What’s in our wetlands?
MĀORI: Matuku, Matuku-hūrepoENGLISH: Australasian Bittern
Matuku is a large heron-like bird native to New Zealand,Australia, and New Caledonia. They live in shallow and densely vegetated wetlands. Matuku is very secretive, they hide among raupō and reed vegetation where they can blend in perfectly with their surroundings. They hunt fish (including eels), mice,spiders, insects, molluscs, worms, freshwater crayfish, frogs,lizards, and even young birds. Bittern males “boom” in the evenings or on dull days during breeding season (Sep-Feb) to attract females, and guard their territory.
- When disturbed, they adopt a “freezing” pose, with its beak vertical, virtually disappearing from sight (even swaying with the surrounding plants on a windy day)
- They can reach 70 cm long and males can weigh up to 1.4 kg
- They can travel 100s of km, in NZ the longest trip recorded was 140km
- They use a network of wetlands, moving around as water levels change
Threats and conservation
- Matuku is Nationally Critical, the last step before becoming extinct (same category as kākāpō)
- The total population in NZ is estimated between 250-1000 mating individuals with a predicted and ongoing 50-70% decline
- They have lost 90% of their original wetland habitat (drainage)
- Introduced predators (cats, stoats, rats) eat their eggs and young
- Starvation has been found in some birds, indicating poor freshwater ecosystem health in the surrounding areas (not enough food)
In our area
Matuku lives in our area! (North Rodney). Kaipara Harbour, South Head and Tapora in the west and Mangawhai, Pakiri and Whangateau Harbour in the east provide some of the remaining wetland habitats where the species is still present.
Local groups such as South Kaipara Landcare, Takatu Landcare, Whangateau Harbour Care, Mataia Restoration Project and The Forest Bridge Trust work on the restoration of their habitat by fencing, planting, and doing predator control.
Want to help?
- Protect wetland habitat by fencing and planting riparian vegetation
- Control predators around wetland areas (rats, feral cats, mustelids)
- Slow down when driving around their habitat
- Have you seen Matuku? Record and report any Matuku sighting (iNaturalist or eBird) and booming calls via the OK Boomer database
- Support community groups working on the restoration of your local wetlands (www.theforestbridgetrust.org.nz/volunteers/)