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A photo of a Tasmanian Nativehen (Tribonyx mortierii)
Tasmanian Nativehen

Tasmanian Nativehen

Tribonyx mortierii

The Tasmanian nativehen, known locally as narkie, waterhen, or turbo chook, is a robust, flightless bird endemic to Tasmania. It measures between 43 and 51 centimeters in length, with olive-brown upperparts and a distinctive white patch on the flank. The underparts are a darker shade with a bluish-grey hue. A short, nearly black tail is often held erect, and the bird's legs are thick, grey, and scaly, ending in sharp claws. Its eyes are a striking bright red, and it sports a small greenish-yellow frontal shield on its bill.

Identification Tips

Adult nativehens have a stocky build and powerful legs. Juveniles resemble adults but have more subdued colors and fine white spots on the underparts. Males may have slightly longer bills and legs, but the sexes are generally indistinguishable. The bird's bright red eyes and greenish-yellow bill are key features for identification.

Habitat

This species thrives in open grassy areas near water, avoiding the dense forests of Tasmania's west and south-west. It is not native to King or Flinders Island but has been successfully introduced to Maria Island.

Distribution

The Tasmanian nativehen is found throughout Tasmania, except in the west and south-west regions. Fossil records suggest it once inhabited the Australian mainland until about 4700 years ago.

Behaviour

Nativehens are social birds, living in groups and fiercely defending their territories. They are flightless but can run at impressive speeds, using their wings for balance. Their social structure is unique, with groups often including young from the previous season who assist with the care of new chicks.

Song & Calls

With a repertoire of 14 calls, the nativehen communicates through a variety of sounds, from low grunts to high-pitched alarms. They also perform a see-sawing duet that escalates to a screeching crescendo.

Breeding

Breeding can be monogamous or polygamous, with a single breeding female mating with all males in the group. The breeding season is influenced by rainfall and food availability, with the potential for two broods in favorable conditions. Nests are built close to water, and the species lays five to eight eggs per clutch.

Diet and Feeding

Nativehens primarily graze on grass shoots and low herbs during the day. They also consume insects, seeds, and occasionally orchard fruit. Their grazing habits have led to a reputation as agricultural pests, though studies suggest their impact is less significant than that of rabbits.

Conservation Status

The Tasmanian nativehen is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. While populations are currently stable, there is concern over the potential introduction of the red fox to Tasmania, which could pose a threat to the species. Since 2007, the nativehen has been protected under Tasmanian legislation.

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