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What is a Takahe?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The takahe is a flightless bird in the rail family native to New Zealand. These remarkable birds have a fascinating conservation story, thanks to the fact that they were thought extinct for fifty years before being rediscovered in a remote valley in New Zealand. Today, captive takahe populations are being used to revitalize the takahe population, and several careful releases in other regions of New Zealand have been arranged, with the hopes of expanding the range of the takahe again.

These birds are around the size of chickens, with large, bright red bills and festive plumage. They feed on plants, preferring alpine grasslands as their habitat, and they are capable of eating a considerable amount of food every day. The birds mature at the age of two, at which point they pick a mate for life, laying two eggs each year and raising the chicks together.

Evidence suggests that several relatives of the takahe were once spread more widely across New Zealand, but hunting and predation forced them into extinction. In 1898, the last known takahe were spotted, and with no further sightings, the birds were presumed extinct. However, some biologists suspected that takahe might still exist in isolated corners of New Zealand, and their suspicions were proved by a 1948 expedition, in which the takahe was rediscovered.

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The rediscovery of the takahe was quite exciting for biologists, who immediately swung into action to protect the newly discovered birds. In a bold scheme, several takahe eggs were taken from their natural habitat under the watchful eye of a brooding Bantam hen and successfully hatched to create the start of a captive colony of the birds. The known takahe habitat was also protected by the New Zealand government, which works to reduce predators and competitors for resources so that the birds can thrive.

Takahe are famous for being extremely curious, bold birds, and they are also quite noisy, according to biologists who have studied them. The birds look rather preposterous, with their over-sized beaks and flashy blue and green plumage, and they use their small wings for social displays. While the comeback of the takahe is still considered shaky, biologists hope that the birds will continue to thrive and grow, thereby illustrating that it is indeed possible to bring a species back from the brink of extinction.

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