Petrels making a comeback at Longbush

Thanks to sponsors and many hours from volunteers

Thanks to sponsors and many hours from volunteers

RESTORATION: Tyler the Titi is one of the grey-faced petrels being cared for at Longbush, near Gisborne, until they can depart on their own accord. The pelagic birds, which only come to land to breed, were once common throughout Tairawhiti but were likely wiped out by rats, stoats and cats. Picture by Steve Sawyer
LUNCHTIME: Tyler the Titi having a feed in the form of blended Brunswick sardines, vitamins and fresh water via a syringe and crop tube. Picture by Steve Sawyer
TEAMWORK: A team of volunteers, including Suni Marston (pictured), have been feeding the endangered petrels every second day. Picture by Steve Sawyer

RESTORATION of historic petrel (titi) colonies in Tairawhiti has received a boost through further hard work by volunteers at Longbush Eco-Sanctuary over the Christmas break.

Breeding colonies of grey-faced petrel, also known as northern titi or ‘oi’, were found within Tairawhiti on Young Nicks Head (Te Kuri a Paoa) and at Waihirere until about 1930. Introduced stoats and cats are thought to have killed off the last remaining birds.

Today petrels, and shearwaters, are only found on Whanga-o-kena Island at Nuhiti on the East Cape and on Young Nicks Head, where they have been restored.

In 2005 Gisborne environmental management company Ecoworks NZ achieved a world-first by attracting petrels and shearwaters back to Young Nicks Head using seabird calls played through large speakers positioned on the end of the headland and aimed out to sea.

“This proved very effective at enticing petrels back into a protected and historic site to nest for the first time in 76 years,” Ecoworks co-founder Steve Sawyer said.

The Longbush Eco Trust has been working alongside Ecoworks NZ to restore this species at Longbush by translocating young chicks to artificial burrows and hand-feeding the chicks for up to five weeks before they grow their adult flight feathers and depart, of their own accord, out to sea. The food is delivered every second day in the form of blended Brunswick sardines, vitamins and fresh water via a syringe and crop tube.

A team of volunteers led by Robyn Wilkie from Ecoworks New Zealand managed the project and successfully fledged all of the chicks at excellent weights. Other petrel feeders included Penny Shaw, Cole Sawyer, Brian Wright, Melanie Best, Tanya Hawthorne, Tina Drummond, Judy Sheridan and Tim Salmond.

Jamie Foxley from Eastland Vets is their local specialist wildlife vet. He assisted with disease screening of chicks.

New Zealand has the most species of pelagic seabirds of any country in the world, with 83 in total. Although these birds spend the vast majority of their time at sea, rarely venturing to land except to breed, they play an important role in New Zealand’s ecosystem.

Many species of petrel and shearwater (the procellarid family of birds) were once found on mainland New Zealand and nested as far inland as Lake Waikaremoana, the Kaimanawa ranges, Lake Taupo, Raetihi and the central Southern Alps.

Before the introduction of rats, stoats and cats they were extremely plentiful. They numbered in their many millions and carried large volumes of guano, made up of phosphates and nitrates, from the sea onto the New Zealand mainland.

“Basically they were miniature top dressing aircraft fertilising our native forests of New Zealand,” Mr Sawyer said. “This provided enormous benefit to both our forests and native birds. The network of burrows dug by petrels provided homes for other endemic species such as tuatara and kiwi. Tuatara for example disappeared from mainland New Zealand about 550 years ago due to the impact of introduced rats.

“Petrels provided not only a food source for tuatara in the form of eggs and chicks but it is thought the warm birds act as a ‘hot water bottle’ providing heat for tuatara in their underground burrows. In time we hope these birds will return to Longbush Eco-Sanctuary as sub-adult breeders to restore this species and the ecosystem benefits that petrels once brought to New Zealand’s forests.

“This is another project within our region which would not be possible without the amazing support from our sponsors including NZ Lotteries, the Department of Conservation’s Community Partnership scheme, the Williams Trusts and the Clark Trust,” Mr Sawyer said.

RESTORATION of historic petrel (titi) colonies in Tairawhiti has received a boost through further hard work by volunteers at Longbush Eco-Sanctuary over the Christmas break.

Breeding colonies of grey-faced petrel, also known as northern titi or ‘oi’, were found within Tairawhiti on Young Nicks Head (Te Kuri a Paoa) and at Waihirere until about 1930. Introduced stoats and cats are thought to have killed off the last remaining birds.

Today petrels, and shearwaters, are only found on Whanga-o-kena Island at Nuhiti on the East Cape and on Young Nicks Head, where they have been restored.

In 2005 Gisborne environmental management company Ecoworks NZ achieved a world-first by attracting petrels and shearwaters back to Young Nicks Head using seabird calls played through large speakers positioned on the end of the headland and aimed out to sea.

“This proved very effective at enticing petrels back into a protected and historic site to nest for the first time in 76 years,” Ecoworks co-founder Steve Sawyer said.

The Longbush Eco Trust has been working alongside Ecoworks NZ to restore this species at Longbush by translocating young chicks to artificial burrows and hand-feeding the chicks for up to five weeks before they grow their adult flight feathers and depart, of their own accord, out to sea. The food is delivered every second day in the form of blended Brunswick sardines, vitamins and fresh water via a syringe and crop tube.

A team of volunteers led by Robyn Wilkie from Ecoworks New Zealand managed the project and successfully fledged all of the chicks at excellent weights. Other petrel feeders included Penny Shaw, Cole Sawyer, Brian Wright, Melanie Best, Tanya Hawthorne, Tina Drummond, Judy Sheridan and Tim Salmond.

Jamie Foxley from Eastland Vets is their local specialist wildlife vet. He assisted with disease screening of chicks.

New Zealand has the most species of pelagic seabirds of any country in the world, with 83 in total. Although these birds spend the vast majority of their time at sea, rarely venturing to land except to breed, they play an important role in New Zealand’s ecosystem.

Many species of petrel and shearwater (the procellarid family of birds) were once found on mainland New Zealand and nested as far inland as Lake Waikaremoana, the Kaimanawa ranges, Lake Taupo, Raetihi and the central Southern Alps.

Before the introduction of rats, stoats and cats they were extremely plentiful. They numbered in their many millions and carried large volumes of guano, made up of phosphates and nitrates, from the sea onto the New Zealand mainland.

“Basically they were miniature top dressing aircraft fertilising our native forests of New Zealand,” Mr Sawyer said. “This provided enormous benefit to both our forests and native birds. The network of burrows dug by petrels provided homes for other endemic species such as tuatara and kiwi. Tuatara for example disappeared from mainland New Zealand about 550 years ago due to the impact of introduced rats.

“Petrels provided not only a food source for tuatara in the form of eggs and chicks but it is thought the warm birds act as a ‘hot water bottle’ providing heat for tuatara in their underground burrows. In time we hope these birds will return to Longbush Eco-Sanctuary as sub-adult breeders to restore this species and the ecosystem benefits that petrels once brought to New Zealand’s forests.

“This is another project within our region which would not be possible without the amazing support from our sponsors including NZ Lotteries, the Department of Conservation’s Community Partnership scheme, the Williams Trusts and the Clark Trust,” Mr Sawyer said.

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