Flying High With the Falcon
The New Zealand falcon (kārearea) has finally soared to success as Bird of the Year in Forest & Bird’s eighth annual poll but what makes this bird such an admired and respected high flyer?
“My bird, by power of charm arising, in the glance of an eye, like the sparrowhawk, by this charm shall my bird arise, my bird bestrides the heavens, beyond the swirling waters, like the stars Atutahi and Rehua, and there spread out thy wings, to the very clouds, truly so”. (Archdeacon P. Walsh, 1912, The Manu Aute, New Zealand Herald, November 23 issue)
The majestic kārearea has long been regarded as a high flyer, indeed one of the variations of its name, kārewarewa, can literally mean just that. I once observed an adult female kārearea abandoning a failed nest in a pine plantation and spiralling high into the sky before seemingly disappearing into the ether. Yes, the bird that appears in Māori lore as a messenger to the Gods has finally taken its place among Aotearoa’s avian elite.
I’m biased of course but having been lucky enough to spend three breeding seasons observing and filming wild kārearea I can’t think of a more deserving bird! It’s a bird that truly gets under your skin (and scalp), anyone who has spent any length of time with them will testify to that. I’ve witnessed forestry workers literally choking back tears when observing kārearea in the wild. They are just such remarkably bold and fearless little birds that it’s difficult not to admire them.
I think it was probably that heady mix of fear, respect and admiration that initially drew me to them. The late New Zealand wildlife photographer George Chance, who spent a decade photographing kārearea, once described to me with a wry smile how being dive bombed by kārearea during the breeding season was not so unlike being attacked by Stuka dive-bombers during the Second World War. It’s a comparison that’s stuck with me long since I completed filming of Kārearea: the pine falcon in 2008.
So what makes kārearea such an admired and respected high flyer? Well lets just say that if the Bird of the Year award were to go to New Zealand’s fastest, most agile, most awe inspiring, most fearless, most charismatic, most acrobatic, most high flying, most likely to give you a jolly big thump on the head… I think kārearea could quite possibly win every year!!