Wild falcons decide town's place to be

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 13:30 10/01/2013
Karearea
Peter Drury/Fairfax NZ
RARE SIGHT: A Karearea, or New Zealand falcon.

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New Zealand falcons could swoop down and snatch Cambridge's "Home of Champions" tagline after two wild chicks successfully fledged on the outskirts of town in what is believed to be a New Zealand first.

They are now soaring through the gully where the pair took to the air and mum is still keeping an eye on them.

Most people have seen the falcon's image on a $20 note, but it is rarer than the kiwi. The falcon, called the karearea (Falco novaeseelandiae), is New Zealand's sole surviving native bird of prey. It can dive through the sky at up to 230kmh.

Wingspan Birds of Prey trustee Laurence Barea said it is the only place in New Zealand where the falcon is breeding in an urban area.

Barea said that whether the NZ falcon becomes part of the town's image depends on the public becoming interested and valuing its presence.

Conservationists initially feared for the chicks' survival after a group of teenagers set up a bike track near the nest and built huts within metres of it.

The mother was showing signs of stress. She had stopped defending her nest and it was feared she would abandon her offspring.

A video camera set up to monitor the family was also found smashed but a cordon and signage was put in place.

Wingspan and the Department of Conservation will now monitor the trio and see if they breed again next year.

It could be the beginning of a permanent population because there is an abundant food source nearby - Cambridge's pigeons.

Meanwhile, another six New Zealand falcon chicks have been transferred to Te Awamutu where they are expected to fledge within weeks.

They were shipped over from Wingspan's base in Rotorua and placed inside an artificial nest, or "hack box", where Janice and Laurie Hoverd will feed, then release, them.

The couple are ornithologists and devote their time to the breeding and release of the karearea. Since 2005, the Hoverds have released 36 of the birds into the relative protection of the Kakepuku Mountain conservation area.

Wingspan executive director Debbie Stewart said this breeding season was particularly fruitful, with 11 chicks raised. The others were transferred to Otago.

"This is a bird that's significantly rarer than kiwi. There are about 80,000 kiwi and there's less than 10,000 falcons remaining in the wild. It's a concern. And this is a bird that's found nowhere else in the world."

Wingspan is funded by donations and relies on volunteer help.

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Visit wingspan.co.nz to find out more.

- Waikato Times

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