Peninsula home for rare sea birds

19:23, Feb 26 2013
Hutton's shearwaters - a blessing
BLESSING: Gina Solomon and Brett Cowan bless the birds after their flight from the mountains.
Hutton's shearwaters - helicopter transfer
TRANSPORT: A helicopter was used to move the chicks to their new home.
Hutton's shearwaters - Dianne John
GENTLE: Dianne John holds a chick steady before putting it in it's new burrow.
Hutton's shearwaters given water
REFRESHING: A chick is given water after it's flight down from the mountains.
Hutton's shearwater - weigh-in
WEIGH-IN: David Boyle weighs each chick before they are released to their new home.

Young endangered Hutton's shearwaters are being plucked from their nests in a bid to establish a man-made colony on the Kaikoura Peninsula.

This week, 100 of the birds will be pulled out of muddy burrows from high in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges and packed into carry boxes.

They will then be flown by helicopter to a man-made colony on the peninsula, only minutes from the town.

Hutton's shearwater
MOVING DAY: Jack Taylor holds a young Hutton's shearwater while moving it to its new predator-proof Kaikoura Peninsula burrow.

The population is estimated at 200,000 breeding pairs (400,000 birds in total) split across the head of the Kowhai River catchment and on Puhi Peaks Station, about 10 kilometres north.

However, the area is considered prone to erosion and predators, so the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust started creating a population behind a fence in about 2005.

"Most people will think that is lots [of birds], but that's the entire world's population ... they are still rare and at risk," Wildlife Management International owner Mike Bell said.


When the birds reached fledging age they would normally head toward Australia and remain there until they were ready to breed and then return to Kaikoura, he said.

"Seabirds will always return back to where they were bred to breed ... we are hoping to reprogramme their GPS to tell them this new site [the man-made Kaikoura colony] is home."

The group weighed and measured the birds to ensure they would fledge within two to three weeks of being relocated and therefore remember their new site as their home.

For the time they were in the man-made burrows, volunteers would hand-feed the birds a "sardine smoothie" daily, Bell said.

The Press