First fairy tern eggs impacted by wild weather

Nine eggs were laid in early November in beach nests, but when severe winds were forecast, DOC rangers transferred the eggs to conservation partner Auckland Zoo for incubation.

With fewer than 40 birds, the tara iti/fairy tern is nationally critical and despite intensive management has teetered on the brink of extinction since the 1980s.

“It’s been a dramatic start to our fairy tern season, but with quick action we have the nine eggs in a safe environment at the Zoo. We will keep an eye on the weather, the adult birds and the eggs over the coming weeks with the aim of moving the eggs back to a safe beach nest prior to hatching” says DOC Ranger Shelley Ogle.

Tara iti/fairy terns nest on shell and sand banks sometimes just above spring high tide, leaving them vulnerable to stormy weather coinciding with very high tides and strong wins. Tara iti are also vulnerable to predation and disturbance by people and vehicles, so all nest sites are fenced off.

A dedicated team of seven 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.

Auckland Zoo works closely with DOC on many threatened native species’ recovery programmes and is delighted its bird keepers can contribute their specialist knowledge, experience and skills to help the tara iti.

“Helping wildlife like these precious taonga is what we live for,” says Auckland Zoo Birds team leader, Carl Ashworth.

“Our part in this great team effort is incubating these eggs under the exact climatic conditions – even temperature/high humidity- they would be under in the wild. As ‘egg parents’ we’re also mimicking the parents’ behaviour by turning the eggs several times a day and setting the incubators on a ‘slow rocker’ to replicate how their parents naturally move.

“This rocking movement also helps mix up the nutrients and protein within the egg that feed the embryo as it’s developing. Everything is geared to ensuring the eggs develop as they need ahead of their being returned to wild nests, where they’ll hopefully go on to successfully hatch and the chicks fledge.”

Once widespread around the North Island and on the eastern South Island, the New Zealand fairy tern now breeds at only four main nesting sites, found at Papakanui Spit, Pakiri Beach and Waipū and Mangawhai sandspits.

DOC works closely with Patuharakeke, Ngāti Whāuta o Kaipara, Ngāti Manuhiri and Te Uri O Hau, The 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.

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