I’ve watched the Northern Royal Albatross surf the breezes off windswept Taiaroa Head. Exhilarating stuff. Up to 12kg and three metres from wingtip to wingtip, they don’t even have to flap to fly –suspended on the wind by their aerodynamics. As good as any air show.
It was one of my two contenders for Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Century title.
The other was the Tui – because I stop and seek him out whenever I hear his song. The orchestral bird, the bird with the external voice boxes. How did that evolve? Whose wonderful idea was that? And I’ll listen to the Tui go through his extraordinarily complex repertoire before he engages in some daredevil aerobatics. The Tui is the complete act!
But this is not about birds that capture hearts and minds. And votes. This is about ‘bad-assed birds’ – birds that irritate, annoy, anger and exasperate. Birds that would have you reaching for your semi-auto. Boom! Blown away in a shower of feathers, bits of beak and entrails. Gotcha!
The first contender for our ‘Bad-assed Bird of Century’ is the Pukeko. Let’s not get sentimental here – don’t buy into that ‘beautiful, blue-purple plumage’ nonsense, or the name, because it doesn’t even belong. It’s just a swamp hen, a swamp rat, an illegal immigrant thought to have landed here from Australia 1000 years ago. They don’t pass our character test so should be rounded up, slapped with a reverse Section 501 and bundled back to the convict settlement in chains, where they belong.
They’re considered an agricultural or garden pest – ripping up and eating vegetables and crops. One wag suggested Pukeko are evil. “They can take down a man and be happy about it.”
A few years ago a lovely Maori guy wisely observed: “You never see two Pukeko on its own, you always one together”. He chuckled as he watched this silly Pakeha try to figure it. I still look out for a Pukeko on its own.
The good thing is Pukeko are listed as a game species. So the ones we don’t deport back to Australia we can hunt under licence during duck shooting season. There’s also the popular recipe for Pukeko – you put the bird and a stone in a pot and boil it for two days. Then you throw away the Pukeko and eat the stone. Nothing good ever comes of a Pukeko.
Lorikeets and Rosellas
Apart from crying, cheating cricketers and crap rugby teams, Australia also does very well at dumping its fauna where it’s not wanted. Because other contenders for the Bad-Assed Bird of the Century are the Ozzie’s rainbow Lorikeets and Rosellas.
Bright, multi-coloured, garish, gregarious– so Australian. Introduced here as cage birds and illegally and deliberately released in Auckland late last century, the Lorikeet and Rosella are now common in the North Island.
But don’t get too comfortable guys. While you may enjoy a few moments of notoriety on The Weekend Sun’s ‘bad-assed’ bird list, you’ve been deemed an “unwanted organism” under the Biosecurity Act 1993. They’re aggressive, and over time will drive out our native birds by stealing their food and taking over nesting sites and territory. The second-hand car dealers of the skies – all showy and unbelievable.
Another bad-ass is the Sparrow – introduced in 1867 by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society to combat plagues of crop pests. A dumb idea – because their love of seed made the sparrow an even greater pest than the pests themselves. Some say they’re clever, cheeky and amusing little creatures because they have learned to co-habit with man so well. They are also a damned nuisance, opportunistic and eat whatever is available. If sparrows are God’s creatures why doesn’t He control them? Why does He let sparrows scavenge and poop around any eating place? They are invasive and probably because of their commonality, very easy to dislike. They’ve easily earned their place on our list.
Seagulls – rats with wings. They have to be on our list if only because they misrepresent themselves. They maybe seagull by name but not by nature. They rarely venture far out to sea. They are scavenging landlubbers. Ever seen half a dozen seagulls scrapping over a hot chip outside Bobby’s? Merciless things – it’s like legalised cockfighting. But then Bobby does do a fine chip, one worth fighting over.
Now who has ever had something nice to say about a Myna bird? They too were introduced to New Zealand, a biological solution to the South Island’s pest insect problem. They should have, but didn’t, stay there. As they moved north public opinion grew against the bird. They’re territorial and aggressive and have been known to seize nests for their own use. Lovely!
Doves maybe symbols of peace, freedom and love. And quiet innocence… But I say throw them in there with the pigeons! How much poop, how much guano, do you have to dump on the world before you’re labelled a pest and end up on The Weekend Sun Bad-assed Bird of the Century list?
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