Orokonui Wildlife

2024 Sanctuaries Conference at Orokonui

Orokonui Ecosanctuary – Te Korowai o Mihiwaka is excited to be hosting the 2024 Sanctuaries of New Zealand (SONZI) conference in August 2024. This annual meeting is a great opportunity for conservationists around the motu to come together to discuss shared wins, challenges, and aspirations.

The meeting will be held over three days from 13th-15th August 2024, with the venue being the Orokonui visitor’s centre.

Tuesday 13th August: Science Day – A curated collection of talks of sanctuary relevant conservation science.

Wednesday 14th August: SONZI Day – Presentations and discussions on governance, finance, relationships, and sanctuaries. As well as soapbox sessions from those working in the sanctuary space.

Thursday 15th August: SONZI AGM & Field trips – Fields trips at Orokonui to support a range of interests and fitness.

The programme and other details including a link to register can be found here

To register use this link

Orokonui Wildlife

Help Count Kākā this Feb

Hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time go towards caring for kākā at Orokonui. From keeping the sanctuary mammalian predator free, checking nest boxes, filling and cleaning feeders, banding and surveying, and educating people. It’s suffice to say these charismatic taoka keep us busy. But is all this mahi working? Are kākā numbers on the increase? We need your help to learn more about the population.

For the week of the 26th February to 3rd March we are asking anyone and everyone around Ōtepoti/Dunedin to report all kākā they see, every day this week to the kākā database. Whether you see it in your backyard, the sanctuary, or local park we want to know when, where and the bands(if possible) of every kākā spotted.

Why is this so important?

South island kākā are classed as threatened – nationally vulnerable. Meaning they are vulnerable to further decline if nothing is done. A small population of kākā were established at Orokonui, starting in 2008. Before this kākā were lost from this area for around 150 years. While this population is thought to be growing, surveying kākā can be tricky as they are highly mobile. By getting everyone involved for a week we will get a better understanding of how many kākā are in the population, and how far from the sanctuary they are being sighted. This information will help us at Orokonui manage their population better, but will also help guide predator control and habitat enhancement efforts outside the sanctuary.

What to do if you see or hear a kākā

Whenever you see or hear a kākā during the count you can report it straight away to the kākā database here. Or write down the details somewhere and report it later. Photos and videos can be really useful if you have a camera nearby. They can be especially useful for helping to read leg bands.

If you have any trouble reporting kākā, or identifying individuals send through any photos or videos to

How do I know if it’s a kākā?

Most of the time kākā are quite obvious but their can be times where they can be a bit more tricky. The easiest time to confuse kākā for other birds is in flight. You can see in the image below the characteristic red can be hard to make out against the light from above. Kākā have shorter wings and flap more than a kāhu/harrier, their wings don’t come to a sharp point like a kārearea/falcon, and their undersides do not appear pale like a kererū.

South island kākā from below. Oscar Thomas.

Another give away of a kākā in any situation are their calls, they are vocal and social birds. So listening out for their calls can be a great way to tell where they are, especially at dawn and dusk when they tend to be most vocal. You can listen to a variety of calls on the birds NZ website

If you want to confirm what you heard, or saw are kākā you can always send a photo, video, or audio recording through to

How to read leg bands?

To help us gain more knowledge and manage this population, most of the kākā are banded. Each banded kākā will have a series of bands that create a unique colour combination for that individual. To read the leg bands start on the left leg (from the kākā’s perspective) and read top to bottom, then the same on the right leg. Reading leg bands can be tricky but provides great information

I saw a kākā with no leg bands!

There are always a few kākā in the population without leg bands. They may not have been banded as chicks in the sanctuary because the nest was inaccessible, or they may have been born in a nest outside the sanctuary. Recording unbanded kākā is just as important as recording banded ones, just select the unbanded category when reporting the sighting.

I am not in Dunedin but I saw a kākā

Awesome! It is always special to see a kākā wherever you are in Aotearoa/NZ. However, this project is focused on the kākā found around Dunedin. You can still help scientists in other parts of the country by making an observation of your kākā sighting using iNaturalist or eBird.


Taking time to learn more about tuatara

The warm summer nights provided the perfect opportunity for tuatara monitoring to take place. Tuatara were first re-introduced to roam freely in Orokonui in 2012 as part of a partnership with Ngāti Koata, kaitiaki of the tuatara on Takapourewa/Stephen’s Island in the Marlborough Sounds, and with the support of mana whenua of Orokonui, Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. Since then, we have had several exciting milestones, from finding tuatara spreading through new parts of Orokonui, to the first sightings of hatchlings in early 2020. 

Researcher Scott Jarvie and Orokonui Educator Taylor try to pattern match one of the Orokonui tuatara to identify the individual.

Monitoring the tuatara population is an important part of understanding how these precious taonga are going at Orokonui and what work needs to be done to facilitate their return to this landscape. Orokonui has been lucky to have the support and expertise of the University of Otago, and now the Otago Regional Council, in monitoring these incredible reptiles. 

On one warm night in late January 2023, 17 individuals were captured and measured, a new record for a single night at the sanctuary! Some of the individuals measured have doubled in weight since release, an encouraging sign.  

With tuatara though, conservation requires patience. Despite breeding occurring it will be a long time before tuatara could be considered common in Orokonui. Requiring 10-20 years to reach breeding age, with eggs that can take longer than 18 months to hatch, growing a tuatara population is a marathon rather than a sprint. 

A tuatara tick sits on the skin of an Orokonui tuatara. A long shared evolutionary history has made these ticks as vulnerable as their hosts. 

One cool observation was the presence of tuatara ticks on several individuals. These specialist parasites are rarer than their already rare hosts. In some other translocations ticks have been lost, but only time will tell if they establish in Orokonui. This is a good reminder of the need to protect all wildlife, not just our beautiful birds. 

You can read more about the history of Tuatara at Orokonui in this article written by researcher Alison Cree

To see tuatara at Orokonui it is still best to visit the grasslands enclosure on a warm day.


A cacophony of kākā chicks

If you’ve visited Orokonui lately you may have noticed the cacophony of young kākā playing and making a racket across the sanctuary. This is a result of another successful kākā breeding season at Orokonui.

This season 15 chicks fledged from five known nests within the sanctuary. Three of these were in our special nest boxes and three in the cavities of large kāpuka/broadleaf trees.  There may also be nests that we didn’t detect; these could be in cavities near the tops of trees, or in less frequented areas of the sanctuary. An increasing number of sightings of unbanded birds suggests at least a few chicks were fledged from these hidden retreats. 

A measurement of the upper beak of the kākā tells us the sex of the bird

It can be up to 81 days from the time a kākā hatches to when it leaves the nest, so we are sure many kākā parents are feeling a deep sense of relief at this time of year!

One set of caring kākā parents has quite a remarkable story. The two kākā, known as Mr and Mrs Willowbank, spent 10 years in an aviary in Christchurch before being released at Orokonui. During their time in captivity they had stopped breeding and it was thought best to give them a taste of the wild life. This year they raised two chicks in a tree cavity near the Pōkākā Loop Track in the sanctuary. With lifespans of 30 years or longer, hopefully they will have many more sets of chicks in the future. 

Bands help us identify kākā, and facilitate research

Look out at the feeders for birds marked with red primary leg bands as this is the colour that designates this year’s cohort of chicks. You can help us monitor that kākā population by recording your kākā sightings (at Orokonui, home, or elsewhere) in the Orokonui kākā database.

To report sightings head here

Remember, too, if any of these cheeky rascals turn up to your place please avoid feeding them human foods like nuts as these can make them very unwell, and teach them bad behaviours. Trust us, they don’t need anymore help with that!

After a short excursion being banded, weighed, measured and checked over. Young kākā are out back in the nest to finish their development.