There have been a pair of paradise duck coming here for the last few years to sit out the duck shooting season but now it seems the duck shooters have caught up with the female for there is just one paradise duck in the front paddock this morning, the black one, the drake. I am a bit surprised for they are not easy to shoot, managing usually to keep just out of range of a shot gun and flying off, shrieking their alarm calls, at the mere sight of the human species.
Putangitangi, the paradise shelduck, is endemic to New Zealand, that is it is found nowhere else in the world. It was discovered first by Captain Cook at Dusky Sound in 1773 during his second voyage. Cook called it the Painted Duck. They were not a common bird before settlement by Europeans but are now one of the endemic birds which has prospered with the conversion of native forest to pasture. They have increased greatly in numbers through this century and are now only partially protected.
They are a large duck and are always seen in pairs except during the moulting season. The drake has a black head with a greenish gloss, the body being dark grey barred with black. The undertail and tertials are orange chestnut. The duck has a white head and the body is a bright orange chestnut.
They mainly graze on grass and weeds, or standing crops of peas or grain which can mean they often get on the wrong side of farmers, especially when they flock, sometimes in very large numbers, during the moulting season between December and February.
Most paradise duck start breeding when 2 years old and pairs remain together from year to year, returning to the same nesting area. If one bird dies, its mate occupies the same territory and re-mates again.
Usually the nest is placed on the ground well hidden beneath a log or clumps of grass, but occasionally it is built in a tree fifteen to twenty feet above the ground. The nest is made of grass and lined with down plucked from the duck’s own body. When the ducklings hatch, the device of luring enemies away from the nest by feigning a broken wing is used by the parents. The ducklings have a striking pattern of brown and white down but when they fledge at around eight weeks they resemble adult males, except the females have whiter patches around the eyes and the base of the bill.
Duck provided Maori with quite a considerable portion of their food supply in some favoured districts. According to Elsdon Best, many of the lakes and lagoons in the Bay of Plenty were famed as resorts of water-fowl, especially Rotomahana and the surrounding lakes. When the duck were moulting they became very fat and it was at this time that the rahui (which protected the birds during their breeding season) was lifted. The birds having become flightless, they could be collected, driven and herded from open lake waters into the water plants lining the shores; there were caught in very large numbers. Women and children often took part in the drive, everyone entering the canoes and to make a pleasure jaunt of it. Dogs were also used to capture the birds.
Sir W. Buller tells us that in 1867, 7000 duck were taken in three days at lake Rotomahana. Similar numbers were also being taken at other lakes at the same time. The duck taken were primarily Parera, the grey duck, but paradise duck were also among the numbers. When such large numbers of birds were taken many of them were cooked and preserved in their fat in gourds or bark vessels.
Other common names: —
Pari, paradise duck, casarca variegata.
63 cm., males 1700 g., females 1400 g.,drake black head with a greenish gloss, body dark grey barred with black, undertail and tertials are orange chestnut: duck, white head, body bright orange chestnut.
Where to find: —
widely distributed with main concentrations in the north of the North Island and in the South Island, most are in the eastern foothills of the Alps and on the Southland plains.
Illustration description: —
Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1873 & 1888.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Monday, 2 June 2014; ver2009v1