September 24, 2021
Mātauranga offers clues in kuaka study
The kuaka are coming back.
After a summer feeding in east Asia and Alaska, thousands of godwits are looking for the storm systems that will give them the tailwinds they need to start their journey across the Pacific to their breeding grounds in Aotearoa.
Massey University ornithologist Phil Batley, who for several years has been observing a small colony at Manawatū estuary, says he sees the same individual birds returning year after year.
He says the scientific observations are consistent with some of what is known from mātauranga Māori, such as the different names recorded in Walter Buller’s 19th century book of New Zealand birds.
“They were talking about the ones nearest the waterline and the ones that are particularly fat. When I’m observing these birds you realise the females are larger then the males and they are typically the ones who are deeper in the water when the tide comes up so you get this subtle structure in the stock that then has a name associated with it and in the breeding plumage is when they get fat which is when they would be the best eating,” Dr Batley says.
He says a kuaka which turned back to Alaska a fortnight ago after encountering headwinds set off again last night in better conditions and is expected in Aotearoa in seven or eight days.