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Second wave of stitchbirds to Ark in the Park

20 May 2008 – Auckland

Second wave of stitchbirds to Ark in the Park

Another 60 endangered hihi, or stitchbirds, are joining their mates at Auckland’s Ark in the Park on Wednesday, May 21.

In 2007 59 hihi were moved to Cascade Kauri Park, the home of the Ark in the Park community restoration project in the Waitakere Ranges, from Tiritiri Matangi Island sanctuary. Their first chicks hatched last November.

The birds were the first to have lived on the Auckland mainland for more than a century after they were wiped out by predators, loss of habitat and possibly disease in the late 1800s. They settled in quickly to Ark in the Park’s mature forest, says project manager Sandra Jack. “It was so fantastic to see the birds using some of the tallest kauri trees in the park to nest in. These huge old trees provide the cavities hihi need to successfully produce their young.”

The newest wave of migrants from Tiritiri Matangi Island will be released into the predator-controlled area of the park. The Department of Conservation’s Hihi Recovery Group wanted more birds added to the original population before the next breeding season.

The first settlers have flown to many parts of the Waitakere Ranges. It has been difficult to monitor the progress of the birds that remain within the 1100 hectares of Ark in the Park relative safety because they are not a conspicuous species – like the North Island robins re-introduced in 2005. The hihi nests detected over the summer were also difficult to monitor because they were up to 12 metres above the ground in mature kauri. Two pairs successfully raised their chicks to leave the nest or “fledge” during the difficult dry summer.

Ark in the Park – a Forest & Bird and Auckland Regional Council partnership – began in 2003. After reducing the numbers of pests, whiteheads were re-introduced in 2004 and in April this year a top-up of 51 whiteheads were released. North Island robins were re-introduced in 2005. The project aims to re-introduce the enigmatic kokako to the ranges next year from central North Island forests.

Hihi Recovery Group leader Rory Renwick is happy that more hihi are moving to the mainland. “It is great that Ark in the Park is working towards the recovery group’s goal of establishing five self-sustaining hihi populations around New Zealand so hihi are no longer threatened by extinction,” he says.

“At the moment there is only one self-sustaining population, which is on Little Barrier Island. We need predator-free habitats with high diversity to establish more hihi populations.” Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund has contributed to the hihi disease screening and moving costs, and the zoo has provided veterinary assistance. “We are delighted to be supporting the recovery of such a rare native species in our own backyard, and commend the Ark in the Park team for the fantastic work they are doing out west to help ensure the hihi and other unique New Zealand wildlife are given the very best possible environment to thrive in," says Auckland Zoo conservation officer Peter Fraser. Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi chairman Peter Lee welcomed the second transfer of hihi. “It is testament to the success of the stitchbird population on Tiritiri Matangi Island. Stitchbird were first translocated to Tiri in 1995 and this season around 200 chicks were banded,” he says.

Information for media wishing to attend the release

The release will take place at Ark in the Park at 2pm on May 21 and media are welcome to attend.

The release site is at Cascade Kauri Park off Falls Rd in the northern Waitakere Ranges. (Continue along Falls Rd where the roads become gravel, on through the golf club grounds to the car park at the end. The release site is on your left as you drive down to the car park and is just a short walk from the car park.)

Hihi facts

- Hihi/stichbird (Notiomystis cincta) is one of New Zealand’s rarest birds but was once found throughout the North Island. The impact of introduced predators, habitat destruction and possibly disease reduced the distribution of hihi to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

-Recovery efforts since the 1980s have so far failed to establish further self-sustaining populations, though two small populations remain at two translocation sites with intensive management and support. Establishing additional populations is an important part of the Department of Conservation’s Hihi Recovery Plan.

-The population on Tiritiri Matangi is gradually expanding but at least half the young produced each year die of starvation, due to the shortage of mature forest habitat on the island. The forest at Ark in the Park is botanically similar to the hihi’s main habitat on Hauturu/Little Barrier.

-Until recently hihi were believed to belong to the honeyeater family, along with the tui and bellbird, but recent genetic studies indicate they may be more closely related to the family of birds that includes the saddleback and extinct huia.

- It is easy to hear the hihi’s strident call, which has been likened to the word “stich” or two stones being repeatedly struck together. They also have a low warbling song that can last several minutes.

-The birds feed mainly on nectar, but also eat insects, particularly in the breeding season. Feeding stations will be built in the park near walking tracks so visitors can encounter hihi more readily. Hihi nest in tree cavities (which may make them more vulnerable to predators) and have an unusual mating system in which females may breed with a single male or several. They are the only bird known to sometimes mate face to face.

- Hihi have distinctive large, bright eyes, an upright tail and long cat-like “whiskers” around the base of the neck. Male hihi are more colourful, with a jet-black head and white “ear” tufts, bright yellow shoulders and breast band, a white wing bar and mottled tan to grey-brown body. Females are smaller and are a more sombre olive to grey-brown colour.


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