Note: yes, I know that the polls have closed for this year… but I found this draft posting which I was going to enliven after the article I wrote for the Forest & Bird website went live. But for various reasons that didn’t happen for a of couple weeks after I wrote this, and then I forgot about it. For my own records, there’s also the Facebook page, and a posting on the Wellingtonista too… but as we know, in the end, the Kiwi won, though the Kārearea did get into the top 10 for the first time ever…
It’s time once again to vote for New Zealand’s Bird of the Year over on the NZ Forest & Bird website. Voting starts tomorrow and goes through until October. (I’ll get the link sorted out when the voting page comes live.)
This year I’m taking a more active role in all of this: I am officially the campaign manager for the New Zealand Falcon, the Kārearea.
As part of all this I’ve convinced one falcon to join Twitter. While he may have entirely the wrong idea about Twitter (to him I think it sounds like the perfect place to find food) he’s happy to talk, for now. Follow @kakarapiti.
I’ve also had to write a campaign opening “speech” for the Forest & Bird website…
No animal should to be anthropomorphised – but this is politics and I’m going to do it anyway: the falcon is a proud, fearless creature; as contemptuous of humans as it is casually brilliant at predation. The Kārearea, or New Zealand Falcon, absolutely deserves to be this year’s Bird of the Year.
It is our only remaining endemic member of the raptor family, a group with an interesting but mostly unfortunate story in these islands. There is the enduring ornithological mystery of why the peregine falcon, the world’s most widespread bird of prey, is not found in New Zealand. Could the locals have been too tough? There was the now-extinct Haast’s eagle, the fearsomely large cousin of the Kārearea, that would have been sufficiently large to carry off small children. Did explorer Charles Douglas shoot the last two of these in a trip up the Landsborough in the 1870s, or did he merely shoot the last two of the also now-extinct, but slightly smaller, Eyles’ Harrier?
Luckily the Kārearea is not as large and physically threatening as these birds, though it still has its moments. In defense of their nests the falcons are utterly fearless, and will remove hat, hair, and chunks of scalp tissue from any human daring to get too close. (There’s many a back-country musterer become unhorsed from accidentally riding across a nesting territory, though you’ll seldom hear tell of it. Their dogs get a fair share too: I’ve heard of one dog being unable to shake the falcon gripping its back until it jumped off a bluff into the nearest creek.)
Unlike most of our native birds, they actually seem contemptuous of humans. Once I tried walking up to one sitting on a fence post. It let me get to within about five metres of it before it gave a couple of wingbeats, enough to lift it over to the next fencepost; and all the while its eyes were on mine. I advanced on it, and again it beat to the next post. After a couple of repeats of this though, it took off, slowly flying away as if it felt I was of little interest and even less threat.
In hunting too, they are fearless predators, taking on much bigger birds on the wing. I’ve been told of watching a duck, trying to fly up out of a creek; it was high above the water when the falcon slammed into it from above. With talons jammed into its back and the weight of the falcon bearing down on it, all the duck could do was allow itself to be ridden down to the ground, and certain death.
Once, I walked across a ridgeline and paused for a rest, looking into some dead trees in the gully below, full of noisy roosting blackbirds. Over my right shoulder a dark silent shape sped past and down, at the last minute voicing its hunting cry “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki”. An upwards startle of birds met the falcon at equal height and a catch was made, as easy as that.
So by now you must be thinking: why should I vote for this steely-eyed assassin? Why should the Kārearea be 2009 Bird of the Year?
It’s simple. We need the wild.
New Zealand is not a garden: it needs the feral and free along with the pretty and cute. It needs a hint of danger, sharp of eye and red of claw, to leaven the sweetness of voice and plumage of the other candidates.
Yet there’s fewer and fewer falcons about, with the usual catalogue of introduced predators, together with newer threats like power lines, reducing their population. Falcons need our help.
And, help given, think of the benefits of a larger, stable population! Even us city dwellers might start to see more of them as permanent residents, more than just the occasional visitors Blenheim, Palmerston North and Christchurch have enjoyed recently. And while possibly not everybody would be happy to see them, to many people they’d be a fantastic addition to the avian fauna of our cities.
A resident falcon could:
- sort out, permanently, that rooster next door that wakes you up in the morning;
- dispose of those hooligan sparrows destroying your cherry flowers;
- scare off that juvenile tuī that mimics a car alarm;
- render to pile of windblown feathers the starlings nesting in your roof; and
- clean its beak on that blackbird that crapped elderberries on your clean washing.
Bring it on, I say. Vote Karearea!
So. I think you should vote too. Hopefully for the kārearea; but then again it’s all about having a little fun and raising awareness, so vote for whatever you like. Just vote though, OK?