Peninsula home for rare sea birds

Man-made colony holds species' hope

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2013
Hutton's shearwater
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
MOVING DAY: Jack Taylor holds a young Hutton's shearwater while moving it to its new predator-proof Kaikoura Peninsula burrow.

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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.

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.

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- The Press

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