Within easy view of the largest metropolitan city in New Zealand, you will find many of this country's threatened and endangered birds. Secretive species like the banded rail and fernbird lurk in close proximity to urban developments where pockets of wetland and shrubland survive.
Auckland is also lucky enough to have protected forest area to the south (Hunua Ranges) and west (Waitakere Ranges) of the city.
One of the only two mainland gannet colonies can be found on the cliffs of Muriwai overlooking the surf beach. Some even vie with summer sun seekers for their place on the sand of Auckland's beaches. Others birds live on protected islands in the Hauraki Gulf that look back to the city sky line.
Lending a hand
The Department of Conservation works to protect and improve the status of many of these species. Where populations are small and suffer from introduced predators and competition for breeding sites, they need hands-on assistance. Nesting sites are protected from disturbance by humans and also from predation by introduced mammals.
The following are examples of some of the hands-on conservation management that the Auckland Conservancy carries out on the city's doorstep.
New Zealand dotterel showing breeding
Fairy tern and dotterel
The rarest mainland species, the NZ fairy tern, has less than ten known breeding pairs. These delicate sea birds nest over the summer period on the rugged West Coast beaches and at two sites on the east coast of Northland. Nesting in a small scrape in the sand, these birds are very vulnerable. Nest sites are roped off and signs erected to alert people to the area.
Department of Conservation staff and volunteers talk to people who use the beach. Fishermen are encouraged to bury fish remains because they can attract unwanted numbers of gulls to the area.
Nests are sandbagged against storms and high tides. Where necessary eggs are cross-fostered into other nests or removed for hand rearing. A programme of trapping predators around nests is vital to help protect the adults, eggs and chicks.
Also found on beaches around the coast of Auckland is the threatened NZ dotterel. This character of the beach faces many of the same problems as the fairy tern: competition with humans for nesting habitat, damage and disturbance of nests, and the effects of predators. Disturbance of nesting sites can mean the break down of incubation and embryo death, or chicks separated from adults and easily predated.
Department wardens at key sites inform the public of nesting areas, which are also roped off and sign posted.
Kokako's haunting melodies
The Hunua ranges are home to a small population of New Zealand's most spectacular song bird, the kokako, with its haunting bell-like melodies. In the mid 1990's DOC and the Auckland Regional Council started a joint project to protect the remaining population of 21 birds (1500 survive throughout New Zealand).
In 1994 the only remaining breeding female in Hunua fledged 3 chicks, heralding a new era of recovery. The population has grown slowly with the protection of nests from predators and close monitoring of nesting birds.
Birds on the island sanctuaries like Tiritiri Matangi Island and Little Barrier Island are free from the ravages of introduced mammalian predators. However even in these protected habitats some species need a helping hand to get established.
The stitchbird or hihi, extinct on the mainland and only surviving on Little Barrier Island, have been transferred to several other islands including Tiritiri Matangi, to ensure their survival. DOC provides nesting boxes and artificial nectar feeders, and closely monitors breeding activity, removing infertile eggs to encourage subsequent nesting attempts, cross fostering where needed and spraying boxes to prevent mite infestations that can kill young chicks.
Every bird counts
The takahe on Tiritiri Matangi Island are also a species that require a helping hand. With only 200 birds in the world, every bird is important. Once thought to be extinct and rediscovered in 1948, takahe exist in the Fiordland area of the South Island and on four island sanctuaries (including Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds and Mana and Kapiti islands off Wellington's west coast).
On Tiri each bird has a name, pairs hold territories and at times the domestic arguments between neighbours can cause serious injuries.
DOC staff on the island closely monitor all nesting pairs, checking egg fertility at around 15 days after incubation. Eggs are cross-fostered between active nests to ensure each pair has at least one fertile egg. Infertile ones are removed to encourage pairs to produce more eggs. An energy-rich vegetable mix is offered to adults for rearing of chicks when needed and water baths are placed in nesting areas. A great favourite with visitors on Tiri, the takahe population has grown to 20 birds.
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