The ruru (morepork, Ninox novae-zelandiae) is not an animal we normally associate with repo – wetlands. We are more likely to hear their haunting calls coming from forested areas. Today, ruru live in densely forested areas, feeding on insects such as the pūriri moth and small birds and mammals, but it was not always this way.
Repo often peal (ring loudly) with the sounds of bird calls – about 30% of birds in Aotearoa are found in wetlands. It wasn’t the voice of the ruru that led kairangahau Māori to connect ruru to repo though – it was the voice of whānau. Kōrero with whānau and tribal members in the lower Waikato rohe led to the connection between ruru and the tall trees and dense scrub that sometimes surround wetlands.
Repo are part of larger systems such as forests, and many of these systems disappeared when land was converted to other uses. Large trees such as rimu, mataī, kauri and kahikatea that bordered swamps were felled. Ruru lost their wetland habitats and were forced to find new places to live. As a result, ruru have adapted to life in exotic trees such as macrocarpa, pine and gum.
Mātauranga Māori – the knowledge gained through generations of observation – links ruru with the repo. Kōrero shared by whānau told of te reo o te repo – the voice of the wetland – that once included the night-time calls of the ruru. A key food source for ruru is pūriri moths. The moths thrive in trees such as mānuka and putaputawētā that grow in moist or boggy wetland edges. There are other food sources that are also connected to repo – tauhou (silvereye or waxeye), pekapeka (bats) and insects.
Ruru whakapapa to repo as well as dry land ecosystems. Like tangata whenua, ruru do not separate freshwater, repo and whenua – it is all connected.
As with other native animals, ruru have inspired aspects of Māori culture, including:
- the sounds, rhythms and inflections made in waiata, karanga and reo
- graphical depictions of stories and histories in carvings, weavings and other art forms
- movements as seen in wero, mau rākau, kapa haka and poi.
In te ao Māori, ruru have roles as both messengers and as important kaitiaki. When planning a restoration project, consider ways to encourage them back to the repo.
Monitor large trees for roosting sites. Ruru now live in exotic trees, so find out if any birds live in them before removing exotics to plant native species. Consider leaving some of the old exotics in place – it can take a very long time for native trees to grow to the size needed for ruru to roost.
Consider using specific plants that attract insects that will increase the food sources for ruru. Find out which of these plants and trees also provide habitat for other wetland species such as matamata and longfin tuna.
If the wet area already has wetland forest remnant plants, continue to plant the edges to create a bigger habitat. The larger the habitat, the greater the potential for breeding and nesting.
Plan to keep pest animals under control. Cats, stoats, ferrets, possums and rats kill and eat adult ruru, chicks and eggs. Although ruru nest in tree cavities, they also nest among rocks and roots, and they sometimes forage at ground level, making them easy targets for predators.
Learn from mana whenua. Kōrero with whānau and kaumātua about plants that were once part of local repo and landscape. Make use of mātauranga about the repo and ruru. This information will not only enhance and protect the ruru, but also the mita and reo too!
Nature of science
Observations require interpretation and inference by scientists. When kairangahau Māori heard their whānau speak about hearing ruru in wetlands, they used their knowledge of wetland ecosystems to infer the connection between ruru and repo. Inference helps scientists make sense of observations and come up with possible explanations.
This article provides more in-depth information about ruru and repo: Ruru – he tangi na te ruru – conversations in the night by Rangi Mahuta (Waikato), Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman (Te Atihaunui a Papārangi, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Rangi) and Huriwai Paki (Ngāi Tuhoe)
Learn about ruru with these websites:
Thank you to the editors and contributors of Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland for permission and support to adapt this publication, and funding from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds initiative.