The Mystery of the Disappearing Eggs

I've been staying in New Zealand on my daughter's small 'Life-style block' near Christchurch.  In the UK it would be called a small-holding.  There's an orchard, an organic garden, paddocks containing two cows and a patch of woodland where chickens and ducks roam free inside a wire 'chicken prison'.

Farming is a thankless business.  My father always maintained that livestock had an intrinsic death wish from the moment they were born and his entire life was devoted to keeping them alive against an army of predators, diseases, the weather and that inbred lack of the will to live. 

My daughter Meredith has a similar struggle on the plains of Canterbury. Chickens and ducks are a particular problem.  One morning when I was there a duck was found mysteriously drowned in the paddling pool (6 inches deep and about 2 feet across!) . Hen harriers circle the air above the chicken run hoping to get lucky.  Another morning one of the small pullets was found to be missing - only a heap of feathers, two feet and a beak remained. Hedgehogs are also a pest in New Zealand and chicks have to survive their predation as well as the appetites of cannabalistic siblings, who are not averse to snaffling any unwatched chick.

But the hens have always laid well - that is until recently.  For weeks there hasn't been a single egg.  This is so unusual there just had to be a cause.  Everything else ruled out, something had to be stealing the eggs.  Hedgehogs?  They tend to eat the eggs where they find them and leave mess.  The eggs were simply vanishing.  Rats?  New rat bait went untouched.  Who was the egg thief?

Meet Pukeko, one of New Zealand's native birds.  They are marsh chickens - quite large with very long legs.  They run well, fly well and apparently have very adventurous appetites.

Meredith's small paddocks have always had visiting Pukekos attracted by the insects around the cattle and the green salads in her garden.  They have a distinctive shriek in the mornings and are very entertaining to watch.

But it was a big surprise the other morning, patrolling the woodland to feed the chooks, to find a Pukeko in the chicken house, where it has apparently been living for some time.  Online research told us that Pukekos are egg thieves and will also eat chicks and ducklings.  Everything became clear!

The egg thief unmasked.

The intruder was quickly shooed out of the chicken house into a metal crate  and taken to the nearest wet-land to be released.

Going, going - gone!

Hopefully the chickens will start laying again!


  1. We have them here in Oz. Where we call them rather boringly "swamp hens". There is a green version found only in Tasmania called equally boringly "Tasmanian native hen"


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