Dairy Flat pukeko ‘public enemy number one’

Growing numbers of pukeko are causing problems for rural residents. Photo, Martin Sanders

Residents of Dairy Flat say that pukeko numbers are out of control, with some locals taking advantage of the hunting season to deal with the problem.

Discussions on social media soon turned into a battle between people upset by the notion of shooting the native birds and rural residents who have had enough of the destruction they cause.

The flat and waterlogged fields of Dairy Flat, which often feature ponds built by residents, are the perfect environment for waterfowl and pukekos have made it their home. Intelligent, alert, quick and adaptable, their numbers have grown to the point where they have become ‘public enemy number one’ around some farms and lifestyle blocks.

Pukeko are mostly vegetarian, but also eat invertebrates, eggs, frogs, small fish, chicks and mammals, especially when breeding as chicks are fed protein-rich animals. Dairy Flat residents describe attacks on chicks and ducklings, as well as losing eggs, seedlings, vegetables and fruit.

Pat Waldin says anyone with a gun licence is welcome to help reduce the numbers of pukeko on her farm. She has lived on her property for 13 years and says recently the problem has got significantly worse, due to a pukeko population explosion.

Of the 20 eggs laid by her pet White Pekin ducks, only four chicks survived, despite cages built around some of the nests. Her orchard of around 16 trees is fenced off, but yields not one piece of fruit as the pukeko take them before they ripen. A feijoa hedge of 30 plants also feeds only the pukeko.

Pat says while sharing produce with the wildlife is part and parcel of living in the country – and she once hand-fed a semi-tame pukeko with one leg, called Pukey – she is sick of her orchard being stripped.

“The problem is the numbers, and they are so destructive,” she says. “I understand that it’s nature at work, but it’s still hard to see a pukeko run off with a duckling in its beak.”

She says over time, as the area is sub-divided and land drained for development, she expects pukeko numbers will drop as their habitat is lost.

Another Dairy Flat resident, Susan Lancaster, says she has seen pukeko take baby birds from nests in the trees and kill her ducklings but, worst of all, they eat grass shoots, making it hard for her horses to find sufficient grazing in winter.

“The sad thing is, I like them – they are good parents and funny to watch – but they have become a pest and my husband has shot a few,” Susan says.

Pukeko are a native species and a game bird and as such, shooting them is restricted to the game bird hunting season, which is open at the moment, until August 26. The limit in this region is 10 pukeko a day.

Fish and Game communications manager Don Rood says if people want to deal with them, now is a good time provided the person has a game bird hunting licence. Only a shotgun can be used, and there are heavy penalties for shooting game birds without a licence.

He says that, despite claims to the contrary, pukeko are good eating, so Fish and Game encourage people to fully utilise any bird they harvest. Pukeko feathers also make good trout flies, he says.


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