Moment of truth for tieke reintroduced to Wellington's urban environment from Zealandia
The first saddlebacks have successfully begun breeding outside the safety of Zealandia, but can they survive?
A new programme of banding the North Island wattlebirds, also known as tieke, aims to find out if the estimated 30-40 saddlebacks living in the reserves surrounding Zealandia will reach a natural lifespan.
The birds can live up to 21 years on predator-free off-shore islands but conservationists want to see how they will fare in their new rough-and-tumble city neighbourhood.
Work has begun to catch and colour band the saddlebacks living in reserves outside Wellington with the help of specialist kokako ecologist Dave Bryden.
The birds are found across Polhill Reserve, Birdwood Reserve and Wrights Hill and are the only birds on the mainland breeding outside a fenced sanctuary.
"The idea of the study is to work out how long the birds are lasting outside of these fenced areas," Bryden said.
"So this is an entirely novel situation but one we'll increasingly see as tieke spill over from other fenced sanctuaries".
Saddlebacks were reintroduced to Zealandia in 2002, after being declared extinct on the mainland in 1910.
The first nest sighting outside the reserve was in Polhill in 2014.
Bryden has caught and banded 24 saddlebacks so far, and hopes to complete his work in early June.
He uses a pre-recorded playback of a saddleback's birdsong to lure the the territorial birds towards a six metre long ground net.
The saddleback spend a lot of their time on the forest floor so the net, similar to a fishing net with inbuilt pockets that provide a gentle landing for the birds, is quite effective, Bryden said.
It takes Bryden just 10 minutes to band each bird by hand, each gets a unique colour combination before they fly off.
Polhill Protectorsare one of the community groups working to protect the saddlebacks from predators like rats and stoats.
"For this community the presence of the rare saddleback has become a touchstone for figuring out how we can be neighbourly with our natives, which also includes other threatened birds like kaka, toutouwai (robin) and karearea (falcon)," Polhill protector member Paul Ward said.
The saddleback banding is the first in a series of banding projects funded by the Wellington City Council as part of a drive to find out more about the birds venturing outside the city's conservation sanctuary.
"We wanted to know: where they are, what they are doing, who their predators are," the council's team leader of urban ecology, Myfanwy Emeny, said.
A second banding project focussed on the North Island robin is due to start in July.
Once the majority of saddlebacks are banded, it will be up to conservationists and members of the public to be the "eyes and ears" and keep track of the birds.