Tim Stead - Fantasy Writer

Where the Wild Things Are - 14th July 2015

New Zealand is bird land. Sadly a lot of the really impressive birds are extinct. We used to have the largest flightless bird in the world - the moa, and the largest eagle in the world to prey upon it - Haast's Eagle. The moa may have been up to 12 feet in height (3.6m) and weighed over 200 Kg - or close to 500 lbs - a monster by any standards. The short winged eagle which may have hunted it had a wingspan of up to nine feet (three metres) and weighed in at 25 to 40 lbs - bigger than any extant vulture. It was the apex predator of the ecosystem.

The bird life has been decimated. In a way this was an inevitable consequence of settlement. The moa and the eagle were gone before european settlement, but the introduction of rats, stoats, possums (from Australia), wild pigs, an assortment of deer, cats, wasps and other animals too numerous to mention was an assault that what remained of the local fauna was ill equipped to handle. Many ground nesting birds perished, and others struggled, and continue to do so. The iconic kiwi is one such, but even more so the bizarre Kakapo, a large, flightless, nocturnal parrot. There are less than 150 left, but that's a big improvement on thirty years ago.

Many native birds were also out-competed by introduced european birds, and it's far more likely that you'll see sparrows, starlings or thrushes than anything native. We are fortunate, however, to have frequent visitors where we live. Fantails are often around the house and bellbirds serenade from the trees. Native kingfishers have nested by our creek and are often to be seen perched on power lines at the roadside.

We are too far south for Kakas, too low altitude for Keas, but we've had deer on the property, ran into a fur seal on the beach the other day and recently found this fine fellow on the bird table.