The weka is one of New Zealand’s iconic large flightless birds. Likely derived from a flighted ancestor, weka are 3-6 times larger than banded rails, which are considered their nearest flying relatives. Weka are charismatic birds that are often attracted to human activity. This makes an encounter with a weka a wildlife highlight for many people, as the curious bird searches for any food item that the intruder might bring. But people who live alongside weka often have a less charitable opinion, as they have to live with ever-watchful weka snatching opportunities to raid vegetable gardens, pilfer poultry food and eggs, and even steal dog food from the bowl. Unfortunately weka are not as robust as they appear, and have become extinct over large tracts of the mainland. Causes of extinction are complex, and are likely to be due to interactions between climatic conditions (especially drought) and predator numbers (especially ferrets, stoats and dogs). Fortunately, weka still thrive at many accessible sites, including on Kawau, Mokoia, Kapiti, Ulva and Chatham Islands, the Marlborough Sounds, North Westland, and parts of the Abel Tasman, Heaphy and Milford Tracks.


The weka is a large flightless rail that can have extremely variable plumage. Most birds are predominantly mid-brown, those on the Chatham Islands are tawny, those from Stewart Island are chestnut, and a proportion in Fiordland and on some islands near Stewart Island are almost black. Most birds have their dorsal feathers streaked with black, and all have their longest wing and tail feathers boldly barred with black. As adults, all have red eyes, a strong pointed bill and strong legs. North Island birds are predominantly grey-breasted with grey bills and brown legs. Western, Stewart Island and buff weka (the latter on Chatham Islands) can vary from having a grey to brown-grey breast with a wide brown breast-band, and having grey to pink bills and brown to pink legs.

Voice: spacing calls are generally given at dawn and in the half hour after sunset. They are a characteristic coo..eet given as a duet by members of a pair, with the male call lower and slower than the female. Other calls include booming, and soft clucking contact calls.

Similar species: the banded rail is much smaller and more boldly marked, including a rufous eye-stripe on an otherwise pale grey face, a broad orange breast band, and underparts boldly barred with black-and-white. Female common pheasants have smaller heads, shorter bills, much longer tails, and will fly if pressed.