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Popokotea & Toutouwai Release to Ipipiri Autumn 2016

totutouwai-11This autumn we welcome the translocation of two species of native bird – popokotea (whitehead) and toutouwai (North Island robin) to two of the islands of Ipipiri, Moturua and Urupukapuka in the Bay of Islands.

This is the second of a two-phase translocation programme for these passerine bird species, supported by Lottery Grants Board NZ, Air New Zealand Environment Trust and Foundation North, bringing Project Island Song one step closer to its vision for a restored ancient dawn chorus on the islands. Blandy Witehera, hapū representative for Project Island Song talks of “chasing our dream of one day walking the islands of Ipipiri to the sounds that replicate the lovely birdsong of Tiritiri Matangi, to enjoy seeing our moko, the next generation, experience Aotearoa as it once was”.

There will be two carefully planned releases through April and May, one for each species. The first of these wild-to-wild species translocations will be popokotea (whitehead). On Saturday 16 April, the Project Island Song team travel to Tiritiri Matangi to begin the week-long process of capturing up to 80 birds, 40 for each island, subsequent transport via helicopter and release in the Bay of Islands on Saturday 23 April.

Project Manager Richard Robbins will be reporting on the week-long capture process via Facebook and Instagram. Also attending will be Kevin Parker, an experienced translocation supervisor, 5-6 volunteer permitted handlers, a cook (usually a member of the Project Island Song team) and the kaimahi from Te Rawhiti, for whom this is an opportunity for skills development.

The release itself will take place the following weekend, with limited attendance. The hapu partners are integral to this event, and tikanga will be observed. Ultimately, the day of the release is about the birds.

The second release will be the highly-territorial North Island robin, the toutouwai. This will occur at the end of May 2016 following a week long capture process in Pureora. Up to 40 toutouwai will be released on Urupukapuka. The process of capture and transport is more complex for toutouwai due to their fiery natures; they are transported in individual boxes via camper van and allowed to rest overnight before being taken to the island by boat.


Project Island Song is a partnership between the Guardians of the Bay of Islands (a local community group), Te Rawhiti hapu (Ngati Kuta and Patukeha) and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Popokotea: Capture at Tiritiri Matangi, safely house, transport via helicopter for release in the Bay of Islands.

The popokotea are captured using a mist net, which is typically made of nylon or polyester mesh suspended between two poles. If correctly deployed, the net will be virtually invisible. The birds are beckoned towards the nets using recordings of their calls; once in the net, they are retrieved and checked for health, sex and age. If appropriate for translocation, the birds will be weighed and measured, before being fitted with leg bands for identity purposes once they have been released. They are kept in large aviaries until all the required birds have been caught. Males are easier to catch, as they are more territorial and respond to the calls – however a balanced ratio of male-to-female and age range is required to ensure the success of the translocation. To transport, the birds are placed in specially designed boxes – 5 birds to a box – and transported to the Bay of Islands via helicopter.

Toutouwai: Capture at Pureora, careful housing and transportation to the Bay of Islands via land and sea.

Toutouwai will protect their territory from other toutouwai, which complicates the process of catching them. To help catch the birds as quickly as possible, they are trained prior to capture. If a toutouwai is seen, or called in using a recording of their territorial call, they are fed with meal worm. When they are fed they are familiarised with the sound of the tap on the lid of a box: to capture them we go to their territory and tap on the box lid, and the bird comes looking for food. They are captured using a “claptrap”: a meal worm is thrown below the claptrap, and when the toutouwai goes for the worm, the trap is triggered and a small net encloses the bird. As the toutouwai are so territorial, they have to be kept apart at all times. They are housed individually and transported in the back of a motorhome (supplied by Wilderness Motorhomes): they are driven at night/in the dark with full air conditioning to keep them cool. Once they arrive in the Bay, they are rested overnight in a cool, dark place, before being fed and rested again. Only then are they ready for transfer to the island by boat.

Creating new populations of native species in the Bay of Islands

This is the second translocation of these two native species. The first reintroduction of toutouwai occurred in 2014 to Moturua. The first popokotea were introduced to Motuarohia in 2015.

It is unlikely these birds will travel between the islands (except perhaps in between Urupukapuka and Waewaetorea or between Moturua and Motukiekie), hence the need for further translocations of the same species to create new populations. This means that there will be a broad spectrum of genes within the Bay of Islands populations, providing a good genetic foundation of breeding stock. Hopefully this means that Project Island Song will become a source for future translocations for other projects to help the reintroduction of native bird species across the North Island of New Zealand.

The next bird reintroductions are likely to be kakariki, which possibly will be bred in captivity, and Northland brown kiwi.



Tags: Ecological restoration, Native wildlife

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