The takahē is a slow starter – it won’t go looking for a mate until its nearly two years old. But once a mate is found, the bond can last for a lifetime.
Pairs of takahē occupy summer territories which range in size from 5 to 60 hectares. These territories are based on key feeding, watering and nesting sites. Takahē often return to the same territories year after year and will battle to defend them from other pairs of takahē.
Outside the breeding season takahē families roam widely in the mountains and will happily share territories with others. During the breeding season they will often build a nest within metres of the previous season’s nest.
On the islands, takahē territories are much smaller, but there are still favourite locations. For much of the year on Tirtiri Matangi Island takahē are happy to share the key territory around the lighthouse, but once the breeding season starts, the battles begin. Sometimes fights result in ruffled feathers. At other times birds can be seriously injured in these territorial battles.
Building a nest
Breeding begins when the snow clears in October and can continue until late summer. Takahē build a messy raised nest bowl tucked under the shelter of large tussocks or dense alpine shrubs.
One or two (occasionally three) large buff speckled eggs are laid. Takahē pairs share the incubation of eggs. The female often takes the day shift with the male taking the night shift.
About 20-25% of all eggs laid are infertile. In the wild, even if two eggs hatch, pairs usually only raise one chick. If the nest fails, takahe will often re-nest, sometimes twice in a season.
In the past Takahē Recovery has boosted the takahē population by removing ‘excess’ fertile eggs from the Murchison Mountains for artificial incubation and hand rearing.
How to find a nest
Takahē are very good at hiding their nests. Finding a latrine (a big pile of takahē droppings) helps rangers to locate nests. A takahē can produce up to 6 metres of droppings a day, so once they are nesting and move only just off the nest to relieve themselves, the droppings starts to pile up.
Chicks hatch 30 days after eggs are laid. The chick emerges as a pair of chunky legs and huge feet attached to a little black ball of fluff. Getting used to those feet has the chick tumbling and stumbling for its first few days, but it is soon off the nest following its parents about.
Takahē feed their chicks for the first three months. At first chicks are fed a mix of insects and plant material, but they quickly learn to fend for themselves, copying their parents feeding on plants.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Takahē are persistent. When a nest fails, either because eggs are infertile or the embryo dies before it hatches, the takahē don’t just give up and wait until next year. They try again, and sometimes up to three times a season to raise a successful brood.
Takahē Recovery has used this trait to double the productivity of some pairs of takahē by removing fertile eggs for incubation elsewhere. This encourages takahē to re-nest and produce more chicks in a single season.
Time for a change…
In the wild if they fail to breed over several seasons takahe often switch to a new mate. Takahē Recovery makes the most of this by re-pairing birds that fail to breed. Birds are only retired from the breeding population if they continually fail to breed with different mates or become too old to sucessfully breed.
Retiring to a good life
Takahē are at their most productive between 5-14 years old. Beyond this age birds from secure sites
are usually retired to a display site to free up the best territories for more productive birds.