Story: Te tāhere manu – bird catching

Page 4. Spears, rods, hands and traps

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The short spears known as maiere were 3 to 4 metres long. They were used to take birds on shrubs and small trees. Long spears – 6 to 11 metres – were called tao kaihua, taoroa or just tao. They were used on big trees with outspread branches. Because they were so long, they were not carried, but were dragged along by the front end.

Bird spears were made from tawa wood, kāpara (heartwood of rimu or kahikatea), or occasionally aka (stems of climbing plants). They had a barbed point (tara), sometimes detachable. Tara were made from bone (often human), from hardwood or hard parts of tree-fern trunks, or even from stingray spine or pounamu (greenstone). A tree on which the spear was used was known as a kaihua or rākau wero. Kākā were speared on rātā, kōwhai and tāwari trees.

Mother knows best

A legend tells how the demigod trickster Māui was bird-spearing with his brothers. But every time they speared a bird, it escaped, as there was no barb on the spear. Māui told his mother, Taranga, how hopeless the expedition had been, so she advised him to fashion a point with barbs. He did and was able to spear birds successfully. This explains the origin of the tara kāniwha (barbed point).

Tari method

The tari method involved a noose tied with a slip knot on a rod. Fowlers needed to get close enough to slip the noose over the bird’s head. They would entice the bird with a small branch or a decoy bird, or by mimicking the bird’s call. To catch a weka, the fowler would rustle a branch in one hand. This brought the bird close enough to put the noose over its head.

Hauhau method

In the hauhau method, the fowler set up a pae kōkō (tūī perch), a 2.5-metre-long rod lashed on a slant to two saplings. The fowler hid in a shelter, such as a whare rau ponga (tree-fern frond hut). Birds were often attracted with a decoy, or by imitating their call. The fowler would hold the rod against the perch. When a bird landed, it was hit with a mighty blow, using the hauhau manu (bird-striker) – a thick, round rod, about 1.5 metres long. The tūī, hihi (stitchbird), kōpara (bellbird), tīeke (saddleback), kōkako (crow), and tātaihore (whitehead) were caught in this way.

Sometimes, the perch was set up near the water. When thirsty birds landed on it, the fowler hit them. Another structure consisted of two vertical poles, with a horizontal pole lashed between them about 1.5 metres above the ground.

Hopu kōkō

This method was used on frosty winter nights, from midnight to just before dawn. During the day, fowlers would locate tūī nests and mark the trails using light-coloured rangiora leaves. They could find their way at night, seeing the leaves by the light of a torch. Then they would climb the trees and grab (hopu) the bird (kōkō). The Ngāti Porou tribe called this method rutu (dash down), as the fowler would knock the branch. The birds were often so cold that they simply fell to the ground.


Māori also used a number of traps. The puaka was a spring snare (tāwhiti) inside an enclosure. The bird would walk over the snare, release the spring and be caught. The korapa, a small U-shaped net, was a trap for karuwai (robins). Bait was scattered close by, and the trap was pulled down on a karuwai when it arrived.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Te tāhere manu – bird catching - Spears, rods, hands and traps', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 24 Sep 2007