Saturday, January 1, 2011

Paradise in the city

Paradise in the city

Peter Langlands

Revised 140507

In a time when many native birds are declining it is good to celebrate the success stories. One such species, which has recently increased dramatically in numbers, is the Paradise duck (technically known as the Paradise Shelduck, also known by the Maori name of Putangitangi ). So named by Captain Cook, the paradise duck, or “parrie” for short, is only found in New Zealand. Once a rare sight outside of the high country in Canterbury, parries are now ubiquitous throughout lowland Canterbury and urban Christchurch.

During the 1950’s to 1980’s in Canterbury paradise ducks were often only found in high country regions, and extensive shooting had historically reduced their numbers. Paradise ducks are still shot, and are in some regions, such as the West Coast, an important component of the game birder’s bag. In the last few decades’ parries have shown a high level of adaptability and now paradise ducks roost on the top of buildings in the centre of Christchurch, where as in the not so distant past a cliff in a remote part of the high country would be a more typical setting! Just about every park in Christchurch has a pair of parries in it, often standing in stately manner, as if a centre piece, but much more lively than any statue.

Parries are thought to pair together for life, with the birds having different, yet, complimentary calls to each other. The male is jet black with finely speckled feathers. The female has a white head and chestnut coloured body. Unlike most other ducks, were the male is more colourful, the opposite is true for the paradise duck.

Since 1990 paradise ducks have moved into Christchurch, with the Avon and Heathcote Rivers providing routes for colonization for the birds, right into the city’s heart. Large willow trees, with holes in them, make ideal nesting site for the birds. The ducklings will jump out of the hole, sometimes situated many metres up a tree, and bounce on the ground with their resilient little bodies. The ducklings have a dramatic black and white stripped colouration often attracting the attention of people passing by. Large broods are often sighted and are testament to the fact that paradise ducks are nesting successfully in the “Garden City”.

Birds will often be grazing on lawns along the river bank. Rock statures and memorial plaques become roosting sites for parries, with high rise buildings in the background providing a striking setting. Paradise ducks, like other ducks such as mallards, grey ducks and the native black teal (another bird to recently re-colonize into the city’s rivers) have become fearless of people, often allowing approach to within arms length. Spring sees parries chasing each other with raucous fuss as they defend their prime riverbank real estate. The bird’s tameness combined with their comical, and at times very territorial nature, makes them an ideal subject matter for the photographer, or just an entertaining spectacle while having a picnic in the park.

We are lucky that these majestic birds have graced our city, in which paradise ducks historically thrived. It is good to see our native bird life flourishing in an urban environment. While flocks of paradise ducks in the high country may at times be viewed as a pest, to high country farmers, they area welcome sight in the city, bringing an element of the wild and open spaces with them. Whether perched on top of a building in the city’s centre, or on a cliff top in the high country, the paradise duck is an under stated, yet majestic, and iconic bird of our country, which is simply paradise.


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