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Fake birds and droppings lure gannets

DIANA WORTHY
Last updated 12:53 28/05/2014
zoo doc staff

PLOTTING DECEPTION: (From left) Rotorua Island Trust manager Philip Salisbury, Auckland Zoo senior maintenance worker Kona Ikinofo and Auckland Zoo’s field conservation projects co-ordinator Claudine Gibson.

gannets
WELL BEHAVED: The ‘‘gannets’’ are good as gold as Auckland Zoo staff prepare the colony site.

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Things are not quite what they seem on Rotoroa Island in Auckland where fake seabirds and droppings are being used to attract a whole new type of visitor.

Australasian gannets are what Auckland Zoo and the Rotoroa Island Trust are after - and lots of them.

They want to get the birds interested in forming a new nesting colony on the island as another conservation attraction and to benefit its ecosystem.

But the gannets won't want to know unless they can be convinced that others of their species are already living there.

That is why 16 plastic decoy gannets from the United States, man-made nest mounds splashed with white paint to resemble guano (droppings) and recordings of gannet cries are now in place.

The sound system was officially turned on two weeks ago and the daily bird calls are being monitored by trust and zoo staff.

Cameras, like the elephant cams and others used in David Attenborough's television wildlife series, are being installed in some of the fakes.

The plan coincides with the beginning of the gannet breeding season in July.

There will be live camera feeds from the site to visitors at Auckland Zoo and, once the so-called gannetry is settled, visitors to the island will be able to see things for themselves.

Claudine Gibson is the zoo's field conservation projects co-ordinator in charge of the Rotoroa Island project.

She says gannets play important roles in island and terrestrial ecosystems.

They nourish the soil and provide food for invertebrates with marine nutrients through their droppings and decomposing carcasses.

The birds start breeding at 5 to 7 years old and the chicks hatch in December and January.

They later migrate to Australia where they stay for three to five years.

But when they come back, if the colonies are full, they have to start a new one.

"The birds are limited by the areas they can nest in," Gibson says. "The nests are 80cm in diameter and built a metre apart.

"They're such an iconic seabird it would be great, one day, for people to be able to come and see a lively colony on the island."

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