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Te Tini o Toi, The Children of Toi, (book one), by Narena Olliver
“We will now consider one of the more important game–birds of Aotea(roa). As most of these were snared in one or more ways we will commence by dealing with the one that was not snared in any ordinary way, but had to be speared, struck down, or gripped by the feet or wings. The fowler had no gentle creature such as the pigeon to deal with when he went forth to take the Kaka, but a turbulent rover of the woods, who, with rending beak, would quickly sever the tahei form of snare such as were set on trees for taking pigeons, tui, and some other species. Our Maori fowler quotes an old saying to shew that what the barracouta is at sea so is the Kaka on land: He kaka kai uta, he manga te moana, the one rends the net of the fisherman, as the other rends the wood, and, if necessary, snares.
“Our fowler did recognise, however, that he had, in the Kaka, one of the two most important game birds of Maoriland, the other being the pigeon, and so we find another old saying that runs: He tutu kaka ki uta, he toka koura ki te moana, parrot–snaring tree on land, a crayfish rock at sea. Herein a tree much frequented by these parrots, and on which they were taken in large numbers, is compared as a food provider to a sea–standing rock frequented by crayfish, another important food provider.
“The Kaka is a restless bird, and when camped in the bush one hears their cries throughout the night. Ere any sign of dawn is noted the brown parrot is awake and awaiting it, its harsh cry rings out, and the sojourners within the realm of Tane say: Kua tangi to kaka, the kaka has cried, and know that Hine-ata, the Morning Maid, is at hand.
“Occasionally an albino parrot is seen, and this is called tuauru by the Waiapu folk, who informed me that such birds make better decoys than do those of ordinary plumage, they attract their fellows better, possibly on account of their abnormal appearance. Also albinos are said to be very good flock leaders. In some cases, we are told, a kaka kuru, a red parrot, is seen acting as flock leader. This name is applied to a bird of exceptional plumage, one having a large proportion of bright red feathers, in place of sombre brown. Such rare birds as the korako and kuru are often alluded to as ariki, which implied leadership. The leader of the flock is seen to hover about and the Maori says that it seems to watch the flock and keep it in order and within certain bounds, to prevent straggling. It is also said to call or guide the flock from one feeding ground to another and keeps flying around the flock at such a time.
“The Kaka finds its food in many places; it is not only much given to seeking and eating wood grubs, but is also a berry and honey-eater; berries of the hinau, miro, tawari, Gaulttheria, and many other species are sought by it. It is not so much given to the eating of tawa berries as is the pigeon, but the berries of the tawari (Ixerba), which it does eat, do not seem to be appreciated by any other birds. Our parrot is said to crush miro berries just before they get ripe in order to get at the kernels; also it eats the blossoms of Nothopanax, and seems to gnaw off, but rejects its bark.
“Like the pigeon, the Kaka eats when berries are scarce, certain leaves, etc., to serve as a substitute for better food. In its search for the huhu grub the parrot cuts into wood with its powerful beak much as if it were a chisel. Both the Kaka and the Tui gathered on the rata (Metrosideros) when in bloom, in order to feed on the nectar or honey contained in the blossoms, but the pigeon did not join the feast. The parrot also frequents the blossom of the flax (Phormium) and those of the kowhai. Like many other trees the rata blossoms most profusely about every third year, and in such years the offspring of Tumataika and of Parauri fairly swarmed round the tree heads. In a like manner, when a particularly fine crop of berries was produced by any trees, Podocarpus for example, then the Kaka and other birds would be much in evidence.
“These parrots prefer not to construct a nest, but to seek a convenient hollow in a tree, wherein the nest consists of nothing more than the debris that has collected at the bottom of the hollow; in some cases the actual nest is considerably below the level entrance to the hollow trunk. The Maori tell us that these nests were used year after year by the birds, and in some at least seem to believe that the same pair of parrots would utilise the same hole for years in succession. When young birds were taken from such a nest to add to the local food supply it was considered quite necessary to take to the tree some ashes from the fire at which the young birds had been cooked, and cast them into the rifled nest, this to prevent the parents birds abandoning the nest. In some districts at least it was usual to leave one of the young in the nest, “to take care of the nest”.
“The spear was used in taking the Kaka principally when these birds were fat, for the reason that, when in condition, they did not readily respond to decoys. Thus, when these birds were feeding on berries of the tawari (Ixerba) they became very fat, and spearing was the only method employed in taking them on trees of that species. They were also speared on the rata, hinau, kowhai, kahika, miro, maire and some other trees. The fattening of the kaka on honey of the rata blossoms was much appreciated by the Maori for other birds are in poor condition in mid-summer.
“Decoy birds were much used by our Maori fowler when taking the Kaka. The Maori tells us that captured female parrots become tamer sooner than the male bird, but are not always satisfactory as decoys, sometimes shewing timidity. These captive birds were often given names, in some cases that of an ancestor of the owner. It may be said that the captive birds were not always well treated. All fowlers seem to have had the same ways of irritating a decoy and so causing it to screech out in a discordant manner, and that was by pulling the string attached to its leg, or by teasing it with a stick, whereupon the parrots would be attracted to the noise and then killed”.
— Ohiwa Harbour, eastern Bay of Plenty, 2001.
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Other common names: —
Bush parrot, brown parrot, mountain parrot, nestor hypopolius.
45 cm., male, 525 g., female, 475 g., olive brown, crimson under wings and rump.
Where to find: —
Central North Island forest, Pureora, Whirinaki, Coromandel, offshore islands, Hen and Chickens, Great Barrier, Little Barrier, Mayor and Kapiti Islands. South Island forests and Stewart Island, but are nowhere common.
More Information: —
He kuku tangai nui he kaka kai honihoni.
A pigeon bolts its food, a parrot eats it bit by bit.
— Maori Proverb
Illustration description: —
Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.
Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.
Best, Elsdon, Forest Lore of the Maori, 1942.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 22 May, 2014; ver2009v1