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OSNZ publishes significant scientific resource

The Ornithological Society of New Zealand (Inc) P O Box 12397, Wellington
PRESS RELEASE EMBARGOED TILL 5.30pm Monday August 13 2007

OSNZ publishes significant scientific resource

Scientific knowledge about New Zealand birdlife took a great leap forward today as the Ornithological Society of New Zealand published the Atlas of Bird Distribution in New Zealand 1999-2004.

The atlas was launched today at Government House in Wellington by the Administrator of the Government, Rt. Hon. Dame Sian Elias. Birds are some of the best natural indicators of the health of our environment – an environment we like to promote as clean and green.

President of the Ornithological Society, Professor Richard Holdaway said that the bird distribution atlas has demonstrated dramatic and rapid changes in bird distribution in all parts of the country since the 1970s. As land use has changed, so have the communities of bird species in those areas.

Examples of this included areas that have changed from exotic forest to dairying, and areas that have reverted from cleared land to native scrub. Species that did well in the first habitat have been pushed out as the land was converted. Atlas project Convenor, Christopher Robertson notes that “Green in colour we may be, but these atlas surveys continue to demonstrate that some of that greenness is both increasingly monocultural, and the battleground of territorial invaders among the avifauna. New Zealand endemics are retreating to enclaves where introduced mammalian predators increasingly threaten the food supply, productivity, and individuals of remnant species.”

The atlas contains a wealth of new information, including more than 2100 maps showing the distribution of the main species of birds in New Zealand and Key points from the atlas include: • The best place to see a range of bird species is at Foxton Beach, at the mouth of the Manawatu river. That’s followed by the Kaikoura Peninsula, Mangere oxidation ponds, Kapiti Island, Kaipara Harbour, Miranda, and Tiritiri Matangi.

Fostering the study, Knowledge and Enjoyment of Birds.•

In contrast, the Waikato region is becoming a “bird desert”. This could be because of the dominance of dairy farming in the region. Interestingly, another strong North Island dairying region, Taranaki, has strong birdlife, reflecting the land management choices of the local councils and farmers in riparian planting, the associated native forested areas, and the National Park.

• This work is a much-expanded update of the atlas published in 1985, and comparisons between the editions show that the distribution of almost 60 per cent of the bird species changed in the past 30 years. The environment for birds in New Zealand is changing more rapidly than many ornithologists, and land managers, suspected.

• Some parts of the country are extremely important for a range of birds, some of them endangered, but are not protected by reserves or National Parks. We need to make sure there is good environmental ecosystem management to maintain these areas as good habitats for birds. The clearest example of this to come through from the atlas data is the Kaipara Harbour and its environs. • The atlas was compiled from information collected by more than 850 teams and individuals, who recorded bird species and their associated habitats, seasonally for the OSNZ, from 1999 to 2004.

• During the five years of the project’s field surveys, it’s estimated that some 1.2 million kilometres were travelled and about 440,000 person hours of observation and assistance were provided. This enormous effort produced the almost 32,000 field record sheets documenting 1,503,000 individual observations of birds throughout 96.4 per cent of New Zealand. This in-kind largely voluntary contribution to the pool of knowledge about New Zealand’s birds, and their habitat use, is estimated to be worth over $10 million. • The results demonstrate the remaining areas of greatest bird diversity and areas needing significant habitat protection.

• It is an essential reference tool not only for “birders” but for all land managers, developers, regional councils, conservation organisations, and researchers.

The atlas is a valuable record and nationwide comparison resource, documented over a period of 35 years, a record unparalleled for any other part of New Zealand’s flora and fauna.


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