NZ robins lose fear of predators

New Zealand robin populations have been found to lose their fear of rats after only one generation in a predator-free environment, raising questions about the reintroduction of birds from island sanctuaries to the mainland.

Researchers Ian Jamieson and Karin Ludwig from Otago University compared robins on Stewart Island, where Norway rats are common, with birds on Ulva Island, where rats were eradicated in 1996.

The birds on Ulva are descendants of birds from the Stewart Island population, and Ulva does have native predators – the flightless weka and a native owl.

A report on the research, published in Animal Behaviour, said the Stewart Island robins were more agitated than the Ulva birds in the presence of a rat model, and were more hesitant about approaching mealworm food, which they tended to collect one at a time.

Many of the robins on Ulva appeared to show little fear or recognition of the model rat and were much less agitated and more likely to consume all five mealworms in a shorter time, despite the nearby model rat.

Vigilance and antipredator behaviour were costly for the birds, as they needed to be traded off against other activities, such as feeding or resting, the report said.

New Zealand robins appeared to possess proper antipredator behaviours, such as mobbing and alarm calling, but needed to learn to recognise a mammalian predator as a specific threat.

If experience were important to develop predator recognition, then isolation for just one generation would have a significant effect on the performance of a population. That seemed to be the case for Stewart Island robins reintroduced to rat-free Ulva, the report said.

“These results raise the question of whether established populations on island sanctuaries are appropriate sources for harvesting for reintroductions back to the mainland.”

While predator-naïve birds might be more likely to forage in the presence of a potential threat, as long as some individuals survived an initial attack that incident might be enough to restore predator recognition capabilities.

Original story on

The Nature Collection


To celebrate NZ’s unique natural taonga, Peter Hayden has curated a highlights collection from three decades of NHNZ productions. Aotearoa’s landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities – birds, insects, trees like nowhere else on the planet – are showcased in 15 award-winning titles. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy, to Wild South and Our World classics.

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Weka on the menu

Wednesday, 3 February 2010, 10:00 am
Press Release: Federated Farmers

Media Release
3 February 2010

This bird is a Weka, which is also the name of a well-known suite of machine learning tools.

Reasons to farm weka

Federated Farmers is backing entrepreneurial farmer, Roger Beattie, in his quest to secure trial approval to supply farmed weka.

“Here’s a true Kiwi entrepreneur who ought to have every policy encouragement to see if a new market can be created,” says Donald Aubrey, Federated Farmers game spokesperson.

“Mr Beattie firmly believes that the weka can be domesticated and if that’s the case, it could well become our version of the turkey. After all, that’s a bird native to the Americas that is now commonly farmed around the world. The turkey was domesticated around 500BC.

“I think the reaction from TVNZ’s Close-Up on Monday evening shows New Zealanders are open-minded to new possibilities. 85 percent of respondents felt Mr Beattie should be given the room to try. We do, too.

“New Zealand is a unique country and it stands to reason that our fauna has the unique potential to be farmed as well. As Mr Beattie rightly points out, no farmed species has ever become extinct. Really, it’s the complete opposite when it comes to farming.

Full press release on

Baby Tuatara Hatches on Matiu/Somes Island

Thursday, 28 January 2010, 11:12 am
Press Release: Department of Conservation

A photograph taken of a baby tuatara on Wellington Harbour’s Matiu/Somes Island this month has confirmed for the first time that the rare reptiles are hatching on the island.

The juvenile, just a few months old and about 8cm long, was spotted by Harriot (8) and Nicholas Lane (10) and their cousin Harrison Vernon (11) while they were walking around the island with their grandparents Bob and Suzanne Vernon.

Tuatara were transferred to Matiu/Somes in 1998 and since then adult tuatara are regularly seen on the island. It has long been suspected that they are breeding, and this was finally proven when eggs were found on the island in 2007 and hatched at Victoria University.

But this is the first confirmation that young tuatara have hatched on the island itself.

full media release on

Scientists play tag with whitebait species

Wednesday, 9 December 2009, 9:44 am
Press Release: NIWA

Draft NIWA MEDIA STATEMENT 9 December 2009

Catch me if you can! Scientists play tag with whitebait species

New Zealand’s iconic whitebait species are disappearing from our waterways, but help could soon be at hand for the threatened giant kōkopu. Scientists are carrying out a trial involving ‘tagging’ of individual farm raised fish as part of a plan to reintroduce them to our waterways.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Mahurangi Technical Institute (MTI), who will be providing the fish, have been engaged by the NZ Transport Agency and its Northern Gateway Alliance (NGA) partners to undertake a project as part of the mitigation programme associated with the recent construction of the Agency™s SH1 toll road. Together they aim to repopulate a stream in Orewa with giant kÍkopu. The giant kÍkopu is one of five galaxiid fish species which, in their juvenile form, make up the whitebait catch and is classified by the Department of Conservation as nationally vulnerable.

full press release on

Kiwi scientist makes a twitter breakthrough

Kiwi scientist makes a twitter breakthrough |

Bird watchers have long waxed lyrical about the benefits of listening to birds, but now a recording of their tweets has led a Kiwi ecologist to a scientific breakthrough.

Murray Efford, of Otago University, and American ecologist Deanna Dawson have developed a world-first technique that enables scientists to measure how many birds are in an area by recording them, instead of simply counting them.

Dr Efford said the discovery could be used in the future to help measure dolphins, whales, and other animals that lived in areas which made them difficult to count.

Though the study recorded the warbles of the American ovenbird, a small thrush-like bird, Dr Efford said the technique would now be used to measure numbers of New Zealand’s only surviving native owl, the morepork.

full story on

Sirocco the kakapo an online phenomenon

07 October 2009

This week’s screening of the BBC’s “Last Chance to See” programme featuring New Zealand’s own conservation ambassador Sirocco the kākāpō, has catapulted kākāpō recovery into the international spotlight.

Department of Conservation staff have been amazed by the response that viewers of the “Last Chance to See” programme, starring Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine, has evoked from the British public.

“His Facebook page alone jumped from 600 friends to over 2000 friends in the 48 hours following the broadcast of the kākāpō episode of “Last Chance to See”,” said Sirocco’s media advisor Nic Vallance from the Department of Conservation.

“And the Youtube clip of him getting ‘up close and personal’ with presenter Mark Cawardine has resulted in well over half a million hits.”

The show “Last Chance to See” is a remake of the series that the late Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine recorded for radio and published a book on in 1990.

Many of the comments posted on Sirocco’s rapidly growing Facebook page send words of support and encouragement to kākāpō recovery as well as many offers of donations to continue to increase the survival of the kākāpō.

“The international interest in kākāpō is just fantastic,” said Vallance.

Scoop: full press realease on scoop

Kiwi discovered in outer space

Media release from Mt John Observatory, Lake Tekapo
28 September 2009


click for bigger version

An astrophotographer has discovered a kiwi in outer space from New Zealand’s internationally renowned Mt John Observatory.

It may be 26,000 light years away but a high powered astro-photograph has picked up the distinct image of New Zealand’s national icon in the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The incredible image of the flightless bird was captured by experienced photographer Fraser Gunn. Mr Gunn, who has recently begun astrophotography with Earth and Sky Stargazing Tours at Lake Tekapo’s Mt John Observatory, is delighted with the discovery.

“When looking at the area with the naked eye it’s difficult to locate the kiwi but my camera allows greater light and colour into the image giving it more definition.

“We only started the astrophotography tour six weeks ago to complement our stargazing tours and the response so far has been outstanding. Basically, I provide instruction to anyone with a SLR-type camera so they obtain their own starlight pictures,” he says.

Graeme Murray, director of Earth and Sky Tours, says Fraser has become a leader in New Zealand astrophotography and is fast gaining international acclaim.

Full media realease on Scoop: Kiwi discovered in outer space

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.

Rat scare at island sanctuary averted by four-legged hero

TV3 > News > Weather/Environment News > Story > Rat scare at island sanctuary averted by four-legged hero

An island sanctuary for rare birds has been at the centre of a pest scare today. Motuihe Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf has been rat-free for 15 years, but yesterday paw prints were found at several spots on the island.

Jack the dog has been specially trained to smell a rat and today his senses were put to the test.

Jack and his owner, Fin Buchanan, have been training for seven years for a day like today.

But with a camera watching Jack’s every step, finding the Motuihe rat still looked like big weight to bear.

The rogue rat threatened the Department of Conservation’s million dollar plans to release kiwi and other rare birds on the island.

“This is the last thing we needed or expected,” DoC threats officer Ditch Keeling said. “We haven’t had a rat on here for 15 years. It’s really quite bizarre.”

The rat is thought to have come in off a boat and prints had been spotted in five of the island’s 45 tunnels, cunningly built to detect rat-steps.

DoC staff like Mr Keeling had been setting traps through the night.

“You live an adrenaline mode for the first ten days and then you start to get really tired,” Mr Keeling said.

But it was not long before Jack found the elusive rodent.

“Obviously we’re pretty elated,” Ditch Keeling said. “If this is the only rat on the island then we’ve just pulled off the fastest complete eradications ever taken place.”

Close inspection showed the rat was a female. The Department of Conservation will now need to check for signs whether she has ever had babies. And if that is the case, Jack could be making a return trip to the sanctuary.

video of story

Birds moved to new pest free home

Birds moved to new pest free home | NATIONAL | NEWS |

Kaharuai or South Island Robin

Thirty threatened Kakaruai birds have been successfully transferred to New Zealand’s newest sanctuary.

Secretary Island, a 8,000 hectare island at the western end of Doubtful Sound in the Fiordland National Park, will be the new home to the Kaharuai, or South Island Robin.

“It’s fantastic, it’s been a big achievement getting to this point,” says Murray Willians from the Department of Conservation.

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush but for DOC it’s the birds in the bush that are important.

“There’s no rodents or possums here, and essentially no stoats and very few deer now too, so it’s essentially clear of introduced animals that cause harm to NZ’s native biodiversity,” says Willians.

The birds were transferred from Breaksea Island following a three year project to rid the island of predators.

Breaksea was the forerunner of the country’s island restoration programme and boasts a population of thousands of Kakaruai, and other threatened species.

Offshore islands play a key role in the battle against introduced pests. Birds like the Saddleback would have been extinct without them.

There used to be thousands of South Island Robins on Secretary Island before Stoats were introduced about a hundred years ago. Now there are none, and DOC is hoping this population of birds brought here, will flourish.

“Seeing and hearing that birdsong and thinking of what it used to be like in the South Island beech forests is quite incredible and quite different to what we see now on the mainland anywhere really,” says Willans.

“These conservation programmes are very important. It’s very important we retain the character of the area,” says John Davies from the Fiordland Conservation Trust.

The programmes will ensure the birds keep singing for generations to come.

original story

Forest understory takes off

Whakatikei Restoration project

click on images for larger ( phone camera ) versions

Five finger of various variety , plus many of the broad leaf plants and smaller trees, have very much made a strong comeback, with not only seedlings quite thick on the bush floor in many places, but with many of the third season plants more than two meters tall and bearing flowers, fruit and seed.

this is quite in contrast to both how it was and still is on the other side of the river, this does show quite well that the river, acting as a barrier is working very well with almost no sign of any possum browse anywhere within the forest area currently being looked after .

Greater Wellington – A fish ladder for Hull’s Creek

Greater Wellington – A fish ladder for Hull’s Creek

Giant Kokopu (Galaxias argenteus) Photograph by R.M. McDowall

Inanga - Galaxias masculatus

inanga (Galaxias maculatus)

The Silverstream care group is a busy one. For over five years now it’s been working hard to restore the stream, create a native bird corridor, reduce erosion and create a walkway linking Silverstream to the Hutt River trail.

Since 2003 a total of 6,532 trees have been planted, willows removed, weeds controlled, and plans drawn up to construct a fish ladder, also called a fish pass. All this work is not for the faint-hearted – to begin with you need volunteers, funding and lots of planning.

Greater Wellington’s Team Leader Policy Development Murray McLea says one of the important things we know is the survival of many of our native fish depends on their migration between the sea and freshwater. “Creating a fish ladder over a weir will help native fish like the inanga (whitebait) and the giant kokopu jump the barrier. Weather permitting we hope to complete the fish ladder by late September.”

Barry Wards, convenor of the Silverstream care group says the Hull’s Creek Open Day on Saturday 11 August is celebrating the work, vision and enthusiasm of the group and the wider community. “Without funding from the Ministry for the Environment and Take Care funding from Greater Wellington the group would not have been able to restore Hulls Creek to what it is today.”

“We would like to welcome existing members and members of the public to the Open Day. The day will start with morning tea at 9.30 am, and include a talk by Dr Mike Joy, guided tours and unveiling of a sign. The day’s activities will finish at approximately 12.30 pm.”

The Goodnight Kiwi

The Goodnight Kiwi was a animated short used to signal the end of the broadcast day on Television New Zealand channels,before they went 24hrs.It Aired from 1980/81 till October 19,1994.Its a classic.Also the song playing is a instrumental arrangement of traditional Māori song,”Hine e Hine” composed by Fannie Rose Howie (1868-1916) in 1905.

Amusing End To Another Successful Kiwi Season

Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua has celebrated the end of another hugely successful Kiwi season. Over the course of the 2006/07 season, 112 kiwi eggs were successfully hatched and a further 18 chicks brought in to Kiwi Encounter from the wild, leaving the operation on track to release over 120 kiwis back into their natural environment .

The last two eggs expected in from the wild were due to arrive before Easter after Tongariro DOC workers monitored a bird sitting on eggs for just over 60 days. However, they received an unusual surprise when they went in to make the collection – they discovered a wine bottle, not an egg! The male kiwi (who was hatched and raised at Kiwi Encounter) had ‘’incubated” the wine bottle for 63 days! more