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2019 New Zealand Bird Conference

Birds New Zealand will hold its 80th annual conference in Wellington at Queen’s Birthday weekend. Established by a small group of scientists in 1939 as the Ornithological Society of New Zealand it has grown to more than 1,000 members having wider interests that include the study of birds and their habitats by professional scientists and amateur observers, bird watching for recreation and bird photography.

The President of Birds New Zealand, Mr. Bruce McKinlay of Dunedin says, “The conference this year is a special because it is the 80th anniversary of the society and it enables 180 members to meet together to listen to a diverse range of presentations; it is also the largest conference in the history of the Society”. Bruce McKinlay explains that, “Keynote addresses will be on kākāpō research and recovery, a review of bird studies and exploration on the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, extinct birds recently described in New Zealand, new molecular biology tools that are radically changing our understanding of New Zealand birds, recent studies on seabirds and bird migration”. “Interest in kākāpō, a rare endemic flightless parrot, is high presently because of the success of conservation efforts but recent infection of birds by a fungal disease is worrisome”, said Mr. McKinlay.

Birds New Zealand is embarking on an ambitious new 5-year project to map the nationwide distribution of all of New Zealand’s bird species, called the New Zealand Bird Atlas. It will update three earlier bird atlases produced led by the Society, most recently in 2004. “The New Zealand Bird Atlas will probably become New Zealand’s largest citizen-science enterprise, mobilizing many observers throughout the country to record the presence of bird species in over 3200 10 x 10 km grid squares”, says Bruce McKinlay.

“With up to 80% of New Zealand’s native land birds now at risk of extinction, there is an urgent need for us to gain a much better understanding of exactly where our birds are declining, so that New Zealand can target its conservation resources to where they’re most urgently needed” says Mr. McKinlay. “The New Zealand Bird Atlas is designed to do just that – to produce a detailed, nationwide picture of the current distribution of our unique birds, which can be used by both central and local government agencies to better prioritise their conservation actions in the future.”

Mr. McKinlay says, “Birds New Zealand is putting much effort into encouraging young people to become keen and astute observers of birds and for several years has encouraged a Young Birders group, mostly teenagers, throughout New Zealand to cooperate with our Society. This relationship will be formalised at this conference through a change in the rules of our Society to form a Young Birders membership category and signing a Memo of Understanding with Young Birders New Zealand”.

“The Society is delighted to enjoy the support of several donors”, says Mr. McKinlay, “that enables new academic and practical studies on birds to be tackled by scientists in universities and by others. One set of studies being supported and will be reported at the Wellington conference are on penguins, a group of birds about which we still know very little about”, says Mr. McKinlay.

The Birds New Zealand conference will be held at the Brentwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Kilbirnie between 1st and 3rd June.

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