Australasian bittern/matuku
Image: John Cheyne ©

Introduction

The endangered matuku inhabits wetlands throughout New Zealand. DOC is focusing on developing methods for surveying bittern systematically and for restoring wetlands .

Highlights

New Zealand status: Native
Conservation status:
 Threatened–Nationally Critical
Population: Less than 1,000 in New Zealand
Found in: Wetlands in New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia
Threats: Habitat loss, predation, disturbance

Sound recordings:

Species information: Australasian bittern on NZ Birds Online

Australasian bittern conservation

Globally endangered

Matuku are important to Māori. They appear in language as part of legends, stories, early pictures and metaphor and there are numerous place names referring to them. They were important for food and their feathers were used for ceremonial decoration.

When Europeans arrived they were abundant, but now it is rare to see more than one at a time. Australasian bittern are also found in Australia and New Caledonia, but populations there have declined dramatically and they are now classed globally as endangered.

Dependence on wetlands

In New Zealand, they are mainly found in wetlands of Northland, Waikato, East Coast of the North Island, and the West Coast of the South Island. The most important site nationally for matuku is Whangamarino Wetland in the Waikato.

Matuku are a potential indicator of wetland health because they are dependent on the presence of high quality and ecologically diverse habitats and rich food supplies.

Management tools

Although wetlands support a range of threatened species, management techniques for restoring populations are poorly developed. 

We are focusing on developing methods for surveying and monitoring bittern systematically. These methods will establish baseline data and distribution maps; identify important wetland habitat types for conservation; measure the response of matuku to management such as pest control, habitat maintenance and restoration.

DOC has been developing ‘call counts’ for bittern. These take place with either an observer listening for set times at dawn or dusk for the booming calls of bittern, or with new automatic recorders (electronic recorders developed by the DOC Electronics Lab) recording calls remotely.

We are also developing methods for restoring wetlands through the Arawai Kākāriki programme. Restoration involves developing management tools including methods for controlling weeds and predators, managing water levels water quality, and restoring wetland vegetation and food supplies for bitterns.

You can help

Report all sightings or booming calls of matuku to your nearest DOC office.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set predator traps on our property.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.
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