The tāiko, one of the world's rarest seabirds, is found on the Chatham Islands off mainland New Zealand. They nest in long burrows under forest cover.
Tāiko burrow with Felicity Maxwell
The Chatham Island tāiko Pterodroma magentae is a petrel endemic to the Chatham Islands, with a population estimated to number less than 150 birds. The tāiko is among New Zealand’s most endangered species, considered to be on the brink of extinction.
The tāiko was believed to be extinct for almost a century, until its rediscovery by David Crockett in 1978. Nearly ten years later, in 1987, the first tāiko burrow was discovered in southern Chatham Island.
Today there are 15 known breeding pairs.
- Tāiko breed in underground burrows up to 5m in length.
- A single egg is laid each year.
- Tāiko first breed at around 5 years of age and can live for more than 30 years.
- Over winter tāiko disperse throughout the southern Pacific Ocean between South America and Australia.
The arrival of mammalian predators, particularly cats, pigs, and rodents, and the introduction of weka are likely to have been the main causes of decline of the tāiko, Loss and degredation of forest habitat as well as the harvesting of the birds for food are also likely to have contributed.
Adult and fledging tāiko on the forest floor are vulnerable to cats, but burrows are too long for cats to reach small chicks. Chicks are left unattended while both parents go to sea to fetch food and rats can enter burrows to kill chicks while they are still to small to defend themselves.
Trampling of burrows by domestic and feral stock is an additional threat and feral pigs have been known to dig up burrows.
Tāiko telemetry station and researchers
The control of predators in taiko breeding areas is the most critical work and each year DOC undertakes major cat and rat control programmes in the Tuku Nature Reserve. Without rat control very few chicks survive their first few weeks.
Tāiko burrows are monitored throughout the season to ensure chick survival. Pairings are sometimes created by introducing single prospecting birds to single birds in established burrows.
A predator-proof fence has been built around a small area of covenanted land by the Chatham Island Tāiko Trust and since 2006 around 60 taiko chicks have been translocated there in an effort to create a new colony in this secure site. A sound system playing taiko calls lures adult taiko in to inspect artificial burrows. By 2012 fourteen of the transferred birds had returned to the Chatham's and a good proportion of those had returned to the new site.
Taiko burrows are very difficult to locate as they are scattered throughout 2500 hectares of rugged forest. Ground searches using dogs can help locate new taiko burrows in known tāiko areas, however to find taiko sites the most successful tool has been catching birds using spotlights, attaching a transmitter and then tracking them to burrows. A light aircraft is used to search the forest as the deep burrows block signals and hinder search efforts on the ground.
View the Chatham Island Tāiko Recovery Plan (PDF, 140K).
You can help
The Tāiko Trust has fenced a covenanted breeding area for tāiko
Your sponsorship can help the department with the conservation management techniques they use to protect tāiko, including:
- Radio telemetry, used to catch and track adult birds and follow them to their burrows. This helps to target predator control work in these areas.
- Trained dog searches, used to find burrows for monitoring and predator control.
- Electronic monitoring equipment, used to monitor burrows for activity and breeding.