The kōkako belongs to the endemic New Zealand wattlebirds (Callaeidae), an ancient family of birds which includes the saddleback and the extinct huia. The kōkako is the only member of its family still surviving on the mainland. It has a pair of brightly coloured, fleshy "wattles" extending from either side of its gape to meet below the neck.
The North Is kōkako has blue wattles. The bird is not particularly good at flying and prefers to use its powerful legs to leap and run through the forest.