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Popular songbird nests on Chatham Islands mainland

21 October 2009 – Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Popular songbird nests on Chatham Islands mainland

New Zealand’s fifth most popular bird, the tui, has started breeding on the Chatham Islands’ main island after a successful transfer of 14 Chatham Islands tui to the main island earlier this year.

 “The locals are over the moon because some of them have never seen a tui - soon they might have these songbirds gracing their gardens,” Chatham Islands resident & conservationist Liz Tuanui says.

“The last time tui were seen in any numbers on the Chatham islands’ mainland was 25 years ago, so anyone under that age is unlikely to have seen or heard tui.”

In what has been described as a world first, tui were transferred from offshore nature reserve Rangatira Island to the Chatham Islands mainland after a grant was given to the Chatham Island Taiko Trust by Forest & Bird’s international partner, Birdlife International.

The Chatham Islands archipelago holds almost 20 per cent of New Zealand’s threatened species and 160 endemic species of insects. Most of these species, however, live on three inaccessible predator-free islands.

Research conducted in the late 1990s estimated the adult Chatham Islands tui population to be about 350 birds.

Liz and husband Bruce started planting areas of their farmland 16 years ago, fuelled by a desire to create a refuge for the Chatham Islands’ threatened bird. More recently, they began intensive pest control.

Pest control is also done in the nearby Tuku Nature Reserve by the Department of Conservation.

Their property is now “dripping with flowers and fruit”, which nectar-eating birds like tui need to breed successfully.

The new immigrants were last seen on the mainland 25 years ago, and have been welcomed with open arms by the locals. Many have even started planting their gardens with fruity and flowery delights to help aid the baby-making process.

“It would be wonderful to have them back in the kind of numbers that people like my mother took for granted. Our Moriori karapuna were known to wake early and sing in high piping voices with the dawn chorus of the birds,” Shirley King from the Moriori Trust says.

Translocation Co-ordinator Mike Bell says that community-led projects like this help to empower people to get involved in conservation.

“The problem with conservation in the Chatham islands is that you’re protecting things you can’t see,” Mike Bell says. “Projects like this require locals to come on board to help with planting and pest control. Since the transfer, I’ve had locals come up to me, and ask me: ‘What can I do to attract tui? What can I plant?’ It’s fantastic.”

Birdlife International recently gave the Chatham Island Taiko Trust funding to transfer another feathery immigrant – the Chatham Islands tomtit – to one of Bruce and Liz’s covenants.

And if everything goes to plan and approval is given, 40 of these endangered birds will be heading for the Chatham Islands mainland next February.     
“The Taiko Trust has done such a good job of preserving our unique taonga ,” Deborah Goomes, from Ngati Mutunga O Wharekauri Iwi Trust, says.

The Chatham Island Taiko Trust is a community-based conservation group established more than 10 years ago to help protect the endangered taiko (magenta petrel) and other indigenous wildlife on the Chathams. The group aims to help islanders conserve habitats and birdlife on their properties.


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