Almost always, the koekoeā, koekoea, kohoperoa or long-tailed cuckoo – in the North Island - lays eggs in the nests of the pōpokatea or whitehead. Almost.
So how unfortunate was the dainty, tiny pīwakawaka, tīrairaka or fantail one day in the early 1960s to find in their nest a bird growing much larger than a normal tīrairaka chick – a chick which would get to 40cm. At a diminutive 16cm, including the fan tail, the adults frantic feeding of the chick would have been a full-time activity. The nest was perhaps located in bush that is now part of cleared land beyond the Pye’s Pa school, the exact location being lost to the mists of time.
The cuckoo is venerated as a taonga species to Tangata Whenua, and the call, along with the call of the pīpīwharauroa, is the harbinger of warmer weather, and the end of the cold winter. Both species are not in Aotearoa for the winter, being found in more tropical climes of the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, northeast of Papua New Guinea. Little is known of the species there, being remote and sparsely populated by humankind. What is known is that the birds migrate the vast distance to Aotearoa in the spring and after arriving pair up. Large forest tracts are favoured, but many koekoeā transverse through the urban centres en route to the forests.
Despite the adults being stridently-painted with brown dots on pale cream plumage, the koekoeā employ a superpower that cannot be underestimated in the ornithological world – ventriloquism. As you approach a calling koekoeā – you can hear them for nearly a kilometre – the volume is so vibrant that the entire immediate vicinity is drowned out by the call to such an extent that it is not discernable what direction the call is coming from.
All members of the cuckoo family are what is generally called parasitic. They share a habit of not looking after their young, and the laying of the egg is the end of the connection between adult and their young.
It is not known regarding the outcome of this nest. Not being a common species to parasitize, the tīrairaka would have had little or no clue on how to combat the occurrence. Pōpokatea do, hence the continuation of both the pōpokatea and the koekoeā in the forests of Aotearoa.
Paul Cuming, 10 May 2021
Paul Cuming, The cuckoo of Pye's Pa bush. Pae Korokī, accessed 06/03/2024, https://paekoroki.tauranga.govt.nz/nodes/view/47637