Two men and a baby

Author: Story shared by Vic Hunter and text taken from SoTM Dawn Chorus Bulletin No.10 May 1992Date: August 2023

In January 1992, Stormy and Mr. Blue, two male takahē, successfully raised a chick. It was not unusual for male takahē to share in nest building and incubation, so it was no surprise when they showed a desire to incubate a ‘dummy egg’. Their readiness to incubate prompted DOC to find a real egg for them. A ‘spare egg’ became available when a pair on Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds produced a clutch of two eggs. The DOC staff ferried the takahē egg by boat off Maud Island while Ray Walter was flying to Blenheim by chartered aircraft. The incubator was exchanged in a brief encounter on the tarmac at Blenheim airport, and the precious cargo was soon on its way north to another airport. Tony Monk was waiting at Ardmore with his helicopter to complete the final leg of the journey, and by mid-afternoon, the egg was safely transplanted snugly under its foster parents. It was a successful operation.

It’s amazing to think that Matangi is the first takehē to hatch in this part of the country in centuries! Four days after the egg was transplanted, Matangi emerged from its shell. Ray, Barbara Walter and Vic Hunter were so diligent in caring for the chick that it even survived a potentially deadly encounter with heavy rain when it was just three days old. It’s wonderful to see such dedication towards preserving endangered species like the takehē.

Left image: Greg Chalmers and John Craig at the takahē release, 1991. Credit: A DaviesRight video: 60mins May 1991

Vic Hunter shares…
It was just after the Christmas period in 1992 and there was a terrible cyclone. There was Ray, Barbara and me on the island. Before Christmas Ray had noticed Stormy and Mr. Blue making nests by the Implement Shed and got in touch with DOC. They sourced an egg and the two takahē took it in turns to sit on the egg. It wasnt long until the egg hatched.

It was a wild stormy night when the cyclone hit. The rain was pouring down, and it was very cold. That’s when we saw the chick struggling to survive in a puddle. We knew we had to help. We quickly took it to the old tin garage, where the Ray and Barbara Walter Visitor Centre is now situated. The chick’s wings were splayed out, and it was lying face down. It looked so helpless. Barbara went to the house to get a hot water bottle and a towel. She placed the chick on the towel over the bottle. Then she took out her hair dryer and started to dry the chick’s feathers. It didn’t take long before the chick started to look more lively and fluffed up its feathers. We were all so relieved to see it lift its head and know that it was going to be okay.

As Mr. Blue walked into the garage, Stormy seemed a bit more reserved. However, Mr. Blue was always a constant presence. He perched himself on the chick and began to brood. The rain continued to pour outside, so Ray made the decision to keep the chick in the safety of the garage.

We went and found some grass to make a nest for the chick, but all the grass was very wet. So, we used the hair dryer to dry the grass. Ray made a 6-inch quad nest using some boards. We put the grass inside it, and Mr. Blue got on top to sort out the nest into layers, tossing out bits here and there. Since Mr. Blue had nothing to feed the chick, we went and found insects, worms, and snails. Mr. Blue started to feed the chick in the safety of the garage during the rainy weather.

It was early evening, we released we had to keep the chick in the garage because it was still too wet and cold outside. Since there were a lot of kiore in the garage, we had to be careful and make sure that the chick was safe. We decided to take turns sitting with the chick and shining a torch whenever we heard a noise. This seemed to work well, as the kiore were scared away by the light. We spent about an hour or two each, taking shifts and keeping watch over the chick. It was worth it to make sure that the chick was safe and secure.

The chick and Mr. Blue were sound asleep. Every now and again, the chick would let out a ‘cheep cheep’ and Mr. Blue would respond with a calming thumping noise, which helped the chick to go back to sleep. This happened a few times throughout the night, and it seemed like the chick felt safe and secure in its new surroundings because it would go back to sleep.

Ray started to build a shelter in next morning for the chick and Mr. Blue using 8 by 4s. He set it up in the long grass by the Implement Shed, with walls and a step that was steep enough to prevent the chick from escaping but not too steep for Mr. Blue and Stormy to enter and get out of. We moved the nest that had been made the night before to the shelter, and I carefully carried the fluffy and light chick in his cupped hands to keep it safe. The chick felt so fluffy and was so light to carry.

After the cyclone subsided, the weather cleared up and I noticed Mr. Blue wandering in the long grass, not too far from the shelter. Suddenly, a harrier flew overhead, and Mr. Blue immediately bolted towards the shelter and perched on top of the chick. It’s heartening to witness Mr. Blue’s protective instinct towards the chick.

Left video recorded by the Tiritiri Matangi DOC rangersRight video recorded by Neil Davies