For many a century the pre–contact Maori developed a sophisticated structure of beliefs and customs about the birds of this land, this Aotearoa, this New Zealand. The basic myths and traditions came with the immigrants from legendary Hawaiki, the original homelands in the Pacific. Changes the Maori made here to these legends were to give them relevance, to make them understandable in the new found natural world. This is shown in the stories of Maui, the man–god hero who is known to islanders throughout the Eastern Pacific. When Maui sought to slay the goddess of death, Hinenuitepo, its was the small local birds such as the fantail, the robin and the whitehead that he took along for company.
Larger birds like the harrier (kahu) and morepork (ruru) had other tasks in the Maori world, they acted as messengers to the gods in the heavens, winging their ways there along spiritual paths. They were the mediums used by tohunga experts to communicate with the gods. Tohunga also applied their skills to practical methods of bird catching. They read the signs of the sky, of the foliage, of the bird life. They oversaw the manufacture and storage of traps, lines and ladders used in hunting in the forests of Tane. They knew that Tane was the power and origin of all tree, bird and even human life. They recited the proper chants to him and other gods so that birds would be plentiful and the hunting successful.
— from Maori Bird Lore, Murdoch Riley,
Viking Sevenseas NZ Ltd, 2001.