Helping hand for endangered parakeets

BRIGHT FUTURE: A captured male orange-fronted parakeet at Peacock Springs.
BRIGHT FUTURE: A captured male orange-fronted parakeet at Peacock Springs.

It's like lacrosse with birds.

Six players are spread throughout an enclosure - each with a specific role - with nets in hand, waiting for a critically endangered native orange-fronted parakeet to make a dash for it. The nets swoop and a bird is nabbed.

Yesterday, a team caught 18 of the parakeets to send to predator-free Tuhua Island, near Tauranga, in a bid to build a self-supporting population there.

Department of Conservation ranger Simon Elkington said there only between 200 and 400 of the birds, found in three alpine valleys in the wild, left.

Six captive breeding pairs are kept at Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust at Peacock Springs with their chicks kept in enclosures replicating Tuhua Island's environment.

When the chicks are about three months old they are captured and sent to the island.

Elkington said parakeets nested in tree holes and were easy prey for tree-climbing predators, including rats.

Predator levels in the valleys are at low levels currently, but are expected to climb in late autumn as the seed falls from the trees.

A beech mast 14 years ago drove rat and stoat levels to plague proportions and savaged the South Island populations of orange-fronted parakeet.

Elkington said creating populations on predator-free islands saved the bird from extinction.

Since 2009, the trust and DOC have sent 130 birds to Tuhua Island, including the 18 that arrived late yesterday.

Birds bred at the centre supply "insurance" populations on four predator-free islands; Chalky Island in Fiordland, Blumine and Maud islands in the Marlborough Sounds and Tuhua.

The Press