When I was growing up in Christchurch, it seemed like the Avon River’s sole purpose was to drain the city’s inherent swampiness and look tidy while so doing. Its banks were kept neatly mowed, lined with willow trees and little else. In the 1990s, the city council changed their policy and began planting native grasses and shrubs along the banks and dialing back the mowing (a big ask for New Zealanders, with our innate ferociousness in the field of lawn care). And in just a few years, two species of native duck have returned to the Avon.
New Zealand scaup, or pāpango (Aythya novaeseelandiae), are little golden-eyed black ducks of classic rubber-duckie shape. They’re divers, happy to suddenly disappear underwater and pop up again ten seconds later. If you read the old guide books, you’ll find that our scaup are the inhabitants of high mountain lakes. Well, they don’t seem to be reading the field guides, because they make up about half the ducks on the Avon, and probably a good chunk of the world’s A. novaeseelandiae are swimming within a few miles of the Cathedral.
Paradise ducks (technically shelducks, since they’re Tadorna variegata) are pūtangitangi in most of the country, and pūtakitaki hereabouts. Weirdly for ducks, the male is duller colored–the female has a white head contrasting with a russet body. You almost always see them in pairs–one, usually the male, keeping a lookout somewhere high. When you approach, they start calling to each other in a wheep-honk-wheep-honk chorus, but in Christchurch they’re used to people. This morning I was out walking and was able to touch one as it sat on a bridge pillar.
Who knows what’ll become common in years to come? Black swans? Shovellers? White herons? Native birds are obviously just waiting for us to meet them halfway. So if you live in a city with a river flowing through it, why not bring your representatives’ attention to an interim report archived here? You too could have scaup on your doorstep.