On our last morning in Te Anau, I went to the Te Anau Wildlife Centre. Sacha had mentioned this wild bird sanctuary the day before, how it was filled with all sorts of rare native birds, located a short walk from our backpackers, and free of charge.
I did what she said, and followed a little dirt path southward along the edge of Lake Te Anau. The walk itself was fun and relaxing, passing through patches of grass, winding into a small woods, then finally opening to a wide meadow where the birds are housed. They were not captured for the sake of show, but are all needing care in some way, whether from age, injury, insanity, being orphaned, and anything else along those lines.
YOU MUST KNOW THIS: the Te Anau Wildlife Centre cares for some of the RAREST BIRDS ON THE PLANET. They are beautiful, variegated, funny, smart, noisy, sweet, and totally entertaining to be around. This was #1 on my list of New Zealand highlights, only possibly rivaled by Lake Marian. With the sightings of the kea, kiwi, and penguins coming in a close third, third, and third. Or maybe tying for second. Or... well, it's hard to rank the top five.
In addition to the pure fun of the experience, I was lucky to have lain eyes upon birds most people will never see, whether in the wild or in captivity -- like the takahe, a fat bird I like to call "the blue chicken." All the birds I saw were crazily colored and incredibly cute, but many of them are also dying out. Like with the kiwi, kea, and yellow-eyed penguin, once again I had the chance to come face to face with some rare and endangered birds.
And now, for the highlight of all highlights: THE NEW ZEALAND NATIVE PIGEON, aka kereru. I became OBSESSED about this bird. Okay. This is your basic pigeon. Looks exactly like ours. Same coloring, patterning, shape, feet, face, it even makes that same familiar sound we hear pigeons make when they take off flying. You know that sound. You run towards a group of pigeons on the ground, and they flap off in all directions, making THAT sound. Well, the New Zealand native pigeon makes that same exact sound, too.
So why my obsession? New Zealand native pigeons are HUGE. ENORMOUS. GIGANTIC. GARGANTUAN. COLOSSAL. MAMMOTH. My pictures don't do it justice. Most pictures I've seen don't do it justice. You'd have to put a New York pigeon next to a New Zealand one to show the contrast. I mean, the NZ pigeon could sit on a NY pigeon. Not that it would. These guys are pretty timid, as they should be, since they used to be hunted by the Maori for food (they made FAT, TASTY meals), and are now, like nearly everything else native to New Zealand, in danger of becoming extinct. You have to see one in person to fully appreciate its size.
Sacha tried to describe their size to me the day before, and I assumed she was exaggerating for effect. If a New Zealand native pigeon was on your lap, and you were sitting up straight in a chair, the top of its head would come close to touching your chin. SERIOUSLY.
Before I saw the ones in the sanctuary, I had actually seen three in the wild. The first time was while we were descending from Key Summit. I saw something ENORMOUS but blurry fly off a tree branch, making a classic pigeon sound, and Sacha told me it was indeed a pigeon. I couldn't believe something that LARGE could be a pigeon, though I knew she wasn't lying. The next morning I saw the second one, sitting way up high in a tree in the front yard of our backpackers. James saw it too. It sat there for a while, so we got a nice good look and were finally able to gauge its ENORMITY. James was impressed. I saw the third wild pigeon as I was walking along the path towards the centre. Again, I got a good look at the true size of this BEHEMOTH of a bird.
The story doesn't end there. There were two pigeons in the sanctuary. Probably a male and a female. When I first passed by their enclosure, one of the pigeons was sitting placidly on a perch while the other was flying about from spot to spot. I spent a good deal of time trying to process this HUGENESS-TIMES-TWO before my eyes, before walking off to look at other birds, such as the blue chicken and his buddy, the blue flamingo (aka pukeko).
Then on my way back, I returned to the pigeons to take one last look. I think my staring seriously unnerved one of the pigeons -- I'm guessing the male. As I stood there like a human dork, gazing presumably at his lady, the male pigeon flew towards me over and over, making circles in the air but intensifying his speed when he came in my direction, then swooping back at the last moment, only to fly toward me again like a fine-feathered bullet.
I was puzzled by this strange, repetitive behavior. What was he trying to say to me? Did he want me to free him, perhaps? I didn't know how to react, so I stayed where I was and continued to look at the more passive bird.
Then the second pigeon came back and landed right in front of me. Only the chain link fence separated us. I thought that was pretty neat. So I waited to see what he'd do next.
He started doing this... weird... dance? A war dance? It was obviously a sign of aggression. He was telling me to back off. If the fence hadn't been there, he probably would have flown straight at my head and tried slamming his massive body into my face, he seemed that angry. (I probably would've enjoyed that, actually.) But instead, he had to resort to doing a funny series of hops and electronic-sounding beeps. He resembled a cute video game character. He also puffed his feathers out as he danced his message to me.
I wasn't scared, but I was definitely startled. He was a mean, angry bird, and I felt bad that I had roused him to such a state. This was also incredibly hilarious, and if his anger hadn't lasted for as long as it did, I wouldn't have had the time to unfurl my camera, tune it to the right settings, and capture this brief but amazing digital video footage of the mad pigeon's performance. After viewing the video, can you possibly understand why I found this entire experience to be so special?
Lake Te Anau
from the south
Te Anau Wildlife Centre
map of property
eating an orange
Can you spot
the third kakariki?
kaka, related to kea
see its red chest
cute round white head
NZ native pigeon
a real big mutha
takahe, near extinction
the blue chicken pose
fun and informative
Lake Te Anau
(2.3 MB video)
He saw me and
(2.6 MB video)
Listen for the beeps.
(3.9 MB video)
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