Chatham Island snipe returned to Pitt Island

Scoop: Chatham Island snipe returned to Pitt Island
Don Merton.

One of New Zealand’s least-known rare birds is making a comeback. Twenty Chatham Island snipe were released into a privately-owned reserve on Pitt Island on 28th April. Only 33 people live on Pitt Island, the second largest of the Chatham Islands. Members of the community assisted the Department of Conservation with catching the snipe on nearby Rangatira (South East Island).

Snipe are distantly related to godwits, and formerly occurred throughout New Zealand. Following the introduction of rats and cats they became confined to remote islands free of these predators. The Chatham Island snipe survived on 219 hectare Rangatira and came close to extinction before the island was made a reserve in 1961. There are now over 1000 birds on the island. Twenty-three were transferred to nearby Mangere Island in 1970, where they thrived.

Both Rangatira and Mangere Island Nature Reserves are closed to the public. The release of snipe on Pitt Island will make them accessible for viewing for the first time. The birds were released into Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant, which has been surrounded by a cat-proof fence since 2001.

Landowner John Preece was delighted to see the snipe returned to Pitt Island, where they died out in the 1890s following cat introduction. “This is why we set this land aside – to help the forest and the birds recover. It is a privilege to be able to care for these rare birds, and to be able to share them with the community and their guests.”

The transfer team was led by Dr Colin Miskelly of the Department of Conservation, who first studied Chatham Island snipe on Rangatira in 1983.