Pūtangitangi are the only shelducks found in New Zealand. Shelducks are large ducks and have many goose-like characteristics. They have a longer neck and can be seen away from water in open fields where they mostly eat grasses and clover. They are noisy ducks and their call is more like a goose’s honk than the quack of a duck, especially their alarm call. These sounded to early Maori settlers, like the cry made at a tangi (funeral or wake), so they were called pūtangitangi.
When Captain Cook first saw this duck species at Dusky Sound in 1773 he called it the painted duck.
This endemic duck species has increased in numbers as land was cleared. If you drive through the countryside you may see pairs of ducks in paddocks or sitting on the rim of a water trough. The female bird (hen) is more colourful than the male (drake). She has a white head and coppery brown body while the drake has a black head and darker body. They both have a large white patch on their wings.
They prefer nesting sites with a single entrance and with overhead cover such as at the base of rocks or inside trees. They can build nests high in trees and then a day or so after hatching, the ducklings which can’t fly, jump out of the nest to land like small fluffy balls below. The parents then lead them to water where the young can find food. Sometimes they travel overland for more than a kilometer.
To distract potential attackers and lead them away from nest sites or young, the birds pretend to have a broken wing. They moult their wing feathers between January and March and adults flock together in large numbers during this time. This was the traditional time when Maori hunted these birds as they were easy to catch.
Although these birds are protected they may be hunted during the open season in certain areas where numbers are high.