• May 15, 2019
“He’s fully used to humans — I doubt he realises he’s a bird.” a tame pūkeko was recently found following shoppers in west Auckland. Photo: Pixabay
A hand-raised pūkeko who went missing in west Auckland recently was found following someone around a supermarket 2km away.
Melissa Brown from Whangarei left her pūkeko Tohu in a fenced backyard to attend a meeting in Titirangi but was away longer than planned.
She found him missing upon her return.
“I thought, it’ll be alright, we’ll call around and have a look for him in the morning. He’ll come back,” Ms Brown said.
When Tohu did not show up for four days, Ms Brown was preparing to farewell her feathered friend.
“I was ready to let go of the fact that I’d ever see him again when I got a call from the [Bird Rescue] centre saying they think they have my bird,” she said.
No stranger to adventure, this was not the first of Tohu’s escapades.
“He travels with me everywhere – he’s been all the way up to Cape Reinga with me and down to Taranaki.”
Ms Brown was picking up pig scraps on the day she found Tohu, back when he was just a “little black fluff ball” running across the road in front of her car.
“Papa said ‘you jump out and go and grab that little fella would ya?’”
Ms Brown’s experience working with birds at the Wingspan Birds of Prey centre in Rotorua meant she knew to check whether the chick’s parents were hiding nearby.
After taking Tohu home, Ms Brown sought advice from Robert Webb, who runs the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre which rescues about 1300 birds a year.
Mr Webb did not encourage people to hand-rear pūkeko just to get sick of them and let them go.
“That’s cruel to the bird; they don’t know any different. They can get picked on or killed by other pūkeko who see them as a threat,” Mr Webb said.
However, from feeding him mashed peas to having the tiny chick share her bed, Ms Brown was prepared to be “stuck with him for life”.
“From what I know about working with birds, if something traumatic happens to them, they will imprint,” she said.
‘Imprinting’ is when the bird becomes attached to the human, which is part of the reason Ms Brown was worried about Tohu roaming free in Auckland.
“Knowing my bird I knew he would most likely follow somebody…I know it would have been pretty freaky for the general public having this pūkeko running up to them and trying to follow them…so I was worried about people freaking out and kicking him or something,” she said.
Ms Brown said Tohu is more like a whaangai (adopted child) than a pet and calls him her “emotional support”.
“He’s an awesome little character to have around… but I don’t want to glamourise it or anything; I end up with a lot of washing.”