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 kōkako 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 an even bigger 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 Mōhua Investments LtdNZ Lottery Grants Board, Rata FoundationFirst Sovereign Trust, The Sargood Bequest, Scotlands Te Kiteroa Charitable Trust and in-kind assistance from the Department of Conservation.  

We have received - and followed up - some truly exciting reports of the bird - you can view a map of encounters reported to us recently here. 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 REWARD is now $10,000

The Trust will pay a reward of $10,000 (NZD) for the first information received that results in confirmation that the South Island kōkako is still alive.  We are hugely grateful to the two sponsors of this reward, initially Mōhua Investments Ltd and now The Morgan Foundation, who have matched the earlier reward of $5,000.

We’re appealing to you all - 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, the Trustees of the South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust, will assess any evidence obtained by you and supplied to us. We will ask independent expert ornithologists to appraise it too. If the SIKCT Trustees all agree that you have found the first definitive proof of survival, we will honour our promise to pay the reward. The Board of the Trust will be final arbiter in this decision and reserves the right to make all final decisions, including sharing the reward if deemed appropriate.

What sort of evidence will do? We’d prefer a verifiable photograph or video of the bird or other physical evidence of survival such as a feather.

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.  Although smart phones have voice recording capability, there are better apps for recording bird song - read more here.

Your recollections of encounters from the past can also be valuable in adding to our knowledge base.

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

The place to start is our fabulous new map showing you all possible encounters with the South Island kōkako. Use different basemaps and layers to fine tune the map to suit areas of interest to you and click on data points to read more about individual encounters. The map was published in January 2019 and is maintained up to date with new encounter reports. We are hugely indebted to map creator and keen searcher, Jordan Miller.

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

To inspire you to get out and look for the South Island kokako and enjoy our native forests, here's a video from searcher Charles Nimmo, who spent a couple of days in Victoria Forest Park (Sept 2017, sound track by Oakley Grennel, with Mark Vanilau on vocals).

Click on the image from Victoria Forest Park > 



what to look out for:

Original photo of NI kōkako by Martin Sanders, altered to illustrate silhouette

Original photo of NI kōkako by Martin Sanders, altered to illustrate silhouette

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

Original photo by Mark Darin, altered to illustrate kōkako silhouette

Original photo NI kōkako by Mark Darin, altered to illustrate silhouette

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 kōkako 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 kōkako call (from nzbirdsonline):     

NI kōkako sound file

Recording of bird song in the Grey Valley, 24 March 2017, believed to be SI kōkako:    

Other similar bird calls you may hear (from nzbirdsonline) for comparison   

Tui           Kaka (several birds)           Bellbird

Other birds you may see that could resemble a kōkako from a distance (from nzbirdsonline)

Long-tailed Cuckoo California Quail

(And you can use nzbirdsonline to help identify any bird you may see.)


Bellbird activity: A call from a SI kōkako 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 kōkako. 

If you'd like to print the information you need to remind you of the details, we have produced a handy SI kōkako flier.

We have a short presentation about the Trust and the Search as a pdf.


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

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

NI kōkako 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 kōkako 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 kōkako, 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 possible encounters in recent years

Click on map for up to date interactive map

Copyright question: We have been asked who would own the evidence when found and shared with the Trust, for example a photo, video or other recording. Such material would remain the property of the photographer/person who made the recording. The Trust would first use it to seek confirmation that the evidence is of the South Island Kōkako.

If confirmed by appropriately qualified ornithologists, the Trust would then seek permission from the photographer to publish the material to share the exciting news, either using the original or perhaps a low resolution copy, and/or could pass any media queries back to the photographer.

The Trust notes that such an image or recording may prove to have monetary value to the owner and acknowledges their right to that value. However, such value may be on top of the reward offered by the Trust and would have been achieved through the search and other efforts managed and promoted by the Trust, a charitable not-for-profit organisation. We hope some of any such value could be used to support the ongoing conservation efforts for South Island kōkako.

Acknowledgement: We're grateful to the following organisations for supporting our search campaign: