Eighteen juvenile tūturuatu/tchūriwat’/shore plover were translocated to Portland/Waikawa Island on Friday 20 January, where they joined around 80 other birds in the largest population of the species outside of the Chatham Islands.
The birds were housed in a pre-release aviary on the island for six days to give them time to recover from their journey and get used to the sights and sounds of their new home. They were then released, and a small team on the island is monitoring how they settle in over the following weeks.
The birds were bred in captivity at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust (ICWT) in Christchurch this summer. Individuals were carefully selected to boost the genetic diversity of the population on Waikawa. Most of the juveniles are offspring of birds hatched from wild eggs translocated from Rangatira/Hokorereoro Island in 2020.
Laura Boren, leader of the Shore Plover Recovery Group, says that partnerships and dedication have been vital to this work.
“This translocation is part of ongoing efforts by the DOC to preserve this critically threatened species,” says Laura. “It was made possible by partnerships with landowners Tawapata South Incorporated, funding from The New Zealand Nature Fund, the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust raising the chicks, and Air New Zealand flying the birds from Christchurch to Hawke’s Bay.”
Breeding pairs have been established at three facilities: ICWT, Pukaha National Wildlife Centre (Wairarapa), and Cape Sanctuary (Hawke’s Bay). Each year they produce juveniles for release into the wild to establish new populations.
Shore plover are small shorebirds that are unique to New Zealand, with distinctive dark caps on their heads. They nest on the ground under the cover of dense vegetation to avoid avian predators, but this makes them highly susceptible to introduced predators like rats, stoats, and cats.
With only around 250 individual birds in the world, they have the highest possible threat ranking of Threatened: Nationally Critical. Their survival depends on captive breeding, translocations to predator-free islands and island biosecurity.
Other shore plover populations exist only on Rangatira/Hokorereoro and Mangere Island/Maung’ Rē Islands in Rēkohu/Chatham Islands, and Motutapu island in the Hauraki Gulf/Tīkapa Moana.