Hanging our wildlife out to dry

Last updated 08:53 20/03/2013

The drought that has hit the country has been all over the news for the impact it is having on farming - and therefore our economy. I wrote about that issue last week.

Drought can also have serious impacts on our native wildlife. Much like our paddocks and lawns, many of our native trees and plants are dying as a result of a lack of water. There are many reports of ferns and native trees with wilting and shrivelled up leaves in many parts of the country. Then of course are the effects of no water on the myriad invertebrates, reptiles, birds and bats.

Drought-stricken kiwi chick (photo: Campbell Live)

This tiny kiwi chick is lucky that it ended up in the Whangarei Bird Rescue Centre after being found in a dry paddock (Photo: Campbell Live.)

For more than 40 days, Northland had no rain - resulting in rock-hard, parched soil that made life so difficult for our livestock. Perhaps even more tragic though was the story of the kiwi chicks that have been found up North -  starved, underweight and utterly dehydrated. Young kiwi chicks are wandering out from the bush into the paddocks in an attempt to find food and then simply curling up and staying there when the sun (or worse, dogs or cats or stoats or ferrets or weasels) arrives. Lachlan Forsyth over at Campbell Live did a great story on drought-stricken kiwi chicks this week. For the young kiwi, their beaks haven't even been able to pierce the soil to find worms and invertebrates.

If the worms and invertebrates are there, that is. This dry weather has meant a scarcity in those as well.

Waiheke residents have reported a lack of insects, meaning that for birds that eat insects, such as grey warblers and fantails, it's slim pickings for dinner. One resident has recommended leaving out fruit such as half an apple nailed to a tree or board to attract fruit flies for these types of birds. Leaving out water is a must as well.

Leaving out food and water for native birds (or reptiles or invertebrates) is a great idea - but please place your bird-feeder table or hanger so that it minimises the chance of predation by cats, rats or other predators

The lack of food available to native birds also hampers our native birds' reproduction - they simply stop breeding when faced with such environmental stresses. Given the peril that many species are in, any impact on breeding is another nail in the coffin.

For the reptiles, the lack of invertebrates and native tiny fruits and berries must also be taking a toll.

Our aquatic creatures must also be suffering greatly in this drought. The other day I drove home over the rapidly dwindling Ashley River to discover I could no longer see the river running on the surface any more. Some big puddles were visible, but that was about it. Local Fish & Game officers have been in there moving trout and eels further upstream where there's more water, and I'm pretty sure they've been rescuing native fish too. But for now, the river is gone.

Eels out of water (photo: 3news)

Eels are suffering the drought too. (NB: this pic is of eels at Willowbank wildlife reserve last year.) (Photo: 3news.)

Not so lucky either are the native banded kokopu in the Auckland area that have reportedly been found in dried-up stream pools this summer. This is quite a big deal since our native fish can actually survive for some time in dry periods. 

The good thing is that our wildlife will readily bounce back from a drought, as long as they're not in too vulnerable a position to start with. Perhaps with a bit of drought-relief from helping humans like bird rescue centre staff, keen fish and game rangers and backyard bird lovers leaving safe water and food sources, we can help our native wildlife pull through the drought too.

Have you seen native plants or animals suffering because of the drought? Got any novel ideas to help them along? I'm keen to hear from you.

» Please feel free to email me to send me your questions, feedback, ideas or photographs for In Our Nature blog posts. You can also join the In Our Nature Facebook page.

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