New Zealand is home to many unique native birds, and The Cuckoo and the Warbler introduces readers to two of them that are probably not as well-known as their more famous cousins the kiwi, piwakawaka, pukeko and others. Riroriro, the Grey Warbler, flits about Aotearoa’s forests chasing insects and preparing for spring by building a nest ready for its eggs. Far away in the Pacific, Pipiwharauroa, the Shining Cuckoo, is also preparing for spring by setting off on a very long journey across the ocean, back to New Zealand.
When mother Pipiwharauroa arrives, she sets about finding somewhere safe to lay her egg in. Instead of building a nest, she hijacks a Grey Warbler nest, and sneakily replaces one of the Grey Warbler eggs with her own. The unsuspecting Grey Warbler cares for the imposter egg and when it hatches first, the new bird removes the other eggs and takes advantage of being the single mouth to feed. Again, the Grey Warbler does its duty to another’s chick and works hard to provide all the insects the hungry young Shining Cuckoo begs for. As autumn comes, all the Shining Cuckoos prepare once more to return to the warmer climes of their Pacific winter homes.
This beautiful non-fiction book is full of richly detailed illustrations of New Zealand’s forest and birds, full of luscious greens and familiar bush-scapes. The information about the two native birds is presented in an easy to read, almost storylike fashion which keeps it interesting, and is pitched at the right level for its young audience (although ‘older’ readers can also learn something from it too – I had no idea we have a native cuckoo).
The two birds share a unique bond, with the Shining Cuckoo relying on the Grey Warbler to raise its own chick; a concept that children may not have come across before. While it may seem to be one of those harsh realities of nature, the book handles it in a gentle, matter of fact manner. The two fact pages at the end of the book provide more detail on both birds and here I feel (as wonderful as the coloured illustrations are) it would have been good to include a real-life photo of each. The Grey Warbler is one of our most common natives and can be spotted not only in forest and scrub, but also in urban areas – I will certainly be on the lookout for it (bright red eyes, olive-grey on top, pale grey underneath).
Warne and Hunt have created a wonderful resource for exploring our country’s natural beauty; one with accessible text and engaging illustrations that will appeal to children. Both creators have much experience in their craft – Hunt is the creator of Backyard Kiwi and Warne the co-founder of National Geographic New Zealand and is a regular reporter on outdoors and environment on Radio New Zealand.
Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen
The Cuckoo and the Warbler
by Kennedy Warne and illustrated by Heather Hunt
Potton & Burton, 2016
ISBN 9780947503048 (Paperback)
ISBN 9780947503055 (Hardback)