mooted as the timber for the future. The fast growing trees, hindered the development of an understorey, but were eventually to loose out to Pinus radiata, as the preferred plantation tree of New Zealand.
Some birds of note include:
Kokako The kokako is deep grey in colour, contrasting with an attractive blue wattle, which gave rise to its unceremonious European name - the blue wattled crow. Kokako is much better. A predominantly vegetarian bird, the semi-flightless kokako supplements its diet in summer with insects. Kokako are vehemently territorial and are most noted for their haunting melodious calls, especially in the mornings.
Hihi Also known as the stichbird, this honeyeater loves the nectar producing flowers of flax, fuchsia, rata, puriri and rewarewa.
Campbell Island Teal The Campbell Island teal is a subspecies of the Brown teal, and along with its relative the Auckland Island teal are in serious decline through habitat loss. They are flightless and have thus fallen prey to rats, cats, stoats and other introduced predators.
Since colonisation by humans and especially following the introduction of Pakeha, New Zealand’s birdlife has taken an irreversible turn for the worse. Tens of millions of years of evolutionary isolation led to the formation of a unique and finely balanced set of ecosystems, unprepared for the invasion of alien forms.
Since splitting from the supercontinent of Gondwanaland over 60 million years ago, the raft of animals has included no mammals, save a few species of bat. New Zealand was thus truly the domain of birds, who were able to colonise the land. In the absence of mammalian predators, the need to fly diminished and many species such as the moa, developed the habit of gigantism. Birds such as the kiwi, takahe and kakapo roamed the forest floor, the canopy was filled with song of the kokako, hihi and huia and the skies screeched to the call of kaka, kereru and kea.
Introductions by Maori of the Polynesian rat (kiore) started the decline, accentuated markedly from the mid 1800s when European settlers brought cats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, Norway rats, deer and possums. The forest was seen as an enemy to be conquered and vast tracts were cleared for conversion to pasture. The diminished habitat resulted in unviable populations.
This sorry story has left New Zealand with the unenviable legacy of having the highest number of extinct bird species and the greatest number of species on the Red List ( a list drawn up by the United Nations of critically endangered species). Mount Bruce is here to help.
The genesis of the centre lies in the rediscovery of the takahe. In 1948 Dr Geoffrey Orbell was wandering around the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland when he spied what looked like a takahe. These birds were thought to have been extinct for nearly 50 years, red deer competing for tussock food sources and mustelids preying on eggs and chicks.
The dramatic ‘rediscovery’ prompted a captive breeding programme, spearheaded by Elwyn Welch, a passionate ornithologist and local farmer. He trained bantams to sit on dummy eggs and enlisted pukeko (a close relative) to care for chicks. Welch developed close friendships with John Cunningham and John Falla, two other experienced ornithologists. Their efforts resulted in the public viewing of takahe from 1960. After they received 16,000 visitors in 2 weeks, it became clear this volume of visitor numbers was not good for the birds and they were forced to close. The then Wildlife Service asked them to also attempt the raising of kakapo chicks, but this met with less success.
Welch later left to pursue missionary work in Africa and his work was moved to Mount Bruce. This breeding programme has now developed to the facility today, a superbly set up and well illustrated introduction to the endangered birdlife of New Zealand. The National Wildlife Centre Trust Board was set up in 1981 and the buildings were opened in 1983 with money raised through fundraising.
The entrance area contains informative displays on the background to Mount Bruce. Explanations of the decline of New Zealand’s avifauna is given, with particular attention given to the role of predators. The measures currently being undertaken to arrest further population declines, together with displays of the takahe breeding programme, gives some hope to the predicament.
The nocturnal kiwi house is an artificial environment where the natural daily cycle has been reversed, tricking the kiwi into foraging by day. This cunning arrangement means they are out and about, prodding the litter for food and seemingly unaware of the human spectators on the other side of the glass.
Apart from offshore islands with visitor access, such as Tiritiri Matangi and Kapiti Island, Mount Bruce is probably the only place where you will get a chance to view endangered New Zealand bird species up close. The aviaries allow intimate viewing, especially attractive to children, who will have little chance of viewing the birdlife elsewhere.
North Island ▷ Wairarapa ▷ Masterton
Showing 8 reviews of 26.
Great place and awesome staff! You can see and learn about the white kiwi living there but also so much more. The staff will teach you about Tuatara, Kokako, Kaka etc at scheduled hours every day.
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Great walks, very informative.
Access savings worth hundreds of $$ on Top Ranked NZ Accommodation and Activities for just $1 per day.
Nice to support.
Great opportunity to see Kiwis. Well run and maintained. Well worth the drive.
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Interesting. Great for kids. Loved the Kiwis. Incredible food at the cafe.
It you want to see a white Kiwi, try to feed eels or admire a huge range of native birds, you are in the right place! Special thanks to very friendly and helpful staff.
It was a good chance to see Kiwi (one brown, one white), Kaka and other birds for little money. All birds had lots of space and it seemed to be a well looked after location!
Very good centre to see Kiwi and other birds in the North Island. Very professional and friendly - only $20 each.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍