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Fairy tern under spotlight over breeding season


thumbnail Fairy tern team-751The Department of Conservation (DOC) is ready for this summer’s breeding season for New Zealand’s most endangered bird, the New Zealand fairy tern, or tara iti. Seven rangers joined the wider DOC fairy tern team last month and will be based at nesting sites in Waipu and Mangawhai in Northland, and Pakiri and Papakanui in the Auckland region, October to February.

Breeding sites are monitored during daylight hours seven days a week during the season by DOC rangers and trained volunteers.

“Our tara iti/fairy tern rangers, along with trained volunteers, are essential to the survival of the species,” says Ayla Wiles, DOC Biodiversity Ranger. “They keep an eye on the adult birds during breeding and nesting, and monitor chicks. Along with doing compliance and public advocacy, they also keep records of feeding and other behaviour to look at long-term trends in relation to things like fish stocks and weather impacts.”

Wiles says last season was fairly successful in terms of chick numbers, with seven chicks fledged, the most in recent years.

thumbnail Returning fairy tern-288“We’ve also had recent good news with some of the chicks from last season recently spotted back at the breeding sites, including the chick we supplementary fed last year,” says Wiles. “That bird is now making regular appearances at Waipu and looking very well fed. He seems to have been accepted into the tara iti community and is doing quite well for himself. We don’t expect him to breed for at least a couple of years but are just happy to see him make it through his first winter.” All going well, DOC expects the first eggs to be laid early summer and chicks to hatch around Christmas-New Year. 

Tara iti are critically endangered. The total population of the species is fewer than 40 birds.

Simple rules around nesting sites:

» Stay out of taped off or fenced areas and use designated walkways

» Take a wide berth around nests and chicks » Keep dogs under control and out of wildlife refuges

» Remove bait and rubbish from the beach to deter rats and other predators

» Drive vehicles on designated beaches only and keep below the high tide mark.


DOC’s 2020-21 fairy tern team, from left, Ayla Wiles, (Biodiversity Ranger Whangarei), Molly Hicks (Biodiversity Supervisor Auckland Mainland), Shelley Ogle (Biodiversity Ranger Auckland Mainland). Back row: Shannan Courtenay (Mangawhai fairy tern ranger), Les Judd (Supervisor Whangarei) Alex Wilson (Senior Ranger Auckland Mainland), John Neilsen (Papakanui fairy tern ranger), Deane Williams (Papakanui fairy tern ranger) Jacob Ball (Mangawhai fairy tern ranger), Amanda Hunt (Pakiri fairy tern ranger) and Nikki Hartley (Waipu fairy tern ranger). PHOTO/SUPPLIED
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