Lost Birds
© Birds of the World | Cornell Lab of Ornithology [Tim Worfolk]

South Island Kōkako

Callaeas cinereus


Wattlebirds (Callaeidae)



(114 years)




Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)


The two kōkakos are members of a small family endemic to New Zealand, the wattlebirds. Unlike its blue-wattled cousin from the North Island, the leathery facial wattles of this species are orange. Although currently listed as Possibly Extinct, a recent sight record (2007) was endorsed by the national records committee (Miskelly et al. 2013), providing tantalizing hope that the bird continues to persist.

Conservation Status

As a result of that 2007 sighting, the New Zealand Department of Conservation changed the South Island Kōkako's classification from "extinct" to "data deficient," meaning evidence is required to confirm whether the bird is extant or extinct.

Last Documented

Despite considerable effort, the last dated and uncontroversial documentation that we were able to locate was a December 1909 specimen. That said, there is compelling evidence that a poached skin (1928) and an "excellent photograph" (April 1930) may still exist, both of which were obtained from Stewart Island.

Challenges & Concerns

New Zealand's birds are facing a losing battle against introduced predators, such as stoats, rats, cats, and possums, as well as other threats brought by humans, including vehicles, habitat destruction, and climate change. Should the South Island Kōkako have a chance of survival, it will be in native forests where there has been landscape-scale predator control over many years. Some of the reports received and made by the South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust are from national parks, where predator control by the Department of Conservation has been underway for decades.

Ongoing Work

The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust formed in 2010 to find evidence of this bird's existence, evaluate the current body of evidence, and organize systematic searches at the most likely sites. The trust gathered all known reports of possible encounters and, in 2017, launched a public campaign to invite everyone around South Island and Stewart Island to be their eyes and ears. In the following six years, they received ~400 new encounter reports, with ~18% graded as "probable" by the Trust's experts. To explore all of the possible encounters, check out their interactive map.

The Trust's focus is to confirm that the bird persists so that appropriate conservation action can commence. One concern is that only a handful of isolated males may survive, leaving the species functionally extinct. At the sites of the best encounter reports, fieldwork comprises follow-up searches, as well as deploying recorders and trail cameras. Collaborations with scientists in the fields of bioacoustics and environmental DNA support this work. It is hoped that encounter records can soon be analyzed using an extinction model by Australian scientists.

To learn more about the work of the Trust, recieve their latest news, or to make a donation, please visit https://www.southislandkokako.org/

Page Editors

  • Search for Lost Birds
  • Cameron Rutt
  • Inger Perkins

Species News

  • Nothing Yet.

Become an Editor

Share your expertise about a Lost Bird by completing its species profile.