Black stilt/kakī

Kakī, or black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae), is a native wading bird only found in New Zealand. It is regarded by Māori as a taonga species – a living treasure.

Once common throughout New Zealand, kakī is now restricted to the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin, South Island.

What do they look like?

Kakī have completely black plumage and long red legs. Young kakī have black and white plumage until 18 months old, when they become all black.

Black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Black stilt/kakī is a native wading bird only found in New Zealand

Where are they found?

Once common throughout New Zealand, kakī are now restricted to the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin, South Canterbury.

At the time of European settlement, kakī were found in many of New Zealand’s rivers and wetlands. There was plenty of habitat and the risk of predation was low.

As European settlement intensified, New Zealand’s environment began to change. Settlers introduced foreign plants and animals, drained wetlands for development, and channelised rivers.

With the spread of new predators and extensive modification of their habitat, by 1981 kakī numbers declined to a low of just 23 birds.

Black stilt/kakī habitat. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Once common throughout New Zealand, black stilt/kakī are now restricted to the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin, South Canterbury

Quick facts

  • Kakī are critically endangered.  
  • Kakī are found in braided riverbeds, side streams, swamps and tarns and sometimes on lake margins and irrigated paddocks if there is good feed available.
  • Most riverbed birds migrate to the coast in winter, but kakī usually continue to feed on the parts of river and delta which do not freeze over.
  • Kakī are opportunistic feeders, mostly taking aquatic insects, molluscs and small fish.
  • They can wade out into deeper, slower moving water than most riverbed birds, reaching reach down to catch insects, such as mayfly and caddisfly larvae, on the river bottom.
  • Sometimes they dart at insects and small fish in shallow rapids or muddy areas
  • Unlike pied stilts and other waders, they can also feed by using a scything motion with their bill.

Breeding and nesting

Kakī first breed when aged two or three years, and are known to mate for life. If they cannot find a kakī mate, they may sometimes breed with the pied stilt, a close relative.

Each pair of kakī defends a territory, and nest alone, on stable banks near the water in braided riverbeds, side streams and swamps.

Black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Kakī first breed when aged two or three years, and are known to mate for life

They rely on camouflage to protect their eggs and chicks, and actively defend their nests. Incubation is shared equally by the parents and takes 25 days. Within hours, newly hatched chicks can hunt for food and swim if necessary.

Sound recordings

Listen to or download recordings of black stilt/kakī song.

Adult black stilt/kakī song (MP3, 2,380K)
2 minute 36 second recording of territorial and alarm calls of two adult black stilt/kakī protecting their young.

Find more bird song recordings

Help with files: see Open and save files.
Copyright of files: Song files may be reused as long as you attribute the work to the Department of Conservation. Read our Copyright terms.

Black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
With the support of landowners, recreationalists and the general public, we hope that kakī will thrive in their natural habitat once more

Threats

The main threats to kakī include:

  • Predators – especially introduced mammalian predators like feral cats and ferrets.
  • Habitat loss and modification – such as hydroelectric and agricultural development and weed invasion.
  • Human disturbance – recreational users of riverbeds and wetlands can crush eggs or chicks and scare adult kakī away from their nests.

The challenge now is to learn how and when to manage these threats. Targeted research will help to identify the most effective and efficient management techniques to use.

With the support of landowners, recreationalists and the general public, we hope that kakī will thrive in their natural habitat once more.

DOC staff with black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
DOC staff with black stilt/kakī

DOC's work

Black stilt/kakī stories: Watch videos, read blog posts by DOC staff, and check out the latest news articles about these species.

Kakī recovery programme

Kakī have been intensively managed since 1981, when their population declined to a low of just 23 birds. The Department of Conservation’s captive breeding centre, near the town of Twizel in the Mackenzie Basin, plays an important role in the Kakī Recovery Programme.

Releasing black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Releasing black stilt/kakī

A number of kakī pairs are held at the centre for captive breeding. All kakī eggs are artificially incubated and the young chicks are raised in captivity. At 2–9 months they are released into the wild. Rearing them in captivity significantly increases their chances of survival by preventing predation when they are most vulnerable, (as chicks and eggs).

Twizel Area School made trap boxes for the kaki project. Photo: K.Mckinley.
Students of Twizel Area School made boxes for predator traps, to help kakī

Conservation efforts to date have succeeded in averting extinction and increasing kakī numbers. By 2005, kakī numbers in the wild had increased to 55 adults, including 11 pairs. The next phase of the recovery programme will address the complex issues associated with managing kakī in the wild.

Keep up to date

For more information and regular updates, visit our Kakī Recovery Programme Facebook page.

You can help

Black stilt/kakī. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
You can help by following the river care code when you're at the Mackenzie Basin

When recreating in the riverbeds of the Mackenzie Basin, follow the river care code. Minimise the risk to nesting birds by driving on marked tracks, learning about and responding appropriately to bird behaviour, keeping pets off riverbeds or dogs on a leash.

River care code

  • River birds nest on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are almost impossible to spot from a vehicle. Please refrain from driving in riverbeds from August to December.
  • Birds swooping, circling or calling loudly probably have nests nearby. Move away so they can return to them, or their eggs and chicks could die.
  • A dog running loose can wreak havoc. Leave your dog at home or keep it under strict control.
  • Jet boats disturb birds and can wash away nests near the water’s edge. The speed limit for boats is 5 knots within 200 m of the bank.

Kakī Visitor Hide

You can take a guided tour of the Kakī Visitor Hide, near Twizel in the Mackenzie Basin, and learn about the ecology and conservation of these unique birds. The hide is next to the captive breeding centre and overlooks aviaries where kakī pairs are held.

Tours can be booked during spring and summer and there is a facility for collecting donations.

Kakī Visitor Hide


Related link

back to top

 

Find out more

Learn more

New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.