Many NZ bird species at risk

ENDANGERED: The kakapo is among species of New Zealand birds which remain at critical risk.
ENDANGERED: The kakapo is among species of New Zealand birds which remain at critical risk.

New Zealand birds are struggling to survive, with many species and subspecies at risk, new research shows.

Predators such as stoats and rats remain the birds' biggest problem, but fishing by-catch and dairy conversions are also to blame, conservation experts say.

A three-yearly review of the conservation status of New Zealand birds, conducted last year by eight experts, found 77 taxa (species and subspecies) were considered "threatened" and 93 "at risk" of the 428 assessed. Twenty are already extinct.

New Zealand has more extinct and endangered birds than any other country.

Lead author Dr Colin Miskelly, of the Department of Conservation (DOC), said he was concerned about the lack of improvement of 21 birds considered "nationally critical" in 2005 those with less than 250 adults.

The list included kiwi, kakapo, takahe, black robin, fairy tern, black stilt and Chatham Islands taiko.

"By and large, where species are the focus of conservation management they are responding well, but there are large areas of native forest which are not receiving conservation attention," Miskelly said.

The grey duck, eastern rockhopper penguin and grey-headed mollymawk have been added to the nationally critical list.

The native grey duck is likely to be extinct in New Zealand within a decade without "immediate and innovative management", the report said.

Nineteen bird species and subspecies had improved their status since 2005, including the little spotted kiwi, Pycroft's petrel, brown teal, variable oystercatcher, and North and South Island saddlebacks.

"These birds all have populations greater than 1000 individuals and are increasing, and it is great to be able to recognise these success stories," Miskelly said.

Of the 13 taxa that declined, most were seabirds and birds that use riverbeds and rough farmland.

Fishing by-catch and conversion of sheep farms to dairying were to blame, the report said, as well as changes in oceanic circulation, possibly due to climate change, which forced birds to travel further to find food.

Miskelly said the research was a wake-up call. "Whether or not there's the will to do anything about it is another thing entirely."

The 2008 Red List, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said a quarter of all birds in the world facing extinction were in the Pacific region.

The Press