This is a guest blog about a relentless Weka (Maori Hen) attack experienced by the wonderful adventurer and sailor Klaus Kurz, who travelled the world and ended up settling in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Thank you, Klaus!
They are doubtless an enrichment, aren’t they? The big, brown, flightless and red-eyed birds whose numbers have dramatically increased on the Russell Peninsula during the last years. Oh, yes, we know them very well, these likeable, intrepid Wekas, and we are very proud of them when we see them running everywhere. Proud, because it has been such an achievement to bring this rare but feisty bird back from near extinction to a common sight. Don’t we all agree?
Well, after a birthday party last Saturday, some Russell residents have begun to look upon these curious, aggressive things a little bit less favourably.
What had happened?
On the verandah of a lovely home high over the waters of the Bay some 30 people had turned up. They enjoyed the great views, good company and talks with friends and nobody expected a sudden intruder which would arrive from nowhere…
All that announced its appearance was a rustle in the shrubs and then this dark spotted brown ball darted at my feet. Before I had time to dodge its sharp beak, the Weka had already pecked me twice and I started laughing when it went for the feet of my friend who nearly spilled his wine. We looked at each other in surprise. It all looked so unreal, so incredible. But it wasn’t. The Weka turned back on me, frantically flapping its useless wings. Before it could hit me again, I grabbed it, holding it in front of me – and believe me or not, it looked furious! So I threw it far away, back into the bush where it had come from and we could hear its angry, rumbling protests.
Everybody looked spellbound. But we didn’t have much time to discuss this strange behaviour before the next attack. Yes, that’s right, the bird came back! It came back four times, each time apparently more incensed than before. It went for several people. Ladies’ screams intermingled with laughter of men who probably mainly pretended that laughing was appropriate. But the overall impression was one of a certain uneasiness. Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie “The Birds” came back to mind and the event was the general topic for quite a while.
It wasn’t the end of it, though.
When we left the party after dark, the Weka attacked again. This time it aimed for the feet of my wife when we walked down the driveway. But the bird became entangled in the fabric of her long dress. It slashed out with its sharp, pointed beak when I managed to catch it again. This time it landed probably not so smoothly in some agaves and rocks. Nevertheless it still had enough steam to go for another couple who defended themselves by throwing eggs at the bird which they had just received from us and which were meant for breakfasts and cakes but not as ammunition against birds gone berserk.
Now, a few days later, we are still guessing what could have driven this (or these?) Wekas into such a frenzy. Was it merely a single bird’s madness or does it fit into the general behaviour pattern of this species? We now also remember other stories about Wekas tearing the eyes out of chickens, dogs and cats and have become once more very suspicious of claims that Wekas would be endangered by our pets at all, as they seem to be quite capable of handling even an overwhelming enemy. Or could it be something completely different? Could such aggressive behaviour perhaps come from the simple fact that overpopulation created too much stress? Maybe, after all, it wasn’t such a good idea to have the Russell Peninsula teeming with these intrepid creatures?