The Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is a rather rare bird with just one extant species in the family Rhynochetidae, which is endemic to Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. I had seen the bird on television documentaries and in preparation for a trip to New Caledonia in September 2017 I purchased a copy of Guy Dutson’s field guide, Birds of Melanesia, which features the Kagu on the front cover.
|Front cover of field guide featuring the Kagu.|
So I was keen to see the bird, however my only viable opportunity was at the botanical gardens and zoo (Parc Zoologique et Forestier) in Noumea as the nearest natural population was two hours out of Noumea in the Blue River Provincial Park (Parc Provincial de la Riviere Bleue).
The Kagu is listed as endangered by the IUCN and at the Parc Zoologique et Forestier captive bred birds are being raised for release into the wild to avoid extinction of the species.
I don’t like photographing captive birds however in the case of the Kagu I did take some photos of captive birds which are included in this post.
The Kagu in the Dutson field guide is located after the Bitterns. The Kagu is similar to the sun-bitterns of Central and South America which may be the Kagus closest relatives. I understand there is some taxonomic uncertainty regarding the Kagu’s evolutionary origins and therefore it is not clear where the species fits in the world of birds.
Kagus are flightless and their main habitat is the floor of wet forests with an open understory. No doubt being flightless ground dwelling birds with specialised habitat requirements has made them vulnerable to habitat destruction and introduced animals such as dogs, cats, rats and pigs which came to the islands of Melanesia with people.
The Kagu is an emblematic species which encapsulates the issues faced by endemic species which have evolved in isolation on oceanic islands and are then faced with new predatory arrivals including humans and those brought by humans such as pigs, cats, rats and dogs.
The Kagu along with the Horned Parakeet (see photo below), another rare and vulnerable New Caledonian endemic bird species, are featured on the 1000 Franc note, presumably in recognition of their plight and special merit.
|The 1000 Franc note featuring endangered New Caledonian endemic birds.|
The Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus), a rare and vulnerable New Caledonia endemic.
|The Kagu even featured on a plastic shopping bag we purchased at a supermarket in Noumea.|
The following text has been copied from Wikipedia:
Today, the kagu is considered very important in New Caledonia; it is a high-profile endemic emblem for the territory. Its distinctive song used to be played to the nation every night as the island's TV station signed off the air. Its survival is considered important for the territory's economy and image.
The caged Kagus I observed walked a few steps and then paused motionless for quite some time giving the birds an unusual demeanour – I assumed when motionless they were looking intently for food among the litter on the floor of their semi natural cage habitat. They were silent when we were there late morning – they usually only call at dawn and unfortunately I did not see any displays when the birds erect their crests and spread and droop their wings. There was one juvenile bird with two adults in the walk-through cage where I took the photos for this post. The captive breeding program looked to be on a small scale?
|Adult Kagu motionless, looking for food items in the litter.|
|The crest is quite long and can be erected during displays.|
|Another view of the crest.|
|The eye is a deep ruby red.|
|Sipping water from the walk-through deck.|
|Fledgling Kagu chick.|
|The same chick as above.|
of the Kagu is in the hands of the New Caledonians, I hope it has a secure