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A photo of a Paradise Shelduck (Tadorna variegata), male
Paradise Shelduck, Male

Paradise Shelduck

Tadorna variegata

The paradise shelduck, known to the Māori as pūtangitangi, is a striking and sizeable member of the waterfowl community endemic to New Zealand. Exhibiting pronounced sexual dimorphism, the male boasts a black head and a body adorned with barred black plumage, while the female is distinguished by her white head and rich chestnut body. These birds typically range in size from 63 to 71 centimeters in length and weigh between 1.09 and 2 kilograms.

Identification Tips

To identify the paradise shelduck, look for the chestnut undertail and the black primary wing feathers with green secondary feathers in both sexes. The males have a blue-black head and neck, with a black rump and tail, and a lightly flecked back and flank. Females, on the other hand, have a completely white head and neck with a dark grey back. The young are white with brown markings, and juveniles resemble adults but with less pronounced features.

Habitat

These birds favor open pastures, tussock grasslands, and wetlands, thriving in both mainland and offshore island environments. They are commonly found in the fertile river valleys and high-country lakes of New Zealand.

Distribution

The paradise shelduck is widespread across New Zealand, with significant populations in the North Island, Hawkes Bay, Poverty Bay, Taranaki, and Tongariro National Park. They are also present on various offshore islands and are less common in the high mountain regions and the Canterbury Plains.

Behaviour

Paradise shelducks are known for their lifelong pair bonds and territorial nature. They exhibit various threat postures and calls to deter predators, and parents may use a "broken wing display" to protect their young. These birds are diurnal and can be seen grazing on land or dabbling in water.

Song & Calls

The male paradise shelduck emits a deep, goose-like honk, particularly when in flight or alarmed. The female's call is a high-pitched zeek-zeek, which can be heard over considerable distances.

Breeding

These shelducks are monogamous and breed from their second or third year onwards. They nest in diverse locations, from hollow logs to rabbit burrows, and lay clutches of 5 to 15 eggs. The female incubates the eggs, while the male stands guard, and both parents share the care of the fledglings.

Similar Species

The paradise shelduck may be confused with the Australian shelduck but can be distinguished by the absence of a white collar and chestnut breast band.

Diet and Feeding

Primarily herbivorous, the paradise shelduck grazes on pasture grasses and clover. The young initially consume aquatic insects before transitioning to a herbivorous diet.

Conservation Status

The paradise shelduck is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, with stable populations estimated between 600,000 and 700,000 individuals. Conservation efforts and regulated hunting have contributed to the current healthy status of the species.

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