DOC appeals for sightings of rare black stilts

20:02, Oct 18 2012
black stilt
Black stilt

As the summer approaches, Twizel's Conservation Department office is on the lookout for some keen bird-watchers.

Community relations ranger Kiersten McKinley said it was particularly interested in any sightings of the black stilt.

"Generally this bird stays in the Mackenzie and Upper Waitaki basins, but they have shown up in places as far south as Dunedin," she said.

"In the past we have trialled radio tracking devices on the birds. However, there were two limitations with this - one is cost and the other is the fact that batteries in the tracking units only lasted 18 months. Technological advancements need to be made in this area; with smaller, lighter and cheaper GPS tracking units being ideal."

The black stilt is one of the most endangered birds in New Zealand, with about 90 adults living in the wild. Every spring, the birds flock to braided rivers to breed. Ms McKinley said the department would be happy to take contributions from local photographers.

"Identifying the actual colour bands on the legs can be difficult from far away, but this is always useful too. The black stilt should be relatively easy to identify as it is a wading bird with long red legs, a long black beak and its body is black all over," she said.


"They nest on the ground and can be very hard to see, especially from a 4WD vehicle. It is better for the birds' welfare if you walk to your favourite angling spot rather than drive. Birds that are swooping, circling or calling loudly probably have nests nearby."

Biodiversity ranger Cody Thyne said the team would be out in the basin searching for new breeding pairs.

"If we spot any, we collect their eggs to take them to the captive breeding centre," he said.

"Black stilts are really vulnerable to predators, especially stoats and hedgehogs. So while it might seem cruel to take them away from their parents, it's for their own safety."

Mr Thyne said the torrential rain during August and September meant spotting black stilts had been tricky this season.

Anyone who sights a black stilt can contact either Dean Nelson or Cody Thyne on 03 435 0802.

The Timaru Herald