Back from extinction

New Zealand’s largest surviving flightless bird and the world’s biggest living rail species, the takahē was thought to be extinct until 1948 when tramper and bird enthusiast, Dr Geoffrey Orbell, confirmed its existence in the Murchison Mountains. This amazing discovery was the start of a conservation journey that pioneered conservation techniques for protected species not only in New Zealand but around the world. Since this time, thanks to the collective mahi of Department of Conservation (DOC), Ngāi Tahu and many organisations (including Auckland Zoo since 2013), the population of takahē has now grown to around 500.

Is it just a fat pūkeko?

Nah! Although pūkeko and takahē are both rail species*, takahē are much larger (nearly twice the size in fact!) as pūkeko. The smaller pūkeko can fly, while the takahē is flightless. The spectacularly iridescent feathers of the takahē are what really sets them apart. From dark blue on their head, peacock blue on the shoulders and olive-green and blue-black wings, their colouration makes them truly distinctive.

*rails are a family of small-medium sized ground-dwelling birds with short wings, large feet and long toes.

At the Zoo:

We're lucky to care for a pair of takahē at Auckland Zoo and just like their feathered friends the kākāpō, every individual is known by name. Female Whito takes her name from the te Reo word for little and male Bligh is named after Bligh Sound in Fiordland, where the last stronghold of takahē were found. 

Alpine lawn mowers

Takahē mainly eat grass stalks! Check out their strong beak - it is perfect for cutting and stripping the base of tussock to get at the juicy new growth. At the Zoo, we supplement their grass with pellets, mealworms, locusts, grated carrots and apple to ensure a healthy diet.

Living up high, but on the down low

Takahē can be seen in the High Country habitat in Te Wao Nui. This habitat replicates the South Island alpine and sub-alpine zones. You will see high country plant species such as tussock grass. Other native plants that replicate the look and feel of actual sub-alpine species are also planted, as most would not survive in Auckland’s warmer and more humid climate.


We're helping to safeguard the rare takahē!

Follow our bird keepers Chris and Devon as they perform health checks, vaccinations, and transmitter changes on Motutapu Island

In the Wild

Origin: Endemic to New Zealand

Habitat: Alpine tussock grassland, also sub-alpine scrub and beech forest in winter when snow covers the grassland. Now with increased conservation efforts, takahē can also be found on offshore islands and mainland reserves in both the North and South Islands.  

Conservation status: Nationally Vulnerable (NZTCS)

About half the adult population of takahē are fitted with transmitters allowing regular monitoring via an aircraft fitted with a receiver (sky ranger) and creating a clear picture of what is happening to takahē in the wild.


Takahē pair make Rotoroa Island home

Kuīni, a feisty young takahē and mate Anzac started a new life on Rotoroa Island. Follow their journey to the island in this episode of Zoo Tales.

How we’re helping:

Auckland Zoo also plays a significant role in takahē conservation. On average staff contribute over 8000 hours annually carrying out conservation fieldwork, with over 400 hours dedicated to takahē alone.

Each year, Zoo bird keepers Chris and Devon travel to predator-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf and North Island mainland sites where takahē live. Here they administer disease-preventative vaccines, attach radio transmitters that track these birds’ movements, and take blood samples – the results of which help optimise genetic diversity and breeding productivity. 

Why are we doing it?

Regular health checks and monitoring of wild populations are important because with such a small population, every bird is precious.

Auckland Zoo works alongside the Takahē Recovery Programme, DOC, iwi and a network of people around New Zealand, to ensure the takahē is never again considered extinct.