Up to 1898 four specimens of the Takahe were captured. The discovery of the first specimen, in 1849, at Duck Cove, Resolution Island, is thus described by Dr Gideon Mantell when exhibiting the skin at a meeting of the Zoological Society in London. “this bird was taken by some sealers who were pusuing their avocations in Dusky Bay. Perceiving the trail of a large and unknown bird on the snow with which the ground was covered, they followed the footprints until they obtained sight of the Notornis, which their dogs instantly pursued, and after a long chase caught alive in a gully of a sound behind Resolution Island. It ran with great speed, and upon being captured uttered loud screams, and fought and struggled violently; it was kept alive three or four days on board the schooner and then killed and the body roasted and eaten by the crew, each partaking of dainty which was declared delicious. The beak and legs were a bright red colour. My son secured the skin.” The skin is preserved in the British Museum.
The second specimen of the Takahe was caught, in 1851, by a Maori on Secretary Island, opposite Deas Cove in Thompson Sound. This specimen is now in the Dominion Museum, Wellington. One of these birds is the subject of the coloured lithograph in the first edition of Buller’s Birds of New Zealand.
Nearly thirty years elapsed before the Takahe was seen again. The third example was taken in December, 1879, north of the Mararoa River, three and a half miles east of its tributary the Whitestone, and nine miles south east of the south end of Lake Te Anau. A rabbiter’s dogs ran down a large bird which was caught alive. Taking the bird from the dogs, the rabbiter killed it and hung it up on the ridge pole of the tent. The following day the station manager, Mr J. Connor, visited the camp and was given the bird. Suspecting it was a Notornis, Connor took it to the station where he carefully skinned it, preserving both skin and bones. This specimen was sent to London for sale but found no buyer for two years. It was then purchased by Mr Oscar Loebel for 110 pounds and presented to the Dresden Museum. The specimen disappreared during the second world war.
Again a long period, nearly twenty years elapsed without a Takahe being seen. On the evening of August 7th, 1898, Donald Ross was walking along the shore of the Middle Fiord, Lake Te Anau, when his dog suddenly darted into the bush and shortly after emerged with a bird in its mouth. The bird was not quite dead, but expired a short time after it was brought to the camp. Recognising the bird to be a Notornis, Ross the his brother rowed with it to the south end of the lake, a distance of twenty five miles, and despatched it to Invercargill. The whole specimen - skin, bones and internal organs were preserved and described. The skin, now mounted in the Dunedin Museum, was purchased by the New Zealand Government for 250 pounds.
Fifty years, three and a half months after this fourth bird had been captured the people of New Zealand and indeed the whole world were told that a colony of Takahe had been found in a glacial valley in the eastern end of the Murchison Range 2,200 feet above Lake Te Anau. The news was received as a notable ornithological event. The discovery was not just a lucky accident of a deer stalker but was the result of a planned search for the mysterious bird, entirely due to Dr G. B. Orbell of Invercargill. Orbell first visited the valley in 1948, and found footprints of an unknown bird but from his description they could not definitely be identified. Allowing the winter to pass, Orbell set out again and on November 20th the birds were actually seen and two caught in a net taken up the mountain for the purpose. After being photographed the birds were released. The rest is history.
Other common names: —
Notornis hochstetteri, Notornis, Moho
63 cm., 3 kg., flightless, colour ranges from irridescent dark blue head, neck and breast and peacock blue shoulders to olive green and blue back and wings, bill and shieldl massive and scarlet, legs and feet red.
Where to find: —
The subspecies mantelli of the North Island is extinct. hochstetteri West of Lake Te Anau, others scattered throughout the country, Mount Bruce, Tiri Tiri Matangi, Kapiti.
Youtube video —
Illustration description: —
Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1873.
Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840–48.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the
Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 5 June 2014; ver2009v1