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Patch story: Piwakawaka

When a beautiful little fantail, or piwakawaka, darts across your path, it’s always a delight. We tend to stop and wonder what message they are trying to empart with their insistent call of “cheet, cheet”.


But it’s more likely they are using you for a quick feed. As your movements stir up insects, they will dart around to feed, using their broad tails to change direction quickly. 


The piwakawaka’s broad diet has helped it adapt to New Zealand’s changing environment, despite cats, rats and stoats who decimate the majority of their offspring. 


For Māori, the fantail represents death. The story goes back to Maui, who got the idea that he could eradicate death by passing through the goddess of death while she slept. Maui warned the piwakawaka to be quiet, but the little bird began laughing and woke the goddess, who was so angry that she killed Maui.


The piwakawaka’s restless challenging behaviour is also said to be an inspiration for some of the moves in the haka.


There are two colours of piwakawaka - pied and black. Juvenile black fantails tend to be more dark brown than black. Black fantails are rare in the North Island, and make up less than 5% of individuals across the South Island. 


Fun fact: Fantails are occasionally seen without tails!   

Experience piwakawaka and other native New Zealand birds for yourself at our private Patch in Wainui, on Banks Peninsula.