Environment – Doing our bit for birds

Finally there are Kiwi back at Shakespear Open Sanctuary – their welcome included a very moving powhiri to transfer their kaitiakitanga to our local community.

For the first three weeks their location was monitored daily, but currently this is being done every second day. It is not that volunteers have to actually find each one, just that their approximate location has to be confirmed. This is done using a hand-held direction finder to detect the signal being emitted by a tiny radio transmitter attached to one leg of each Kiwi. Each one broadcasts a signal that also varies with the activity of the bird; as well as the normal signal there is one for mortality as well. The latter one has already been detected, which naturally caused some alarm at first but this turned out to be due to a dud transmitter and not a dud Kiwi!

The birds were all released at the very eastern end of the peninsula, far away from the pest-proof fence, and mostly they have stayed close to where they were released, although a few have roamed all over the park. One bird remained under the radar and, in spite of an extensive search which included searching the coastline by boat in case it had gone down a cliff, it staying missing for eleven days before re-appearing just as suddenly.

The next stage of Kiwi care involves catching all of them again to check their condition and this is now underway. Even with the transmitters, this is not easy as they are very well hidden and can move very quickly. Once actually sighted they have to be caught by both legs so as not to hurt them. Because they no longer have flight muscles they have no need of a robust ribcage with a keel-bone, as other birds have. This leaves their upper bodies quite vulnerable (a primary reason why dogs are so dangerous to them) so any tackling has to be round the legs. Once caught, they will be checked over, measured and their condition assessed. After all that they will be left alone, hopefully to settle down with a mate and start preparing for spring. They generally mate for life, each female having one egg per season which is then incubated only by the male.

In the meantime, all the other work involved in running and developing the sanctuary goes on as usual. More nesting boxes have been made for seabirds and these have been installed along the eastern clifftops. They have been placed underground with drain-pipe tunnels as entrances, in the hope that birds will move in rather than have to scratch out their own burrows. One site has been relocated, as at the old one the boxes tended to fill with water in heavy rain. Besides our home-built wooden boxes, we’ve also installed some plastic ones to see which type the birds prefer.

Our on-site nursery has again done a great job in growing seedlings ready for the annual planting-out dates, which this year are June 11 and 18 and July 16, from 10am. There will be at least 15,000 plants to go in, so please do come along with your friends and family to help out. Just wear strong shoes, dress for the weather and follow the signs. It is a very worthwhile and enjoyable activity, as is the free barbecue that follows.

Meanwhile the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has just released a report on our native birds. It says that of our 168 native bird species, only 20 percent are doing okay, while 32 percent are in serious trouble! One conclusion is that we need to control predators over much larger areas so that bird populations can also grow larger. Please help where you can.