A walk on our wild side where birds rule the roost

Last updated 12:30 13/10/2012

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Twitter may be all the rage, but simpler and more satisfying tweets are alive and well in the real world.

The complex song of a tui in a flowering kowhai tree, the percussive wings of a wood pigeon in flight, a morepork's plaintive cry in the dark - they are part of the soundtrack to a New Zealand spring and summer.

Native birds are moving up the pecking order of our national symbols, and not before time.

We are a country without large animals - few made the cut when the country split from the landmass known as Gondwana millions of years ago.

After the dinosaurs died out, our isolation left the forests full of insects, lizards, the occasional bat and, of course, birds.

Instead of the wild thrill of tigers, elephants and crocodiles, we have the mild trill of fantails and kokako. But in their own way, they can be just as fascinating.

The singular kiwi has long been the avian poster child for our country, but there are a host of other impressive winged natives now being celebrated.

This week the karearea, or New Zealand falcon, took out Forest & Bird's Bird of the Year title in a contest that drew more than 10,000 votes.

Now in its seventh year, the competition relies on high-profile supporters to champion their favourites.

Comedian Raybon Kan pulled out all the stops for the karearea, likening it to an avian Clint Eastwood (in the days before he talked to chairs), and comparing its more tuneful competitors to no-account buskers.

While it appears on the back of the $20 note, the karearea does not have a high profile, probably because it is mostly out of sight.

That's a shame, because it is a spectacular-looking bird able to reach speeds of more than 100kmh and pluck its prey out of the air.

Like a number of native birds, it is listed as a threatened species, so its Bird of the Year title may help efforts to reverse its declining population due to predators and habitat loss.

In Nelson, the dedicated trapping efforts of volunteer groups are being hailed as a factor in the greater numbers of native birds being seen and heard in the city.

The Birdlife on the Grampians group has removed 600 rats from the hills in the past two years, and its reward has been reports of bellbirds and tui in the central business district, and weka and wood pigeons in gardens.

Less encouraging is a possible decline in morepork numbers, prompting an Ornithological Society survey this month to monitor the mysterious owl's calls.

A more ambitious project is the Brook-Waimarama Sanctuary Trust's plan to build a $4.3 million, 14km predator-proof fence, creating a 700ha native wildlife reserve on the city's back doorstep. The Brook-Waimarama trust is methodically building a business case - set to be revealed in a feasibility study this month - on top of a committed volunteer base to avoid the financial struggles of Wellington's Zealandia sanctuary.

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The trust is confident it will not become a ratepayer millstone, but instead provide a nationally-recognised lure for native species and visitors.

In the meantime, you could do a lot worse this summer than tear yourself away from small screens and take a walk on our wild side. You might be surprised how the sight of a wood pigeon in a tree above the Maitai River can brighten your day.

- The Nelson Mail

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