Habitat Tours' bird of the month: The Morepork
The morepork is an incredibly special bird to us here at Habitat Tours. Not only do we often see them flitting through the trees during our night-time tours to Tawharanui, but they are also New Zealand’s only surviving native owl.
Fortunately, the morepork is currently classified as not threatened, and you can find them in many places around New Zealand in forests and on offshore islands. The only places you won’t typically find them is in the large open areas around Canterbury and Otago in the South Islands.
The Maori name for the morepork is the ruru, which is a nod to its distinct, haunting calls. Additionally, the ruru is enshrouded in Maori myth, where it is said that this bird originated from the underworld. In fact, it is believed that ancestral spirits can take the form of a ruru, and act as a guardian (or kaitiaki) who protects, warns and advises its descendants. As well as this, it’s also believed that if a ruru enters the home or sits near it, there will be a death in the family.
A night-dweller, the morepork sleeps during the days and spends its nights hunting. It can turn its head through 270 degrees, and has acute hearing, sharp talons and a powerful beak, making for a formidable predator. The morepork will generally eat bugs such as beetles and caterpillars, as well as small birds, rats and mice.
Another fact that makes this bird a stealthy hunter is the same one that can make them hard to find during tours – they are incredibly quiet during flight. They have soft fringes on their feather edges, which means they can sneak up on prey virtually undetected, so we have to be extra vigilant by trying to spot one, because it’s unlikely we would ever hear it coming!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist