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What is a Weka?

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  • Written By: Morgan H.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A weka, also known as a woodhen, is a flightless bird of the species Gallirallus australis. The omnivorous bird is native to New Zealand and inhabits a wide variety of habitats, from urban areas to grassland. In maturity, it may reach the size of a domesticated chicken. Evolutionary adaptations to different environments have caused the development of four distinct subspecies. Due to environmental concerns, the bird is classified as a vulnerable species.

Weka are curious and feisty birds that can survive in a wide range of habitats, from urban environments to forests and grasslands. Its diet is omnivorous, including vegetation such as seeds, grass and berries as well as animals such as small birds, mice and insects. It has a long, durable beak, used both to break down food and defend itself. At maturity, it may grow to be up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) in length, with males weighing around 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram), and the smaller females weighing about 1.5 pounds (700 grams).

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Overall coloration of the weka is predominantly brown, mottled with black and gray. Further differences in color are present in each of the four subspecies. The Buff Weka, for example, may have a lighter coloration overall than its counterparts. The Stewart Island Weka can vary from chestnut to black at different times of the year. The Western Weka is dark red, brown and black, with birds at the southern part of its range having a darker coloration. The North Island Weka is distinguished from the other subspecies by its gray underparts and brown legs.

The weka can raise up to four broods a year if food and resources are plentiful. Nests are normally built on the ground by weaving grass into a bowl-like shape underneath thick ground cover. Females typically lay around three multi-colored eggs in this nest. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for up to a month, when the chicks will hatch. Chicks are dependent on their parents for food for up to ten weeks, when they will be fully mature and ready to leave the nest.

This bird species is threatened by several extraneous factors. It faces habitat depletion due to the industrialization and modification of forests and wetlands. Domestic dogs and cats can be a threat to the adult birds as well, and smaller mammals such as ferrets may be a threat to chicks and eggs. In urban environments, the birds are commonly threatened by motor vehicle traffic.

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