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Rhynochetos jubatus [rI nO kE' tuhs joo' bat us]
The kagu [kah' goo] has pearl gray feathers, bright orange legs and bill, a head crest, and bold stripes on the wingtips. Its strong, straight bill allows it to dig for food, and its large eyes give it excellent vision. Although it has relatively long wings, the kagu cannot fly; it can, however, glide for short distances. It averages 24 inches in length, with a wingspan of 30.5 inches and a weight of 1.5 to 2.4 pounds. Both sexes are similar in size and appearance.
Distribution and Habitat
The kagu is only found on the remote Pacific island of New Caledonia, where it lives in dense mountain forests. When making their home, kagus choose a place on the ground that is naturally sheltered by rocks, but they can also live under tree roots or in holes in dirt banks. They usually perch on low-hanging branches or tree trunks, but will also use vines, raised roots, or rocks for resting places.
Kagus feed on worms, snails, lizards, insects, millipedes, etc. foraged from the forest floor. A patient hunter, the kagu can often be seen standing perfectly still on one foot for long periods of time, watching and listening for prey. Once discovered, the bird strikes quickly to catch its prey.
Courtship involves elaborate strutting behavior with a fanned crest and capelike wing movements. These birds are monogamous, and although they defend their territory together, the male and female may spend much of their time alone. During the breeding season, they come together to share incubation and nesting duties. The nest is a mound of leaves on the ground, in which a single egg with light brown splashes is laid. After 35-50-day incubation, the chick hatches, and does not move from the nest until three days of age. The young kagu looks different from its parents, with brownish feathers to camouflage it against the dark forest floor.
Kagu parents are very patient when teaching their youngster to eat -- an adult holds prey in its bill, close to the chick's head, and calls softly until the baby opens its beak. When the chick is about two weeks old, it starts to demand to be fed. Parents feed their chick until it is about 14 weeks of age. The young bird may stay within its parents' territory for up to six years.
Kagus have a lifespan of 20-30 years in the wild.
The sounds made by kagus are different for males and females. The two together sound much like a rooster crowing and a dog barking at the same time, but the female's song is shorter and faster than the male's. Pairs sing a duet in the early morning to warn other birds away from their territory, and these duets can last up to 15 minutes. The birds sing year-round, but more often during breeding season. Kagus also hiss and make soft, clucking sounds.
Having evolved in isolation, the kagu became very vulnerable after Europeans discovered New Caledonia. The dogs and pigs that settlers brought to the island both took their toll (dogs on the adults, pigs on the eggs), and the discovery of nickel deposits led to a destruction of the kagu's native habitat. Once in danger of extinction, the New Caledonian government has taken steps to protect the remaining population, although it is still threatened by non-native predators.
This page was last updated on January 14, 2017.