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More Wins Than Losses In Latest Bird Threat Report

The latest bird threat classification report is a testament to conservation efforts throughout Aotearoa, but we can’t take our eye off the ball.

Of the 491 birds assessed by an expert panel, 25 species have improved in status while 22 have declined since the last assessment in 2016. Five species have moved out of ‘Nationally Critical’ – the last category before extinction – and none added to it.

Significant improvements in threat status of kiwi include North Island brown kiwi moving from ‘At Risk – Declining’ to ‘Not Threatened’ and Haast tokoeka moving from ‘Nationally Critical’ to ‘Nationally Vulnerable’.

Researchers have uncovered more black-billed gulls than were previously known, taking them from ‘Nationally Critical’ to ‘At Risk – Declining’. The change is based on more accurate aerial surveys and careful ground truthing of breeding pairs.

Antipodes Island snipe and pipit have reaped the benefits of the ‘Million Dollar Mouse’ eradication project on Antipodes Island creating a predator free home. Likewise, Campbell Island teal continue to increase, and have a status upgrade, nearly two decades after rats were removed from that island.

Haast tokoeka have benefited from intensive management including predator control as well as the discovery of another small subpopulation in 2019, bringing the total population to about 450 birds.

In contrast, the status of spotted shag has worsened, moving from ‘Not Threatened’ to ‘Nationally Vulnerable’. Breeding pairs on Banks Peninsula were decimated following the destruction of many cliff ledges used for nesting during the Christchurch earthquake, coupled with numbers declining elsewhere in New Zealand.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation Director – Terrestrial, says the improved status of 25 of our native birds over the past five years is reason to celebrate.

“In the case of brown kiwi, it shows that the sustained conservation efforts over 30 years by community groups, iwi and hapū, Save the Kiwi (formerly named Kiwis for kiwi), scientists and government agencies are working.

“But there is no room for complacency. Even birds with an improved status, such as brown kiwi, are flagged with the qualifier ‘Conservation Dependent’ meaning that they will almost certainly backslide without continued, concerted conservation management.”

Ian Angus says climate change is really showing its teeth, with 69 birds that are or will be affected by climate change impacts such as increased frequency and/or intensity of droughts, floods, storm surges, and mast fruiting and seeding events that fuel predators.

Threatened alpine-nesting species such as tuke/rock wren and Hutton’s shearwater are particularly vulnerable to ‘thermal squeeze’ – a climate change phenomenon where alpine environments become warmer and therefore more welcoming to predators such as rats and stoats.

“I’m pleased to note that commercial fisheries bycatch mitigation now done routinely in our Exclusive Economic Zone has assisted some seabird species, including the encouraging recovery of flesh-footed shearwaters that used to be caught accidentally in large numbers.

“Investment in conservation means we’re seeing an overall positive trend, especially with species that are managed whether it’s through intensive management, community conservation efforts or a combination of both.

“However, we need to continue ramping up conservation work because so many of our native bird species will slip into more threatened categories without ongoing effort,” Ian Angus says.

Visit DOC’s website for more information on the threat classification system and a list of threat classification reports: New Zealand's threat classification system.

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