Brown teal, or pāteke, is a small dabbling duck species endemic to New Zealand.
They were distributed throughout the lowland freshwater wetlands, forests, and historically the Chatham Islands.
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.
The pāteke were once widespread throughout New Zealand but 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.
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.
Pāteke: features and ecology
- They now number over 2,000 birds nationally.
- The main populations are at Great Barrier Island (where approximately 900 reside), Northland (where around 400 reside), and Coromandel (where at least 300 reside).
- 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.
- Their habitat is within broad lowland valleys comprising of short-grass pasture, streams, wetlands, estuaries and associated riparian vegetation.
- 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.
- Pāteke nest in winter and spring in rushes, sedges or under banks.
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 DOC staff, and check out the latest news articles about brown teal/pāteke and DOC's 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 being undertaken by the Department of Conservation on the 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
You can assist us with the recovery of pāteke by reporting all sightings of pateke and assisting in the removal and or reduction of threats to the species.
For further information you can contact your nearest Department of Conservation office or contact:
Pāteke Recovery Group Leader