The pāteke’s omnivorous diet, restricted annual range and mainly terrestrial lifestyle give it a unique ecological niche among waterfowl, somewhat akin to a wetland rodent, and it serves as a classic example of the influence of selective forces that operated on birds in pre-human New Zealand.
Brown teal swimming
The species has suffered an ongoing decline in numbers and range since the late nineteenth century. There are currently estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500 pāteke living in a wild state in New Zealand, making it New Zealand’s rarest waterfowl species on the mainland.
They are a small dabbling duck, mainly brown in colour with a distinctive white eye ring that makes them easily distinguishable from other ducks.
When in breeding plumage, males have a green head that can vary from subtle to very strong iridescent green, sometimes with a white collar on the neck. When not in breeding plumage, both sexes look alike.
The pāteke were once widespread throughout New Zealand. They were distributed throughout the lowland freshwater wetlands, forests, and historically the Chatham Islands.
They are now rare and restricted to Great Barrier Island, coastal valleys of eastern Northland, and several other locations around New Zealand where new populations have been established using translocated birds.
Brown teal swimming, Great Barrier Island
These sites include several predator free islands, Tawharanui (east of Warkworth), the Coromandel Peninsula, Cape Kidnappers and the Clinton-Arthur Valley in Fiordland.
The main populations are at Great Barrier Island (where approximately 900 reside), Northland (where around 400 reside), and Coromandel (where at least 300 reside).
Their habitat is within broad lowland valleys comprising of short-grass pasture, streams, wetlands, estuaries and associated riparian vegetation. Pāteke nest in winter and spring in rushes, sedges or under banks.
They feed at night on invertebrates, fruits, seeds, and vegetation. These are generally found in damp or flooded pasture, lawns, drains, shallow wetlands, estuaries, and wet forest habitats.
Pateke were listed as "Nationally Endangered" until 2008, when the conservation status was changed to "Recovering". This was due to an increase in the number of pāteke around New Zealand.
Pāteke are still at risk of extinction if the threats to the species are not managed. These threats include:
- predation from introduced mammals such as cats, dogs, mustelids (e.g. stoats)
- predation by native predators such as pukeko
- habitat loss through wetland drainage, forest clearance, and estuary reclamation
- road kill
- dry spring and summer conditions which reduce food abundance
- competition and hybridisation with mallards.
In combination these factors have a significant negative impact on pāteke.
Brown teal/pāteke stories: Watch videos, read blog posts by our staff, and check out the latest news articles about brown teal/pāteke and our work with these species.
Brown teal habitat, Takou River, Northland
To return pāteke to a viable level we, as a community, need to bring about full recovery of the species and become involved in the recovery process.
There are four main approaches to recover pāteke nationally:
Brown teal group, Great Barrier Island
- predator control
- habitat restoration
- captive breeding and release of birds to form new safe populations
- raising public awareness to the threats and management opportunities that exist in assisting the species to recover.
The long-term recovery goal is that pāteke are not threatened and are an icon of instream and wetland health, and of conservation-friendly farming practices.
Current work by DOC on pāteke includes:
- securing pāteke at key sites on Great Barrier Island and Northland
- establishing a new large population of pāteke in Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary and the Clinton/Arthur valley in Fiordland, using captive bred birds
- supporting landowners and landcare groups to establish populations at other sites including Cape Kidnappers, Tawharanui, and Tutukaka
- habitat restoration, maintaining pasture levels at suitably short lengths and fencing livestock out of nesting areas, providing zones of riparian vegetation along streams and ponds.
You can help
For more information contact:
Pāteke Recovery Group Leader
Help protect New Zealand's native birds
- Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
- Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar. Feed your cat well, and keep it indoors at night.
- Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks and beaches
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
- Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting shore birds alone.
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
- Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.