What a surprise and a delight to find this large all-white bird at Waikawa Beach. It’s not a Royal Spoonbill though. These critically endangered birds are usually found only at their breeding site, Okarito Lagoon on the West Coast, but one recently found its way to wetlands on Reay Mackay Grove. He aha tērā? What is that?
Photo by Kezna Cameron. Used with permission.
Answer: it’s a kōtuku, white heron:
Identification: Length: 83-103 cm; Weight: 700-1200 g
Similar species: Plumed egret, Cattle egret, Little egret, Royal spoonbill
A large white heron with a long pointed yellow bill, a gape that extends well behind the eye, long dark legs, and a very long neck. In flight, it retracts its head so that the length of its neck is hidden, giving it a hunched appearance.
The white heron or kotuku is well-loved by the New Zealand people, but it is rarely seen except by those who specifically seek it out. Its sole New Zealand breeding site near Okarito Lagoon in Westland is well-known and well-protected, but elsewhere it is ‘He kotuku rerenga tahi’ or the bird of single flight, implying something seen perhaps once in a lifetime. When seen in close proximity it is a magnificent bird, with its large size and clean white plumage.