Story: Te tāhere manu – bird catching

Page 5. Attracting birds

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Bird calls

Fowlers often attracted birds by imitating their cries. To lure the kiwi, the fowler put a finger in his mouth and mimicked its call. A leaf used when imitating a call was called a pepe. A flax leaf was used to call weka, while tūī were lured with a leaf from the manono or the patate. The Ngāti Porou tribe used pāpā, whangewhange or māhoe leaves. Fowlers put a leaf (doubled or flat) between their lips and made a chirping sound by breathing in.

The bird whisperer

European trader Joel Polack told of seeing a fowler catch a kererū by using a leaf to imitate its call. The bird heard the call and came to the fowler, who lulled it to sleep and then caught it. Polack’s description has been derided by a number of writers, but no doubt call-leaves were very effective. In the 1800s, Major J. L. C. Richardson saw his Māori guide pluck a leaf after hearing a bird twitter. The guide imitated the bird, and eventually one flew close enough for him to grab it.


When hunting with dogs, fowlers often lured ground birds such as weka and kiwi by imitating their calls. The fowler would then release the dog, which seized the bird. The dog was controlled by a rod attached to its collar. Rattles were also attached to its neck, so it could be followed when released.

Taki – decoys

Taki means to entice. In this method, a pet kākā (parrot) was used as a decoy to attract other kākā. A fowler would lash a pole to two trees, about 2–3 metres high. Another pole (also called a taki) was placed on an angle against the first. It was secured by tying the upper end, or grounding the lower end.

The decoy parrot was tied to the base of the taki. It was trained to scratch around and screech to attract other birds. The fowler would hide near the pole, behind a screen of tree-fern fronds. When a wild kākā got close it was hit with a stick, caught with a noose or grabbed.

Waka manu – water troughs

The waka manu, also known as a waka kererū, was a wooden trough filled with water and left in a tree or on its trunk. When the birds became used to the trough, snares were set. Waka manu were often used in miro trees, as birds feeding on miro berries got thirsty. They would drink from the trough and become caught in the nooses. The troughs were often quite long – around 1.5 metres.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Te tāhere manu – bird catching - Attracting birds', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 24 Sep 2007