The Search

SI kokako wanted poster.  Original image of NI kokako by Tara Swan, creative touches by Oscar Thomas and Geoff Reid

SI kokako wanted poster.  Original image of NI kokako by Tara Swan, creative touches by Oscar Thomas and Geoff Reid

The search for the South Island kokako commenced four decades ago.

In the early days, just a few individuals were looking, assisted occasionally by DOC and its predecessors.

Recently, many more people have joined the effort and we’re now calling on all backcountry users to be our eyes and ears.

We need you and we're offering you a reward.

The Trust has changed the game by organising systematic searches in sites it ranks as most likely to result in an encounter.

We have been assisted in this work by Mohua Investments LtdNZ Lottery Grants Board, Rata FoundationFirst Sovereign Trust, The Sargood Bequest and in-kind assistance from the Department of Conservation.  

We have received – and followed up - some truly exciting reports of the bird. Yet despite our hard work, we have yet to determine for sure that the bird survives. 

We need to lift the game again. That’s why we’re offering a reward for good information, first to capture the public imagination; and second to encourage more people to be vigilant for the bird.


The Trust will pay a reward of $5,000 (NZD) for information resulting in confirmation that the South Island kokako is still alive.

Now we’re appealing to you - birders, trampers, hunters, pest managers and all other backcountry users - to be the additional ears and eyes of the search effort.

This remarkable bird needs you! And we need credible reports so that we can act swiftly to conserve the species. 

We will assess any evidence you send us. We will ask independent expert ornithologists to appraise it too. If we all agree that you have found the first definitive proof of survival, we’ll honour our promise to pay the reward.

What sort of evidence will do? We’d prefer a verifiable photograph of the bird or other physical evidence of survival. Please do not shoot a bird to satisfy our requirements!

Please tell us about calls you hear. Bear in mind though, calls alone are not definitive evidence of survival. Too many other birds can call in a similar way (particularly tuis and kaka). For this reason, we are less likely to be convinced by calls alone. But we’d be delighted to listen to what you’ve recorded.

Where’s best to look? Anywhere in the forests of the western South Island and Stewart Island. Especially those forests benefiting from sustained pest control.   

If you’d like to receive regular updates on reports and the search itself, email

Illustration by Sid Marsh

Illustration by Sid Marsh

what to look out for:

Size: Larger than a tui and smaller than a pigeon

Shape: Long legs, relatively long tail, short rounded wings in flight, short stocky beak with downward curve

Colour: Dark grey or grey-blue in colour, black facial mask with an orange wattle (range from straw-orange-red in colour) 

Movements: Hopping, bounding or running gait, may be seen hopping along or up or down branches or tree trunks

When: The more active times of year are likely to be April to early June and October-December

Where: Native forests in South and Stewart Islands


Song: The song has a sharp clarity compared with tui or other songbirds, particularly for flute- light notes.  Also a 'hollow' depth to some notes, like a wind instrument or blowing across the top of a bottle.  Occasionally similar to a NI kokako with 'mews', haunting organ-like and ringing bell-like notes and song, and a noise that sounds like 'took'.  It's likely to stop you in your tracks!

Click here to listen to the similar NI kokako call (from nzbirdsonline) [NI kokako call - sound file] 


Bellbird activity: A call from a SI kokako might also elicit a noticeable increase in the number of bellbirds singing and a dramatic change in their 'dialect' from multiple note songs to persistently repetitive single-note bells.

Moss grubbing: Among large clumps of moss growing on logs or the forest floor, ‘powder puff’ pieces of moss, up to 18cm in diameter, have been neatly clipped at the base generally without soil or litter attached (rather than pulled or kicked, as by weka and blackbird), and these pinched out pieces are often grouped together, possibly even in their thousands.  Sometimes the moss area is described as having been ‘ploughed’, and the sign differs from any known from other animals in New Zealand; it is believed to have been made by a SI kokako. 


If you believe you have seen or heard a possible kokako, please use our Log an Encounter form to contact the Trust.

NI kokako photograph by Tara Swan, "photoshopped" with permission by Oscar Thomas

NI kokako photograph by Tara Swan, "photoshopped" with permission by Oscar Thomas

We ask for contact details so that we can get in touch, and for the date, location and a brief description of your encounter.  If you have an image, please attach it or email it to us:

Please note, your encounter doesn’t have to have been recent.  You may have an encounter lodged in your memory that remains unresolved.  If it fits the bill, please log it with an approximate date or year.

From the collection of the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa

From the collection of the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa

The Trust will get in touch to discuss more details.  We look forward to your report and working together to ensure that the magnificent South Island kokako does not wind up as a museum piece and a record in a history book.

Could you be the one that finds that conclusive proof and earns the reward?  We hope so!


Strategic plan for the conservation of the South Island Kokako, February 2014  (pdf)
This strategy contains valuable background material and is a very good source of information for prospective searches.  However, please note that it is now a little out of date and the Trust's direction has changed somewhat but the end goal remains the same.

Brief Strategy, South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust, February 2017 (pdf). 

SIKCT February 2017

map of probable encounters in recent years

You can explore our database of recent encounters below.