One of New Zealand’s rarest birds, the tara iti – or New Zealand fairy tern – has been boosted by two chicks successfully hatching last month – one at Pakiri, North of Auckland and the other at Mangawhai.
With fewer than 40 birds, the fairy tern is nationally critical and despite intensive management has teetered on the brink of extinction since the 1980s.
“Although it is early days for the chicks and the risks are high, we are hopeful they will continue to do well and fledge (begin flying) later in summer,” says DOC Fairy Tern Team Ranger Ayla Wiles.
“This breeding season is looking promising at the moment with more eggs due to hatch in the coming weeks. Last year, 2018/19 season, we had two chicks fledge, and the previous year, 2017/18 season, had five chicks fledge.
“Both sets of parents are doing a great job looking after their new chicks, which at this stage involves sourcing small fish to feed them,” says Ayla.
Fairy tern nest on shell and sandbanks just above high tide, which leaves them vulnerable to predators, disturbance by people, 4WD vehicles and dogs. They are also at risk from stormy weather and very high tides.
A dedicated team of six fairy tern DOC rangers and numerous community volunteers have been busy since September trapping for predators near nesting sites, fencing off nesting sites and preventing nesting birds from being disturbed by humans. These rangers and volunteers will continue to monitor the birds and nests during the breeding season.
Once widespread around the North Island and on the eastern South Island, the New Zealand fairy tern now frequently breeds at only four nesting sites – at Papakanui Spit, Pakiri Beach and Waipu and Mangawhai sandspits. In addition, this year there is a nest at Te Arai.
New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust has recently been awarded $20,000 from the DOC Community Fund to increase their trapping to protect the tara iti/fairy tern at Waipu. The funding will buy more traps and expand the trapping programme, a key part in the protection of the species.
DOC works closely with Patuharakeke, Ngati Whauta o Kaipara, Ngati Manuhiri and Te Uri O Hau, Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust, The NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, About Tern, Birds NZ, Armourguard and the Waipu Trapping Group to help protect the New Zealand fairy tern.