TOSSI - Takahē taxi to new nests

By: Jackie Russell

During the first lockdown a planned review of the takahē performance at Tāwharanui was completed and the outcome was to move three of the taonga to different homes throughout Aotearoa. In September, the three takahē spread their wings and relocated to homes where they should thrive and contribute to the recovery of the threatened and nationally vulnerable native bird.

The territorial ground-dwellers like a spacious environment and, at Tāwharanui, each breeding pair prefers about 20 hectares of bush and swamp. Some takahē are renowned escape artists, which is expensive and time consuming for Auckland Council park rangers and TOSSI volunteers – not to mention risky adventures for the runaways.  

Catching and transporting critical fauna requires extensive planning, which became more complicated with Covid-19 impacting on timing and the safety of people. Rangers and volunteers collaborated to lure the birds into socially distanced pens because takahē get flustered when too close to one another. Supplementary feeding teaches them where to find tucker and on transfer day an early breakfast was used to gently entice the birds into pens where they were prepared for transporting.

Takahē have beaks like secateurs and trained handlers held the birds firmly but with caution while they removed the transmitters used to monitor their movements at Tāwharanui. Vaccinations were given to prevent erysipelas, a life-threatening bacteria found in birds and animals, and data was collected to give each bird a body condition score and identify any little quirks. For example, takahē Pukekohe has unusual saggy skin under one foot and it is useful to share this information with rangers at the new location so they know it’s not a concern.

Once the birds were safely tucked into their individual carry cases, TOSSI volunteer Sally Richardson was honoured to provide the takahē taxi service. Her journey had to be smooth riding, so no slamming on the brakes. She kept the car cool and quiet – so no listening to irritating talkback radio. Driving with caution is important when you have five of the only 420 takahē thought to be living on the planet.

The precious cargo travelled from Warkworth to Silverdale where Sally collected two more takahē from Tiritiri Matangi Island and made her way to Okahu Bay. Two takahē enjoyed a boat ride to Motutapu and three were taken to Auckland Airport by Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari volunteers. Later that afternoon, Sally went to Auckland Airport and collected two different takahē destined for Motutapu.

By 5.30pm, she was notified the chick from Tāwharanui, Kokowai, was safely out at Burwood in Southland and seemed to be a very cruisy takahē. The privileged volunteer role gives Sally great satisfaction and the 2020 takahē transfer should bolster the flightless birds’ population.

The Takahē Recovery Programme is a conservation success story and the understandably high breeding and survival expectations were unattainable at Tāwharanui. Hopefully, the two pairs remaining at the park have room to breed, and they won’t argue too much with their neighbours.

Jackie Russell, TOSSI


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