Native bird numbers are soaring, but climate change is a looming threat


A New Zealand native considered the world’s most endangered gull could lose his ill-fated title – and vulnerable kiwis are bouncing back with a little human help.

But with climate change creating challenges for birds across the country, experts say we can’t take our eyes off the ball just yet.

The latest New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) native bird review was released on Tuesday.

It’s done every five years by a group of experts, who review the evidence to determine how endangered each species is.

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Of the 491 birds assessed in the last report, 25 species have improved since the last assessment in 2016, while 22 have declined.

Five species were removed from the “nationally critical” category – the last category before extinction – and none were added.

Kiwifruit was among the biggest winners, with the North Island brown kiwifruit going from ‘at risk – declining’ to ‘not threatened’, and Haast’s tokoeka – or southern brown kiwifruit – dropping from ‘critical’. nationally ”to“ nationally vulnerable ”.

More precise aerial surveys, combined with careful ground counts, also found many more black-billed gulls than expected. They have gone from critical danger status to “at risk – declining” status.

It wasn’t all good news, however, with two new species now listed as endangered.

The rowi, or Okarito’s kiwifruit, has gone from nationally vulnerable to endangered, as has the New Zealand falcon population of the South Island.

Haast's tokoeka kiwifruit has benefited enormously from human management (file photo).

Shirley Whyte / Stuff

Haast’s tokoeka kiwifruit has benefited enormously from human management (file photo).

Lead author Hugh Robertson said the decline in the number of species considered nationally critical was the “most encouraging moment” of the report.

“The general trend is in the right direction … [The report] shows that investment in management really pays off.

“If the kākāpō still have one or two good breeding seasons, they could also leave the critically endangered taxa. “

Birds like Haast’s tokoeka have benefited from intensive management, including predator control and captive chick rearing, he said, and their success has shown the impact that these conservation strategies have might have.

The numbers had increased from 250 to over 400 birds.

Even the rowi numbers were strong, said Robertson, and their reclassification was more of a “system quirk.”

The number of birds had increased from 160 in 1995 to over 600 in 2018, but the population was no longer actively increasing because there was not enough suitable habitat.

Isolated island-dwelling species, such as snipe and Antipodes Island pipit, were also reaping the benefits, Robertson added, with numbers increasing as a direct result of the “one mouse” eradication project. million dollars ”of 2016.

The Campbell Island teals were doing well too, and went from a national vulnerability to a national increase, nearly two decades after the rats were removed from the island.

But Robertson said not all of the report’s surprises were so positive.

Mainland New Zealand's hoiho population narrowly escaped the critically endangered tip-over (file photo).


Mainland New Zealand’s hoiho population narrowly escaped the critically endangered tip-over (file photo).

The lion’s share of the Spotted Cormorant population nests in the cliffs around the Banks Peninsula in Canterbury, but their status has worsened from ‘not threatened’ to ‘nationally vulnerable’.

Nesting sites were decimated by the Christchurch earthquakes, he said, and breeding has not rebounded.

The much-loved hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, narrowly escaped being classified as critically endangered.

“We are really concerned about the mainland hoiho population… which is collapsing. “

Their numbers were supported by a large offshore island population, he said, but the mainland’s birds were in serious trouble.

Black-billed gulls are no longer considered critically endangered (file photo).

Joseph Johnson / Stuff

Black-billed gulls are no longer considered critically endangered (file photo).

The NZTCS report added “climate impact” as a qualifier for the first time this year, with 69 species feeling heat.

“It’s increasingly worrying, we’re starting to see it impacting our native birds in different ways. “

Droughts were becoming a problem on some islands, and higher temperatures meant predators like rats moved further into alpine habitats, threatening species like the Tuke / Rock Wren and Hutton’s Shearwater.

“Sea birds [are] having to travel further to find food … [and] storm surges and higher tides affect our coastal breeding species.

“It’s quite worrying how many of our birds are affected, it really covers all realms. “

Ian Angus of the Department of Conservation (DOC) said the latest report was cause for celebration – especially for species like the brown kiwi.

“This shows that the conservation efforts supported over 30 years by community groups, Maori, the Save the Kiwi Trust … scientists and government agencies are working.”

But there was no room for complacency, he said, the brown kiwi being just one of many species reported as “dependent on conservation”.

“Investing in conservation means we are seeing a positive overall trend, especially with species that are managed, whether through intensive management, community-based conservation efforts, or a combination of the two. .

“However, we must continue to step up conservation work as so many of our native bird species will slip into more endangered categories without continued effort.”


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