Male matuku-hūrepo found on SH12 17 August 2023
Image: Reuben Booth | DOC


Two critically threatened matuku-hūrepo/Australasian bittern were killed on a stretch of State Highway 12 between Rotu Forest and Maitahi, just outside Dargaville in recent weeks.

Date:  29 September 2023

The two birds – members of a seldom seen species known for their booming calls – were found within a few metres of each other.

DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger Reuben Booth is pleading drivers to take more care when driving around the Kauri Coast district.

“The section of State Highway 12 between Rotu Forest and Maitahi Road crosses several wetlands that are favoured habitat of the matuku-hūrepo,” he says.

“There have been several sightings of these rare birds in this area in the last couple of months.

“Another bird was seen by a DOC ranger on her way to work and she was able to park her car and chase it off the road on foot in time to prevent the bittern being struck by a car.”

In 2012 a dead matuku-hūrepo was recovered from this same section of State Highway 12. Another hotspot for the birds is the road to Pouto Peninsula, close to State Highway 12.

A necropsy on one of the birds found on State Highway 12 confirmed it was killed by vehicle strike. Its stomach contents contained several skinks.

“We suspect these birds have been feeding on reptiles on the roadside putting them at risk from vehicles.

“We’re asking drivers to be very vigilant and slow down if there’s any sign of wildlife near the road,” says Reuben.

Te Uri o Hau Kaitiaki Colin French echoed that plea: “It would be good for drivers to be aware this is a rare and taonga species. Slow down, they won't always run as sometimes they will stand still like a stick as a defence mechanism to camouflage themselves from predators or threats.”

DOC has partnered with Te Uri o Hau and Te Roroa on a significant conservation effort to protect and understand this cryptic species.

The brown and white speckled bitterns are very rare – even the death of a single bird can be quite harmful to the overall population.

Injured or dead birds should be reported through the DOC hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468), or make contact with your local DOC office.

Further information

Matuku-hūrepo/ Australasian bittern are a large “Nationally Critical” threatened wetland bird. There are thought to be only 1000 or fewer individuals left nationwide.

Observations of matuku-hūrepo/Australasian bittern can be loaded to the iNaturalist application or the Bittern encounter form on Northland Regional Council's website.


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