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Whiteheads return to Hunuas

Whiteheads return to Hunuas

Up to 40 native whiteheads (popokatea) will be released into the Hunua Ranges this Saturday, returning the species to mainland Auckland for the first time in more than 120 years.

The Auckland Regional Council initiative comes two years after it successfully reintroduced the North Island robin was successfully to the same area.

ARC Parks and Heritage Committee Chairman Bill Burrill says the birds will be transferred from Tiri Tiri Matangi Island to the 600 hectare block in the Hunuas which is home to the joint ARC-DoC kokako recovery project.

“The intensive pest control we have done there since 1995 has seen success, not only in the kokako recovery project but also in the return of other species, such as the North Island robin,” Cr Burrill says.

“It has assisted with the spread of bellbirds across the Hunuas. Kaka are known to frequent the area which also supports high numbers of Hochstetter’s frogs and native bats.”

Like the robin and bellbird, the whitehead is a native forest bird which has survived in other parts of the North Island, but which has become extinct from about Hamilton north. It has been absent from the Hunua Ranges since about 1880 when ship rats may have wiped out the original population.

The whitehead spends most of its time in the very tops of trees, eating insects and spiders (and some berries). Whiteheads fly around in noisy, fast-moving flocks of up to 30 birds. To Maori these flocks were a warning that ghosts (kehua) were about.

The whitehead’s return to the Hunuas may lead to the natural return of another species – the long-tailed cuckoo. Like all cuckoos, the long-tailed cuckoo relies on another species to rear its young. In November and December, it often lays its egg in the whitehead’s nest, leaving the whitehead to raise a chick which will eventually grow to seven times the weight of its foster parent.

Cr Burrill says this Saturday’s release the transfer has the blessing of DoC and the local iwi. The timing of the release will allow the birds to benefit from the pest control carried out over the summer. It will also give them time to establish territories and form pairs before they start breeding next spring.

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