Pukeko pests - and what to do with them

by Rebecca Hayter / 18 December, 2017

Rebecca Hayter finds it takes a lot of smarts to outsmart a pukeko.

In my new life in the country, I have to confront some squeamish truths – like dealing with pests.

The pukeko on my property are living in the bird equivalent of a desirable suburb; a wetland area beside native bush with sea views just across the driveway from their supermarket. There, in a revolving pattern throughout the seasons, the trees stock a selection of feijoas, pears, figs, damsons, grapefruit, quinces and guavas. Most of those fruit are delivered straight to the wetland on Pukeko Express.

The neighbours say they have never seen so many pukeko near my orchard. Pukeko are protected, but it is permissible to cull them in some circumstances and at certain times of the year. It’s irrelevant, anyway, because I am yet to get my firearms licence, let alone beat my gulp-factor about killing animals.

My friend Sheila told me I don’t have to kill lots of pukeko, just one. I can hang it up in the orchard like a gibbet in 18th-century England as a warning to other pilfering pukeko.

Then Ian told me, “You don’t have to kill any. Just fire a shot once a month to scare them off.” Still, both those suggestions require a gun.

Meanwhile, I took my ride-on mower into town for servicing, had dinner at the Roots Bar and was driving home in the car when the white bum of a pukeko crossed my headlights. I braked hard, but it flapped back and went beneath my tyres.

I could see it was injured so I stopped and hardened my heart to put the bird out of its misery. I made a sad apology, admired its warm blue sheen and left it for the hawks.

Two days later – yes, it took that long – I realised how stupid I had been. Fate had handed me a fresh, clean, dead pukeko and I’d left it behind. I briefly considered looking for other pukeko victims, but they were too messy for hanging in trees and I didn’t want to be the eccentric lady who picked up roadkill. No one would ever come to dinner again.

I needed to make a loud, legal bang in my orchard: a gunshot that wasn’t a gunshot. Finally, stupidity moved aside; in its place stood sheer brilliance.

My ride-on mower goes bang. I hate the bang. I select neutral, lower the throttle, turn off the key, put my hands over my ears and count to 20. It’s never enough. I uncover my ears and my ride-on bangs like a kid brother who leaps shrieking from wardrobes. Perfect.

The ride-on mower came back from town, and I mowed the orchard to get the motor nice and hot. I parked beside Pukeko Paddock, smirking happily with anticipation. Soon, those white bums would flee, never to be seen again. I turned off the key and heard the birds tweeting in the trees.

Bugger.

The mechanic had taken out the bang. All around me, pukeko filled their trolleys with my fruit and loaded them onto the Pukeko Express…

This was published in the December 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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