The Bar-Tailed Godwit
The bar-tailed godwit or kuaka has won Bird of the year! Have you ever heard of this special bird?
Every year, hundreds of thousands of godwits arrive in New Zealand. They fly here from Alaska, which is 11,5000 kilometres away. That’s the same as flying the length of New Zealand 11 times!
It takes the godwits less than 10 days to arrive in New Zealand. The first thing they do when they get here is have a big, long drink. Then they fall asleep… You would be tired too!
Large flocks of them feed on molluscs, crabs, marine worms and insects, by probing the mud with their long beaks as the tide recedes. During their long flight to New Zealand, they lose half of their body weight – so you can understand why they’re so hungry.
Māori thought of kuaka as a bird of mystery and they were often featured in myths. Many believed they came from the ancestral home of Hawaiki.
Some iwi celebrate the godwit’s arrival with an ancient chant. Muriwhenua tribes use it to tell the story of their people escaping from a besieged pā called Murimotu because it’s said they flew away like godwits.
Ruia, ruia, tahia, tahia,
Kia hemo te kākoakoa,
Kia herea mai i te kawau korokī.
Kia tātaki mai i roto i te pūkorokoro, whaikoro,
Te kūaka, he kūaka mārangaranga,
Tahi manu i tau ki te tāhuna, tau atu, tau atu, tau atu!
Scatter, scatter, sweep on, sweep on,
Let us not be plundered by our foe,
The rope has been stretched out and fastened, let us rejoice.
Moving along the rope,
The godwits have risen and flown,
One has landed, to the beach, the others follow!
Watch this documentary about one special godwit named E7. She was the first godwit to be followed, with a satellite transmitter, from New Zealand to Yalu Jian in Eastern Asia, then on to Alaska and back to New Zealand. Until then, not many people believed kuaka were able to fly so far without stopping!