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Seabird transfer a first for Auckland

Seabird transfer a first for Auckland

The first ever seabird transfer between Hauraki Gulf islands was successfully completed today in a bid to establish a colony of diving petrels on Motuora Island, north of Auckland.

Twenty four petrel chicks were moved from Wooded Island, near Tiritiri Matangi, to Motuora and placed in specially built burrows where they will be hand fed for the next few weeks until they can fend for themselves. Led by the Motuora Restoration Society in partnership with the Department of Conservation, the project is a key part of restoring the ecology of this 80-hectare public conservation island.

Motuora Restoration Society chairperson Ray Lowe said the seabird transfer was the culmination of years of hard work by volunteers and a huge achievement for the community conservation group.

“We now have 24 chicks installed, each in their own new ‘motel unit’ on the eastern side of the island, being cared for by a team of volunteers.”

“It’s the first native species transfer the Society has undertaken and we’re very proud of it. My appreciation and thanks goes to the dedicated volunteers that made it happen.”

The diving petrel chicks, mostly around six-weeks-old, will be fed daily on a diet of pureed tinned sardines until they grow their first coat of feathers and can leave the burrows to fish for themselves. This could take up to three weeks for the youngest birds. When the birds are ready to breed in two or three years-time, they will return to the island to dig their own burrows.

DOC island programme manager Richard Griffiths said returning diving petrels to the island was a key step in restoring the island ecosystem.

“Burrowing seabirds are like the engine room of the ecosystem – they provide nutrients from guano and food scraps etc that fuels plants and insects, which in-turn feed reptiles and other birds.”

Motuora would have had extensive seabird colonies in the past with a number of shearwater and petrel species breeding in burrows throughout the island, said Mr Griffiths. Only the grey-faced petrel still breeds on the island.

Today’s transfer is the start of a three-year programme to bring about 250 diving petrels to Motuora and establish a self-sustaining colony there. It is part of a restoration plan that has seen most of the island re-planted with native trees, and North Island brown kiwi, shore skink and Duvaucel’s gecko returned. Other seabirds and native species are also planned to be re-introduced.

ENDS

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